Thursday, March 28, 2013

Loving the Broken, or How the Church Becomes Real

I have a post up on The Jesuit Post entitled "Loving the Broken, or How the Church Becomes Real." It's a reflection using the story of the Velveteen Rabbit to frame reasons why many of us belong with, and remain, in the Church.

An excerpt, taken from the piece's conclusion:

Saint Ignatius, no stranger to the 16th century Church’s shortcomings, counseled the young Society of Jesus to have just such an attitude. We ought to be those, he wrote, “who love the Church, precisely because she is covered with wounds.” And this because Ignatius understood that the Church was not meant for the perfect, but for the struggling, for those who fall frequently, even scandalously. 
Ignatius’s words still ring across the centuries, they still challenge: have we strength enough to dwell within the real Church, the wounded Church? Have we desire enough to cultivate a real mysticism, one that’s able to abide the real rather than trying to flee into the non-existent perfect? Have we courage enough to say “I believe” in communion with fellow sinners, women and men who daily inflict wounds on the Church while still struggle to be conduits of grace in a broken world? Have we hope enough serve with joy? 
A real-istic mysticism does not dispel the Church’s wounds. No, a realistic mysticism peers into the heart of darkness and waits with joyful hope. A realistic mysticism sees the pain in the dismissive advice to “get a new one.”  A realistic mysticism works by pouring itself out in love not for the perfect, but for the broken. And this for a long, long time; until our pilgrim Church becomes real.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A Self-Critical Church

I apologize for the long silence: I've been trying to (1) be prayerful in the days leading up to Holy Week and (2) work on a number of projects that are all "nearly completed" and in need of some final touch-ups.

In the 1970's, Karl Rahner observed of the Church that it, like any institution, faced many dangers: a failure to adapt itself swiftly enough to the changes in the historical situation, that it become an end in itself, that it become a merely conservative force which loses living contact with other social realities.

In short, if the Church wants to speak to contemporary culture it must first have a self-critical awareness, one able to jostle it from any laziness or indolence and prod it to keep moving along the pilgrim's path.

Although there has been much hand-wringing among some sectors of the Catholic Church, not least among various Jesuit brethren, who worry that Pope Francis is acting in a manner unbecoming of the papacy, I believe the Holy Father's actions model precisely the sort of self-criticism that challenges all of us as we live our discipleship.

Consider these words from the late Cardinal Martini:
The church is tired, in the Europe of well-being and in America. Our culture has become old, our churches and our religious houses are big and empty, the bureaucratic apparatus of the church grows, our rites and our dress are pompous. Do these things, however, express what we are today? ... Well-being weighs on us. We find ourselves like the rich young man who went away sad when Jesus called him to be his disciple. I know that we can't let everything go easily. At least, however, we can seek people who are free and closest to their neighbor, like Archbishop Romero and the Jesuit martyrs of El Salvador. Where are the heroes among us who can inspire us? By no means do we have to limit them by the boundaries of the institution.
If I have felt a great stir of hope, it has come with Pope Francis's willingness to take seriously what seemed to be then, and remain still, Martini's prophetic cry. In eschewing the trappings of a long-lost baroque church, Pope Francis's actions call us to be mindful of those with whom Jesus walked and ministered: the poor, the dispossessed, the marginalized, the forgotten.

For too long we in the West have been accustomed to a lax, ready-made Catholicism. The challenges posed by the rise of the "new atheism" and secularism are to be welcomed: rather that kvetching about people's loss of faith, we should relish the opportunity to reconsider what we believe, why we believe it, and how we might share it with others.

The Gospel has never been shared through argument alone. More than good arguments do we need good models, good witnesses, who through the stories of their lives give a sense of credibility to the Good News of Jesus Christ....who, in word and deed, become living Gospels.

The sins of our Church, of ourselves, are many and they are known to all. Rather that throw a pity-party, may this Holy Week be a time for us to take responsibility for the ways we've failed to live up to our baptismal promises and to look forward to ways we might recommit ourselves to our discipleship. If the Church is to be self-critical, if it is to look outside of its own enclave, it will do so only to the extent that we as a community of believers can look honestly at ourselves, accept where we've failed, and pray together for the strength to continue on in our mission to share the Gospel through our words and our deeds. 

Monday, March 18, 2013

Papal Coat of Arms

Rocco Palmo offers the following explanation of Pople Francis's coat of arms:

Reflecting the simplicityfor which the 266th bishop of Rome has already become rather renowned, Jorge Bergoglio chose three charges for himself on his 1992 appointment as an auxiliary of Buenos Aires: the sun marked with the Holy Name of Jesus, the historic symbol of his Jesuit community; a star for the Madonna, and a "nard flower" representing St Joseph, on whose feast he'll liturgically launch his ministry as Roman pontiff. 
The background is blue – the color traditionally affiliated with Mary – reflecting Francis' intense devotion to her, something evidenced in Rome early on the morning after his election, but one rooted at home under the mantle of Argentina's patroness, the Madonna de Luján, a Virgin cloaked in blue.
Taken from an 8th century homily on the call of St Matthew, Papa Bergoglio's motto  Miserando atque eligendo: "Lowly and yet chosen" – likewise remains the same, and the striped miter introduced by B16 to replace the tiara has been retained.  
Given all the rumors swirling around the internet that Pope Francis had been estranged or alienated from the Society of Jesus, his choice to include the seal of the Society of Jesus should be sufficient enough to still them.  

