“do not shed innocent blood in this place”

August 31, 2010

Thus says the LORD: Do what is right and just. Rescue the victim from the hand of his oppressor. Do not wrong or oppress the resident alien, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place. If you carry out these commands, kings who succeed to the throne of David will continue to enter the gates of this palace, riding in chariots or mounted on horses, with their ministers, and their people.  But if you do not obey these commands, I swear by myself, says the LORD: this palace shall become rubble.  Jeremiah 22:3-5

I ask for prayers in light of recent events in Mexico near the border town of Reynosa in San Fernando. 72 migrants making their way to the United States were gunned down by Zetas, a Mexican gang.  The gang appeared to have demanded money from the group and also attempted to enlist them as members as the drug wars continue to escalate. When the migrants — all central and south americans — resisted, the gang opened fire.

Perhaps this is the time for the healthy debate on the legalization of marijuana that the Mexican bishop Jose Luiz Chavez Botello has called for:

For this reason, he called for qualified voices to be heard and to avoid having a caricature of a debate in which powerful individuals, groups or organizations seek their own interests, “without regard for the harm they cause others or society itself.”

Or perhaps it just means that the U.S. must take more seriously its own problem of demand.  Either way, the blood of these migrants calls out from the ground.  At least as their brothers and sisters in Christ we can offer prayers on their behalf.

Applause at Mass

August 29, 2010

I read this in the most recent Homiletic and Pastoral Review:

In The Spirit of the Liturgy Benedict XVI treats of the subject of applause during the liturgy in the same section in which treats liturgical dance.  He provides a negative appraisal of both.  Within the context of dance performance the Pope states: “Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of the liturgy has totally disappeared and has been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment.”

The author of the article goes on to comment:

Applause in most cases, if not all cases, is completely out of place in sacred worship.  The Mass is not about us.  The ritual itself exists to draw our attention away from ourselves.

I have a couple of quibbles here.  First, Joseph Ratzinger wrote The Spirit of the Liturgy, not Benedict XVI.  So the Pope doesn’t say these things; Ratzinger said them.

Second, I hope that Ratzinger was not universalizing what seems to me to be a rather German sentiment. Read the rest of this entry »

Good prayer advice for priests

August 29, 2010

“Get to bed early so that you can get up early to pray: as a priest you will either pray in the morning or you will not pray at all.”  Fr. Richard Tomasek, SJ

Do those of you who are lay readers also find this to be true?

Self-Measurement and the Particular Examen

August 25, 2010


The Times article “The Data-Driven Life” struck me as ripe for commentary when it was published in early May.   Nevertheless, with life and exam week being what they were, it fell to the bottom of the stack.  But even if the piece isn’t exactly hot off the press, I still think it worth a review for the light that it sheds on the Ignatian practice of the particular examen of conscience.

“The Data-Driven Life” is really a string of personal testimonials in favor of the practice of computerized self-measurement.  With the miniaturization of sensors, the proliferation of apps, and the mobilization of data processors (i.e., i-phones), self-improvement junkies can now monitor their every move with a minimum of inconvenience.  And since our perception of even our most objective activities tends to be skewed toward the satisfaction of our appetites and away from painful self knowledge, the cold objectivity of data streams can be a bit bracing. Read the rest of this entry »

Colonel Hans Landa and the limits of civility

August 23, 2010

There’s nothing like a villain:  Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, Heath Ledger as the Joker, Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada, and, now, Christoph Waltz in Inglorious Basterds.

It is hard to think of a more vile character than Waltz’s Col. Hans Landa in Quentin Tarantino’s latest, bizarrely amusing film.  Col. Landa, who has earned himself the nickname “the Jew Hunter,” stands out as sadistic, even among his fellow Nazis, and yet he is a delight to watch.  You almost start rooting for him just so he’ll be on screen a little longer.

Landa, for one, is a charmer.  He is intelligent, urbane, and witty, speaks elegant French and Italian, and at times positively exudes joie de vivre (“Bingo!  How fun!”).  Whether it’s ordering crème for his strudel or interrogating a victim over a glass of delicious milk, Landa overflows with social graces.  He would be a most agreeable guest at a dinner party.

