Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Non scholae, sed vitae discimus.

This is Father Joseph T. Durkin, S.J., a longtime professor of history at Georgetown University who died at the age of 100 in May of 2003. Father Durkin spent fifty-nine of his eighty-three years as a Jesuit at Georgetown, teaching courses on the history of the United States and serving as an academic advisor and spiritual guide to countless Hoyas. Still mentally sharp in his mid-to-late nineties, Father Durkin remained active on campus during my undergraduate years at Georgetown; he could be seen most mornings walking from the Jesuit Residence to Lauinger Library, always smartly dressed in his black clerical suit. Once at Lauinger, Father Durkin would spend hours sitting in the lower-level stacks at a large table covered by books, taking longhand notes for what would have been his own last book.

Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, and I find myself thinking of Father Durkin and others like him. I can't claim to have known Father Durkin well - we had a couple of conversations when I was an undergrad, but that was all - but I can still say that he had a tangible influence on my desire to become a Jesuit. The visible witness that Father Durkin and other Jesuits at Georgetown gave to a vocation that linked the life of the mind and the life of the spirit helped inspire a youth who came to Washington wanting to go into politics to consider doing things he had never previously imagined, like becoming a Jesuit, a teacher, and - three years from now, hopefully - a priest.

To be sure, the Jesuits whom I really got to know at Georgetown had the strongest effect on my vocation, and I surely would not be a Jesuit today were it not for men like Fathers Tom King, Ron Murphy, and Jim Schall. Even so, the fact that Jesuits like Father Durkin were visible in the background made a difference: they showed me that the Jesuits whom I knew and admired most were part of a greater tradition, a tradition that I increasingly - and, initially, to my own surprise - desired to become a part of.

Asked to explain how I came to enter the Society of Jesus, I cannot say that I had a self-consciously transformative experience of Ignatian spirituality while I was a Georgetown undergraduate, or that I was drawn by the person and character of Ignatius of Loyola, or that I was inspired by the Magis or "the faith that does justice" or any other Jesuit catchphrase. What I can truly say is that I was moved and inspired by a way of being in the world modeled by Jesuits I knew and encountered at Georgetown - and I remain profoundly grateful for that, especially on days like this great feast. My prayers and best wishes today are with all who celebrate St. Ignatius' Day, and I hope that the example of Jesuits like Father Durkin will continue to draw others to this least Society. AMDG.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Glenn Gould's Toronto.

In less than a month, I'll be leaving Philadelphia to move to Toronto. I look forward to getting to know the city on my own terms, but in the meantime I've enjoyed Glenn Gould's Toronto, a 1979 television documentary in which the great Canadian pianist offers his own highly impressionistic reflections on the place where he spent much of his life. Apparently hard to come by in the years since it was originally aired, Glenn Gould's Toronto is now readily available online; I've included the opening and closing segments of the film here, but the rest can easily be found on YouTube.

The Toronto that Gould knew is long gone, but I would find it difficult not to be captivated by the description of the city offered in the film's opening narration:
I was born in Toronto, and it's been home base all my life - I'm quite sure why; primarily it's a matter of convenience, I suppose. I’m not really cut out for city living, and given my druthers I’d avoid all cities and simply live in the country. Toronto, however, belongs on a very short list of cities which I’ve visited and which seem to offer – to me, at any rate – peace of mind, cities which, for want of a better definition, do not impose their cityness upon you. . . .
Unlike Glenn Gould, I actually enjoy living in cities. Even so, I'm rather charmed by the notion of cities that "do not impose their cityness upon you." (Gould offered Leningrad as the best example of such a city, with Toronto as a kind of runner-up; one might argue that Gould should have offered more specific criteria, but doing so would be pointless.)

