Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The new St. Elias.

At the start of October, I flew from Washington to Toronto for the consecration of the new temple of St. Elias Ukrainian Catholic Church by His Beatitude Sviatoslav Shevchuk, Patriarch of Kyiv and Halych. Longtime readers of this blog will remember that St. Elias was destroyed by fire two years ago, a tragedy from which this resilient community quickly rebounded with the help of friends and supporters in Canada, Ukraine, and around the world. As a student of theology in Toronto, I worshipped regularly with the people of St. Elias for two years in the old temple and then served them as a deacon and as a priest during the two years that they met for Sunday services in a high school atrium while a new church was being built. Given my relationship with the community, I knew that I ought to return for the consecration of the new church. The weekend was a whirlwind of activity and a time of much grace and consolation, and the difficulty of finding words to capture the experience is one reason that I haven't written about it on this blog until now - indeed, even though it's been a bit more than three weeks since the event, I'm still not sure that I can summon adequate words to describe it.

To give a sense of what the consecration of the new St. Elias was like, this video by Markian Radomskiy offers some highlights of the four-hour consecration liturgy, compressed into about thirty-five minutes. Particularly worth watching and hearing is the very eloquent homily given by Patriarch Sviatoslav, mostly in English but with some Ukrainian, beginning around the 19'09" mark. Though nothing can compete with the experience of actually attending such a liturgy, the Patriarch's warmth and charisma and the joy of the assembled congregation are palpable even through the mediation of technology.

Though the consecration liturgy was beautiful, in some sense for me the liturgical highlight of the weekend was the celebration of regular Saturday evening vespers later the same day. In contrast with the boisterous and exuberant consecration liturgy, the service of vespers was quiet and meditative; having attended vespers regularly in the old church, doing so in the newly-consecrated temple felt to me like a sort of homecoming - a sign that the parish had truly returned to the place where it belongs again after a time of exile. Even though the new church building remains relatively spartan and unfinished, at times during vespers that night it felt like the last two years had somehow been cancelled and that we'd never really left the old church.

I can't write as articulately or eloquently as I would like about the consecration weekend and what it meant for all involved, but I can share one more video that captures an important facet of the experience. Psalm 104 (numbered Psalm 103 by the reckoning followed at St. Elias) is always sung at the start of the Byzantine service of vespers, and the version heard here is the one normally heard at St. Elias. I shot this video with my phone, and I'll admit that the picture quality isn't the best; this was a candlelit service in semidarkness, so you really can't see very much. Rather than focus on what you can't see, pay attention to what you hear - this, for me, is the sound of St. Elias, and hearing it in the new temple was a blessing that I'll never forget. I pray that the graces of that weekend will remain with all who experienced them for years to come, and I hope that those who read this post can perceive some fragment of those graces as well. AMDG.

Friday, October 14, 2016

A new General.

This morning in Rome, the delegates of the 36th General Congregation elected Father Arturo Sosa as the 31st Superior General of the Society of Jesus. A political scientist by training, the 67-year-old Father Sosa taught in his native Venezuela before serving as provincial superior of Jesuits in the country. Since 2014 he has served as Father General's Delegate for the Roman Houses of the Society, a position which gives him oversight of the various Jesuit communities and institutions in Rome. This range of experiences has given Father Sosa a sense of the global scope and diversity of the Society, and this will certainly serve him well as General. For my part, I'm also happy to note that Father Sosa has a link to my alma mater, having served as a visiting professor of Latin American Studies at Georgetown in 2004.

Following the customary prescriptions of the Society, later today I will offer Mass for the intentions of the new General. I am sure that I will also continue to pray for him in the days ahead, and I invite others to do the same. (As an aside, praying for the new General reminds me that Father Sosa is the third General I've served under as a Jesuit, after Father Peter-Hans Kolvenbach and Father Adolfo Nicolás; I'm starting to feel "old in the Society," as Jesuits sometimes say.)

As leader of the largest religious order in the Catholic Church, the Superior General of the Society of Jesus holds a position of great responsibility as well as visibility; whereas the leaders of most religious orders are little known outside their own communities, the "Black Pope" is often seen as a figure with influence beyond his own order and as something of an institutional bellwether. Though our last three superiors general have been permitted to resign, the General of the Society is still elected for life, and being elected to the office inevitably changes one's life forever. The sense in which the General is called to be "the Successor of St. Ignatius" must be both humbling and intimidating, challenging the man to serve as a model and an inspiration as well as an administrator.