Read the rest of this entry »

Park 51 and Fear-Mongering

August 22, 2010

Excellent post on Park 51 and fear-mongering at Vox Nova. I’ll post it here:

According to Sarah Palin, a large publicly visible sign and structure of Islam close to Ground Zero “feels like a stab in the heart to, collectively, Americans who still have that lingering pain from 9/11.” Stated explicitly, Park 51 feels like a knife separating the skin, rupturing the flesh, and piercing the very source of life. It is no coincidence that Palin illustrates the building project of Iman Rauf as a weapon and fatal act of violence. Indeed, she has gone so far as to call it the “9/11 Mosque,” using the name of an event of fanatical mass murder as an adjective to delineate a house of religious assembly. She’s not the least bit shy about manipulating language to play on people’s fears, but then, her use of language reveals a likely perspective: Palin literally sees Park 51 as an act of violence. It’s not merely insensitive in her book; it’s like the threat of a knife-wielding enemy. At least, it feels that way.

To protect the U.S. against this alleged enemy violence, Palin wants the area around Ground Zero free of impressive signs and structures of Islam. She desires, to use Glenn Greenwald’s expression, a Muslim-free zone, and she’s not alone. I don’t mean that Palin doesn’t want Muslims at all present in the area at and around Ground Zero. She clearly desires, though, that Muslims assemble and worship elsewhere, at a location where she and others won’t feel stabbed in the heart and the lurking presence of Muslims.

Palin’s appeal to emotion plays on the fears Americans have about a religious people we don’t understand. Most Americans, for example, couldn’t explain the difference between Shia and Sunni, note the reasons why Iman Rauf’s Sufism matters, describe the ways the different cultures in Iran and Somalia shape religious interpretation and practice, or locate Mecca on a map. Islam is a subject with which we’re mostly ignorant. Read the rest of this entry »

Hitchens vs. Hitchens

August 19, 2010

Christopher Hitchens has already made a name for himself as a “public intellectual.”  His bread and butter is attacking religion, exposing it for the wish-fulfillment that it is, and for the danger that it unleashes on the world.  In particular he likes to go after iconic figures.   He achieved a particular notoriety for his small book on Mother Theresa entitled “The Missionary Position.”  He summarizes his views in an interview with Free Inquiry Magazine:

Free Inquiry: According to polls, Mother Teresa is the most respected woman in the world. Her name is a by-word for selfless dedication in the service of humanity. So why are you picking on this sainted old woman?

Christopher Hitchens: Partly because that impression is so widespread. But also because the sheer fact that this is considered unquestionable is a sign of what we are up against, namely the problem of credulity. One of the most salient examples of people’s willingness to believe anything if it is garbed in the appearance of holiness is the uncritical acceptance of the idea of Mother Teresa as a saint by people who would normally be thinking – however lazily – in a secular or rational manner. In other words, in every sense it is an unexamined claim.

It’s unexamined journalistically – no one really takes a look at what she does. And it is unexamined as to why it should be she who is spotlighted as opposed to many very selfless people who devote their lives to the relief of suffering in what we used to call the “Third World.” Why is it never mentioned that her stated motive for the work is that of proselytization for religious fundamentalism, for the most extreme interpretation of Catholic doctrine? If you ask most people if they agree with the pope’s views on population, for example, they say they think they are rather extreme. Well here’s someone whose life’s work is the propagation of the most extreme version of that.

That’s the first motive. The second was a sort of journalistic curiosity as to why it was that no one had asked any serious questions about Mother Teresa’s theory or practice. Regarding her practice, I couldn’t help but notice that she had rallied to the side of the Duvalier family in Haiti, for instance, that she had taken money – over a million dollars – from Charles Keating, the Lincoln Savings and Loans swindler, even though it had been shown to her that the money was stolen; that she has been an ally of the most reactionary forces in India and in many other countries; that she has campaigned recently to prevent Ireland from ceasing to be the only country in Europe with a constitutional ban on divorce, that her interventions are always timed to assist the most conservative and obscurantist forces.

Recently, he has published his memoirs, entitled Hitch 22. What is of particular interest is that his brother, Peter Hitchens, a devoted Anglican himself published a book simultaneously, The Rage Against God. Read the rest of this entry »

St. Alberto and the Success of Failures

August 18, 2010


At the close of the feast of St. Alberto Hurtado, SJ (about whose life I wrote this time last year), I thought I would simply relay a small reflection that the Chilean Saint gave on the last morning of a weekend retreat.  I like this short conference because it hints at the non-competitive relationship between time and eternity that only saints manage to maintain.  Whereas, at least to some, thoughts of heaven or eternal life can only represent pious distractions from pressing, ‘real world’ concerns, St. Alberto’s life testifies to the contrary.  An indefatigable energy is granted to those who keep the eternal in view.  The true apostle can press on through apparent failure and risk involvement in the most intractable social problems precisely because, from the perspective of eternity, nothing done in love can be done in vain.

