Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

28 December 2007


Sorry for my extended hiatus from blogging. I don't have a particularly good reason for it actually. I suppose I got busy around Christmas. Since my last post, I finished my fall ministries at the jail and the warming center. Both were deeply rewarding experiences and I shall miss the people I worked with and for.

The week just prior to Christmas we went on retreat at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills, MI. Fr. Leo Cachet SJ ably directed our retreat. Leo spent 40 years in Nepal and India as a missionary and added some unique perspectives on the Christmas mysteries given his experience with those cultures and religions. It was a great retreat.

I've been home since Christmas day catching up with friends and family. There's no place like home even if only for a brief time.

Tomorrow I head down to Cincinnati for a conference with other young Jesuits.

We've all experienced the awkward situation of receiving a great gift from someone at Christmas and having nothing of value to give in return. This gift might be more expensive than we can possibly reciprocate or maybe we simply weren't thoughtful enough to buy or make something in the first place. Whatever the reason, the result is the same we're embarrassed and presented with a choice--except the gift of great value in humility or decline it in pride. At Christmas we are all given a gift infinitely beyond reciprocation, to accept so great a gift we must become as small as the child given to us all 2000 years ago.


30 November 2007

Spe Salvi

The Pope's latest encyclical "Spe Salvi" was released today, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle. I know what I'm doing this afternoon.

24 November 2007

O Happy Day

Today is exciting for two reasons:

First, tonight is the long awaited Battlestar Galactica: Razor. Anyone that knows me well knows that I am a hopeless Science Fiction fan. My current Sci-Fi passion is Battlestar Galactica. Tonight at long last the wait is over for Razor. Unfortunately season four of Battlestar doesn't start until April assuming the writers strike is over by then.

Second, Hilary Hahn is coming to Detroit on April 25th! She is my favorite living violinist (Heifetz and Oistrak vie for the all-time spot) and will be playing one of my favorite concertos Tchaikovsky's first violin concerto in D with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Also featured on the concert is John Corigliano's second Symphony which is likewise a treat. My parents informed me today that they will be visiting the weekend of the concert of have already acquired tickets. O Happy Day!

16 November 2007

Schedule and Diologue

Two exciting things:

First, I now have my tentative schedule at U of D Jesuit High and Academy. I'll be assisting with an 8th grade Latin class, a 12th grade Philosophy class, and two 11th grade Morality classes. This means Matthew needs to brush up on his declensions and conjugations, since I'll be teaching Latin they're kind of important to know and I've forgotten much of them since last I studied Latin. The other classes I'm less concerned about. I'll also work in the Learning Center tutoring and will prefect in the library or during study halls.

Second, there's some good news on the Catholic-Orthodox dialogue front. The document produced discusses authority on the universal level of the Church; it's a baby step but a baby step forward is still good news.

15 November 2007

Dr. Blazek SJ

Bill Blazek, SJ MD who is currently a scholastic working at Georgetown Medical School and a member of my province contributed an article to the Washington Post's section "On Faith" which is worth a look. The article is a reflection on finding God during his experience of the first Gulf War while he was serving as a captain in the 101 Airborne Division.


Albertus Magnus, Doctor Universalis

"In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass." -St. Albert the Great

Today is the memorial of St. Albert the Great, OP, bishop, scientist, philosopher, and theologian. Given the length and breath of his talents he is honored with the title, Doctor Universalis. Albert is one of the luminaries of the 13th century. He tried to bring together all branches of knowledge. This included careful observation of natural phenomenon which can be called "scientific" centuries prior to the scientific revolution. He also helped reintroduce Aristotle to the west. You may have heard of Albert's brightest student Thomas Aquinas.

12 November 2007

Catholic Univeristy

Great news from my alma mater Catholic University. Pope Benedict will visit Catholic on 17 April 2008! My little brother is a freshman at Catholic and will get to see the Holy Father. Exciting stuff that is.


The High

I'm happy to report that I have received my assignment for next semester--my 'Long Experiment' as it's known in Jesuit parlance. I will be working at University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy or 'the high' for short. I'll also be living in the community there rather than at the novitiate. What precisely I'll be doing is still unclear though hopefully a bit of teaching and a bit of campus ministry. What's unique about the high is that it tries to bridge two worlds: poor, urban Detroit and wealthy, suburban greater Detroit area. The high is located on seven mile within the city of Detroit and draws around 25% of its students from the city. The rest of the student body comes from the surrounding suburbs.

My two current experiments continue to go well. Hard to believe this semester is almost over. I'm finally getting adapted to the cultures at the jail and the warming center. Yesterday Br. Jim, director of the warming center, took my brother novice Hung and me on a "homelessness tour" of Downtown Detroit. As we drove around the city we saw many familiar faces from the warming center at their various haunts. We visited the major shelters, soup kitchens, and social service providers. Along the way we also saw the most notorious drug dealing areas in the city. I've learned since I started at the warming center that drugs and street culture are almost one in the same. It's one thing to read about the problem; seeing the drug deals go down right in front of you adds a whole new dimension, the desperate poverty of the shelters and surrounding neighborhoods yet another.

04 November 2007

N T Wright

Per the request of one of my brother novices I just read: The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. It's an excellent little book introducing his thought on the historical Jesus and the Jesus of Christian orthodoxy.

N T Wright is the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England. He is also one of the premier New Testament Scholars alive today.

Though I haven't read much of his stuff yet, so far I'm impressed.

Many of his lectures are online at:

28 October 2007

Fields of Golden Corn

Here Matthew surveys the fields of golden corn in preparation for last night's dinner.

Also of note are some pumpkin creations of the Loyola House community. Note especially St. Ignatius Loyola the pumpkin featuring in the middle of the line-up.

The Future

January will be a momentous time for the Society of Jesus. Our General Superior Father Peter Hans Kolvenbach, SJ has called the 35th General Congregation. A general congregation is the highest body in the Society of Jesus made up of members from each of the provinces. It is called only for matters of great moment and to elect superiors general. At this congregation Father Kolvenbach plans to submit his resignation having received approval to do so from Pope Benedict.

Yesterday I was at a meeting of Detroit area Jesuits to brainstorm the kind of man the Society needs for its new leader and what direction is needed for the future. The meeting brought up a variety of viewpoints and concerns. What impressed me was not the specific ideas but what I perceived as the source of those ideas--love of God and His Church. Despite the many difficulties the Society of Jesus will face in the coming years, if we hold close to God and His Church we'll be okay.

23 October 2007

Pretty Things

Yesterday, I was at the Warming Center after a long weekend in Omena, Michigan at the Jesuit villa. I noticed something yesterday which hadn't previously caught my attention--pleasantries or the lack thereof. Speech at the Warming Center is much more direct than what I'm used to. It is a language of utility. The same is true of the prison. Language looses its art in these places. Their very speech is molded by the harshness of their lives and surroundings.

Beauty begets beauty. The guests of the Warming Center have precious little beauty in their lives. Apart from well maintained public parks, which Detroit has few of, the homeless find themselves in dreary places. They receive what they need to remain alive from various agency, but I fear they lack something required to really live, access to the beautiful. The darknesses of their lives must be brightened by more than just material assistance. The means to stay alive does not make life worth living. Darkness can only be dispelled by light, the light that makes life worth living, the light of the beautiful. AMDG

14 October 2007

Warming Center Article

Br. Jim Horgan, SJ, director of the Sts. Peter and Paul Warming Center where I work on Mondays, asked me to write a short article for the center's November news letter, this is what I've come up with so far:

The Two Tables

There are two tables in downtown Detroit less than a mile distant yet worlds apart. I had the privilege of sitting at both. In the center of the table first table were fine wines and rich foods. Surrounding the table were doctors, lawyers, and businessmen—men who had achieved much in life and were enjoying the fruits of their labors. They were dressed casually but smartly, insignias of designers dotted their clothing and every once in a while the glint of a gold watch was visible. My father was among them.

The second table was filled with some stew, a few pieces of bread, and soft drinks. Around the table sat men of less certain prospects. Some lived on the street, some in shelters. Most were in the grips of addiction. None had the luxury of a secure position in society or a comfortable savings to fall back on. They were dressed in odd assortments of clothing, some clean, some dirty, and mostly ill-fitting.

