An Education

April 29, 2010

Well, it’s the middle of final paper season, but fear not!  I’m still finding time for blogging.  And procrastinating.  And watching movies.  And procrastinating by blogging about watching movies.  Among the more interesting movies I’ve watched of late has been the British film An Education (2009).

An Education is set in 1960s London, a more innocent age on the verge of becoming, well, a significantly less innocent age.  The star of the movie is Jenny (Carey Mulligan), a smart 16-year old at an all-girls academy with a bright academic future ahead of her, if all goes well, at Oxford.

Jenny’s home life is a bit oppressive, and her parents are rather dull.  Alfred Molina turns in a particularly good performance as Jenny’s father, Jack, who manages to come across as bumbling, overbearing, and awkwardly caring all at the same time.  In the end, despite appearing almost tyrannical in his desire for Jenny to do well at school, Jack’s greatest fault turns out to be his naïveté.  Jenny faults him for not being strict enough.

Read the rest of this entry »

Milosz – In Kraków

April 28, 2010

Czeslaw Milosz is regarded as one of the great poets of the 20th century. This poem caught my eye when it was first published in The New Yorker as, perhaps, a poetic theology of the body.  Enjoy!

In Kraków

On the border of this world and the beyond, in Kraków.

Tap-tap on the foot-worn flagstones of churches,

Generation after generation.  Here I came to understand

Something of the habits of my brothers and sisters.

Read the rest of this entry »

Gospel Tumbles and Tweets: part 2

April 25, 2010

What a coincidence! Yesterday, I discovered on Twitter that the Pope gave a speech the same day talking about the need for believers to humanize the internet. Here’s the major quote:

“Without fear we must set sail on the digital sea facing into the deep with the same passion that has governed the ship of the Church for two thousand years. Rather than for, albeit necessary, technical resources, we want to qualify ourselves by living in the digital world with a believer’s heart, helping to give a soul to the Internet’s incessant flow of communication”.

Read Vatican Radio’s summary here.

Michae!, SJ


Gospel Tumbles and Tweets

April 24, 2010

One of the fun things about browsing the internet is that you can always find something new.  But, of course, new internet discoveries are almost always a mixed bag.  What are they for? What are they doing for people? Who uses this? Sometimes, even after I figure out some of that stuff, I end up realizing that it might be cool, but it’s nothing I’ll ever get any use or genuine enjoyment from.

But then there are things that might turn out to be useful – for example, Twitter and Tumblr.

Read the rest of this entry »

A brief ecclesiastical history of Kazakhstan

April 20, 2010

When I first began writing for Whosoever Desires, one of our readers suggested I should say something about my two years in Kazakhstan and, in particular, about the state of the Kazakhstani Church.

I worked in Kazakhstan from 2002-2004, straight out of college, well before the thought of becoming a Jesuit had crossed my mind; my concerns and inclinations at the time were, I confess, decidedly more worldly than they are today.  I found that there are two basic drives motivating Peace Corps volunteers:  an idealism trying to make the world a better place and a thirst for adventure.  Like most, I possessed a bit of both.

First a few basics about Kazakhstan.   Read the rest of this entry »

Girard, sacrifice, and the (Holy Sacrifice of the) Mass, Part II

April 14, 2010

Two weeks ago I offered a summary of René Girard’s I See Satan Fall Like Lightning.  Girard’s insights into the origins of violence and the violent origins of civilization are worth serious consideration.  The social insights that come out of his theory are often unsettling.  For example, he realizes that Christianity’s concern for victims has been largely absorbed into contemporary society, though this concern itself can be perverted by mimetic contagion:  “we practice a hunt for scapegoats to the second degree, a hunt for the hunters of scapegoats.”

There’s fruit for several posts in that sentence alone, but when I first read Girard it was in the context of sacramental theology.  So today I’d like to turn to a couple of questions having to do with the Eucharist.  Here, to be clear, we start to move beyond Girard’s views to my own musings.

Girard’s analysis highlights one of the more disquieting aspects of the Passion accounts for those living in contemporary Western culture:  the role of the crowd.   Read the rest of this entry »

Bl. Bernardo de Hoyos, SJ (1711-1735)

April 13, 2010


It seems that the Society of Jesus is on its way toward a fourth “boy saint.”  Fr. Bernardo de Hoyos, SJ, who died at the age of 24 and is considered the first apostle of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in Spain, will join the ranks of St. Aloysius Gonzaga, St. Stanislaus Kostka, and St. John Berchmanns, all of whom achieved notable holiness while still in Jesuit formation (Bernardo was completing tertianship, the final stage of Jesuit formation, when he died).  The Spanish Jesuit will be beatified in Vallodolid on April 18, 2010.  The link will bring you to a letter of Fr Adolfo Nicolas, SJ, describing his life and holiness.

Please pray for Jesuits in formation through Bernardo’s intercession …

The Times Take 3: The Stephen Kiesle Files

April 12, 2010


Ratzinger MemoI find myself praying a lot for Pope Benedict these days.  From within the U.S., of course, it’s easy to overestimate how much the sniping of the New York Times actually roils global Catholicism.  Nonetheless, as the Times stacks one leaky bucket atop another, it’s easy here to forget that they all leak.  And, because of both the uniquely spiritual outlook of the Roman Catholic Church and the highly technical nature of her legal terms, it’s easy to impute malice and self-protection to garden-variety Vatican heel-dragging.  The saga of Stephen Kiesle, the third and most recent of the front-pagers for the Times, is a case in point.

I feel compelled, in the interest of fairness, to make a few points specifically concerning Pope Benedict’s alleged negligence in this regard:

Why Bart Stupak did a better job than people think

April 9, 2010

As I write this I’m watching Mrs. Bart Stupak praise her husband at the press conference where he will announce his retirement from Congress.  In the discussion that followed my posting on health care reform, I praised Rep. Stupak for his fight to keep abortion funding out of the health care bill then under debate in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Since then Rep. Stupak has received a lot of criticism for voting for the health bill in exchange for Pres. Obama signing an executive order intended to preserve current restrictions on federal abortion funding.  Some of this criticism has been unfair; I don’t think we should stone Stupak. Read the rest of this entry »

But I Really Feel He is the Messiah!

April 7, 2010

One of my favorite N.T. Wright passages on the implausibility of the revisionist approach to the Resurrection:

We note at this point, as an important aside, how impossible is it to account for the early Christian belief in Jesus as Messiah without the resurrection. We know of several other Jewish movements, messianic movements, prophetic movements, during the one or two centuries either side of Jesus’ public career. Routinely they ended with the violent death of the central figure. Members of the movement (always supposing they got away with their own skins) then faced a choice: either give up the struggle, or find a new Messiah. Had the early Christians wanted to go the latter route, they had an obvious candidate: James, the Lord’s brother, a great and devout teacher, the central figure in the early Jerusalem church. But nobody ever imagined that James might be the Messiah.

This rules out the revisionist positions on Jesus’ resurrection that have been offered by so many writers in recent years. Read the rest of this entry »

Do We Ever Need Baseball

April 5, 2010

It was in 1733 that Alexander Pope penned the famous verse, “Hope springs eternal in the human breast.”  Whence the line?  Maybe it can be attributed to something in Pope’s Catholic upbringing.  Or maybe it arose from his general, lifelong observations of man.  Or maybe, just maybe, Pope, in a prescient moment, gleaned that line from his observations about something else going on in the 1730s in England: the old game of “stoolball” being referred to more and more as “baseball.”  Indeed, it would be a mere decade later, in 1744, when the word “Base-ball” would for the first time appear in print.

Baseball teaches one many things, not the least of which is hope.  It does not matter how badly one’s team finished the year before, the season opener in April provides reason to hope.  T.S. Eliot could not have been a baseball fan, for no baseball fan would ever write, “April is the cruellest month.” Read the rest of this entry »

An Easter Greeting for Friedrich Nietzsche

April 4, 2010

I’ve been taking a Nietzsche course this semester and enjoying it immensely.  Don’t get me wrong:  Nietzsche and I are on opposite sides of the question of God’s vitality, and a few other things besides.  But it’s refreshing to have an opponent of Nietzsche’s caliber; next to him, today’s neo-atheists look like so many prattling dwarves.  An account of Christianity that can stand up to Nietzsche is a robust account indeed.

In my pre-Easter Nietzsche class we discussed the second essay of the Genealogy of Morals.  Nietzsche spends a lot of time in the essay on the notions of credit and debt and the role these concepts play in the origin of conscience, guilt, and religion.  To simplify a bit, Nietzsche sees the origin of gods in ancestor worship and the origin of ancestor worship in the sense of indebtedness we feel toward the founders of our respective tribes.

The rest of the story by now is probably familiar to you:  indebtedness becomes wrapped up in guilt and fear, and poor little man ends up cowering before the Judeo-Christian God, conscious of an infinite indebtedness he can never repay.  And then along comes Jesus to pay the debt for us, but, oh no!  What’s this?  Jesus’ attempt to repay the debt only leaves man further in the hole because, well, he just killed God.  So guilt and debt and fear abide…

Read the rest of this entry »

Exsúltet iam Angélica turba cælórum

April 3, 2010


A Preliminary Translation

by Joseph T. Moller

Exult now the Angelic Throng in the heavens: let the divine mysteries exult: and for such a king in his victory, let the trumpet insound salvation.  Rejoice also the earth instruck with the rays flashing of such a light; and with the eternal king’s splendor alight, from the whole world, let her feel the darkness sent away.  Joyful also be Mother Church, with such a light adorned, flashing brilliancies: and great with the voicings of the people let this church leap re-echoing.  Wherefore, you standing here, dear brothers, to this so wondrous brilliance of holy night, together with me, I ask, Almighty God’s mercy invoke.  That he who, not through my merits, has deigned me within the number of the Levites to ingather: the brilliance of his light pouring out may this candle full in praise perfect.

Truly worthy and just it is, the invisible God, Father Almighty and His only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, with the whole heart and affection of mind, in ministration of voice and praise to persound.  Who for us, Adam’s debt to the eternal Father, has absolved: and the old impediment of impious guilt with His blood in compassionate honor has wiped away.  These are indeed the paschal feasts, in which truly that Lamb is slain, by whose blood the doorposts of the faithful are consecrated.

This is the night, in which first our fathers, the sons of Israel, led out of Egypt, the Red Sea dry-trod you made to cross.  This therefore is the night, which has the darkness of sinners with the illumination of a pillar of light purged.  This is the night, which today, throughout the world, those believing in Christ, from the vices of the times and the darkness of sin, gathers apart, restores to grace, joins to holiness.

This is the night, in which torn down were the chains of death and Christ, from Hell, the victor ascended.  Nothing indeed to us in birth would there have been of benefit, except that it brought us to be redeemed.  O the wonder that you deemed us worthy of your compassion.  O the inconceivable love beyond love, choosing, caring: the slave to ransom, the son you handed over.  O surely the necessary sin of Adam which by Christ’s death was blotted out.  O happy fault which merited to have such and so great a redeemer.

O truly blessed night, which alone merited to know the time and the hour in which Christ from Hell arose.  This is the night, of which it is written: And the night like the day will be lit up: And night, my light in my joy.  Therefore the sanctifying act of this night puts to flight crime, guilt it washes away: and it restores innocence to the fallen and to the sorrowful joy.  It puts to flight hatreds, harmony it readies, it bends power to mercy.

In this night of grace, therefore, accept, Holy Father, the evening sacrifice of this incense: which to you in the solemn offering of this candle, through the hands of her ministers, from the work of the bees, Holy Church renders.  But now already we experience the proclamation spreading of this column of light, which to the honor of God shining red in fire burns, which though divided into parts, still not diminished, experiences no loss of the light borrowed from it.  For it is fed by the liquid wax, which into the substance of this precious candle the mother bee has brought forth.  O truly blessed night which despoiled the Egyptians, enriched the Hebrews.  Night in which to things earthly, the heavenly; and to things human, the divine are joined.

We therefore pray thee, Lord: that this your candle to the honor of your name consecrated, the darkness of this night to destroy, unfailingly persevere.  And may it, in the fragrance of its sweetness accepted, with heavenly light-bearers be mingled.  Its flames may the morning star find.  That morning star light bearer, I say, which knows no setting.  He, who returned from hell, brought to humankind serene light.

We pray you therefore, Lord: that to us your family, and all the clergy, and your most devout people: together with our most blessed Pope and our Bishop, a time of peace yield, amidst these paschal joys, and under your assiduous protection, deign to rule, govern, and keep us.  Look also to those who rule us in their power, and by the ineffable gift of your compassion and mercy, direct their thoughts to justice and peace, so that from earthly labors they may reach their heavenly home together with all your people.

Easter 2005

Alexamenos Sebete Theon

April 2, 2010

(From a previous post, reproduced for Good Friday). Never forget this picture. Never forget that this is the very first piece of Christian art, a taunt, graffiti, a mockery. “Alexamenos sabete theon,” it says, “Alexamenos worships his God.” Probably from 1st century AD, a playground bully makes fun of little Alexamenos for worshiping a crucified God. What could be more ridiculous? He is right. It is quite ridiculous. Nor should we ever forget.

But it is not only this picture that we should never forget. We shouldn’t forget Alexamenos. He, a little boy, does better than all the Apostles except for John. He remains at the feet of Christ. In his daily life, in the playground. He was not willing to deny his God in a Roman playground. He held firm.

We must learn from him. Read the rest of this entry »

A Question

April 2, 2010

I have a question.  I’ve always been concerned at the Good Friday service by the language: “Behold the wood of the cross… Come let us worship.”  I have on good authority that the Latin used is the word for worship and adoration.  I do not know if Latin allows for such Greek distinctions as dulae, hyperdulae, and latria.  I’m uncomfortable with worshiping wood, even the wood of the cross, I think for obvious reasons.  Any help?