Thursday, June 30, 2016

Brexit, Evensong, and the Economy of Salvation.

Yesterday was the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, which has gotten me thinking about an experience I had long ago at this point in the liturgical year. As law student at Notre Dame, I spent a summer in London studying the British legal system. I was not yet a Jesuit, but I already had a deeply-ingrained habit of attending daily Mass. During my time in London, I usually attended Sunday and weekday Mass at the Brompton Oratory; the experience of the liturgy at the Oratory was one of the crucial formative experiences of my liturgical life up to that point, together with the 11:15 pm Mass at Georgetown and the Sundays I had spent at Old St. Mary's in Washington. One of the first Sundays I spent at the Oratory coincided with the Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, a holy day of obligation in England and Wales and a feast that took precedence over the ordinary Sunday liturgy. The Mass was celebrated with the solemnity for which the Brompton Oratory is famous, with some special touches for the feast day such as the vesting of the Oratory's statue of St. Peter in a red cope (a custom copied from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome). What stands out most in my memory, however, is a line from the homily, delivered from a raised pulpit in the center of the church: "Only the Mass will save England."

Only the Mass will save England. At the time, the phrase struck me as a line from another time, recalling past generations of British Catholic apologists as well as the English Catholic laypeople of the sixteenth century who resisted the introduction of the Book of Common Prayer, declaring, "We wyll haue the Masse." Those words have a different ring for me now as I think about the referendum held last week regarding the United Kingdom's membership in the European Union. Observing the contentious and often ugly debate over 'Brexit' and the chaotic aftermath of the vote, I found myself recalling some ancient and still valid words of warning: "Put no trust in princes, in a son of man in whom there is no help" (Ps 146:3). Neither the bureaucrats in Brussels nor the politicians who persuaded a majority of British voters to opt for Brexit can provide a lasting solution to the anxieties that rend the hearts and minds of individuals and nations. England will not be saved by Brexit, nor would England be saved by the European Union.

Only God can save us, and his chosen means are not political but ecclesial and liturgical. Neither Britain nor Europe can be saved through politics, but a renewed appreciation for the Christian values that shaped both would still be helpful; Pope Benedict XVI expressed this point with gentle but insistent force, and I'm pleased that others have taken up the theme as well. Outside the political realm, I'm encouraged by reports like the following, which was published by The Telegraph in March but which I only discovered a couple of days ago:
College chaplains have seen a steady but noticeable increase in attendances at the early evening services which combine contemplative music with the 16th Century language of the Book of Common Prayer.

It mirrors a similar trend reported by cathedrals across England for growing congregations at choral midweek services, which appears to challenge the view that the church is in irreversible decline.

Chaplains say the mix of music, silence and centuries-old language appears to have taken on a new appeal for a generation more used to instant and constant communications, often conducted in 140 characters rather than the phrases of Cranmer.

Neil McCleery, assistant chaplain of New College, one of Oxford’s oldest and grandest chapels, said it was now rare to see an attendance below 150 at a weekend evensong.

"We get people, especially very hard working postgraduate students who say that it provides a time towards the end of the day, when you can just sit in silence and tune out all of these influences and instead tune in God perhaps," he said.

"We get a lot of people who perhaps come to faith or return to faith by being drawn into that worship experience."
The chaplains interviewed by The Telegraph also pick up on a theme I've noted here before, namely the openness of many Millennials to traditional patterns of belief and observance often eschewed by members of their parents' generation:
Mr McCleery, a member of the Oxford committee of the Prayer Book Society, said [the growing popularity of evensong] reflected a wider interest in older styles of worship, including greater interest in the Prayer Book among trainee clergy.

"The era of jaded folk worship is coming to an end," he said. "Indeed I think the people who want that sort of thing are the older generation now and the young are coming back to traditional worship and the choral tradition."

Nearby, the Rev Dr Daniel Inman, Chaplain of The Queen's College agreed.

"Although the language of the Prayer Book is rather alien to modern ears, precisely for that reason it's also less threatening and more inclusive," he explained.

"You're not really asked to signal your own dogmatic beliefs or lack thereof, but invited to join in a pattern of worship that has shaped our national life for centuries."
All of this deserves to be unpacked in greater detail, but for now I'll simply observe that, whatever happens in the realm of politics and whatever sort of chaos plagues Western society, one can still find signs of grace at work. AMDG.

The photo that illustrates this post was found here.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A quiet memorial.

One of the most charming features of the Georgetown University campus is the number of quiet and sometimes hidden memorials that dot the Hilltop. I suspect that most university campuses have their own secret places, known primarily to a small circle of students and alumni, but Georgetown is my alma mater and I write about what I know. One such quiet memorial is this plaque located in a corner of the sacristy at Georgetown's Dahlgren Chapel, a plaque "[g]iven in memory of Rev. Thomas M. King, S.J. by many of his friends." Father Tom King died seven years ago on this date, and one year ago today I offered a Memorial Mass for him at Georgetown. Before I returned to the Hilltop to offer that Mass, I was unaware of this memorial's existence; the plaque's location in the sacristy is discreet enough that I might have missed it if it had not been pointed out to me.

Reflecting on the plaque in the Dahlgren sacristy has me thinking about how we remember people after they've died and how we measure their impact. Father Tom King spent forty years as a professor of theology at Georgetown and had an unparalleled impact on generations of Hoyas, not only as a teacher but also a priest and spiritual father; such was Father King's influence on Georgetown students over the decades that at the turn of the millennium The Hoya declared him Georgetown's Man of the Century. It has been four years since the last group of undergrads who knew Tom personally received their degrees, so his influence is now felt mostly among Georgetown alumni and others who walked the Hilltop in decades past. That influence is likely to linger, though, thanks in large part to the many Hoyas who became priests thanks to Tom and to others whom he inspired to become theologians.

Some may wish that the Georgetown campus featured a more public memorial to Father Tom King, noting that a small plaque in a sacristy is likely to be seen by very few. I would be happy to see a more visible reminder of Tom's presence in campus, but I still like the plaque in the sacristy very much. I think that Tom would have approved of the use of the Anima Christi on the plaque, which speaks to the sense in which he sought to point others to Christ. It also seems right to me to locate a memorial to Tom King in the place where he prepared to offer Mass six nights a week for forty years; Tom was as much at home in the sacristy as he was in the classroom, and it was precisely as a priest that he had the greatest impact on others. Though few may see the plaque in its current spot, I'm sure that those who most need to see it will do so. Ultimately, that is what matters most. AMDG.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Receive me, O Lord, according to your word.

I was ordained to the priesthood one year ago on this date. I've written about that happy event before, and I'm not sure what to add except for another expression of gratitude; my first year as a priest has brought me abundant grace and consolation, and sacramental ministry has been a source of great joy for me even (or perhaps especially?) at times when I've felt particularly rundown by the stresses of academic life or vexed by the problems facing the Church and the world. After many years of prayer and preparation, I'm now doing the work that I've been called to do for the rest of my life, and there is great joy and contentment in that.

In my post last week, I wrote a bit about the image and words on the prayer card distributed at Father Vincent Strand's ordination and first Mass. In light of today's anniversary, I thought I'd say something about the prayer card I designed for my own ordination last year; the two sides of the card may be seen above, with the 'front' side bearing my name and the date and place of my ordination and the back bearing a verse from Psalm 119. A monk I met last summer at Heiligenkreuz described my ordination prayer card as sehr benediktinische, and with good reason: the two sides of the Medal of St. Benedict illustrate the front and back of the card, and one also finds the words Deo Optimo Maximo, a motto traditionally associated with the Benedictine Order, as well as a psalm verse (Ps 119:116) which forms part of the rite of monastic profession in Benedict's Rule (cf. RB 58:21). The Austrian monk may or may not have noticed, but the design of the card was also inspired by prayer cards I'd picked up on visits to Portsmouth Abbey, giving it a sort of intentionally Benedictine aesthetic.

Some may be surprised that a Jesuit's ordination prayer card would be so benediktinische, but those who know me personally should not be. My affinity for the Benedictine tradition goes back a long way, even though I knew from the time that I began to discern a vocation that I would probably enter the Jesuits. I see no contradiction in this; I think I've always intuitively agreed with a confrere who said that one couldn't be a good Jesuit without having the desire to be a monk, by which I think he meant that every Jesuit should aspire to be a contemplative. I've argued for the essential compatibility between the Ignatian charism and earlier traditions of Christian monasticism, a theme that may animate some of my future scholarly work. As I look forward with joy and hope to many more years of priestly ministry, I repeat a prayer I made two years ago on the tenth anniversary of my entrance into the novitiate, one offered again on my ordination prayer card: Receive me, O Lord, according to your word, and I shall live; and let me not be confounded in my hope. AMDG.

Monday, June 06, 2016


In my last post, I mentioned that I was scheduled to attend ordinations on three consecutive Saturdays in late May and early June. The last of three took place this past Saturday in Milwaukee, where I attended the priestly ordination of my Jesuit confrere Vincent Strand, an old friend and a housemate from my years in philosophy studies at Fordham University in New York. Vince's ordination has attracted some attention from the media due to the unusual fact that his two brothers Luke and Jacob are also priests; the shared calling of the Strand brothers has drawn the notice of international news outlets like the Daily Mail as well as the Catholic press and local TV stations. The day after his ordination, Vince celebrated his first Mass at his family's home parish in Dousman, Wisconsin, a small town forty-five minutes west of Milwaukee. I was happy to be there and to concelebrate with Vince and around two dozen other Jesuits and a few diocesan priests.

Yesterday, I heard that Vince's first Mass was the fourth Mass of Thanksgiving of a newly-ordained priest to take place at St. Bruno Church in the last seven years, meaning that the three Strand brothers are not alone among recent priestly vocations coming from the parish. Apparently a fifth St. Bruno's parishioner is expected to be ordained for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee in the next couple of years, so there are clearly good things happening in this parish.

At the end of Mass, the new Father Strand offered a few words to a congregation which included his extended family, lifelong friends and neighbors from Dousman, former students he taught as a regent at Creighton Prep in Omaha, and many Jesuits and fellow priests. Hearing him speak, I naturally recalled my own experience offering Masses of Thanksgiving in familiar places after my ordination last year.

In accordance with a venerable Catholic tradition, many of the faithful present at a priest's first Mass will seek the blessing of the newly-ordained priest. In fact, the special blessing of the newly-ordained may be given for up to a year after one's ordination to the priesthood; I gave many in the first couple of weeks after my ordination, with another big burst of requests in August when I visited Austria, where the Primizsegen is held very dear. At different times over the past year, I have given the blessing in English, Latin, French, and German - and I can still remember the traditional formula I memorized in each of the four languages. In the photo seen above, Father Strand imparts the blessing of a newly-ordained priest to Father Chris Cullen, S.J., who taught me and Vince philosophy at Fordham.

The prayer card distributed at Vince Strand's ordination and first Mass is illustrated with this striking image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which was etched into the wall of a cell at Auschwitz by a Polish prisoner named Stefan Jasieński as he awaited execution. The cell where Jasieński carved this image is near that of St. Maximilian Kolbe, though it should be noted that Jasieński arrived at Auschwitz a couple of years after Kolbe's death and probably wasn't aware that the priest had preceded him there. Some readers may also recognize this image as the one that graces the cover of the English edition of Hans Urs von Balthasar's superb little book Love Alone Is Credible. As it happens, Vince Strand introduced me to Love Alone Is Credible (and, by extension, to the work of Balthasar) when he lent me his copy of the book during the time we lived together at Fordham, so this card inevitably reminds me of old times.

On the back of the prayer card, one finds a quotation from Pope Benedict XVI which comes from a homily given at World Youth Day in Sydney in 2008: "We know that in the end – as Saint Ignatius of Loyola saw so clearly – the only real 'standard' against which all human reality can be measured is the Cross and its message of an unmerited love which triumphs over evil, sin and death, creating new life and unfading joy. The Cross reveals that we find ourselves only by giving our lives away, receiving God's love as an unmerited gift and working to draw all men and women into the beauty of that love and the light of the truth which alone brings salvation to the world."

A couple of miles down the road from the current home of St. Bruno's, one finds the parish cemetery and the former parish church, dating from 1887. The old church building was locked when I visited, but photos visible online depict an impressively well-preserved interior. I'm told that Mass is still celebrated here from time to time, ensuring that this monument to the faith and hard work of the German immigrants who founded the parish remains a living place of worship.

The old parish cemetery includes a number of graves like this one with inscriptions in German, offering another reminder of the community's roots. The American Midwest is dotted with rural communities that remained predominantly German-speaking until the time of the First World War, when the inexorable forces of assimilation were boosted by ugly and short-sighted nativism to stamp out what had once been a vibrant extension of the deutsche Sprachraum in the New World. I can't help but feel a bit sad about that, but such is life. More broadly, I am grateful for the opportunity to have visited Dousman to celebrate the joy of a new priest. May God grant Father Vince Strand many happy years of service, and may the people of Dousman rejoice in a native son's gift to the Church. AMDG.