On first glance, the two tables appeared very different. Yet as I reflect on my time at the Warming Center and those two tables the differences pass away. At both tables were groups of men coming together to share their stories. Each had its share of laughter and concern; each group of men had hopes and fears. They all wanted to be valued, to find peace and security. All were seeking. The fine things of the first table had not insulated its occupants from doubt nor had the poverties of the second table crushed hope and gratitude.

In my few months at the Warming Center, I have learned the first table at which I received a reserved seat by accident of birth and the second table which the Society of Jesus missioned me to sit around are not so different. Our worth comes not from these separate tables but from our seat at the table prepared for all, the banquet table of the Lamb of God. As Christians we are called to bring all our tables together in anticipation of the table of the Kingdom set for all. AMDG

01 October 2007

First of the Month

I was working at the Sts. Peter and Paul Warming Center this morning when I learned of a phenomenon I had previously never considered. The center was remarkably quiet this morning. One of the staff members mentioned to me that the first of the month is check day. Most of the guests of the warming center receive some sort of government aid in the form of a monthly check. Various institutions will keep checks for those without a stable address.

For the next few days the center will be quiet while the normal guests are "living it up." Some stay in a hotel for a few days or buy food. For most unfortunately the money goes to support their addictions and is consumed in very short order. I'm awed by the power of addiction over these people's lives.

23 September 2007

Jesuit Tea

This is the weekend of two fund raisers. For better or for worse priests, especially Jesuits, must be able to raise funds to get anything done. St. Ignatius himself was a master fund raiser. Yesterday we attended a fund raiser for Manresa Jesuit Retreat House which is a few miles north of here. They're trying to build an endowment for among other things offering retreats to those who cannot offer them.

This afternoon is the Jesuit Seminary Association Tea, a group which raises money for young Jesuits in formation like myself. It is humbling to know that what we novices rely on materially speaking has been provided by our benefactors. Jesuits are able to be formed because other Jesuits raised the money to allow us to be formed. Considering many Jesuits go on to get terminal degrees, it requires a lot of fund raising and very generous people.

Paging Dr. Kass

"The possibility of science itself depends on the immateriality of thought. It depends on the mind’s independence from the bombardment of matter. Otherwise, there is no truth, there is only “it seems to me.” Not only the possibility for recognizing truth and error, but also the reasons for doing science rest on a picture of human freedom and dignity (of the sort promulgated by biblical religion) that science itself cannot recognize. Wonder, curiosity, a wish not to be self-deceived, and a spirit of philanthropy are the sine qua non of the modern scientific enterprise. They are hallmarks of the living human soul not the anatomized brain. The very enterprise of science–like all else of value in human life–depends on a view of humanity that science cannot supply and that foolish scientific prophets deny at their peril, unaware of the embarrassing self-contradiction." -Leon Kass MD PhD

I'm a longtime admirer of Leon Kass. He is one of the founding fathers of bioethics. His career has been long and distinguished, notably he was Chairman of the President's Council on Bioethics and taught for many years at the University of Chicago. You can find a more complete bio here. You can read Kass's complete article which I quoted from above here.

18 September 2007

Mindful Hack

Yet another cool blog find: Mindful Hack discusses the faith and reason question with an emphasis on neuroscience.

14 September 2007

Detroit Day

Today after a morning prayer seminar, the novices are heading out to explore the greater Detroit area. If all goes according to plan we'll have lunch in Windsor's Little Italy which I'm told has a number of good restaurants then visit the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborne.

I found a good article on Clericalism by Mark Shea. While I don't agree with it entirely, it has a great deal of merit.

Happy Feast of the Exultation of the Holy Cross

12 September 2007


Avery Cardinal Dulles SJ wrote an article in this month's First Things on the Faith and Science question in light of recent books on the subject. In the article, he pays particular attention to a Christian understanding of evolution. Cardinal Dulles provides a clarity of thought few others can muster. Well worth reading.

For those unfamiliar with the Cardinal, he is the son of John Foster Dulles the secretary of State under President Eisenhower. He is the man Dulles airport outside of Washington is names after. Cardinal Dulles converted from agnosticism to Catholicism as a Harvard undergraduate. He entered the Society of Jesus after serving time in the Navy during the Second World War. Cardinal Dulles has spent his ministerial life as a theologian. He is perhaps best known for his Models of the Church (1974) which has become a modern classic in ecclesiology. He taught at my fair alma mater, Catholic University, from 1974-1988 after which he became the Laurence J. McGinley Professor of Religion and Society at Fordham University. Pope John Paul II created Dulles as a Cardinal in 2001, a great and rare honor for a theologian.

07 September 2007

Manresa Day

Every so often we have what we call a "Manresa Day" here at Loyola House. It's a day of silence from about 9 am until Mass at 4:45 pm. We're asked to stay away from TV, computers, phones, etc...

Even living in a religious house it's easy to slip into a mundane rhythm which doesn't seem to leave time or attention for God. Sure we might schedule an hour of prayer into the day, we might even be faithful to that hour but squeezing God into part of the day is not the same as having a prayerful day. Prayer can't be reduced to an item on the schedule.

Manresa days are a way of breaking out of mundane rhythm and finding God everywhere and in everything of the day, being truly intentional about consecrating the whole day to God. It is a great privilege and challenge the novitiate affords us. The privilege of finding the vibrancy of God in the stillness of the day, excitement and life within stillness. The challenge of being open to finding that same vibrancy in the business of every other day.


04 September 2007

01 September 2007


Ouch Michigan even as an Ohio State fan I feel sorry for you.

I'll probably be at the Michigan game next week; hopefully there will be some redemption.

Also, note the new "Faith and Science" section on the sidebar. I'm compiling links to various resources on the intersection of theology and science.

31 August 2007

Jesuit Stamps

Fr. Peter Fennessy, SJ is an avid collector of Jesuit stamps and other things Jesuitical. I had lunch with him today, and the discussion turned to one of my favorite topics: tea. I'm a hopeless tea enthusiast but Peter is more so. Today I learned from him that the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, is named after Brother George Josef Kamel, SJ who was a botanist in the Philippines during the seventeenth century. See Peter's website for more details.

Sir John

I just happened upon this great website devoted to Dr Sir John Polkinghorne KBE.

Dr. Polkinghorne is a quantum physicist turned Anglican priest and has written many wonderful books on the relationship between religion and science.

I also stumbled upon the "International Society for Science and Religion" which was founded by Polkinghorne and is likewise worth a look.

30 August 2007

Quiet Contemplation

Things have been quiet around Loyola House the past few days. The new guys are up at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House about four miles north of here. The first period of novitiate none as 'first probation'. It's a time to transition from their former life to the novitiate (believe me it does take a while). First probation ends with a retreat for the first years presented by the second years. The theme of the retreat was the three vows. (Jesuits do in fact take a fourth vow to the Pope but not until after ordination, in the novitiate we concentration on the first three.) Below is my talk slightly modified:

The vow of chastity is perhaps the most misunderstood and countercultural vow. The difficulty I had trying to find some ‘celibacy music’ to play before and after this talk testifies to the fact. [Typically music is played before and after reflections] I’m certain you have all had the experience of explaining the vow of chastity to your various confused friends and relations. There will be plenty more opportunities for such explanations in future, particularly when you visit the high schools in March.

When giving such explanations it is a great temptation to diminish or explain away chastity. Yet the church calls all Christians to live chastely whether you are single, married, or religious. The vow of chastity should not be understood in a vacuum but in relation to the chaste living to which all are called. The Catechism says succinctly, “The virtue of chastity therefore involves the integrity of the person and the integrality [sic] of the gift (2337).” This gift is the gift of our full selves. To be chaste is to be our true self according to our particular vocation.

Karol Wojtyla [in Love and Responsibility] puts it this way, “Chastity is often understood as a ‘blind’ inhibition of sensuality and of physical impulses such that the values of the ‘body’ and of sex are pushed down into the subconscious, where they await the opportunity to explode. This is an obviously erroneous conception of the virtue of chastity, which, if it is practices only in this way does indeed create the danger of such ‘explosions’. This (mistaken) view of chastity, which explains the common inference that it is purely negative virtue. Chastity, in this view, is one long ‘no’. Whereas it is above all the ‘yes’ of which certain ‘no’s’ are the consequence.”