In anticipation of today's election, one of the delegates to the Congregation wrote a "Letter to an Unknown Soldier" addressing the then-unknown General. In this letter, Father Dermot Preston exhorts the new General to take heart in spite of his own doubts in the face of a monumental task. Here is some of what Father Preston writes:
I write this on Thursday and you will be elected as Father General on Friday. Whether you are old or young, or whether I know you well, or whether we have only exchanged a smile and a few words in these last days, I will speak.

Firstly, the days of murmuratio will have been gruelling for your soul: as the hours have unfolded, you will have grown aware that people have been inquiring about you and scrutinising you, and those people who know you. For any sane person this scrutiny will have been near-intolerable: it will have invaded your inner space, broken into your precious time of prayer and cut across your discernment as you, too, looked into our midst for a possible successor to St Ignatius.

Yet, as others have been probing, you also (perhaps unwillingly) will have been forced to probe deeply and explore the ambiguities of your own personality, history and spiritual life; and almost certainly you will have perceived much within that is amiss – the failures of love, the compromises with life, the sins of omission and commission. These will be high on your agenda, even if others don’t appear to have seen them.

So, when you take your seat as General and look out over the Aula, almost certainly, at some level, you will feel yourself to be a fraud and not fit to untie the sandals of any of the Generals who have preceded you and inspired you.

Please do not ponder unduly on these inadequacies; like the rest of us you are a broken human-being seeking the healing & inspiring graces that the Lord offers to those He loves. God will provide those graces in so many ways – directly through the heart, certainly; but also indirectly through the very imperfect structures of the Church and the Society of Jesus which, as Ignatius knew, would hold and protect its General and allow him graciously to do great things for God.

Secondly, continue to learn who you are, and then be who you are; don’t brood about what you are not. That might seem a rather simple instruction, but it is imperative and will either lead to an inner contentment or a huge frustration.

. . .

True humility is seeing yourself as God sees you – with all your strengths & weaknesses, lights & shadows. The more you realise how God sees you, and the more you delight in that realisation, then God will rejoice in your uniqueness and, working through you, will Make All Things New.
Once again, my prayers are for Father Sosa as he assumes his new office as General of the Society. May God grant him great consolation and the wisdom and strength he needs to govern the Society, and may the Holy Spirit continue to guide the work of the 36th General Congregation. AMDG.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Archbishop Tobin.

On Sunday, Pope Francis announced the creation of seventeen new cardinals, including three from the United States. Many were surprised by the name of one of the new American cardinals, Indianapolis Archbishop Joseph W. Tobin, C.Ss.R. The Archdiocese of Indianapolis has never been led by a cardinal before, but Archbishop Tobin's varied resumé helps to explain his appointment: having pastored inner-city parishes in Chicago and Detroit and having served in Rome as superior general of the Redemptorists and as archbishop-secretary of the Congregation for Religious before leading the Church in Indianapolis, the Cardinal-designate has a background that enables him to balance a global perspective with attention to local concerns. (I'm also happy to note that this global perspective includes an appreciation for the importance of relationships between Eastern and Western Christians: Archbishop Tobin has spent several years as co-chair of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation, and I'm told that he has performed very well in that role.)

I've written here about Archbishop Tobin's elevation to the College of Cardinals because we share a sort of personal connection. We've only met once, but the occasion of that meeting was unique - as some will recall, Archbishop Tobin ordained me to the priesthood. Archbishop Tobin performed his duties as ordaining prelate with great grace and dignity, and his words of exhortation to the ordinandi were thoughtful and consoling. I'm sharing this video of the Archbishop's homily at my ordination Mass to give some sense of his personality as well as to preserve a record of his words on that occasion. As Cardinal-designate Tobin prepares for next month's consistory, I pray that he may receive abundant consolation as well as the courage and strength he will need as he assumes his new office. I pray also for the faithful of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, as their shepherd takes on a position of greater responsibility and visibility within the universal Church. Ad multos annos!