Saint Patrick's Day: A few reels

Okay, just a few reels from the Eve of Saint Patrick's Day. I had a few errors....we'll attribute it to the (not first) glass of wine sitting to my right!

Performing Faith

Yesterday, I had the great fortune yesterday to play for the CCD students at a vibrant downton Boston parish. It's the type of performance, apart from playing for Irish dancers, I enjoy most. They're not a critical audience, to be sure, but they receive what is shared with joy and enthusiasm.

Being a musician, like being a Christian, is a humbling profession. That is, one must always have a self-critical awareness, acknowledging that the tradition one belongs to is always wider and freer than any single expression of it. I am an Irish musician, not Irish music; I am a Christian, not Christianity. The Church serves the mission of God's Kingdom, it is not the Kingdom.

When a musician performs from the heart, or when Christian discipleship is lived out authentically and joyfully, a possibility of transformation arises. The musician shows forth what the music is capable of, the performance opening up new horizons the musical imagination. Likewise can a Christian show, within his or her concrete social reality, a new possibility for being human. The Christian shows, Through word and deed, the Christian's life in the world witnesses to the values of the Kingdom and shows how the things of this world can help us toward our final end but may never become the end itself.

Karl Rahner once noted within the institutional Church dangers associated with not adapting swiftly enough to the changes of historical situations, the danger of making the Church an end in itself rather than the means to our ultimate end, the Kingdom of God, the danger of becoming a merely conservative force out of touch with people's living realities.

The Church serves the mission of God, God does not serve the mission of the Church. We err destructively when we confuse this.

"Opposition, criticism, and protest" Rahner suggests, belong essentially the life of the Church - in every era, women and men of good will must be willing to stand as prophets, recalling the Church to its core identity, its base memory, its constitution as a bearer of the Gospel. These prophets will labor, always, under the shadow of the Cross. Yet, as Rahner reminds us in one of his typically unending sentences:
If we cannot be Christians except by following our crucified Lord in the assent of faith and hope to all the futility of human existence, which at least in death achieves its most radical and palpable manifestation, if, furthermore, this act of faith and hope in accepting the futility of existence on the part of the Christian has to be posited not merely in purely cultic acts or in the private and interior sphere alone, but in the hard down-to-earth secular sphere of the Christian's worldly life, then it follows that from his Christian understanding of existence the Christian can find the understanding and the courage to venture upon that commitment which he has to take upon himself without any assurance of success and which has to be ventured upon in any really effective attempt at achieving social change in the struggle against all the forces in society that cling onto their own selfish interests. (Rahner, "The Function of The Church As A Critic of Society")
 When faithful Christians express a sense of hopelessness, of frustration at the seeming futility of their voices that call for reform within the Church they love, Rahner's words give rise to hope: your faith in Christ, the crucified and risen one, does not guarantee that your words will be met gladly or with easy reception. Indeed, just as the Word was rejected by the world, so will your words inspired by love and fidelity to the Word fall under the shadow of the Cross.

The summons to be a prophet carries the most dire of all risks: abject failure. Being inspired by God's grace, in a world stained by sin, hardly guarantees that you'll be successful. Based on the "cloud of witnesses" in our tradition, it seems, if you dare to speak out under the inspiration of the Word, you're probably going to be silenced. In every generation, this dark grace falls to many and invites a discipleship lived under the shadow of the Cross where hope in the Resurrection enables the endurance of the Passion we enter into for speaking the Truth.

A true musician plays music not because he has to, or because he gets something, but because the music bursts forth from the soul...the musician cannot not play. The Prophet's soul is similarly marked, being one who cannot not speak and live the Gospel, even when the Cross looms in the distance. 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Sources of Confusion and Corruption

I invited an anonymous poster to share what s/he thought were the sources of "Confusion and Corruption" in the Society of Jesus. Rather than carry the conversation on in the comment box, I'll move the meat of it up here. 

1. Studies show students losing their faith in Jesuit universities despite or even because of Jesuit theology classes. No Jesuit University demands the canon law mandatum of theology professors (Creighton did for a while). 

First, unless we're willfully participating in an exercise of Data-Free Analysis, I would expect a link, or a footnote referencing, these studies. When I hear, "studies have shown" my stomach twinges a bit in that, unless I have recourse to look at and consider the study, it does me no good. If this study were made public, I'd relish the chance to read it. 

As to the mandatum, I can only say that at Canisius College (back in 2002) they Catholic faculty members has them. My friends who are Catholics and teach theology in Jesuit schools have them. Again, do you have proof of this claim?

2. The Jesuits' honors to Sebelius during the HHS showdown were as brave and academically free as honors for segregationist thinkers would have been during the Civil Rights era. 

Okay, so this is how it works. Think of the relationship between the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and our college and universities like a family who starts a corporation, turns it over to a board of directors independent of the family's control, but retains seats on the board. 

If Dunscorp, my imaginary company founded by my family, decided to cede its control, it could establish a board to whom it would entrust authority over the company. That is, it could hire a CEO, a COO, CFO, and create a board with various Trustees to manage the company. Sure, we might keep a few seats on the board but, knowing my family, we'd retire to some condos on a tacky beach where we'd drink inexpensive beer by the side of a pool...starting, daily, before noon.

So if, one day, Dunscorp gives an aware to someone, that doesn't mean the Duns Family has given the award. The corporation has, quite possibly in defiance of the Duns family board members. The institution is not the family.

This should be clear. When Gonzaga does well in basketball, no one ever says, "Hell! The Jesuits are the best basketball players" or "The Jesuits won a basketball game." We recognize the distinction. Nor would one, upon walking upon an immaculately clean campus, say, "The Jesuits are marvelous custodians" (Get a look at our bedrooms: many of us are not!). Instead, you'd praise the custodial staff. 

Your analogy, consequently, fails because of the distinction between the Society of Jesus (with its governance, provinces, etc.) and the institutions it founded but does not exercise direct and immediate control over. You may not like that we don't have direct control over every facet, but it's the reality. A University made the decision, the Jesuits did not. 

3. Jesuit student life offices sponsor LGBTQ coming out days that aren't charitable practical helps to accept others and live the Christian vocation, but are about embracing the culture's wrongheaded anything-goes view.

Maybe you have more experience in this than I do, but I have worked with many students (high school and college aged) who have struggled with the issue of human sexuality. If a programming office (again, go back to the distinction made in #2) should run an event whereby a student finds the support to take ownership of his or her sexuality so that it might be healthily integrated into the student's life: where is the problem with this? Surely, you know the Church teaches it is not a sin to be a homosexual, only to act on those sexual desires. 

One cannot accept another until one accepts oneself. Or, as a venerable spiritual director told me, "You can't be holy until you're whole." I agree: if a coming-out day is simply a display of profligacy, then it's probably not in keeping with anything I'd support (then again, if you think that the heterosexual students are bowed before the Blessed Sacrament on a Friday night, you should visit a college campus). 

4. The final question: How would you reform the Society of Jesus? The answer's in the word itself: Put it back into its rightful form. It's what the Holy Fathers always say to you guys: Return to the founder.

I can think of no better place to start that with Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI who said, addressing the General Congregation 35, 
As my Predecessors have said to you on various occasions, the Church needs you, relies on you and continues to turn to you with trust, particularly to reach those physical and spiritual places which others do not reach or have difficulty in reaching. 
Your presumption is that there is "rightful form" as though were a static body, a thing, perhaps even a weapon. We're not. We're Companions of of Jesus, pilgrims through time summoned to dialogue with and engage culture animated by the Gospel and a deep love of Jesus Christ.  

We can't "return" to the founder if by that you mean turning back the clocks and trying to live in a Church that no longer exists and will never again exist. Not for nothing, although you may see our world as "porn-and-sex-obsessed," I'd say we're probably just as sex-obsessed today as we were fifty years ago: we're just tremendously transparent about it. If we speak only of clergy sex abuse, we can easily find numerous recorded instances (John Jay Report 2004) of abuse long before Vatican II.

Saint Ignatius understood the ways of the world and saw that these ways could lead to God. Not uncritically, mind you, but with discernment and care. When I see my brother Jesuits working with refugees, on the frontiers of the internet, or engaged with other culture I am proud of their efforts. The credibility of faith today will not be found in mandatums, as important as they are, but in the living witness of a discipleship that gives us courage to proclaim the Gospel in ever new situations. Our "return to the founder" isn't an exercise in time travel, but retrieval - we need to stay in touch with Ignatius's insight that God can be found in all things and bring that joy to a world in desperate need of Good news. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Happy St. Patrick's Day from the Jesuits

Remember, folks, it's "Happy Saint Patrick's Day."

Patty = a very pleasant waitress at Denny's
Paddy = offensive nickname for an Irish person (authority: Urban Dictionary)

We canonized Saint Patrick. The other two options are, well, less than ideal!

A Civil Society?

I have been thinking a great deal lately about what makes society - either our American society, the worldwide society of humans, or my own Society of Jesus - civil. That is, what promotes our living well together?

Recently I read an essay by Jesuit Father John Courtney Murray entitled "Civil Unity and Religious Integrity." Granted that this essay was penned almost sixty years ago, it bears sharing:
In America we have been rescued from the disaster of ideological parties. They are a disaster because where such parties exist, power becomes a special kind of prize. The struggle for power is a partisan struggle for the means whereby the opposing ideology may be destroyed. It has been remarked that only in a disintegrating society does politics become a controversy over ends; it should be simply a controversy over means to ends already agreed on with sufficient unanimity
 For those who thought me uncharitable to Mr. Weigel in my last post, perhaps my frustration with his work arises from what I see to be precisely his seduction to this partisan grasping at power. In Weigel's world, the Church is divided into various camps - liberal/conservative, orthodox/heterodox - with each grasping at the power of the papacy, the power of various offices, the power really doesn't matter. The grasp is for power. "When I'm in charge, I'm going to fix the the corruptions and abuses, reform the system....". We've heard it all before: every election cycle, every transition of CEO, and now with the change of pope.