I see three dimensions of the vow of chastity: the practical, the transcendental, and the ecclesial. All three of these require the no’s society and we ourselves often dwell on. More importantly, they require a resounding yes, a yes to embracing our full humanity and living it in a unique and privileged way.

The practical dimensions of celibacy are most obvious. Intimate exclusive relationships take time and energy, lots of it. As St. Paul says, “A married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.”

Celibacy when lived out well frees us for undivided service. This is especially true in the Society of Jesus. St. Francis Xavier and countless Jesuits after him have been sent to the four corners of the world on short notice to answer apostolic needs. People in committed exclusive relationships, married people, especially those with families are not this free or at least they shouldn’t be.

When I was teaching across the street at Our Lady of La Salette the question of the vow of chastity came up in my fifth grade class. I gave the example of two men, both devoted long hours of service in the local homeless shelter. One was married with children, one was not. The kids all agreed that service in the shelter was a very good thing to do. Then I asked if the shelter was really such a good thing if it meant the man with children had less time for his kids. I was expecting an ‘aha’ moment from the class but I got was a lot more. The kids shared with me their anxiety and fear about not seeing their parents enough and feeling neglected because of their parents work, sometimes multiple jobs. One boy was visibly upset when he talked about his father in the military.

The division of their parents’ attention and time caused these boys and girls obvious and great pain. Prior to that experience, I had some desire for a married priesthood. Certainly, the eastern Churches and Protestant ecclesial communities have very successful married clergy, though the Eastern Church recognizes the need for full celibate commitment in its bishops if not its priests. Nevertheless after that experience I realized at least for myself I could not do both. I could not be a fully committed priest and a fully committed family man. Both are consuming vocations and rightfully so. If I was to do both I would have to hold something back from each. For better or for worse there is only enough time in a life to full commit to one thing.

If only for practical reasons, the flexibility and lifestyle required of a Jesuit is not possible without a commitment to celibacy.

General Congregation 34 puts it this way, “We embrace apostolic chastity as a special source of spiritual fruitfulness in the world as a means for a more prompt love and a more total apostolic availability towards all men and women… Few are called to the life of a Jesuit, but for the man who is called, chastity only makes sense as a means to a greater love, to a more authentic apostolic charity.” That is to say full, complete, unfettered commitment.

The second dimension of the vow of chastity I want to discuss is the transcendent. Karl Rahner said of Christian sacrifice which celibacy is a prime example, “Renunciation in the ‘supernatural order’ as understood and practiced by Christianity, cannot be adequately explained from the standpoint of purely natural ethics.” In other words, celibacy and all other properly Christian sacrifice is based on a faith claim. There are no firm practical or secular grounds on which to base such a sacrifice.

The question is, why would anyone want to give up the wonderful goods of physical relationship and family life? Why would faith lead us to this step? Faith in what?

Wojtlya says of chastity, ”Chastity can only be thought of in association with the virtue of love. Its function is to free love from the utilitarian attitude.” Faith in love is why chastity makes sense. Freedom to love as we are called.

Chaste Christian living in all states of life is premised upon love. Celibacy is a vocation to live lovingly. The utility of celibacy is in the context of aiming at something beyond mere utility. Otherwise, celibacy becomes simply the ultimate efficiency plan like some kind of perverse organizational method.

It must aim at something higher, something transcendent or it becomes utterly absurd. It must aim at the highest thing, love.

Love is not something that can be proven; it can only be entered into. Love transcends reasons; it is too great for reason, too great for utility.

Augustine said, Nemo est qui non amet, roughly translated (since I couldn’t find a proper translation) ‘he is no one who would not love.’ How and who we love fundamentally defines who we are. Without loving, without reaching out in love we are non-persons, we are no ones. In reaching out in love we transcend ourselves. We leap out in faith.

This leads to a fundamental question if celibacy is about love, who or what is the object of this love. Where are we leaping?

We’ve now reached the third aspect of the vow of chastity, the ecclesial. Again, Karl Rahner provides a value insight, “The bourgeois, ‘cotton-wool’ way in which they [the vows] are often ‘discretely’ lived today in the Religious Orders, veils their meaning: which is to confess that the Church is not of this world and leads a life which, measured by all the perspectives of this world is scandal and folly…In so far as the love of God is lived ‘in the world’, it is the cosmic character of love which becomes effective. The deeds of man which have meaning for the world can appear as an expression and sign of love as something cosmic, however only if they are done by men in the Church in loving union with those whose renunciation love appears as something transcendent and eschatological.”

‘Love as something’ cosmic that is perhaps the best definition of the vow of chastity I can find. In the vocation of marriage, we find love, a love which speaks of God but which speaks particularly. One can easily see the associations of love between spouses and their children. The celibate vocation is cosmic because there are no easy identifications who one is loving and who one is not. In fact the celibate vocation admits no such distinctions. Celibate love is set in the context of the Church, the Kingdom of God, a place where all are called and all are welcome. It is a kingdom of universal and boundless love. The celibate vocation at its best is a sign of this. Rahner called it a “quasi-sacrament”. Not merely a sign but one that makes a transcendent reality present.

In this sense, celibacy is not about what we’re not doing, it’s about what we are doing. It is about making our lives faithful witnesses to something here present yet far beyond the earthly veil, the Kingdom of God.

The vow of chastity makes us a visible witness to something beyond this world. It makes us a visible, even radical witness to a Kingdom very different from all others this world has ever known.

Within this most controversial and perhaps most difficult of vows is a powerful articulation of the kingdom of heaven and the means to make that kingdom visibly present. It is a challenge. It is a sacrifice. It is a gift, if we are willing to accept it.

I conclude with Jesus’s own words on celibacy for the kingdom,

“I say to you, whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery. [His] disciples said to him, "If that is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry. He answered, "Not all can accept [this] word, but only those to whom that is granted. Some are incapable of marriage because they were born so; some, because they were made so by others; some, because they have renounced marriage for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Whoever can accept this ought to accept it.” Matthew 19: 9-12


21 August 2007

Vow Mass Pictures

These are some photos of the vow Mass last week taken by Brother John.
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19 August 2007

One Year

Today is my one year anniversary as a Jesuit novice. It's been an amazing twelve months, the best and worst of my life, graced beyond measure.

Yesterday we welcomed five guys to the novitiate. The new guys give me hope for another great year.

15 August 2007


It's a time of transition here at Loyola House. We got back from Omena Friday afternoon and immediately set about preparing for the vows celebrations. Sunday the second year novices took vows, thus becoming scholastics. With the exception of the microphones not working right things went off without a hitch. The guys moved out the following day. We newly minted second year novices have set about preparing the house for the incoming first years. The new guys arrive on Saturday. I'm eagerly waiting their arrival and the start of fall ministries. It is a bit exciting and a bit scary forming a new community starting Saturday afternoon though I trust it will be blessed.

Today as part of our preparations I helped cull the sacristy. Many unfortunate banners and vestments had accrued over the years. Some too ugly to contemplate. Thankfully the offended textiles have now been removed. We also found a large number of musical instruments of unknown origin in one of the closets off the chapel--there fate is still up in the air.

30 July 2007

Nifty Article

I want to pass along this nifty little article in The Christian Century about dealing with "The New Atheists".

Vows etc...

I'm just back from a whirlwind trip including pilgrimage, a wedding, and vows. Tomorrow I head up to villa (vacation) with the other guys in formation a little north of Traverse City. I won't have much Internet access while there so I thought I would write a quick post now.

The past week and a half has been truly grace filled. My pilgrimage went better than I could possibly have planned it. I'm very grateful for to Fr. Andrew, Gonzaga High and Loyola retreat house for hosting me. And to my friends in Forest Glen for letting me crash at their place after pilgrimage was over.

Erin and Rick's wedding on Saturday at CUA was beautiful. I pray they will have many happy years together. They are a couple that give me a lot of hope for the future. (Hopefully I'll have some pictures from the to post soon.)

Finally this morning I was in Nashville for the profession of Sr. Beatrice, who is pictured with me. Sr. Beatrice, formerly known as Jillian, is a dear friend from CUA, a woman of great kindness, wisdom, and holiness. The vows ceremony radiated joy, it was truly something to behold. I was humbled in the presence of such great grace.

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19 July 2007

Detroit Briefly

I'm back in Detroit after a whirlwind trip from Denver. We left Denver early Saturday morning and drove north to Mt. Rushmore. This was my first time in South Dakota and it seemed like a good idea to check out the American icons. We stopped in a delightful little fast food restaurant called the Chuck Wagon, I'm still inordinately amused by the name. South Dakota is beef country so despite my increasingly vegetarian sentiments I enjoyed a delightful burger, clearly very fresh.

We spent two days at St. Francis Mission in Rosebud, South Dakota. The Society has served on this reservation since 1881. Rosebud is just about as remote a place as you can find in the lower forty-eight. It's so remote the postal service doesn't recognize the roads there and neither does Google maps. Needless to say we got pretty lost as a result of this, I took some consolation in the fact that the difference between a nine hour trip and a ten hour trip is not that great taken as a percentage. A lame argument I know, but it worked at the time.

Sunday we attended Mass at the mission then visited Badlands National Park. The Badlands are the ultimate example of someplace I like to visit but would not want to live.They're beautiful but rugged. Formed by erosion over millions of years, they're an example of the battle between rock and water, water always wins. Somewhere there's a spiritual lesson about the victory of movement over stagnancy to be found in this.

Monday we took off from St. Francis mission before the sun came up on our way to Waupaca, a little Jesuit house in Wisconsin a few hours north of Milwaukee. On our way the guys at the St. Paul novitiate had us over for dinner.

Tuesday we arrived back in Detroit after an unexpectedly long trip due to major traffic. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Tomorrow begins my pilgrimage. In keeping with the example of St. Ignatius, Jesuit novices go through some sort of pilgrimage experience. Pilgrimage take different forms for different people depending on their abilities and desires. The common thread is a journey of abandonment to God seeing the Spirit in concrete ways. For my pilgrimage I'm taking the bus to Washington and bumming around for five days. I'm not really sure where I'll stay or what I'll do but God will provide.

On Thursday, I'm switching out of pilgrimage mode into travel mode. Any DC friends that want to meet up, I'll be around Thursday, Friday, and Saturday morning.


06 July 2007

Jesuits and the Arts

"Ugliness is not a virtue boys!" -Fr. Tom Lucas, SJ

Week three of the Jesuit history course is on Jesuits and the Arts. Tom Lucus of University of San Francisco lead us through the fascinating history the Society of Jesus' engagement with arts and culture from its founding to present. Perhaps the most important contribution of the Society to arts is its emphasis on interculteration, taking a preexisting artistic tradition and baptizing it. Blending the best of two traditions. One contemporary example of this is Shanghai Cathedral.

The other major contribution of the Society of Jesus to the arts is its role in spreading Baroque architecture. The Jesuit mother Church, the Gesu, is an early example of Baroque architecture, which proved to be highly influential in subsequent eccelsial design.

The icon above is Maddonna della Strada (Our Lady of the Way) patroness of the Society of Jesus. The original icon is displayed in the Gesu in Rome.

28 June 2007

Denver Week Two

The Jesuit history course is now well underway. Last week we studied the early Society in Europe up to the restoration. This week we're focusing on the missions. I find the missionary activity of the Society particularly fascinating in China where Jesuits were forced to preach the Gospel to an advanced culture. The question of how the Gospel might be articulated in a non-Western context is one which has yet to be sufficiently answered. Early Jesuit missionaries in China, particularly Matteo Ricci, a hero of mine, made great strides attempting to authentically articulate the Gospel outside the context of Western thought.

Other than studies, my time here in Denver has including some wonderful hiking in the Front Range of the Rockies, a chance to explore the city, recreational reading (currently: Charles Taylor's Sources of the Self: the Making of Modern Identity), and social time with the other novices which is just as important as study I would venture.

Finally a food for thought question in relation to my comment on Free Will and John Searle last post: If you saw free will in action would you know it? How does one distinguish free will from randomness on the one hand and determinism on the other? Before we can say whether we have free will or not it is best to know what precisely it is.


16 June 2007

Really ought to give Iowa a try

I spent most of the day yesterday traversing the state of Iowa on my way between Chicago and Omaha. For those of you in internet land who find the title of this post odd, it's an homage to lyrics from The Music Man, a musical from the 1950's set in Iowa. I was pleasently surprised traversing Iowa the trip though flat, it was not as flat as I had imagined. We all ought to give Iowa a try, at least for brief periods.

The trip started Thursday traveling from Youngstown to Chicago and Loyola University where I met up with the rest of my novice brothers. The university community was gracious as always. Yesterday was Chicago to Omaha and Creighton University. Both the university and the town exceeded my expectations. The university is much larger and better kept than I had thought. The city is clean, charming, and more lively than I expected. A future novice of the Wisconsin province from Omaha Ben gave Hung, Christian, and I a tour of downtown. Today was the final leg from Omaha to Denver.

The trip was made more pleasent by Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys which I nearly finished on my way here. In other book news, I'm about half way through John Searle's new book Freedom and Neurobiology: Reflections on Free Will, Language and Political Power. His account is a refreshing change from reductionist determinism on one side and fuzzy dualism on the other. More on this when I finish.

11 June 2007

Cool Blog Find

I was searching for something random on the Inquisition yesterday and happened upon an excellent blog. Bede's Journal is written by a scientist turned historian of science with an interest in faith-reason questions. I highly recommend it for those interested in a sophisticated discussion of religion and science.

03 June 2007

Christmas in June?

Today we had our Christmas in June dinner. Why Christmas in June you might ask... Well, we were supposed to have a Christmas Eve which was canceled so today we finally go around to making it up. In keeping with Loyola House tradition, the staff cooked for Christmas; novices do Thanksgiving. A good time was had by all.

The provincial begins his annual visitation of Loyola House tomorrow. All Jesuits meet with their provincial once a year to discuss their life and ministry in what is called a 'manifestation'. I've never done this before, and I'm a bit excited about it to tell the truth. The nature reaction would be nervousness I suppose, but I'm not really feeling that.

Also, my brother novice Hung just began a blog, check it out. And I just found the Jesuits in Science website which is worth a look.

02 June 2007

Storm Clouds

Current conditions in Berkley, Michigan: Temp: 73, Scattered Thunderstorms, Winds: from the south 16 gusting to 23.

I love thunderstorms, there's something awe spiring about their power, a strange beauty in their destructiveness. Even knowing, in broad strokes, how they work does nothing to diminish their majesty.

Oftentimes I find myself falling into the trap of loosing awe in the face of familiarity. This could be the familiarity of empirical knowledge--once the mighty forces of nature are labeled and explained they seem loose their meaning and mystery. It could be personal familiarity; old relationships becoming stale and predictable.

Our relationship with God can become victim to both of these pitfalls. As science advances and our modeling of nature continues to improve, we loose our awe of nature and the God who speaks through nature. The 1979 Noble laureate in physics, Steven Weinberg, put it well: "The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless." We are no longer inspired to gaze in reverence; nature has become simply an object of study which is mostly solved. The universe appears banal.

Similarly in our theology, the systematic study of God's relationship through revelation with humanity, we can become so caught in our scholastic distinctions that the vibrancy of the message is obscured in a mountain of propositions. The experience of faith becomes so abstracted from the experience of faith as to loose itself and become just another intellectual game.

Like a thunderstorm, meaning is a dangerous thing. It has the capacity to be beautiful but also destructive. To live in the vibrancy of meaning is to let go of the control familiarity brings. I cannot write off people I know as predictable, they might be this but as my brothers and sisters they are so much more. I cannot dismiss nature as merely the execution of certain laws; the laws tell me much about my favorite storms but they cannot capture the experience of lightening and thunder. What of my God whose voice is both thunder and whisper? Nothing can capture Him. No idea, model, or distinction can hold the Author of all. So I sit in silence and awe.

25 May 2007

Go Tribe

I just got home from an Indians - Tigers game at Comerica Park, incidentally the Indians won and are now first in their division. The entire novitiate came along and a good time was had by all. Unfortunately, I ate right before going to the game and didn't have a hot dog while I was there. For some reason it seems un-American to me to sit through a baseball game without a hot dog and a Coke. This is especially odd because I don't even like hot dogs very much.

Today we also finished a workshop on liturgy with J. Glenn Murray, SJ, director of liturgy for the diocese of Cleveland. Father Murray is the most enthusiastic liturgist I've ever met, he brings a real passion for his subject. We could all use a bit more passion in our lives, especially in liturgy--the paschal mystery is dramatic, earth shattering in fact. The way we celebrate must reflect this.

Happy Memorial Day weekend to all.

20 May 2007

Back in Detroit

I returned to Detroit this morning via my Dad's Cessna 172. It's a nice flight from Youngstown to Detroit and there's a small airport close to here which makes things extra convenient.

I wasn't originally scheduled to go home until next month but my Grandmother died after a long illness last Sunday. I left Toronto last Tuesday, it wasn't easy leaving the L'arche community, I've grown very fond of it. They gave me a wonderful sent off and a blessing at the community worship service last Monday. I left Toronto early Tuesday morning for Pittsburgh and was home in the mid-afternoon.

A surprising number of people came to my grandmother's calling hours and funeral. It was a lovely service. Though her passing is saddening, there is consolation in the fact that she lived a long, happy life and that her final struggle was short and mostly painless.

12 May 2007

Spring Fling

Tonight was L'Arche Toronto's Spring Fling where we raised money for L'Arche communities in third world countries. People were asked to dress up in the costumes of different cultures. It was a wonderful evening. I was inspired to do a bit of Russian dancing, badly of course. The nice part about L'Arche is there's no pretense; it's very freeing, especially to my inner dancer.

I only have one week left here, far too short a time. I plan on cherishing my last week here, this community is truly blessed and a joy to be with.

08 May 2007

Toronto Take Two

I'm back in Toronto after having spent the past three days at home attending the funeral of Father Dan Venglarik. It was a wonderful celebration of his life and ministry. The parish staff worked tirelessly to organize fitting tributes and succeeded. The reflection offered by Dr. Smith during Vespers the day before the funeral really captured Fr. Dan. It spoke of his confidence without pretense which was a hallmark of his ministry. Fr. Deluca's homily at the funeral mass was nothing short of inspired. The homily drew on sources from de Chardin to Dickens yet spoke to the heart not the head. Fr. Mankowski's words before the final commendation struck me as exactly what Fr. Dan would have wanted said at that time--words of thanksgiving to his friends and family. Bishop Murry was very gracious in presiding over the funeral mass and showed himself as shepherd of the flock in both good times and bad. The various celebrations were overwhelming. St. Charles was mobbed with people during his calling hours. At the Mass of Christian Burial there was no room left in the Church, no place left to stand even. Fr. Dan was hospitable in life and in death, there was plenty of good food and wine for all in the social hall where people reminisced for hours. It's remarkable how many lives one priest can touch through the work of the Holy Spirit. Even in death Fr. Dan brought together the parish community and strengthened the Body of Christ. I come away from his funeral saddened by his absence but inspired by his example.

Death is swallowed up in victory. Where O Death is your victory? Where O Death is your sting?

07 May 2007

Fun Picture

This is a picture from last weekend of Michael, myself, and Matt.

05 May 2007


This past Thursday, Father Daniel Venglarik the beloved pastor of St. Charles Barromeo parish in Boardman, Ohio, my home parish, died after a five month battle with pancreatic cancer. He had recently turned sixty.

Father Venglarik was an exemplary priest. He lived his vocation to the fullest and served the people of the parish with dedication. He was the first person to encourage me in my vocation and was a constant source of support through the years. He was also a dear family friend.

He has returned to the Lord he loved so much and served so well. Among those of us privileged to know him, he will be missed.

Requiem aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescant in pace. Amen.

22 April 2007

Reading List

This weekend marks the halfway point of my L'arche experience. L'arche is unusual for a number of reasons. One in particular is the amount of "half free" time. There are times when we must be present either waiting for a core member or just hanging around monitoring things. During these times I've found myself pages through some good books.


Our Christian Faith: Answers for the Future. by Karl Rahner and Karl-Heinze Weger

This book looks at Christian faith from the ground up. Though only a brief work, I found it articulates the central issues of faith in a skeptical age very well. I don't think this particular work is in print anymore, but it is well worth a read if you can find it.

Three Weeks with My Brother. by Nicholas Sparks

I just finished this book. It's not the kind of book I would normally read but a friend lent it to me. I was pleasantly surprised, it's a memoir of a family as it encounters various struggles set within the framing narrative of two brothers taking a trip around the world.

Principles of Biomedical Ethics, Fifth Edition. by Thomas Beauchamp and James Childress

This was a pretty dense, long text. Recently I've become very interested in Medicine and Biomedical Ethics, since this is one of the standard texts in the field I thought it would be worth reading. The text does a fine job of laying out the problems and theoretical groundwork. I disagreed philosophically with most of the conclusions, though the book was well argued. My main critique is not so much of the book as it is of biomedical ethics as a philosophical discipline. Certainly philosophical reflection on biomedical issues is vital and the book was intended to be just that sort of reflection. However I had a nagging feeling the whole time I was reading it however that to be credible speaking of such life and death issues clinical experience is a must. A philosophical abstraction of a dying person and an actual dying person are two very different things as I learned in my nursing home experiment. The best philosophical reflections spring from concrete experience.

In Process:

The Erotic Phenomenon. by Jean-Luc Marion

The book is a phenomenological reflection on love. So far I can say this is one of the most challenging books I've ever read and one of the most rewarding. It's a refreshingly original work of philosophy, imagine a philosophy book with no footnotes! It's not merely an intellectual exercise either Marion really speaks to the core of what it is to be human. I'm completely enamored by this book but I'll need to read it a few times before I can discuss it intelligently. Expect more on this later.

Science and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter with Reality. by John Polkinghorne

Polkinghorne is an accomplished quantum physicists turned theologian. The book lays out various approaches to understanding reality through faith and reason.

Next Up:

The Ethical Imagination: Journeys of the Human Spirit. by Margarette Sommerville

This is another Biomedical ethics book, a bit lighter fair than the last one. One of the assistants here at L'arche recommended it. The book is a collection of lectures given by Sommerville on the CBC. Something called the Massey lectures which I'm told are very prestigious here.

16 April 2007

Happy Birthday

Today is the 80th Birthday of Pope Benedict.

Ad Multos Annos Holy Father!

15 April 2007

Ordination Weekend

This weekend I had the privilege to attend the ordination of three of my brother Jesuits at Our Lady of Lourdes parish here in Toronto. Two men were ordained to the deaconate and one man to the priesthood. Ordinations are truly wonderful celebrations. I'm most moved by two of the central actions of the sacrament. First those to be ordained prostrate themselves on the ground while the congregation intones the litany of the saints. Those to be ordained by this gesture show their humility and submission to the office they are about to undertake. No one is worthy or entitled to ordination, God chooses. We must humbly respond to our various calls. The litany of the saints brings into focus that ordination is an action for the whole Church and we ask the whole Church to be present spiritually, especially those great men and women in faith who have gone before us.

After the litany the candidates approach the bishop one by one. The bishop lays his hands on the head of each man asking the Holy Spirit to confer the grace of Holy Orders. This gesture comes to us from the very beginnings of the Church and through it is a chain leading back to the Apostles. It is a gesture that is profound in its simplicity.


12 April 2007

Easter Week

It's been a busy time around Easter here at L'arche. The community celebrates Triduum through specially designed liturgies adapted to suit the community and the core members. Since L'arche is non-denominational the celebrations do not conform to any particular rites. I was impressed how well the organizers were able to make the celebrations accessible to the community while powerfully reflecting the meaning of the day. Holy Thursday was particularly striking. Jesus' washing the feet of his disciples is often referred to as the "Sacrament of L'arche". After music, several readings, and reflection each house community gathers and washes each others feet. Every member of the community participates as much as he or she is able. I'm only in my third week at L'arche but already I've had my "feet washed" by the core members. They don't do anything practical for me per se. I'm the one doing the visible serving, but the opportunity to serve itself is the greater gift. The gift of the core members is their presence and it is a great gift. There is a remarkable mutuality, though assistants are ostensibly here to serve the core members I find myself more deeply effected by them then having an effect on them. Being given the opportunity to wash someone feet is a grace.

I participated in the Easter Vigil service at St. Basil's parish which is located at St. Michael's College, part of University of Toronto. Five were received into the Church by baptism and an additional five by confirmation. It was a wonderful celebration. Easter Vigil is one of the highlights of my year, it is a reminder that the light of Christ dispelled the deepest darkness. We need only turn to the light.

Easter Sunday evening the house hosted another L'arche house for dinner. There were about 20 of us gathered to celebrate the great feast and enjoy each others company. A good time was had by all. The turkey was good too.

Yesterday and this morning are my days away. The theologians community at Regis College was gracious enough to invite me over again for an evening of good food and great company. This invitation was all the more heroic given they're in the midst of final exams and papers. Despite the increased workload they were remarkably cheerful. During finals time I tend to be dour. The academic year at Canadian institutions of higher learning ends several weeks earlier than their American counterparts.

On an unrelated note, three new blogs are listed in the "Brother Jesuits" section. They're all by Fr. Ben Hawley, SJ a Jesuit of my province. I recommend checking them out.


01 April 2007

Passion Sunday

Today is Passion Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week. I hope that this week we all might make a special effort to prepare ourselves for our celebration of the Lord's death and resurrection.

Today also marks the end of my first week at L'arche. So far the transition has been very smooth both into the L'arche community and getting to know the local Jesuit community. I'm taking on an increasing number of roles here at Greenwood house and have gotten pretty well adapted to the pace of life. I'm also finding plenty of time between the activities of the house to read and reflect. It's a nice "ora et labora" situation.

29 March 2007

Getting Lost in Toronto

The best way to explore a city is to start walking in a direction. Get lost. Then try to find your way back to where you started from without backtracking. This has been my Modus Operandi for the last five days.

The L'arche schedule is busy in the mornings and evenings but free in the middle of the day. I've gotten into the habit of exploring the city between 11 and 3 using the above described method. Toronto, at least what I've seen of it, is a remarkable diverse city with many neighborhoods worthy of further exploration. Hopefully by the time I leave I'll have most of the city figured out.

I've also gotten settled in here and have started to get the hang of life at L'arche. It will still take a bit more getting used to but already I'm starting to feel the rhythm.

The Jesuit communities around the University of Toronto have been gracious enough to invite me to their homes for Mass and dinner and to various other events. It's great getting to interact with Jesuits outside of my normal circles and I'm very grateful for their hospitality.

25 March 2007


I arrived at L'Arche Greenwood about 2pm this afternoon. I feel as though I've been running non-stop for the past week. The 18 hour turn around between returning to Loyola House and heading here didn't help much. All is well that ends well though. The experience is too new to offer any impressions save that this is going to be a very different experience from anything I've done before.

In other news, the Battlestar Galatica season finale is tonight! Hopefully I'll be able to watch it, the TV may or may not be free. Otherwise there's always I-tunes.


23 March 2007

Vocation Tour 07!

Today marks the end of my week long vocation tour. Cyril and I started off in Cleveland speaking with religion classes at St. Ignatius High School and Walsh Jesuit High School on Monday and Tuesday. We drove to Chicago on Wednesday and toured Cristo Rey Jesuit High School that night. Thursday we were at Loyola Academy, and today we spent the day at St. Ignatius College prep. That's five high schools in five days.

The routine was about the same at each school. We would spend the day giving our vocation stories and a general overview of Jesuit life. After our presentation we would ask for questions. In most places we spoke in freshmen religion classes, though at Ignatius Prep we spoke to seniors. At some point during the day, usually in the evening, specially selected students who had expressed an interested in the Society would join us for a meal and discussion.

I was grateful to meet a number of excellent students, which gives me some hope for the future of the Society in the United States.

17 March 2007

St. Patrick

Happy Saint Patrick's Day all!

Today we feasted on Corned Beef and Cabbage, got to love the Irish food.

Early tomorrow morning Cyril and I leave for Cleveland and vocation week.

16 March 2007

More Dorky Philosophy

If you like Phenomenology, this website is pretty cool: TheoPhenomenon

Mighty Philosophical Powers

This could be the greatest action figure ever. Check out Evangelical Catholicism for more.

In other news, today was my last day as a preschool teacher. Despite some trepidations I had about it in the beginning, it turned out to be a wonderful experience. I'm also deeply grateful for my fifth grade class. Even though during my last lesson today about the symbolism of vestments (I wanted something light for the last day) they thought my cassock was a "very long dress".

14 March 2007

Thoughtful Reading

I ran across this article which I thought was rather good. Originally in the Philadelphia Inquirer but now hosted on the Templeton Cambridge website.

"Fundamentalism Fails, On Both Sides" by John Timpane

It addresses the ongoing conflict between fundamentalist believers and militant secularists. In a nutshell, it points out that neither the ranks of the godly nor the godless have a hard and fast argument.

It is reasonable to hold there is a God. It is likewise reasonable to hold a secular materialistic world view. Both positions are tenable and both are held in good faith by many thoughtful people. Timpane puts the issue well:

The high point of the Templetons, for me, came after a stellar presentation by cosmologist John D. Barrow, including an explanation of multiverse theory, which argues that our universe is not alone but is only one of about 10550 universes. Dawkins raised his hand and, after praising what he had just heard, asked why anyone would want to look for divine characteristics in the universe.

To which Barrow replied: "For the same reason that somebody might not want to."

This is really the decisive point both for the believer and the unbeliever: Seek and you shall find. Don't seek and you surely won't find. As a believer, I take it as a matter of faith and experience that God does not force the divine presence on people. God tolerates being ignored; smart, well meaning people do this all the time. You have to go looking for God to find God, but then again you have to go looking for just about anything to find.

There exists of course the danger that you look so hard you "find" something that's not there. The world is rife with examples of self-delusion but the system works with great regularity too.

As I mentioned previously, the fact that there exists a material mechanism why I desire to believe does not invalidate my belief any more than a mechanism to love invalidates love or a mechanism to reason invalidates reason.

Perhaps I'm naively optimistic but from reading many atheist apologists I freely acknowledge a lot of wonderful things they speak of about the grandeur of the universe and the wonder of scientific endeavor, I fail to see the need for a materialistic exclusivity clause. To my mind all the wonders of the material world, including the enthusiastic quest for greater understanding, are undiminished by entertaining the possibility of spiritual understandings. A spiritual understanding which does not look to materialistic science for verification.

Certainly blame is due on both sides. Religious believers had and some continue to have an insular world view which fears progress and persecutes those who challenge long held perspectives. One of the great benefits of science is constant re-evaluation. Religion could do with more re-evaluation and openness to a changing world. For revealed religions, certain tenants cannot be changed; revelation is a gift not subject to modification. Revelation is not always clear, biases of various sorts often creep in. Interpretations of revelation are informed by history and are subject to challenge and change.

The two coherent options remain belief or non-belief. I cannot reason my way to or from either. I'm left with a fundamental choice to seek or not to seek. I chose to seek, my experience tells me I've found. I'm not precisely sure what I've found. God transcends understanding. I cannot prove what I've found either to myself or anyone else. It really is faith. It is a leap, neither reasonable nor unreasonable.


And the Templeton prize goes to...

I'd write more, but I have to offer a reflection at Mass later today that is consuming my literary abilities for the moment.

12 March 2007

March Madness

One benefit of being a Jesuit is the multitude of teams to cheer for during March Madness. This year seven of the sixty-four teams (over 10%) are from Jesuit schools: Holy Cross, Gonzaga, Marquette, Boston College, Xavier, Georgetown, and Creighton.


Go Crusaders!

Go Bulldogs!

Go Golden Eagles! x2

Go Musketeers!

Hoya Saxa (whatever that means, something to do with rocks I'm told)

and finally

Go Bluejays!

Amid this multitude of cheers however, the one I will speak the loudest and most often is "Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!"

11 March 2007

Musical Happenings

This weekend has been graced by two musical happenings.

Last night Cyril and I went to see Brother Jim play his fiddle at an Irish Pub not far from the old GM headquarters. The venue had the feel of an old neighborhood place, a nice cozy vibe. Jim played with an Irish band to benefit one of his ministries in the Upper Peninsula. A good time was had by all.

Today we ventured downtown to see the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This was my first time hearing the DSO in person, I have a few of their recordings. I was pleasantly surprised by quality of the orchestra. It might not be one of the great orchestras but it's certainly worth a listen.

The orchestra was conducted by Neeme Jarvi, its former music director. The DSO is still searching for a suitable replacement. The audience was notably appreciative to have him back in their midst. He began the afternoon with Stravinsky's Pulcinella, which came across with a wonderfully playful quality. The highlight of the afternoon was Shostakovich's first cello concerto performed by Lynn Harrell. I have a great weakness for all things Shostakovich, he's been my favorite composer off and on since high school. Lynn Harrell did a superb job, I was completely captivated by the time the cadenzas rolled around. The last programed piece was Dvorak's Serenade in E for String Orchestra. They played it well but it was an anticlimax really. Jarvi also conducted an encore, something by Tchaikovsky I think. All around a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and a welcome change of pace from pre-school songs.


Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
-Lk 21:14-15

This little verse from Luke jumped off the page at me a few days back. I was in the midst of marshaling intellectual forces to examine particular question that was puzzling me. I was attempting to achieve insight and perhaps even some wisdom on a given topic, trying to figure out the way things are. Delving deeply into questions using the full powers of reason is certainly praiseworthy and necessary, but Luke reminded me that there is something still greater.

If I were to learn all human minds have discovered by becoming an expert in all the sciences and humanities, the universe would still be deeply mysterious. I suspect it would appear even more mysterious than it already does. Human knowledge is a ship sailing on the ocean of the unknown. Though the ship is constantly improved and expanded, I doubt it will ever fill the ocean. I don't even know if the whole ocean is navigable.

The wisdom that Luke speaks of does not come from the ship but from the ocean. It is not something discovered but given. The eloquence of faith is gifted to those willing to accept it. Revelation is not the same as explanation. God is not an idea to fill out those parts of my world view where something is missing. We can control our own explanations; we can use explanations. Faith cannot be used nor controlled; it can only be lived or rejected.

It has happened many times in history that faith has been corrupted into mere explanation, often an explanation to condemn various peoples. This sort of thing unfortunately still happens. Real faith is not a stick used to beat people over the head with!

Genuine faith requires openness, the openness Luke speaks of "not to prepare your defense beforehand". To move freely and confidently in something beyond explanation, so far beyond explanation it can't be fully defined. Faith is openness and trust in a gift we cannot explain but only experience.


09 March 2007

Camptown Races

I've decided to try teaching the pre-schoolers some new songs. As much as I enjoy the "Hokey-Pokey" and "Jesus Loves Me" they're beginning to get old. For the past week we've been learning "Camptown Races". All kids should know a least a little Steven Foster. Teaching this song has been a rough go. The only thing I've gotten to stick is, "Doo-da Doo-da". When I'm lucky they also remember the popular variant, "Oh, de doo-da day". Today I have high hopes for, "I bet my money on a bob-tailed nag". I'm not quite sure what that means, but the kids don't care enough to ask so it'll be okay. Nothing like a song about horse racing for four year olds. The other option was "Alouette". Given the choice between a song about dismembering a sparrow and a song about racing I chose the lesser of too evils.

07 March 2007

Natural Religion

This Sunday the New York Times magazine published an article on the development of religion from a evolutionary standpoint. Appealing to the natural or evolutionary origins of religion is often used as an argument to undermine transcendent claims. For the record, I have no objection to the investigation of religious experience by scientific means.

The emergence of religious desires in human beings because of evolutionary pressures presents no evidence against the existence of a deity per se. If there is a deity that desired to be known by some of its creations, surely said deity would give them the capacity for spiritual seeking. That capacity would involve some structure or structures of the brain. The brain came about through evolution. Therefore the capacity for religious awareness also is a product of evolution.

The important question is whether or not religion is reducible to the evolutionary pressures that brought it about, if it is in fact a product of evolution either as a byproduct of some other change or a helpful adaptation in its own right. I find no good reason however to treat religious experience separate from all other human experiences. The larger question is whether human experience is simply a byproduct of evolution. Love, happiness, and even reason itself are all conditioned by the structures of the brain (at least to some extent). Like religious experiences, rational and loving experiences have gone horribly awry resulting in terrible consequences. The human condition is messy business. Rational and relational experience are generally taken at face value even though these types of experience trace their origin from the same font as religious experience.

As human beings all we have to go on is our experience which cannot be verified except by more experience. There is a widespread longing for transcendence, an experience of the divine or the enlightened. It is possible that our natures contain a deceptive drive to seek after transcendence that does not exist. It is also possible that reason is a cruel joke which makes the universe appear to be regular and ordered when it is not. I cannot prove faith experience is valid because all I have to go on is my experience. Neither can I prove reason is valid because it too lacks verification outside my experience. In the absence of independent verification, I'm forced to rely on assumptions and faith claims that my rational experience corresponds to order in the universe and that my religious experience corresponds to some transcendence.

Moving from the profound to the mundane... only six teaching days remain for the novices at La Salette. Time does surely fly. We're currently in the process of getting ready for the vocation tour coming to a Jesuit high school or college near you, assuming you're in Cincinnati, Akron, Cleveland, Indianapolis, or Chicago.


27 February 2007

Falling off the face of the earth

So I've fallen off the face of the blogosphere of late. I've been much busier the past few weeks than I anticipated. I'll try to do better.

Teaching at La Salette has been a blast, particularly the pre-schoolers. Three year olds will say just about anything. Very little 'teaching' gets done with these kids but I'm always amused when I leave and hopefully the kids are too. There's something incredibly transparent and authentic about little kids that we lose somewhere along the way. The kids are so wonderfully concrete about everything. As one who thinks of the world as a series of abstractions, these little ones offer a refreshing re-grounding. Happy, sad, fair, unfair, trust, disinterest are all immediate and without guile or deception. The fifth graders are fun too. Even with them, I do more entertaining than teaching.

In other news, apparently Jesus's tomb was found on the Titanic and is sinking. I do try to maintain an open mind about most things however I'm extremely skeptical about this new Cameron documentary. The Discovery Channel web site about the program is pretty snazzy but I fail to see the great revelation in all this. Mitochondrial DNA evidence doesn't really say much. All of the names individually are common. If Jesus was to have a family tomb it would almost certainly be Galilee not Jerusalem. The most compelling part of the whole thing are the statistics they present regarding the likelihood of the names occurring in one tomb. I'm certainly no statistician, archaeologist, historian, or biblical scholar, but from what I've read so far from people that are these things, the data on which the Discovery Channel statistics are based is bad. In any case this will likely become more clear in the coming weeks as more scholars weigh in on the subject. If it turns out the documentary is right, I guess I'll convert to Mammon.

It seems that every Lent someone new publishes the definitive report about the "Real Jesus". Anthony Sacramone wrote a fun article in First Things about the various "Real Jesus's" proposed over the years.


14 February 2007

Snow Day

Today the boys and girls of La Sallette Elementary School were treated to a snow day. This is my first time experiencing a snow day as a teacher rather than a student. It's just as sweet.

12 February 2007

Fides et Ratio

"If there is a God, it's going to be a whole lot bigger and a whole lot more incomprehensible than anything that any theologian of any religion has ever proposed." -Richard Dawkins, Oxford Professor and noted atheist

"Anyone who says he knows God has a depraved spirit." -Basil the Great, bishop and saint (emphasis mine)

I've been reading with a great deal of interest the recent flurry of books and articles on atheism centered primarily around three figures: Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. All three consider supernatural belief to be irrational and at least Dawkins and Harris also consider it to be wantonly destructive. They base their conclusions on what they consider to be solid scientific grounds. As a fervent Roman Catholic and an avid supporter of scientific endeavor these challenges to religion have captured my attention.

As a general rule it's important to understand the thought of intelligent people who disagree with you. Simply seeking out other people who mirror your own world view is utterly stifling both personally and intellectually--diverse opinions help purify thought.

I've had a deep and abiding interest in science for as long as I can recall. When I was younger I eagerly anticipated the arrival of each month's issue of Scientific American. When most kids were watching cartoons I watched Nova on PBS. In fact my interest in science predates my interest in philosophy and religion. I remember learning the basics of Freud with Dad before I knew about the Last Supper, third or fourth grade as I recall. Until high school I was nominally religious at best. My interest in religion came in part from reading Stephen Hawkings' Brief History of Time; I was precocious enough to attempt it in eighth grade. The concepts fascinated me but at the same time left me unsatisfied. Was the Big Bang really it? What was before that? Why was there are Big Bang in the first place? Why is the universe this way and not some other way? Did I simply have to accept the universe as one big brute fact with nothing underlying it? I was, for the first time, confronted with metaphysical questions. It was at this point I took an interest in philosophy and theology which seemed to address these really big questions. Though I've never lost my interest in science and have always put a great deal of trust in what science teaches. Thus any hint of conflict between science and faith troubles me.

As a person devoting his life to religion it is important to understand critiques of my deeply held beliefs. I cannot simply dismiss them as incorrect without openly and honestly looking at the arguments to do so would be both intellectually dishonest and contrary to my commitment to truth demanded by authentic Christian faith. If the atheists' critiques turn out to be true I'll have to make some fundamental life changes. If they turn out to be false, my faith and reason will be strengthened by the challenge of encountering the arguments.

I've already spent a good deal of energy investigating this question and since I'm writing from a Jesuit novitiate you can guess at my provisional answer. Still it is just that a provisional answer. To be truly open to the world (and God) one must be open to change. Ultimate questions are never totally nor finally answered while we still draw breath.

I approach this topic with a trust in the unity of truth. Reason properly executed cannot conflict with true faith. True faith is completely compatible with though very different from proper reason. Both modes of coming to truth must respect the integrity of their distinct methods. It does little good to twist faith to conform to science nor science to faith. If both are true they will be complementary without distortion. God, if my suspicions are correct, is the author of both.

I hope to discuss some of the arguments I've come across in the coming weeks. In addition to reading some of atheism's more recent exponents, I've also taken a look at some historic examples such as Comte, Freud, Russel, Camus, Feuerbach, Marx, and Nietzsche (my second favorite philosopher). Though I plan on discussing the issues thematically rather than by thinker.

For the moment, I want to end this post with the two quotes I began it with. It seems that Basil the Great, Richard Dawkins, and I are in agreement about at least one thing. God is far beyond anything we mere mortals can understand. No philosopher, theologian, or scientist has ever come close to figuring out God. God is deeply mysterious. By definition (albeit an inadequate one) an infinite creator God is well above mere finite mortals. Theologians such as Karl Rahner claim that even in heaven God is incomprehensible. As a person of faith, I do not consider God to be strictly provable. Nature could suggest something beyond itself. In order to prove God one needs to know what precisely one is proving. How can one definitely prove or for that matter disprove a being whose ways are supposed to be inscrutable? Augustine of Hippo put it well: "Si Comprendisti, non est Deus" (If you understand it, it's not God).

10 February 2007

Back in Berkley

I'm back at Loyola House after completing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Gloucester. The Exercises were striking and not at all what I expected. The whole process struck me as remarkably free and organic. It was a spiritual unfolding from within rather than an imposition of method and belief from without. I felt as though my fundamental understanding of myself, other people, the universe, and God have been substantially changed; static images have been replaced by dynamic engagements. My old synthesis of life fell apart; the universe and its creator refused to submit to my constructs. I must learn to live in the presence of a deep, abiding, and living mystery. The Exercises seem not to be a singular event but the beginning of an unfolding and dynamic process. The experience is still too fresh to articulate in a meaningful way. I can say having my fundamental assumptions about life challenged and ultimately found wanting was very difficult but the consolation of seeing the world with new eyes is greater still.

I have many people to thank for making my retreat possible: The staff at Gonzaga Retreat House for hosting the retreat; my brother novices at the Syracuse novitiate for hosting us on our way to and from Gloucester; Special thanks go to my spiritual director Fr. Dave De Marco, SJ for his wisdom and insight in guiding my retreat and just in general.

Next up is teaching at Our Lady of La Salette Elementary School. Guess who's "teaching" pre-schoolers. This should be highly amusing.


06 January 2007

On Retreat

Today is my last day at St. Andrew's Hall, the Jesuit novitiate in Syracuse, NY. Many thanks to the community of St. Andrew's for hosting us so graciously. Yesterday we finished an excellent workshop on Praying the Psalm. The psalms are much richer when understood in the context of spirit and song, I thank Fr. John Endres, SJ for shedding some light on this topic for us.

Tomorrow we head to Gonzaga Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester, MA for the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. During the retreat, my blog will be on vacation, look for it to return the second week of February. In the mean time please keep my brother novices and I in prayer as we go through the exercises.

01 January 2007

Happy New Year

Happy New Year

Today is also the Solemnity of Mary Mother of God and the titular Feast of the Society of Jesus.

The Detroit and Chicago Province Vocation conference finished up yesterday with a New Year's Eve Party. The theme of the conference was the Strategic Discernment currently underway in the United States Assistancy of the Society. Demographically the Society of Jesus is changing rapidly as the large numbers of Jesuits who entered in the 40's and 50's move out of active communities to the retirement center. Our numbers in this country and in Europe are dropping substantially, though the worldwide demographic picture is more rosy with some areas experiencing strong growth. Clearly with fewer guys in the US we can't staff Jesuit institutions like we once could. The Society's role in some institutions must change. Some ministries will be closed. Many ministries which were started by Jesuits will be left to function on their own without the Society's involvement.

All this sounds pretty dire. Especially for one just beginning life as a Jesuit; no one wants to board a sinking ship. Despite discussing these difficult issues over the weekend, I come away from the conference with a great optimism. St. Benedict once said, "succisa virescit" (pruned it will grow again). I think this maxim is true of my life, the Society of Jesus, and the Church as a whole. I found it fascinating when working with my Bonsai trees that trimming them back could encourage greater and healthier growth than leaving them alone. So too in my life growth inevitably comes out of difficultly. Within the Society of Jesus the past decades have witnessed and we continue to witness a great pruning, I see the Holy Spirit in this. This pruning has forced the Society to consider what missions are truly important, to examine its relationship with the Church and with the larger world. It teaches humility and above all trust. Through worldly diminishment there can be a growth in holiness. God prunes back our pride and lets His light shine on our darkness.

Though numbers continue to decline, I already see signs of spring within the Society. The men at the formation conference are a sign of rebirth. I found these men in formation to be of great and varied talents; men deeply committed to Christ, the Church, and the Society. Men getting ready for their mission for the greater glory of God. There is also growth in recognizing the importance of Catholic values in the Society's institutions many of which have drifted in a secular direction. The Society is reaching out to lay partners in its institutions and attempting to inculcate the Ignatian spirit in them. In many places folks are realizing Catholic identity and values don't just happen they must be carefully fostered. There is growth in freedom. Freedom to start new works where their is need rather than simply trying to sustain the status quo. Freedom to follow God's spirit wherever it leads.

I have great hope the Society of Jesus and the Church is being lead into a new springtime. I don't know what this springtime will look like but I trust it will be blessed.

Tomorrow the first year novices head up to the Syracuse novitiate for a workshop on the psalms before heading up to Gloucester for the Spiritual Exercise, a thirty day silent retreat. Hopefully I'll be able to post once from Syracuse. Otherwise this will be my last post until the middle of February after the long retreat.

I encourage all to read Pope Benedict's New Year's Message for peace. In 2007 let us all pray for true peace and understanding.

Finally as promised here is a picture of the "Star Trek Tree".