Jesuits are Pro-Life

January 30, 2010

It might be a little late to write a post on the March for Life this year, but I feel that as a blog made up of Jesuit writers, we have to take every opportunity we can get to clear up the name of at least many Jesuits.  The Society of Jesus is pro-life.  There are some Jesuits who are not, such as the late Robert Drinan.  But that is the exception, not the rule. Consider these numbers, which would have been unheard of ten years ago: A mass was held – as it has been held for the past seven years or so -at St. Aloysius Church on North Captitol.  It was for students from Jesuit high schools and univiersities around the United States.  This year the church was more filled than I have every seen it.  The balcony was full, the pews were full, the homily was powerful, and the music was inspired.  It was amazing.  Fifteen men came down from the Jesuit philosophate at Fordham University in New York.  That was half the house of one of three philosophates in the United States for Jesuits. Read the rest of this entry »

Holden Caulfield: Annoying and Necessary

January 29, 2010

Ironically Catcher in the Rye is now part of the establishment. It still sells 250,000 copies a year. School kids buy, I would imagine, many of those copies for their summer reading or their classes during the year. In fact, I taught the book to sophomores for two years during my regency in Tampa, Fla. I required students to analyze and then write about the many elements of Holden Caulfield’s character, his motivations, his successes and his shortcomings. I required students to sit in small groups and discuss the reliability of this narrator Holden. As they discussed, I awarded points to students supported their opinions with quotes from the text. I awarded points to students who directly responded to something another student had just said. There were points for particularly insightful comments that elicited discussion from the whole group. There were points for just about anything that facilitated more discussion and “deeper” analysis. I gave quizzes after each reading assignment on the minutiae of the book–albeit important minutiae.  See how you do:

1. In what U.S. state does the novel begin?

2. What’s the name of the prep school from which he is most recently expelled?

3. How tall is Holden, and what color is his hair?

4. What brand of luggage does Holden carry?

5. Holden’s imagination is captured by which animals in Central Park?

6. According to Holden, what are Catholics always trying to do?

You can put down your pencils now and pass your papers to the student beside you. — Read the rest of this entry »

Bl. Matteo Ricci?

January 28, 2010


A news item: several sources suggest that the cause of Fr. Matteo Ricci, SJ (1552-1610) is moving forward due to the renewed interest of Bishop Claudio Giuliodori of Macerata, the diocese of Ricci’s birth.  Though the cause officially opened in 1984 and Ricci was declared “Servant of God” in 1985, proceedings stalled for unspecified reasons.  On January 24th, however, the diocesan tribunal finally swore in officials (including an official postulator, Fr. Tony Witwer, SJ) and opened an investigation to collect historical documentation.

Of course, since Ricci was the pioneer and architect of acculturated evangelization in China (one can find helpful information about him here and here), the news is also significant for the whole field of missiology. How does one present the Gospel to a culture that has developed for millennia without reference to it?  Certain prudential judgments of Ricci regarding the translation of God into Mandarin and the Chinese practice of ancestor “worship” were eventually condemned in the Chinese Rites Controversy.  From a distance of three centuries, however, these decisions seem to have been premature. Read the rest of this entry »

Colonial Living

January 27, 2010

The Trailhead Queen was dead. At first, there was no overt sign that her long life was ending: no fever, no spasm, no farewells. She simply sat on the floor of the royal chamber and died.

E. O. Wilson, the Pelegrino University Research Professor Emeritus at Harvard, begins his gripping short story with this forlorn account of the death of the Trailhead Queen, who, by the way, is an ant.  No, she’s not your momma’s sister. She’s an insect, and before her death she had been the noble head of a teeming and successful colony for nearly twenty years. Wilson’s short story, “Trailhead,” is a beautiful tale of life, death, prosperity, poverty, war and peace. Beginning with the nuptial flight of the future Queen of the Trailhead Colony, Wilson takes us through the ups and down of life in colony–reeling off a list of details that only a research professor could know while at the same time exercising the emotional precision of the best practitioners of the short story genre. Read the rest of this entry »

Praying for Haiti

January 26, 2010

During my time as a Jesuit novice (spring 2007) I spent a month working at a children’s hospital run by the Missionaries of Charity in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  That month was probably the most moving of my two-years in novitiate, the time in my life when the Gospel most seemed to take on flesh before my eyes.

The Gospel coming to life is, of course, a wonderful thing, but it is not always an easy thing, and my time in Haiti was no exception to this rule.  I experienced several sustained moments of searing self-questioning regarding how I was living the religious life, and there was the heat, too, the lack of water, the sporadic electricity, the smell of sewage in the air—and all the sick kids in the hospital.  Malnutrition, HIV/AIDS, parasites, burns, abuse, and on and on.  Of all the places I had traveled in the world before then—Kazakhstan, East Africa, the Middle East—something about Haiti made it seem the most broken.  Read the rest of this entry »

Tangled Up in Blue

January 17, 2010

For starters, the 3-D glasses are really cool, not the flimsy paper and celluloid things of the past. These are fashioned on the perennially chic Ray-Ban Wayfarers. However, the neat glasses certainly are not the main reason to go see Avatar.

Director James Cameron’s groundbreaking use of 3-D technology was enough to get me into the theater, but the breadth of his vision in bringing an alien world to life kept me glued to my seat. Many reviewers have praised Cameron’s latest project, and I don’t intend on repeating those praises here. It was a beautiful and thrilling movie. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Love is the Highest Form of Knowledge

January 15, 2010

There are two kinds of knowledge: primary reflection and secondary reflection.

Primary reflection is essentially signal response.  Animals are capable of this.  Humans have this kind of knowledge as well.

Secondary reflection is knowledge performed by a self-conscious being that can say “I.”  Self-consciousness allows for concept formation, which in turn makes language possible.  This kind of knowledge is an immaterial act, since the reception of a concept is not reception of a material thing.

Secondary reflection yields two kinds of immaterial objects: non-material impersonal objects and non-material personal objects.  Read the rest of this entry »

Haiti: How you can help.

January 14, 2010

Many will want to help those who are suffering in Haiti. However, getting the help to those who need it most is very difficult given the severity of the disaster. Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has the experience and the resources that allow it to deliver effectively the help that is needed. They ask for your support here. Of course, your prayer will be needed, too.

Spiritual Imperialism

January 13, 2010


It’s always fun to bemoan Western imperialism.  In fact, it’s become something of a fashionable pastime for most socially conscious Catholic pundits and homilists.  In the end, however, most such criticisms end up being a bit superficial.  We instinctively employ our own favored militaristic and market-based criteria.  Consequently, we end up focusing on foreign wars and cruel sweatshops, and we promote multilateral diplomacy and fair trade coffee in response.  In other words, we end up with distinctly American criticisms of America.

To its credit, the recent New York Times article on the “Americanization of Mental Illness” begins to go a bit deeper.  It still remains somewhat imprisoned within American plausibility structures, since it draws its criteria and evidence almost entirely from the statistical method of public health.  Nonetheless, the somewhat lengthy article brings up some interesting points:

  • Mental illnesses vary from culture to culture.
  • By universalizing the mental health categories developed to treat modern Western afflictions, America is indirectly exporting its own mental illnesses.
  • At least some mental illnesses (e.g., schizophrenia) are better treated by folk methods.
  • Western anomie may be partly to blame for both the incidence of mental illness and impotence of contemporary therapies.

These points are of interest mainly because they point to a deeper imperialism of the spirit. Read the rest of this entry »

New Writer

January 12, 2010

Dear Readers,

We have a new writer at Whosoever Desires!  Anthony Lusvardi is originally from the Twin Cities in Minnesota.  He studied English and Philosophy at Notre Dame before spending two years teaching English for the Peace Corps in Sarkand, Kazakhstan.  He took his Jesuit vows in 2008, spent last summer on the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota, and has been otherwise occupied studying philosophy in First Studies at Loyola University in Chicago.  I’m sure he will be a rich addition to the writing staff.  Please welcome Anthony and continue to pray for his Jesuit vocation.

Wrong turn revisiting Brideshead

January 12, 2010

I am a bit of a Brideshead Revisited junkie.  Evelyn Waugh’s novel is among the best of the 20th century, and the 1981 BBC miniseries, staring a very young Jeremy Irons, along with Anthony Andrews, Sir Lawrence Olivier, and the delightfully passive-aggressive Sir John Gielgud, is arguably the greatest TV miniseries of all time.  Both the novel and the miniseries are elegant, wry, and subtle.

You can imagine, then, the wailing and gnashing of teeth that ensued when I watched the 2008 film “adaptation” of Brideshead, which had all the art and nuance of Melrose Place. Make that outtakes from Melrose Place.  The characters were flat and banal, and the plot drooped.  The cinematography was elegant enough—a good period piece—and the acting passable, but Waugh’s masterpiece had been left behind.

Now this is not the lament of a literary purist—I am a junkie, not a purist—for whom even the slightest alteration smacks of treason. Read the rest of this entry »

Church for Agnostics?

January 7, 2010

Pope Benedict recently gave his yearly Christmas address (h/t whispers) to the officials of the Curia, who run the various offices in the Vatican.  It is often a speech in which he touches on the events in his schedule for the past year.  What struck me most this year was right at the end, when the Pope reflected on his trip to the Czech Republic, and floated some ideas for extending the Church’s ministry in a new way to agnostics and atheists.  Could people who do not feel part of Christianity, yet seek beauty and truth, have some real place in the Church? Read the rest of this entry »

What’s It All About?

January 5, 2010

There are those who like to travel for business and those who can’t stand the hassle. Then there is Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) in Jason Reitman’s “Up in the Air.” Bingham travels 300 days a year as he roams the country firing people on behalf of bosses who can’t muster the courage to do it themselves. Bingham loves it so much, in fact, that he makes the security checkpoint nightmare into a ballet, of sorts, as he slips off his loafers while simultaneously extracting his laptop from his roller-board suitcase. He seems to enjoy it. Perhaps, when compared to his job, the sport of traveling is fun in the world of Ryan Bingham, professional hatchet man. He belongs to all of the rewards plans, mileage plans, and frequent guest plans of American Airlines, Hertz and Hilton. At American they “know” him by name. Bingham prefers 35,000 feet above the earth rather than terra firma. He prefers the microcosm of the multi-terminal airport to the real world. Read the rest of this entry »

More Praise for Clunky Translations

January 4, 2010


As the list grows of those who wonder what if they just said ‘wait’ to the new translation of the Missal, I thought it might be helpful to draw another historical parallel (in addition to the parallel I already drew to early Christian Latin).  A quick read of In the Beginning, Alister McGrath’s history of the King James Bible, reveals that many of the controversies surrounding the proposed liturgical texts resemble the controversies attending the first translations of the Bible into English.  And, as it turns out, the translation philosophy that guided the Vox Clara commission is also the philosophy that produced the King James Version, once reckoned the “noblest monument of English prose.”

At least two of the charges commonly leveled against the Vox Clara translation—that it is foreign-sounding and unintelligible to the average person—could also have been leveled against the KJV (and commonly were). Read the rest of this entry »

What I Learned in 2009

January 2, 2010

If you will permit me a rather reflective post:

I leaned quite a few important things this year, particularly from teaching.  I’d like to share them with you.

1.  From my senior theology class:

David Foster Wallace began his now well-known commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005:

There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys, how’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

All of my seniors fall into this category.  They have been so indoctrinated into scientism, that metaphysics seemed like a lost cause.  It is a fight.  To get them to admit that they were swimming in water was almost impossible, and yet simultaneously, I realized that if I lost that battle, every other battle I fought was doomed. Read the rest of this entry »