Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam

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.