In the last few minutes of the film, starting at the 1:40 mark in the above video, Gould offers some poignant reflections on the experience of attending Sunday vespers during his Presbyterian childhood:
In my youth, Toronto was also called the City of Churches, and indeed the most vivid of my childhood memories, insofar as they have to do with Toronto at all, have to do with churches. They have to do with Sunday evening services – not Sunday morning ones, what with all that sunlight. They have to do with evening light, filtered through stained glass windows, and ministers who concluded their benediction with the phrase, “Lord, give us the peace that the earth cannot give.” Monday mornings, you see, meant going back to school and encountering all sorts of terrifying situations there in the city. So those moments of Sunday evening sanctuary became very special to me; they meant that one could find a certain tranquility even in the city, but only when one opted not to be a part of it.
Near the very end of the video, beginning at 3:27, Gould adds:
Well, I don’t go to church these days, I must confess, but I do repeat that phrase to myself, the one about the peace that the earth cannot give, very often and find it a great comfort. What I have done, I think, while living here is to concoct some sort of metaphoric stained glass window which allows me to survive what appear to me to be the perils of the city, much as I survived Monday mornings in the schoolroom, I guess, and the best thing I can say about Toronto is that it doesn’t seem to intrude upon that hermitlike process.
Will I find a "metaphoric stained glass window" and a tranquil refuge when I get settled in Toronto? It's too soon to tell, though I have found that even the most bustling of cities can offer inviting pockets of solitude: living in New York, for example, I came to appreciate the special brand of peace and quiet that one can enjoy while sitting alone with a book and a cup of coffee in a Manhattan diner. Let us hope that I will have similar discoveries in Toronto. AMDG.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Lake Dallas.

Some readers might appreciate a quick update on my whereabouts: this week, I'm at Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in beautiful Lake Dallas, Texas for a practicum on preaching weekend retreats. I am enjoying my time here, and I hope that I am gaining knowledge and skills that will be of some future use in my apostolic life as a Jesuit. I may or may not have more to say before I return to Philadelphia next week, but I wish all readers a happy mid-July. AMDG.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Remembering Walt Farrell.

Father Walter Lewis Farrell, S.J. died last night at the age of 96 in his seventy-eighth year in the Society of Jesus and his sixty-fifth year as a priest. Walt spent much of his Jesuit life in positions of leadership, including periods of service as a seminary rector, provincial superior, president of the U.S. Jesuit Conference, province treasurer, and as director of a retreat house. Though he was a gifted administrator, Walt was best known both inside and outside the Society as a master of the Spiritual Exercises: he directed countless retreats, wrote and lectured on Ignatian spirituality, and served as a spiritual director to people from many different walks of life.

The context in which I knew Walt Farrell best was different from all of the above: he was a member of the novitiate community in which I spent my first two years in the Society of Jesus. Though Walt lived at the novitiate, he wasn’t part of the formation staff; in his eighties at the time, he still worked full-time as Treasurer of the Detroit Province and commuted daily to an office in the city. Walt’s role in the house was one that is fairly common in Jesuit novitiates, a position without any English title but known in Spanish and Portuguese as padre edificante – that is, a priest sent to live with the novices simply to teach them how to be good Jesuits through his own example.

Walt Farrell was a true padre edificante. He celebrated his early-morning Mass with sincere reverence and a kind of gentle dignity, preaching in a laconic and reflective style that turned each homily into a kind of guided meditation. He lived by the values of frugality and self-discipline, and his daily routine seldom varied – always the same thing for breakfast and lunch, no water at meals ("I get my water from coffee," he quipped), an evening walk for exercise and prayer. He was unfailingly generous in sharing the fruit of his experience and study of the Jesuit tradition, but he never dropped names or sought to draw attention to his own accomplishments. In his own quiet and thoughtful way, Walt Farrell did much to mold the novices that he lived with into the Jesuits that we are today – and that, I think, is the best tribute that one can pay to a padre edificante.

Grateful for his role in our formation as novices, the members of my vow class asked Father Walt Farrell to preach at the Mass at which we professed First Vows. The photo that illustrates this post shows Walt preaching at that Mass; I regret that I don’t remember much of what he said that day, but I am grateful for his presence there as well as for the great gift of his company. Requiescat in pace. AMDG.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Portsmouth Abbey.

Though it's quite late in the day, this is the date on which the modern Roman calendar remembers Saint Benedict of Nursia; therefore, this seems as good a time as any to share some photos taken during my recent eight-day retreat at Portsmouth Abbey in Rhode Island. To begin, here is a glimpse of the well-used font at which the monks of the community (as well as sundry visitors like myself) pause to bless themselves with holy water on their way into choir.

This is the Abbey Church of St. Gregory the Great, the spiritual heart of the monastery as well as its associated boarding school. Like many other buildings on the Portsmouth Abbey campus, the church was designed by Italian-American architect Pietro Belluschi. Though better known for large public structures like New York's Pan Am Building, Belluschi also designed many churches, synagogues and other religious structures; the Abbey Church was the first of sixteen buildings on the Portsmouth campus that Belluschi designed in the same austere yet elegant modern style.

Gleaming in the light of the setting sun, these copper doors welcome visitors to the Abbey Church. The Latin inscription is taken from Ephesians 2:19-22: ". . . you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are built into it for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit."

