Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

29 October 2006

Lex Orandi, Lex Credendi

"What's the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist?
You can negotiate with a terrorist."

I'm amazed how upset Catholics, including myself, get about liturgy. What songs to sing, who does what, etc...

Cardinal Arinze in a recent meeting with French priests said, "the liturgy is not property of anyone--neither the celebrant nor the community in which the mysteries are celebrated."

Liturgy is important. Important things demand close attention. Liturgy is the Lamb's Supper, heaven and earth unite, the most sublime action humans can partake in this life. Christ comes among us in a unique and profound way through the Mass.

Good liturgy is that liturgy which highlights sacred mysteries. Bad liturgical practice is that which blurs the image of Christ.

What concretely constitutes good and bad liturgy is a difficult question. One which must be answered with great humility, a humility which goes beyond personal opinion and aesthetic preferences.

The Church in general has seen liturgy hijacked for various purposes, on both sides of any given debate. Choosing to replace 'He' with 'God' or sometimes 'She' becomes a statement rather than a reference to the divine. There are numerous other examples for both 'Conservatives' and 'Liberals'. While their might be legitimate issues as to whether a particular aspect needs tweaked such as gendered language, the liturgy itself is not a forum for debate. The exhortation to make peace with our brothers and sisters before approaching the altar rings very true today.


23 October 2006

Fall Villa

The Novices of Loyola House are returned safely from our brief fall villa at the Jesuit house in Omena, Michigan. The tradition of Jesuit villas as places outside the city where Jesuits could recover in the peace of nature stretches back throughout the history of the Society. I believe it was Ignatius's idea to have villas but owing to my lowliness as a novice, I'm not sure. Regardless, they're a good idea.

The villa at Omena is more of a compound. The land and houses were donated to the Society back in the thirties. It's a beautiful property on banks of Lake Michigan which stretches inland to includes a large forested area. I don't exactly know how many. This post is really light on the details so far: I must be slipping.

We explored the woods, which was a bit precarious in hunting season, and the various houses on the property. It was a bit overcast and rainy but otherwise conditions were amicable.

The picture is from Leaping Bears Duns located about 30 mins drive from the Villa. The picture doesn't do justice to the immense size and number of the various sand duns. I was quiet impressed. Hiking on the duns proved more challenging than I originally anticipated what with the strong winds and getting stuck in the sand.

Time to go study Spanish, a test is looming tomorrow insofar as tests without grades can loom. AMDG Posted by Picasa

19 October 2006

Two Months

Today is my class' two month anniversary of entering the Society, not much of an anniversary I know. Baby steps.

More importantly, today is the feast of the North American Martyrs: Jesuits and companions who gave their lives for the faith while spreading the Gospel in what is now Southern Canada and the Northern United States.

Finally, tomorrow the novices head up to Omena, Michigan for a weekend away. In Jesuit speak, we're going 'on villa.' It will be nice to get out into the country and see the fall colors before winter sets in.


14 October 2006

His Judgment Cometh?

Time's comment on my last post raised an interesting question. To what extend do folks like myself who in some way represent religion spread fear among the elderly we visit? Or spread fear in general for that matter.

Frederich Nietzsche said in All to Human, "Out of fear and need each religion is born." Nietzsche was no great fan of religion; he found it rather abhorrent in fact.

I'm not competent to speak for all religion. In Christianity, there is a place for fear but a much more prominent place for consolation. Pope John Paul the Great began his pontificate with the now famous words, "Do not be afraid." This call to take courage is central to the Christian message. Nietzsche is correct in highlighting fear as important. Fear should not be a product of religion, rather religion should dispel fear, replacing it with courage and trust in a loving God.

The worst possible condition for a person, hell, is not ultimately fire, brimstone and torment. What makes hell really bad being cut off from God. This isolation from God is something chosen by the disposition of a person's heart and mind. Heaven conversely is being united to God, not some eternal five-star resort.

It is a terrible misconception of the Christian message to portray God as spitefully marking down offenses ready to deal out punishment after death. God is just, but God is also merciful.

Perhaps some of the residents we visit have a conception of God as heavenly disciplinarian rather than merciful savior. Coming to the end of life waiting to be judged by such a one would be a frightening experience. If I must be a symbol in visiting, I hope to be a symbol of mercy not judgement.

11 October 2006

Lame Excuses

Today most of the residents at the nursing home were in a foul mood and didn't feel like talking. Many of them are polite enough to bow out of conversation gracefully when they don't feel like talking. My favorite excuse from nursing home patients is, "It was nice talking to you, but I've got to be going," or some less coherent variant of this. While on the outside this is a plausible explanation for ending conversation, in a nursing home the residents really have no place to go and precious few appointments to keep. After they tell me they've "got to be going", they proceed to spend the next few hours in the same spot staring at the walls. So much for my sparkling conversation. Perhaps one of the benefits of getting really old is no longer feeling obliged to provide plausible lies. If so, I'm looking forward to it. Though the direct approach suits me better, which usually runs something along the lines of "don't you have something better to do?" I've been tempted to ask, "define better" but have thus far resisted.

We visit during prime soap opera time, which has proven a strategic disadvantage; human contact is one thing, but soap operas, those are important. I've tried to strike up conversation about the soap operas during commercial breaks only to see may efforts mocked. Apparently I fain interest in soap operas badly, but you've got to give a guy credit for trying. The intricacies of "Days of Our Lives" are simply lost on me: I can't help it. We all have our gifts, mine is not daytime TV.

On a more serious note, these experiences speak to my need to read people better. Some days residents are pleased to talk for a long length of time. Other days they want nothing to do with me. Hopefully I'll get better at discerning which days are which quickly. It would be a terrible thing if my mission to be present to the elderly became my mission to be tolerated by the elderly.


10 October 2006

Post jucundum juventutem

My work at the Columbiere Center and Alexander Mercy Living Center gives me the opportunity to socialize with the 80, 90, and 100 something set on a very regular basis. Spending some much time around these well seasoned persons got me to thinking about a very well seasoned song about youth: "Gaudiamus Igitur" (Let us rejoice).

Gaudiamus Igitur is the oldest known university song dating back to a manuscript from 1287, back when students rebelled against their parents by becoming Aristotelians, which might be the Medieval equivalent of today's emo kids, but probably isn't.

The song exhorts students to "Rejoice while they are young" before age, infirmity and eventually death set in:

Gaudeamus igitur
Juvenes dum sumus
Post jucundum juventutem
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus.

Let us rejoice
while we are young.
After the joys of youth.
After the hardships of old age.
The earth will have us. (a rough translation, my Latin is poor)

The song has several more verses. The one which rings most true to the case of nursing homes is this:

Vita nostra brevis est
Brevi finietur.
Venit mors velociter
Rapit nos atrociter
Nemini parcetur.

Our life is short.
Soon it will be finished.
Death comes quickly.
It destroys us savagely.
No one is spared.

The song, though it might not appear so from this verse is mostly upbeat, it has a 'seize the day' sort of message. Hearing the song, you'll realize the lighter tone of the thing. Still it makes a serious point, the 100 somethings don't necessarily think of themselves as old so much as trapped, imprisoned in their own failing bodies.

Seeing the realities of terminal illness, it's hard to look beyond the growing shadows. The light of resurrection is sometimes dim though ever present. Remaining faithful in old age, "white martyrdom", is difficult, perhaps more difficult than "red martyrdom". I find myself frustrated and humbled even trying to be present to people who are ending their earthly journey. There is so little I can do and the obstacles they encounter are so great. Many of those suffering in the nursing homes are beyond earthly help, unable to speak, move, or eat. All that is left to give to these people, all that remains is sharing my humanity, loving concern for another person. It seems so little really until we remember that it was love which destroyed death. Free, unmerited, love of humanity on the Cross triumphed over death. We here from the youngest to the oldest are called to join in that triumph in the same way it was accomplished, through love of God and others. We needn't rejoice only when we are young, but always in this great love which triumphed.


07 October 2006

Praepositus Generalis

Today Loyola House was truly blessed with a visit from our Father General, Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ. Father General is finishing his visitation of the Detroit Province.

Yesterday, we attended a speech he gave at Gesu Parish near University of Detroit Mercy in which he reflected on the Society's mission in urban areas particularly as it applies to the mission of the University of Detroit Mercy.

Today, Father General engaged in a candid Q and A session with Jesuits regarding the place of the Society in the Church and world. Father offered throughout reflections from his unique perspective as leader of the Society. After the meeting, we gathered with Fr. General and many friends of the Society for mass at Sts. Peter and Paul parish. During mass, Fr. General received Brother John Moriconi's vows, many congratulations to Brother John on his final incorporation into the Society.

After Mass Fr. General visited the novitiate for lunch. Over lunch Father shared his wisdom on a number of topics from his experience in the Middle East to visiting Fidel Castro. His visit was a great grace for this house, one I will not soon forget.

03 October 2006

Hospital Experiment

Today officially began our "Hospital Experiment". The name of the experiment is a holdover from times gone by, it would be more accurate to call it our nursing home experiment. A vestigial name is in keeping with working at the nursing home, a place where memory of times past is far brighter than the reality of the present.

At the regular nursing facility we visit, our duties are limited to being present to the residents by talking, holding their hands, reading, and praying with them. Some of the residents I've been assigned to visit are responsive, many are difficult to speak with, a few are close to death and almost entirely uncommunicative. The residents are overwhelmingly female, though this is common for nursing homes.

One day a week we'll be working at the Jesuit retirement facility starting Monday. There we take a more active role in the care of the men, both literally and figuratively getting our hands dirty.

Today is the memorial of St. Francis Borgia SJ, the third superior general of the Society. Speaking of superiors general, our current general, the Very Reverend Peter-Hans Kolvenbach SJ, will be visiting this lowly novitiate come Saturday. I'm looking forward to meeting Fr. Kolvenbach, reports are that he's a very holy and insightful man. Though before he arrives, I need to make sure my room is ship shape. He's been known to inspect novices' rooms from time to time and mine could do with a bit of sprucing up. Originally from the Netherlands, Fr. Kolvenbach taught linguistics and ministered in the Middle East before being called to Rome to assist our previous Father General Pedro Arrupe. Fr. Kolvenbach was elected Superior General by the 33rd General Congregation in 1983. Last year Pope Benedict granted his request to step down, normally Superior Generals hold the office for life. In 2006, the 35th General Congregation will choose a new Superior General to succeed Fr. Kolvenbach. More about Fr. General some other time.

One final note, I think I've finally acclimated to the novitiate schedule because 11pm now seems impossibly late and 7am is no longer particularly early. Amazing how that happens.