Sometimes I look around the chapel at the 70+ Jesuits in my community and think, "Lord, you do exist, for only you could assemble such a crew. I know this isn't the group I'd pick!" This is a good realization for, no matter our differences or disagreements about how we preach the Gospel, how we promote the Kingdom, how we live out the mission entrusted to the Church, we do so with the common bond of being friends in the Lord, Companions of Jesus. Both in the name of our religious institute and in the depths of our hearts, we are held together by a single point: Jesus Christ.

Do we have such a lodestar in our own nation? It seems that we do not. If we can't sort out a budget, or have meaningful debate about immigration, healthcare, and guns, perhaps it's because we've disintegrated so far that we've forgotten how to talk to one another. Where our words, our reason, fail we resort to power grabs.

We need to re-learn how to talk to one another. Whether as a church or nation, we must keep three questions in mind:
  1. Who are we?
  2. Where are we going?
  3. How do we get there? 
What is our identity? What are we about? Are we a river or are we a swamp? Are we flowing along, albeit with rocks and obstacles in our way, obstacles slowly eroded over time, or are we just stagnant water? Do we have a purpose we can agree upon, a goal or destination, or have we given up hope for getting anywhere?

Shame on us if we expect one person to tell us where we're going. Near as I can tell, that's called a dictatorship and they never seem to end well. Pope Francis, bishop of Rome, eschewed a pedestal and stood on the same level to greet the cardinals who had elected him. We vote each cycle for the leadership who will move our country forward. We're in this, all of us, together and if we can't learn to talk to one another, to trust one another, there's no chance we'll go anywhere. The open horizon of the future that invites us to move forward with joy and innovation will become blotted out by clouds of despair and growing world-weariness.

In his first homily as the Holy Father, Pope Francis exhorts his listeners to movement: walking, building, professing. To do so as disciples on mission, however, is no easy task. Pope Francis notes that the way of discipleship proceeds, always, shadowed by the cross:
This Gospel continues with a special situation. The same Peter who confessed Jesus Christ, says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God. I will follow you, but let us not speak of the Cross. This has nothing to do with it.” He says, “I’ll follow you on other ways, that do not include the Cross.” When we walk without the Cross, when we build without the Cross, and when we profess Christ without the Cross, we are not disciples of the Lord. We are worldly, we are bishops, priests, cardinals, Popes, but not disciples of the Lord.  
 Peter's reluctance to face the Cross was overcome only through conversation with and a radical conversion toward the risen Lord. As we continue our journey through Lent, a journey increasingly darkened by the shadow of the approaching cross, may we continue to pray, to converse, with the Lord and turn our hearts toward the One who leads us. Rather than grasping at a power which tells us what we own, let us be grasped by the power who makes us to be what we are and gives us an identity beyond all others: sisters and brothers in Christ, children of God, pilgrims moving toward the Kingdom.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

We see things not as they are...

...but as we are.

Poor George Weigel. A wry smile crept across my face as I read his piece in the National Review (page three for the juicy bits) where he muses:
I suspect there were not all that many champagne corks flying last night in those Jesuit residences throughout the world where the Catholic Revolution That Never Was is still regarded as the ecclesiastical holy grail. For the shrewder of the new pope’s Jesuit brothers know full well that that dream was just dealt another severe blow. And they perhaps fear that this pope, knowing the Society of Jesus and its contemporary confusions and corruptions as he does, just might take in hand the reform of the Jesuits that was one of the signal failures of the pontificate of John Paul II.
I smile because Mr. Weigel succeeds in being simultaneously totally correct and totally wrong. That is, there were no champagne corks flying in our community last night - we can't afford champagne, but a lot of guys did toast our Jesuit brother, Pope Francis, with raised bottles of beer. I can't say that I partook in the festivities for too long, although I did have a glass of wine. I went, instead, to a 9:00 pm celebration of the Eucharist where we prayed for the Holy Father.

What's sort of sad about Weigel is that he is a mirror image of what he despises in the Church. He perceives a liberal feint to the left, so he moves right. Some read the election of Pope Benedict XVI and the election of Pope Francis as an act of the Holy Spirit, Weigel takes it as an issue of political intrigue. This coming from the guy who stridently defended the Legion of Christ, once claiming to have been "deeply impressed by the work of Legionaries of Christ in the United States" and praised its disgraced founder, ex-Father Maciel, and his charism whose "fruits are most impressive indeed."

Orchard owners and farmers: be warned! If this is Mr. Weigel demonstrating his knowledge of fruits, better not rely on his forecast your next harvest.

Nor should the Church.

What Weigel fails to grasp is that men entering religious life today aren't fighting yesterday's battles. We are men and women who feel called to live their discipleship as servants of the Church which, itself, serves Jesus' mission to spread the Gospel. We serve the mission God gave to the Church to proclaim the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, we know the Church is not perfect...but neither are we. Still, we choose to serve joyfully because we are excited about the future the Lord is inviting us into.

His myopia aside, it must be admitted, it must be said that for all his blustering,  Mr. Weigel desperately needs those for whom "the Catholic Revolution that Never Was" because, without them, what is he? Just another voice, another pundit, offering his two-cents as he works as a Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center. I say "work" loosely, because I'm not quite certain what a "Fellow" does all day long. Think thoughts? Have leisure time to cultivate grudges and snark?

Weigel's a pitiable sort, really, with not much knowledge of how the Society of Jesus works and seemingly out of touch with the state of contemporary religious life. Let's look at another gem. Of Cardinal Bergoglio's relationship to the Jesuits, he writes that he
...embodied “dynamic orthodoxy,” just like John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger; who had been persecuted by his more theologically and politically left-leaning Jesuit brethren after his term as Jesuit provincial in Argentina (they exiled him to northern Argentina, where he taught high-school chemistry until rescued by John Paul II and eventually made archbishop of Buenos Aires); and who was doubtless appalled by the whole exercise on his putative behalf.
I mean, I reckon it's hard to imagine from the heights of being a "Fellow," but teaching high school students is probably a more effective form of evangelization than any series of luncheons or "think tank" sessions one can attend in a lifetime. If you can make something interesting and accessible to a high school student, Lord knows, you can surely bring it to any corner of the world. Having taught high school, in my estimation, may be the best credential the Holy Father brings to this new job.

In the current Holy Father's election, a long untapped resource of those who have been, and are being taught, by Jesuits is now accessed in a potentially exciting ways. It's my suspicion that many - certainly not all - alums of Jesuit institutions felt a sense of pride in knowing that they have, however loosely, a connection to the Holy Father by virtue of a brotherhood that encompasses the globe. Struck by his simplicity of style and how he has eschewed much pageantry, how cannot I not hear an echo of our deceased brother Cardinal Martini's words, "...our culture has become old, our churches and our religious houses are big and empty, the bureaucratic apparatus of the church grows, our rites and our dress are pompous."

A day into his pontificate, I have hope. I had hope the day before his pontificate began, too. Why? Because my hope is in God, revealed in Jesus Christ whose Spirit gathers us together and leads us on our earthly pilgrimage toward the Kingdom of God. Our Holy Father will now take his turn shepherding the flock. He will make strides and, undoubtedly, stumble along the way. Yet, rather that trying to parse his allegiance to the Jesuits and speculate about how he's going to "reform the Jesuits," I shall look to the Pope with brotherly affection and a spirit of availability to go where the Vicar of Christ might send me.

I don't speak alone, of this I have no doubt. But don't tell Mr. Weigel...he continues to need shadows to box, if only to prompt him to write books, make television appearances, and do whatever it is a Fellow does. 

Jesuits, for Dummies

Since so many are searching for information on the Society of Jesus, here's information that may help

What is the Society of Jesus?
The Society of Jesus is a religious order of the Roman Catholic Church, founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola. The Jesuits are the largest male religious order in the world, with approximately 19,000 members internationally.
How was the Society of Jesus founded?
Ignatius of Loyola founded the ‘Company of Jesus’ with six others (Francisco Xavier, Pierre Faber, Alonso Salmerón, Diego Laínez, Nicolás Bobadilla and Simão Rodriguez) and took their first vows at a Mass at Montmartre in Paris in 1534. In 1537 they traveled to Italy to receive permission from Pope Paul III for the religious order. Later that year, Ignatius and his companions were ordained to the priesthood in Venice, Italy. On September 27, 1540, at the Palazzo San Marco in Rome, Pope Paul III signed the Bull “Regimini militantis ecclesiae,” establishing the Society of Jesus officially as a religious order.
How is the Society of Jesus organized?
Jesuits around the world are organized into 91 geographic areas called provinces governed by a provincial superior who is appointed by and reports directly to the Society’s Superior General. Jesuit provinces are grouped into 10 regional “assistancies,” each with an “assistant” to Father General in Rome. In the United States, ten provinces form a single assistancy.
Who is the current Superior General of the Society of Jesus?
On January 19, 2008, Father Adolfo Nicolás, SJ, moderator of the East Asian Assistancy, was elected 30th Superior General of the Society of Jesus.
Where does the name Jesuit come from?
It was first applied derisively to the Society, meaning “one who used too frequently or appropriated the name of Jesus.” While never employed by its founder, members and friends of the Society in time appropriated the name in its now positive meaning.
What are the vows that Jesuits take? What is the fourth vow?
Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. The fourth vow is of obedience to the Pope with regard to mission.
What is the formula for the four solemn vows that Jesuits take?
I, (name), make my profession, and I promise to Almighty God, in the presence of his Virgin Mother, the whole heavenly court, and all those here present and to you , Reverend Father (Provincial, Rector, etc.) representing the Superior General of the Society of Jesus and his successors and holding the place of God, perpetual poverty, chastity and obedience; and, in conformity with it, special care for the instruction of children, according to the manner of living contained in the apostolic letters of the Society of Jesus and its Constitutions.
I further promise a special obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff in regard to the missions according to the same apostolic letters and Constitutions.
Place (name), in the Church of (name), on the date of (date)
(Signatures of the one making vows and the one receiving them).
Do Jesuits have a formal habit?
Jesuits do not have an official habit. In the Constitutions of the Society, it gives these instructions concerning clothing; “The clothing too should have three characteristics: first, it should be proper; second, conformed to the usage of the country of residence; and third, not contradictory to the poverty we profess…” (Const. 577)
Historically, a “Jesuit-style cassock” became standard issue: it wrapped around the body and was tied with a cincture, rather than the customary buttoned front, a tuftless biretta (only diocesan clergy wore tufts), and a simple cape. As such, though Jesuit garb appeared distinctive, and became identifiable over time, it was the common priestly dress of Ignatius’ day. During the missionary periods of the Continental Americas, the various American Indian tribes referred to Jesuits as “Blackrobes” because of their black cassocks. Today, most Jesuits wear the Roman collar tab shirts in non-liturgical, ministerial settings.
What is the IHS?
IHS is derived from the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, iota-eta-sigma. IHS is also featured in the Jesuit crest.
What is AMDG?
AMDG is the abbreviation of the Latin phrase: “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam.” In English this translates to “For the greater glory of God.”
Does the Society of Jesus have a women religious order or lay third order?
The Jesuits do not have a female religious component in the Society. However, there are a number of congregations of women religious that have modeled themselves on Ignatian Spirituality, such as the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, etc.
General Congregation 34 launched a small scale project into a third order type relationship, but at General Congregation 35, the project ended (See GC35 Decree 6, Paragraph 58). The Jesuits do have many lay partners that are integral in numerous Jesuits works such as Apostleship of Prayer, Christian Life Communities, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Ignatian Volunteer Corps, among others.

Amazed by Wonder

Aristotle, as many people know, believed that philosophical reflection begins in wonder (thaumazein). I think this is something I, at least, take for granted: I spend a great deal of time trying to work out complicated questions, making things clear for myself and others, that it's easy to neglect being in a state of wonder or astonishment. It's easy, that is, to try to make things reasonable, understandable, manageable. 

On Sunday, while playing the accordion for an Irish dancing competition, my friend Theresa (piano) and I were seated behind the stages. Preparing to dance, the children would line up just in front of us before going on stage. After many years of playing, I'm the first to admit that I seldom watch the dancers any longer. 

Yet as I watched the kids line up and prepared to play, one little girl caught my eye. She was possibly six years old and clearly very excited to get up on the stage. As the stage monitor lined her group up, she could barely contain herself: she kept bouncing up and down and her arms swung wildly back and forth. My mind immediately went to my own observations of my niece and nephew who can, at times, get so excited that words fail them and their whole body seems to shake and jiggle and cry out.

I was amazed, at that moment, by the way children show amazement. We adults like to put our feelings of wonder and awe into neat phrases or categories, cleaning them up and making them sound "reasonable" or "rational." So often we suppress, tamp down, hold back, or control our feelings of joy or excitement. We may slap a high-five, let out a little shout of joy, or offer a wry smile. Yet the over-abundance of astonishment that quakes the child's body, we translate into language. 

In 2 Samuel 6 we read of a most astonishing event: King David dancing before the ark of God. I say astonishing because we can hardly imagine our leaders - politicians, CEO's, clergy - dancing. We expect them to be dignified, restrained, mature. Yet so great was his joy that David threw off others' expectations of what it means to be a leader and danced with joy before the Lord. 

Very often, it seems as though we think we need to "get the ideas right" in order to behave correctly. Certainly the pundits interviewed about the pope have this notion: first the pope would need change Church teaching (which, they hasten to add, is unlikely) in order that Catholics then could live the lives of faith they desire. I wonder if we have it totally wrong. In fact, I'm pretty certain we have it totally backward.

First we need to reconnect with our sense of childlike wonder, a surge of astonishment that shakes us in our shoes and overrides ours senses and makes our bodies cry out with joy. We need to learn to dance again, to dance freely with excitement, not because it's what is expected but because it's the only way we can celebrate: with our bodies. Then, after our dance, or even during it, we can reflect on it and see how our thoughts match our actions, rather than our actions having to match our thoughts. 

My hope for this new pontificate is that Pope Francis remains true to the way he has danced before the Lord: as a man of deep humility, of great prayer, and a love of the poor. I pray that he calls Catholics past the stumbling block of teaching, moving us beyond our heads and into our hands and feet, inviting us to join in building up God's Kingdom. Let the teachings catch up with the practice: as each of us work, as sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ, the theology will emerge to describe who we are as a people. 

For those who want Church teaching to change, it won't happen in papal apartments or seminar rooms. It will happen in the barrios and housing projects, soup kitchens and refugee camps, where the embodied witness to the Gospel forces us to think anew how to describe the dance of faith we have begun. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Habemus Papam Franciscum!

It's utterly surreal to post that today the Church has selected one of my brother Jesuits to be the the 266th Bishop of Rome and leader of the Roman Catholic Church. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was today elected to be the Holy Father to 1.2 Billion Catholics.

His name is telling: Pope Francis. The name the image of Saint Francis of Assisi, charged in a vision of the Crucified Christ to "go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin."

Please join with me in praying for Pope Francis. May his simplicity and fervent devotion to the Lord give him the grace and strength to lead his flock. The task he has been given - a superhuman charge, to be sure - will ask more than any one man can give. Yet buoyed by our prayers and enlivened by God's grace, may he preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a Spirit of love and charity, setting on fire the hearts who long to hear Good News. 

Cultural Blindness

"If it takes a community to raise a child," psychologist Mary Gail Frawley-O'Dea writes, "it also takes a community to abuse a child; whenever a minor is sexually violated, someone's eyes are closed." (Perversion of Power, 31)

My ongoing research into various dimension of the clergy sex-abuse scandal has increasingly made me aware that the act of "sex abuse" seldom involves exclusively the Perpetrator and the Victim. Of course, at it's basal level, it does: the perpetrator abuses his/her power and takes advantage of one entrusted to him/her. Nevertheless,  it does appear that a great deal of the anger elicited over the scandal has arisen from the realization that people knew, that authorities had information, yet failed to act. A culture of fear - one does not betray a brother priest - as well as a culture of deference - "Father could never have..." - both contributed to this problem.

A project I'm about to begin, in hopes of presenting the paper at a conference, engages this question: why is it relatively easy to report, or talk about, clergy sex abuse when we have, as a culture, a difficult time talking about the exploitation of minors? This occurred to me in reading a piece in the paper last week by Renée Loth entitled "Exploited boys remain invisible."

Loth suggests that one of the challenges facing those who want to confront the issue of sex trafficking among boys is that we are freighted with culture baggage, attitudes "that refuse to see young men as victims; that somehow they should be able to defend themselves against exploitation."

My thesis: there are certain structural features of clergy sex abuse - a corporate style of dealing with information and moving predatory priests, a culture of secrecy, the exploitation of the vulnerable - that gives a template for discussing these instances of abuse. We've become accustomed to talking about sex abuse by clergy in a particular style.

Yet we have, as a culture, no real template for talking about other types of abuse. Our culture blinds us to the exploitation of entire segments of our society, so we remain in the dark. It's become easy to imagine clergy abuse, but hard for us to conceive of the mass exploitation of children in other ways, particularly sex-trafficking. We've become fixated on one type of scandalous abuse to the detriment of many other victims.

I raise this more as a way of continuing to think through the early stages of my own research. It's a hunch, an intuition, but I fear that failing to ask such questions will contribute to a lingering darkness when our culture desperately needs the light of truth, regardless of how painful and shocking it is for us. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Why is it that...?

Can someone explain to me why it is that, when I'm gathered in rather polite company, someone (usually after a few drinks) leans in, points toward me, and begins (what is almost certain to be) a harangue with the line, "You know, the Church needs to..."

Insert here your list of agenda items that the Church "needs to":

  • ordain women and married men
  • be relevant 
  • relax on the issue of abortion (Sort of an "Awww, geee, I guess it's okay" stance?)
  • be nice to nuns
  • let people use condoms and artificial birth control (this always conjures up an image of a bishop standing in one's bedroom, withholding the Trojans or denying the pill)
  • get in touch with the needs of real people
  • Do something about sex abuse (No argument here, but I have to admit that a great deal has been done: most of the cases we hear of in the news are decades old)
  • be more inclusive (this is a catch-all term, I find)
When I hear "You know, the Church needs..." my stomach instinctively tightens and my mind wanders off to its happy place where I can be untroubled. The smile on crosses my face as the person excitedly tells me about "the Church" never betrays that, on the inside, I'm totally checked out.

Condescending? A bit. Simply for this reason: I have no idea what people are talking about when they say "The Church" as though there exists some monolithic building out there. Truth be told, there is no such thing as "The Church" over-and-against the people who receive the Gospel in every generation, over-and-against the faithful who attempt to live out their call to discipleship as sinners in in a broken world. 

In short, all the things that people say "the Church" fails are are precisely the things that we fail at, in various ways. If the Church isn't relevant, or inclusive, or nice, or whatever it's because we as a Christian people tend not to be relevant, inclusive, or nice, whatever. 

There's an Irish joke that starts, "How do I get to Dublin" and the response comes back, "If I were you, I wouldn't start from here." Do you see the joke: there's no place else to start but here, where one stands, if one wishes to get anywhere. There's no point in dieting "after I finish this cake" because there'll always be another cake to devour before the diet starts. Likewise it does no good to say "the Church needs to..." if we, ourselves, are not willing to be the change we wish to see. 

I'm far from good at this. Despite my best efforts and sincerest intentions, I am pretty frequently mean, petty, obnoxious, mean-spirited, competitive, and irritable. I can be exclusive with whom I associate, I can deride those with whom I disagree, I can mock those whose opinions differ from mine, I can dismiss those who may sincerely be seeking after the truth simply because it doesn't fit into my schema and my zone of comfort. In short, I can be a huge jerk. 

Reading other Catholic blogs, or Christian blogs, whether they are liberal or conservative, progressive or traditional, I have a feeling that I'm not alone in this. 

We will never see a change in "the Church" if we don't start at the ground-level by responding to the Holy Spirit's invitation to follow the Lord more closely. We are the Church, called to be a light to the nations, a sign of contradiction to a sinful culture, a people of hope walking together toward the promised land. 

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

We Needed a Poll for This?

The New York Times is carrying a story this evening entitled "Poll Shows Disconnect Between U.S. Catholics and Church." Call me cynical, call me crazy, call me to task for just having finished two glasses of wine before reading the story, but my initial response: Duh! Ecclesiastes got it right: Nothing is new under the sun (1:9). American Catholics are discontent, demanding that the Roman Catholic Church conform itself to the image and likeness of 6% of the world's Catholic population.

No surprise. No shock. At least not here.

