That in Majorca Alfonso Watched the Door

October 31, 2009

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJThis post is going to do three things I usually try avoid when blogging: commenting about matters pertaining to the Society of Jesus, writing spiritual reflections, and posting things that are essentially another’s work.  But I cannot resist a word about St. Alphonsus Rodríguez.

Today—as the secular world celebrates Halloween and most of the Church observes the 30th Saturday in Ordinary Time—the Society of Jesus remembers the lay brother Alphonsus Rodríguez, who died on this date in 1617.  When we think “Jesuit saint” the type that comes most readily to mind is a heroic missionary priest or a valiant martyr.  Think Xavier, Jogues, Campion.  Alphonsus was none of these things.  The task assigned to him was different: answering the door at the Jesuit college in Majorca.  For nearly four decades, answering the door.  That, at least, was what seen on the exterior.  In his interior life of prayer—unknown until after his death—Alphonsus was blessed with the highest mystical graces.  The students at the college came to the holy porter for advice and encouragement—including the future “slave of the slaves” St. Peter Claver, whom Alphonsus urged to the missions.

This month began with the remembrance of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the great saint of “Little Way.”  Today, the month ends with another “Little Way” saint, Alphonsus Rodríguez, who reminds us that holiness need not come through martyrdom in a foreign land, but can come—and in fact, for most of us, will come—through our everyday tasks, even if they be as humble as opening the door in an ordinary Jesuit college.

Alphonsus’s confrère Gerard Manley Hopkins has captured the spirit of this saint’s life perhaps better than anyone, and so I close with the following Hopkins poem:

In honour of

St. Alphonsus Rodríguez

Laybrother of the Society of Jesus

HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.

Love in Daily Life

October 27, 2009

In many of the world’s great spiritual traditions there are strong themes of finding the presence of God in the mundane.  There is a call to “awareness” so that by becoming aware of the passions one might move beyond them to a higher reality.  What many Christians might not be aware of is just how much this mystical tradition exists also in Christianity.  Recently there has been some renewed influence of mysticism in Christianity, but often it is imported, so to speak, from other religious traditions. Yet there are thinkers who draw their origin and life directly from the Christian tradition who also can offer a profound link and connection to the mystical life, an awareness of the presence of God in all things. Read the rest of this entry »

The End of Celibacy?

October 25, 2009

Rowan Williams+AMDG+

Amid the stir about the Vatican’s creation of “personal ordinariates” for Anglican communities seeking communion with Rome, the discipline of clerical celibacy has again become the focus of the media’s sensitive and admiring attentions.  It is still unclear whether these ordinariates will enjoy a permanent exemption from this Latin Rite discipline, or merely a non-renewable exemption (limited to those who are already Anglican priests or seminarians).  Either way, there seems to be some expectation in various quarters of the Church that the new provision will undermine the Latin Rite tradition of celibacy.  Depending on which quarters of the Church are canvassed, naturally, the prospect excites either anxiety or glee.

I often wonder whether the use of term “discipline” is not partly responsible for this insecurity about priestly celibacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Wendell Berry and the EcoDorm

October 15, 2009


I am often struck by a story or article that I don’t have time to follow up on–at least right away.  Maybe that’s not all bad, since the transience of blog posts tends to discourage rumination and measured response.  In that spirit, I’m posting something I’ve been digesting for a fortnight.

Two issues ago, the New York Times Magazine featured a low-key and appreciative story on Warren Wilson’s new eco-friendly dorm (accessible only with on-line member ID).  The accompanying photo gallery is filled with young, self-consciously earthy students of European extraction.  They are depicted lounging in their dorm, drying clothes on a line, playing banjos and bending iron railings in their shop.  All in all, the article attempts to portray what the director of the school’s Environmental Leadership Center calls “an integration of life and values.”  They like their food home-grown, their furnishings hand-made, and their music unamplified.

The one incongruous picture, however, is the shot of an attractive young couple, lounging together in their dorm room (shown above and in the print edition, but not included in the online gallery).  The intimacy of the pose suggests a romantic relationship.  The caption informs us that the couple “met at a camp for home-schooled children when they were 14.  They share an EcoDorm room.  Two other couples cohabit in the dorm.”

The picture is notable not only because it adds little to the “integration of life and values” touted above, but because it goes so far as to contradict it.  Organic living lies cheek-to-jowl with industrial sex. Read the rest of this entry »

Two Years Later, A Different Colonialism

October 12, 2009

During his May 2007 visit to Brazil, Pope Benedict XVI made some controversial comments about pre-Colombian cultures which incited a vehement outcry against him.  The Holy Father claimed that the indigenous American peoples were “silently longing” for Christ.  He said that Christianity had purified these cultures and made them fruitful, noting that “the proclamation of Jesus and of his Gospel did not at any point involve an alienation of the pre-Colombian cultures, nor was it the imposition of a foreign culture.”  The Pope concluded that it would be a step back, not forward, to try to go back to native religions and to separate them from Christianity.

Many reacted strongly.  Indigenous leaders were especially offended, issuing responses like that given by Jecinaldo Sateré Mawé of the Amazonian Sateré Mawé tribe, who called the Pope’s remarks “arrogant and disrespectful.”  Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez demanded an apology, noting the “genocide” which occurred with the arrival of Christianity.  And much of the Western media decried the comments as another instance of Pope Benedict’s intolerance and narrow-minded Europeanism. Read the rest of this entry »

Jesuits in Art and Science

October 11, 2009


This is only a newsy post.  However, I often find it good both to remind and be reminded that the Jesuit tradition of ecclesial service in both the arts and sciences continues. A couple recent events have caught my eye.

With regard to the sciences, here is  link to Pope Benedict visiting and blessing the new headquarters of the Vatican Observatory (a work entrusted to the Society of Jesus).  Those who know Fr. David Brown, SJ of the New Orleans Province–recently assigned there after earning a doctorate in astrophysics from Oxford– will recognize him in the footage.

With regard to the arts, I find the mosaics of Fr. Marko Rupnik, SJ–installed in the recently dedicated Chapel of the Holy Spirit at Sacred Heart University–to be quite beautiful.  One can see both the mosaics both in situ and as a slide show.


Does a song have any meaning if it’s not shared?

October 10, 2009


Sufjan Stevens is the most interesting musician I know.  To be clear: he is not the best singer, he is not the best lyricist, he is not the best songwriter or composer.  What he has done, up to now, is combine a love for complex, beautiful music, and a deep love for God.   It’s a combination that has fascinated me.

I had the rare privilege of seeing him in concert the other night at a tiny venue in Philadelphia called Johnny Brenda’s. Sufjan had not toured since 2006, and the crowd’s anticipation in the room seemed at times literally breathless — people hardly daring to exhale for fear of spoiling the moment. Is he going to play new stuff? old stuff? weird stuff?  And beneath it all, there lingered the dominant question – will any of his songs move me tonight the way they have moved me before?

Read the rest of this entry »

Poem of the Day

October 5, 2009


The Simple Truth

Philip Levine

I bought a dollar and a half's worth of small red potatoes,
took them home, boiled them in their jackets
and ate them for dinner with a little butter and salt.
Then I walked through the dried fields
on the edge of town.  In middle June the light
hung on in the dark furrows at my feet,
and in the mountain oaks overhead the birds
were gathering for the night, the jays and mockers
squawking back and forth, the finches still darting
into the dusty light.  The woman who sold me
the potatoes was from Poland; she was someone
out of my childhood in a pink spangled sweater and sunglasses
praising the perfection of all her fruits and vegetables
at the road-side stand and urging me to taste
even the pale, raw sweet corn trucked all the way,
she swore, from New Jersey.  "Eat, eat" she said,
"Even if you don't I'll say you did."
                                              Some things
you know all your life.  They are so simple and true
they must be said without elegance, meter and rhyme,
they must be laid on the table beside the salt shaker,
the glass of water, the absence of light gathering
in the shadows of picture frames, they must be
naked and alone, they must stand for themselves.
My friend Henri and I arrived at this together in 1965
before I went away, before he began to kill himself,
and the two of us to betray our love.  Can you taste
what I'm saying?  It is onions or potatoes, a pinch
of simple salt, the wealth of melting butter, it is obvious,
it stays in the back of your throat like a truth
you never uttered because the time was always wrong,
it stays there for the rest of your life, unspoken,
made of that dirt we call earth, the metal we call salt,
in a form we have no words for, and you live on it.


Some Thoughts on Contingency and Evil

October 3, 2009

Evil is the “necessary” shadow concomitant of finite being.  

This is an assertion of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ that raised quite a ruckus.  In his own words:

“Original sin expresses, translates, personifies, in an instantaneous act, the perennial and universal law of imperfection which operates in mankind in virtue of its being ‘in fieri’ (in the process of becoming).”   Read the rest of this entry »

Let the Earth Bless the Lord

October 3, 2009

"When everything is done apart, we forget our connection to each other and the world." Ken Burns at the 2009 Boston College Commencement

In a few other posts I’ve taken up the theme of theology as practiced by artists,  filmmakers (both cinema and television) and fiction writers. Once again, television audiences this past week were witness to a bit of theologizing. This time Ken Burns, the documentary filmmaker who changed the way documentaries are made with his Civil War, offers his take on God and nature in The National Parks: America’s Best Idea.

Read the rest of this entry »

On Angels and Sleep

October 2, 2009


Angel of GideonSeeing as there was at least a little interest in my first post on angelology, I thought that the feast of the Guardian Angels would be a fitting time to draw attention to one of Karl Rahner’s quirkier essays: ‘A Spiritual Dialogue at Evening: On Sleep, Prayer, and Other Subjects.”  The essay is quirky both because of its genre (an imagined dialogue between Rahner and a physician who is strangely tolerant of dense theological prose and periodic sentences) and because of its subject matter (a theology of sleep).  At any rate, Rahner here nuances the traditional understanding of angels as “pure spirits.”  He grants that they are not as definitely related to matter as the human spirit is, but, nonetheless, holds for the position–developed at greater length elsewhere–that angels bear some proper relation to the material world.

If so, Rahner muses, then perhaps our surrender to sleep and to the realm of the unconscious opens us to the influence of both angels and demons. Read the rest of this entry »

Thérèse’s Mission to Modernity

October 1, 2009

[therese14.jpg]Today on the memorial of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, as the pious among us finish their novenas and keep their eyes peeled for roses falling from heaven, I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on the woman whom Pope Pius XI called “the greatest saint of modern times.”  In particular, I would like to consider a part of Thérèse’s life which perhaps does not get as much attention as it should: her experience of the dark night.  She describes it thus:

[Jesus] permitted my soul to be invaded by the thickest darkness, and that the thought of heaven, up until then so sweet to me, be no longer anything but the cause of struggle and torment.  This trial was to last not a few days or a few weeks, it was not to be extinguished until the hour set by God Himself and this hour has not yet come.  I would like to be able to express what I feel, but alas!  I believe this is impossible.  One would have to travel through this dark tunnel to understand this darkness.

Read the rest of this entry »