Sunday, August 29, 2010


One of the great graces of my life in the Society of Jesus has been all of the ways I've been stretched to grow in unimaginable ways. Were it not for the Society, I would probably never have learned how to cook. Were it not for the Jesuits, I probably would never have had the opportunity to maintain a blog such as this or to offer Irish music courses online. Heck, were it not for the brotherhood of the Society, I would never have gone to the gym or decided to train for and run a marathon.

So when new opportunities arise, I am pretty open to embracing them since every new opportunity just *might* uncover a latent gift or talent or passion. On Friday night, I was with several colleagues at a great bar in the city of Detroit - the Temple Bar - where we had a couple of drinks and toasted the beginning of the school year. As the night wore on, I grew excited when I saw how few people were in the bar AND that there would be Karaoke that night. For a few moments, a glimmer of hope past through my body: perhaps I would discover a great talent for singing, a new way of expressing my love for music.

So when the time came, I wasn't overly resistant to taking up microphone. We had some technical difficulties on the first song and the machine kept cutting out. We requested a second song - "Oh Happy Day" - which five of us launched into with swarthy abandon.

Well, I realized pretty bloody quickly that I have no talent - hidden or otherwise - for singing. I was lethal. It was not a "Happy Day" at fact, I was brutally miserable. I knew it was bad when two (apparently) homeless men who were sitting at the bar stared at us, pointed, and began laughing.

Adding insult to injury, these same two men took the microphones and began to sing after us. The only thing that made our performance technically better is that we could read the teleprompter...they, it appeared, were illiterate. Even without being able to read, I must admit, they were pretty good and definitely showed us up.

While I was at Mass today, I was really reluctant to sing at all. Knowing how bad my voice really is, I take to heart Saint Augustine's dictum that "He who sings well prays twice." I sing poorly, so my voice raised in song is more akin to a sung curse than it is to a prayer of thanksgiving!

We're all given different gifts. I'm only grateful that it was a small group of colleagues and two homeless men who had to experience my lack of talent in this one particular area. God willing, when my turn comes to join the heavenly chorus for all eternity, Saint Peter will hand me an accordion.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

We Believe in Things Seen and Unseen

When it comes to the topic of ghosts and paranormal activity, I've always been of an open mind. Each week for nearly thirty years (I reckon I didn't recite the Nicene Creed until I was about seven) I have heard or recited the line:

We believe in God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is seen and unseen.

Until recently, I've had no reason to believe either in the existence or non-existence of ghosts: as none had ever made contact with me, I had no reason to render a judgment.
No reason, that is, until this last week.

The other night, while on the first floor of our building, I was chatting with the superior in his office. I reclined on the couch and was looking out the small window cut into his door when I saw a figure walk past. Under the assumption that we were alone in the hallway, I went over the door, opened, and looked into the corridor: on either end, the hallway was empty. I know that I saw something move past the window and that it wasn't a reflection of something else, but there was nothing on the other side of the door. 

On Friday, I was giving a lecture on Plato in my senior-level philosophy class. I had made the slides a few days prior, saved them to my memory stick, and brought them up onto the Smart Board in my class. My students can attest to my confusion when, on advancing to a slide in the middle of the presentation, we saw the header read:

Plato Versus [John Doe]

The thing is, though, is that it didn't say [John Doe]. It read, rather, a last name. A last name that I know I didn't put into the lecture. A name who presence in my presentation I cannot account for and I swear that I didn't type.  I figured it was a computer error but, to be sure it wasn't mine, I went back to my handwritten notes: no trace of this particular last name could be found in the notes I had written and then transcribed into Power Point.
I chalked this up to a computer glitch until this morning. After celebrating the Eucharist, three of us Jesuits were chatting when the celebrant asked the other priest, a veteran teacher, if he had ever heard of a Father _________ (I'm not putting in the name because I don't want to the family members to think that I'm accusing their loved one of being a ghost). A chill went down my spine: the name that was being inquired about was the same name that had appeared mysteriously in my Power Point presentation. 

As it turns out, the priest in question had lived here at the school but had left the Jesuits back in the sixties. A search on Google turned up his obituary: he died within the last year. 

Now, I'm not making any claims to be dwelling in a haunted house. Nevertheless, it does push me just a little bit toward thinking that the veil that separates the living and dead may be a bit thinner than I had ever though. As I learned more about this individual and his past, it strikes me that he could well be the sort to take to haunting IF such a thing were possible/were to happen. 

If nothing else, I'm armed with yet another fun regency story!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A Bit of Context

I posted the other night two videos shot in the kitchen at m parents' house. Several years ago, my brother-in-law and I took a notion to record a tin whistle video entitled "Boys in the Hoodies."

So it seemed only fitting that, three years later, we do an encore presentation at my niece Emma's third birthday party. It was fun recording them on the fly - we hadn't rehearsed - and I do hope you enjoy them.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Kids are All Right

In an effort to escape the heat and humidity last night, another Jesuit and I decided to go to the movies. We decided to drive over to Royal Oak and see the 8:00 showing of the newly-released The Kids are All Right. Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, and Mark Ruffalo, it is a well-crafted story about a lesbian couple - Nic and Jules, played by Bening and Moore - each of whom used sperm from the same donor in order to have children.

The daughter, Joni, has just turned 18 at the start of the movie. Her brother, Laser, importunes her to "make the call" to the sperm bank their moms had use; he, we realize, is the one initially most keen on meeting his biological father. Joni eventually acquiesces and contact is made with Paul, played by Ruffalo, who owns a co-op farm and a restaurant.

Understandably, Nic and Jules are not entirely enthusiastic about their kids making contact with "the sperm donor." Nevertheless, they agree to meet him and invite him over for dinner. What follows this initial ingress is a finely wrought narrative about appearance and truth, the marathon of committed love, betrayal and forgiveness. It is not an easy story, nor does it pander to popular opinion: Nic and Jules are middle-aged lesbians, not the buxom nymphomaniac beauties that so enthrall the stereotypical male imagination. The family's life, like all family life, is multi-layered: there is tension, misunderstanding, anxiety, and great pain beneath what might, outwardly, appear to be a "perfect family." It is the introduction of Paul who changes the family tremendously, bringing into the light many of the issues that had long receded into the darkness. The question the viewer wrestles with toward the end of the movie is: will the lives of each character be etched permanently with resentment or will they find the strength and grace for love and reconciliation?

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Reason and Faith, II

I would briefly like to use the Gospel of John to meditate a bit further on the relationship between reason and faith. Actually, I would like to use two small snippets - two questions, really - that I see as serving as bookends to this Gospel. While they certainly were not intended to do so, I think they speak eloquently and powerfully to the situation so many believers and nonbelievers find themselves in today.

John's Gospel opens with the beautiful Prologue that is so familiar to our ears: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." We are then introduced to John the Baptist, the figure who is sent by God to testify to the Light who has been sent to pierce the darkness of the world.  As Jesus passes John and two of his disciples, he tells them that this Jesus is the Lamb of God. This must have caused enough of a commotion that it prompted Jesus to open his mouth for the first time in the Gospel, leading him to ask, "What are you looking for?" His first words are not an exhortation, they are not a commandment, they are simply a question. The two men whom Jesus addresses respond with their own question, "Where are you staying?" To this, Jesus offers a simple invitation, "Come and see."

Monday, August 02, 2010

Reason and Faith

The New York Times has recently begun a forum called The Stone to feature the writings of contemporary philosophers. As one who is preparing to teach a senior-level course in philosophy, I've been keeping an eye on these columns in the hope that they'll furnish a few "read and comment" opportunities for my students. In general, these are well-written, smart, and interesting pieces that try to make complex philosophical thought intelligible to a larger, non-specialized, audience.

This week's contribution comes from Professor Gary Gutting who teaches philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. It's an interesting piece, and I suggest that you read it in full. His piece, and the numerous comments it has given rise to, has encouraged me to reflect for a few moments on the relationship between philosophy and faith.

I, with Professor Gutting, reject immediately any recourse to the line "it's a matter of faith." This is a cowardly response, generally a cipher for "I'm too lazy to think critically and rigorously." I look at philosophy as a way of thinking, a method (from the Greek methodus or "pathway"). I rather enjoy dissecting arguments to see if and how they hang together. I  find it exhilarating to read about new ideas that challenge my thinking and force me to re-examine my own beliefs. New thoughts do not threaten my faith; rather, they challenge and, through struggle and refinement, embolden it.

Note from Nadal

Every now and again, I hear from people that the "Society of Jesus has lost its way." They decry the focus on a "Faith that does Justice" and they offer embittered wishes that the Society would go back to its old ways, the ways of the good old days...whatever those were.

Perhaps it is true that in the 1940's and 1950's, the nostalgic "Golden Era" of American Catholicism that there was a marked lack of focus on justice (although, if you read the incisive work of Father Mark Massa, SJ you'll realize that things weren't so Golden after all). It has long been be my contention that this was anomalous in the history of the Society of Jesus and that the original impulse of the Society of Jesus addressed the needs both of the soul and the body (Ignatius did, after all, found a house for prostitutes and begged money for to feed the hungry).

Last night, Father Walter Farrell of the Detroit Province delivered a profound homily on the originating impulse behind the founding of the Society. As he recounted the story, after Saint Ignatius composed the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus he entrusted the task of promulgating and explicating them to the various Jesuit communities to Jeronimo Nadal.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Fill In the Blank

Yesterday, I encouraged a renewed sense of charity by citing Saint Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises. I'd like to take my own advice and "help a brother out" this morning.

My brother in the Lord over at Good Jesuit, Bad Jesuit - Joseph Fromm - sometimes forgets to include the entirety of a quote he puts up on his blog. Quoting from another, Fromm quotes an exchange between the original author of the story and the venerable Father Hardon, SJ:

When my high school friend (not I) expressed an interest in the priesthood, Father Hardon offered advice: "I wish that I could recommend you apply to the Society of Jesus," he said in his careful way. "I love the order, and wish it could be saved. But I cannot in good conscience send any young man into its seminaries."

This quote has elicited several comments to the effect that many Jesuits cannot/will not encourage vocations because it will endanger the faith of young men (while these Jesuits, who so fear for the souls of others, remain at their own grave peril in an apparently toxic spiritual environment?).

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame