Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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.