I'll be the guy to say it: the Catholic Church is at its worst when it adapts to American culture. Speaking only to the Catholic Church in America, I'd say that we are at our level worst when we behave as other institutions: profits over people, secrecy over transparency, power over prophecy. In order to preserve our good name, to safeguard our reputation, we have lied and covered-up terrible atrocities against our most precious resource: our young. In the process we have lost the trust of many and eroded the confidence of even more.

We bought into a culture of short-term fixes, we subscribed to a mindset that the ends justifies the means, we lost our connection with the message of the Gospel and surrendered to a culture that encourages us to "do whatever it takes to get long as you don't get caught."

It pains me that so many wonderful contributions of my religious tradition - contributions to art, literature, music, education, the sciences, the humanities - are covered over because we engaged in the same practices used by other organization to conceal their misdeeds. It breaks my heart that the beauty of Catholicism is rubbled over by so much filth. My one consolation: at least its not met with a shrug of the shoulders and an admission of, "Oh Well." The anger and disgust felt by so many speaks to the ultimate reality: the Church is called to more, to be more, than it has.

It's not too late.

Not that anyone asked, but I'd like a truly conservative pope to be elected. I want a man of deep prayer, a lover of our tradition, a good communicator and administrator (right, I've already asked for too much).  I want a guy who can discern what needs to be conserved, what constitutes the "base memory" and truth of the tradition, and preserve it. I want a guy who, given heart by the Gospel, engages a world culture that needs to be lifted from the doldrums and given something to believe in once again.

Many in the Catholic Church lament our times. Some wish the Church would change. Others long for a long-past (and probably non-existent) golden age of the past. I differ. I think this is the best time to be a Catholic. Hard, yes, but the best because we have to get back to our roots, to come to know Jesus Christ once again, and to share the Gospel with a needy world. We can't take for granted any longer that we will be the only voice heard. But of the voices that have promised satisfaction and happiness - money, power, prestige, etc. - none has delivered. The Gospel can, and must compete with this.

If we let it.

We didn't need a poll to tell us American Catholics felt estranged from the hierarchy. We need only look around. That said, we may still ask: so what? Will we stay alienated or will we summon the courage to be what we could be, a light to the nations, a word of hope in a time of despair? We are all looking for a new pope, and there's excitement about it to be sure. But the credibility of the Catholic faith neither rests nor falls on the merits of its leader. It's our duty, as sisters and brothers, to live the faith others can believe in.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

When Turkeys Attack

When I was missioned to study theology at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, I had immediate expectations: an excitement to plug into a vibrant Irish music scene, lots of opportunities to play at Irish dancing competitions, access to wonderful academic resources, and the vibrant cultural life afforded by living in a major city.

What I didn't expect to discovery my mortal foe, my great nemesis. Sure, history is full of great rivalries:
Ahab had Moby Dick. 

Mufasa had Scar. 

Hulk Hogan had Andre the Giant.

VHS had Beta. 

Batman had the Joker. 

Me? Well, I have....the wild turkey. Not the kind you drink, either. 

I can't recall if I heard about the turkeys before I saw them or if it sort of happened at the same time. One paper's headline reads "Wild Turkeys terrorize Massachusetts." You may read this and think, "You've got to be kidding. These are turkeys, not zombies." 

Well, here's the difference. It's probably quite socially acceptable to fight a zombie. I mean, if a recognizable zombie attacked you or your family you'd be well within your rights to bludgeon it about the head, decapitate it, or take some measure of action to protect you and your loved ones. 

Such a course of action is not permitted in treating these turkeys. If zombies attacked, I'd be regarded a hero for defending my house with aggression. If, however, I go running about after the turkeys with a a machete or club, someone will undoubtedly call the news, the police, and the Animal Protective League (possibly in that order, too). 

I think they know that they are immune to attack from humans. They strut about, holding up traffic as they cross the street. They saunter over to our bird feeder and eat rapaciously, leaving little "mementos" on our lawn and sidewalk. If one is not careful upon approaching the house, one may well track some of this memento in with him. 

The other morning, during a downpour, I could not get out one of our doors because one of the turkeys barred the way. You might think, "Just throw the door open and it'll move." Well, it won't. These things are, in the immortal words of Father Clifford, "Arrogant." It stood there, unblinking, as I tried to get out. I'm only grateful I made it to another exit before it, or one of its friends, could intercept me. 

Indeed, they act as a herd. Just the other morning, as I was walking to class, I saw a gang of three menacing a poor little Chinese boy on his way to school. This prompted me to take a photo. By the time I retrieved my cell phone from my bag and started to snap pictures, their attention had turned fromt the boy to me. As you can see, I held my ground long enough to get a picture of the big one heading for me. I scrambled away soon after, unscathed. 

They, as a sign of their unsurpassable power, proceeded to cross the street slowly, holding up traffic in both directions on Foster Street. 

Make no mistake: I'm not going to take this lightly. They may have the law and do-gooders on their side, but I have a few tricks up my sleeve. Just as they plot from their perches, so shall I conspire from my cave. I thought scripture, or metaphysics, might pose the greatest challenge to me this year...but I was wrong. 

So were the Chinese. They think it's the "Year of the Water Snake." I beg to differ. 

It's the year of the Turkey.   

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame