Saturday, June 28, 2014

28 June 1914 and the Jesuits.

Today is the one-hundredth anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Duchess Sophie von Hohenburg during a visit to Sarajevo, an event that precipitated a political crisis that led to the First World War. The assassination has a little-known Jesuit connection, as I discovered in the course of two successive summers in Austria. A display case at Vienna's Military History Museum offers an enigmatic clue: the pistol that Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip used to kill Franz Ferdinand and Sophie is identified by a small plaque including the words Leihgabe d. Ă–sterr. Provinz der Gesellschaft Jesu - "On loan from the Austrian Province of the Society of Jesus."

I was quite amused when I first saw the ascription of ownership on the plaque below the murder weapon; it struck me that this was another proof that truth is stranger than fiction, and I mused that this unlikely fact would surely titillate enthusiasts of Jesuit conspiracy theories. The story behind Jesuit ownership of the artifact is actually rather straightforward, and it was even reported by the international news media ten years ago when the Austrian Jesuits agreed to lend the pistol to the museum. After serving as evidence in the trial of Princip and his co-conspirators, the murder weapon and a few other items - including two other pistols, some bullets, and the Archduke's bloodied shirt - were given to an Austrian Jesuit, Father Anton Puntigam. A teacher and school chaplain who worked in Sarajevo at the time of the assassination, Puntigam administered the last rites to Franz Ferdinand and Sophie and evidently respected the murdered couple so much that he hoped to establish a museum in their memory. The vicissitudes of war and the austere peace that followed prevented Puntigam's plans from coming to fruition, and after the priest's death in 1926 the murder weapon and related items ended up in the Jesuit archives in Vienna. Loaned to the Austrian Military History Museum in 2004, Princip's gun and the other objects given to Father Puntigam have been on display ever since - with the aforementioned plaque making it clear that they still belong to Ours.

As the late Paul Harvey used to say, "And now you know... the rest of the story." AMDG.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Eucharist and Tom King.

This blog has been silent in the weeks following my ordination to the diaconate, partly because I've been on the move (first Massachusetts, then South Bend and Chicago), partly because I've been busy with other things (I'm preparing to take comprehensive exams to receive my Master of Divinity degree at the end of the summer), and partly because I really haven't had much to say. The inspiration that I need to write here occasionally runs dry, but I've found that it invariably returns sooner or later.

This post is occasioned by the fact that today is the fifth anniversary of the death of Father Tom King, the Georgetown Jesuit whose companionship and example did much to lead me into the Society of Jesus. I always publish a sort of memorial post on this date, and the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar helped to shape this latest installment insofar as the anniversary of Tom's death falls this year on the heels of the Feast of Corpus Christi, the annual commemoration of the institution of the Eucharist. Though Father Tom King achieved renown as a scholar, teacher, and retreat-giver, the Eucharist was the true center of his life: this was so not only by virtue of Tom's priesthood but also because of the particular sense of devotion and commitment with which he celebrated the liturgy; every semester for forty years, Father King offered Mass six nights a week at 11:15 pm in Dahlgren Chapel on the Georgetown campus. The 11:15 was a Mass unlike any other at Georgetown - it was celebrated by candlelight, punctuated by Gregorian chant and periods of silence, and conducted with a prayerful solemnity that helped to lift the minds and hearts of those present to contemplation of the divine. Father King's 11:15 pm Mass taught many Georgetown students that the Eucharist is the true center of the Christian life. The 11:15 pm Mass and the good example of the priest who celebrated it so faithfully also inspired a fair number of young men to become priests, helping to provide a living legacy that endures five years after Tom went to his reward - and will continue to endure for years to come.

For all of his achievements as a teacher and a scholar, I suspect that Tom King would want to be remembered primarily as a priest. In accepting God's invitation to enter the Society of Jesus and to be ordained, Tom chose to make the Eucharist the center of his life. Through his own ministry, above all by celebrating the 11:15 pm Mass nightly for so many years, Tom helped many others to make the Eucharist the center of their own lives as well. Thus, it seems highly appropriate that the anniversary of Tom's death falls so close to Corpus Christi this year. As I anticipate my own ordination to the priesthood next year, I pray that I will never lose sight of the great gift and good example offered by the priestly ministry of Father Tom King. Together with many others, I also continue to pray for the repose of Tom's soul - and I pray that he may intercede for us with his own prayers before the altar of the Most High. AMDG.