Here is a view of the interior of the Abbey Church. Though difficult to see in this photo, the crucifix above the altar is incorporated into a wire sculpture by Richard Lippold; I think that the ray-like wires extending from the corpus and descending toward the altar are meant to represent the Holy Spirit.

This is how the Abbey Church looks from the choir where the monks gather for the Divine Office.

Here is the monastery itself, also designed by Pietro Belluschi and currently home to twelve resident monks, most of whom work at Portsmouth Abbey School in one capacity or another.

This is a view from the window of the room that I occupied during my retreat; the two-storey structure at left is the monastery library.

Here I am outside the Abbey Church one evening after Compline; since the monks at Portsmouth customarily don the Benedictine habit when they gather to recite the Divine Office, I wore my Jesuit cassock when praying with them in choir.

The sun sets over Narragansett Bay on a clear evening; as one of the monks pointed out to me, this is one of the few places on the East Coast of the United States where one can see the sunset over water.

Here is another Narragansett Bay sunset, this time with clouds; for me, there is something very captivating and frankly dramatic about the golden oval of the sun at the center of this photo, particularly as it contrasts with the purplish hues of the clouds and the bay.

Here are more clouds over Narragansett Bay; these particular clouds brought welcome rain in the middle of an otherwise dry and hot week.

Here is the Portsmouth Abbey Cemetery, final resting place of the abbey's monks as well as a number of Benedictine Oblates and some lay faculty from the Abbey School.

The Abbey Cemetery includes the grave of Bishop Ansgar Nelson, a monk of Portsmouth who spent fifteen years as a Roman Catholic bishop in Sweden before returning to the monastery. Though Nelson served as Bishop of Stockholm, for some reason his tombstone mentions only his titular see of Dura.

The Portsmouth Abbey Cemetery is also the final resting place of artist Adé Bethune, a Belgian aristocrat who immigrated to the United States as a young woman and worked closely with Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day during the early days of the Catholic Worker. A longtime resident of nearby Newport, Bethune was an Oblate of Portsmouth Abbey. To learn more about Adé Bethune's life and work, check out this tribute by a Benedictine monk who knew her and this weblog featuring some of her art.

Benedictine habits and albs hanging in the monastery sacristy.

This altar sits in the monastery sacristy, just a few steps from the choir seen in the very first photo of this set. Apparently, Bishop Ansgar Nelson said Mass at this altar each day during the years of his retirement at Portsmouth.

This photo was taken in the monastery library; I include it here mainly because I like the way the shape of the windows and the light cast on the table both complement and contrast with the elements found in the preceding photo of the altar in the monastery sacristy.

This elegant bookplate can be found in many of the books in the monastery library. I have had nothing comparable in the three Jesuit communities where I have served as librarian - the best that I can offer is an ink stamp that reads "Jesuit Community Library."

This pile of twenty-year-old back issues of The Tablet made me think of a week-long pilgrimage that I took to the Holy Land as a junior at Georgetown University; earnest piety and a desire to pack light led me to bring no books on that trip other than the Bible, which left me hungry for non-scriptural reading material once I arrived. The pilgrim hostels where I stayed in Tiberias and Jerusalem both happened to have large collections of Tablet back-issues, so I was well-acquainted with the publication by the time I returned to Washington. Thus, when I beheld the simple, straightforward graphics of this old Tablet cover, in my imagination I immediately found myself returning to a long-ago evening in a drafty sitting room overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

This stained-glass window at Portsmouth drew my attention because I'd never before seen Saint Benedict portrayed wearing gauntlets and a cope. The face in this image also reminds me more of traditional representations of Thomas Aquinas than it does of Benedict of Nursia, which makes me wish that I knew more about the history of the window and the artist who created it.

Now this is the image that I typically expect when I think of Saint Benedict, modeled here by a carved wooden statue that sits in a monastery stairwell at Portsmouth.

Finally, stepping away from Portsmouth Abbey, here are some words in support of a local business: if you find yourself in Portsmouth, please visit Custom House Coffee. This is my kind of place - they offer excellent coffee (with free refills), tasty sandwiches and desserts, and a comfortable environment where one can linger for an afternoon in the company of a good book. AMDG.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Dog Days.

Having finished my eight-day retreat last Wednesday, I've been in Southeastern Massachusetts for the last few days visiting my family, which includes the dogs seen here lounging on a recent afternoon. I'll be driving back to Philadelphia today, and later this week I hope to post some photos from my retreat. Good wishes for all in the meantime, particularly those who are trying to beat the heat during these Dog Days of Summer. AMDG.