The Success of the Failures

Retreat meditation on the resurrection of the Lord.

It is not all Good Friday.  Christ has risen and is my hope! “I am the Resurrection” (Jn 11, 25).  Today is Sunday and this idea must dominate my thoughts.  In the midst of suffering and testing… optimism, confidence and joy.  Always joyful: because Christ is risen, he has conquered death and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  And it is Christ, my hope who has risen.  My Father, my Friend, he can die no more.  What glory! In the same way I shall rise “in Christ Jesus”… and after these days of enormous, threatening clouds, I shall see Christ. Read the rest of this entry »

Dressing Korean

August 15, 2010

I’ve blogged about the French-born anthropologist Rene Girard before (here’s my summary of key Girardian ideas); what I find particularly insightful in his work is the emphasis he places on how our desires develop through mimesis.  In other words, we learn what to desire often just by imitating others.  A few Girardian moments this summer reminded me of the validity of this point.

The first came at the first birthday party of my niece, the adorable Chloe, who I’ve mentioned before.  Chloe has idiosyncratic tastes; she’s as often interested in gnawing on someone’s shoe or a newspaper as she is in playing with her toys.  The one thing you can do to make her more interested in the toys, however, is to start playing with them yourself.  Once Chloe notices someone else playing with a toy, she crawls resolutely across the floor and takes it from them!  Mimetic desire starts early.

I thought of Girard again in northeast India when the fifth graders in the remote mountain village where I taught started flashing gang signs whenever I took their picture.  Of course, when I asked them what they were doing and why, they had no real idea—they were just imitating something they had seen on TV.

I should back up a bit here and say that even though the village where I worked has no telephone connections, paved roads, refrigeration, radio reception, or indoor plumbing, nearly every house has satellite TV.  An enduring image of the journey will be that of The Dish sticking out from under the thatched roofs of bamboo huts.

Read the rest of this entry »

Colbert on Jesus

August 11, 2010

This is hilarious and insightful.  Stephen Colbert doing biblical criticism.  You may have seen this but I had not.  Watch it if you haven’t seen it yet.


Luxuries of a Third World Church

August 9, 2010

If you are one of our astute regular readers (and aren’t all of our regular readers by definition astute?), you might have noticed that my postings this summer were rather sparse.  You see, I was in the jungle.

The Jesuits, as most of you know, are a worldwide religious order, and, even though the order is divided into provinces, when a man becomes a Jesuit he enters the Society of Jesus, of which there is but one in the world.  Our current Father General has placed great emphasis on the international character of the Society, encouraging provinces to work together across national borders and reminding us that Jesuits in formation need to be comfortable working in any culture.

All of this, along with the inscrutable workings of Providence, is to explain how I found myself at the beginning of June in a remote mountain village in northeast India.  No phones, no internet, not even mail.

Read the rest of this entry »

A Church of sinners or a Church of one

August 5, 2010

Anne Rice has left Christianity.  While the author of vampire novels is not a figure of such towering intellectual stature that I anticipate droves of believers following her, the arguments she gives for leaving the Church are common enough to deserve comment.

Rice claims to have “quit Christianity in the name of Christ.”  The problem, she claims, isn’t Jesus:  it’s his followers, who are “quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous.”

In the Facebook announcement of her departure, Rice works herself up into a rhetorical snit over how awful Christians really are:  they’re “anti-gay,” “anti-science,” “anti-secular humanist,” even—wait for it—“anti-life”.  Rice herself, of course, lacks such faults and is sure Jesus does, too, so he can stay even if everyone else must go.

The problem with such a line of argument is that Rice hasn’t really rejected the Church:  she’s simply created a Church of one.

Read the rest of this entry »

Why I ride Greyhound

August 4, 2010

I ride the bus a lot.  I ride Greyhound a lot.  My rides have ranged over the years from 9 hours to 4 days on a bus.  Mostly recently this summer, I rode Greyhound from New Orleans to my home in New Mexico and then back again, about a 30 hour trip. It had been a little while, and I was reminded exactly why it had been a while, but also why Greyhound should remain a regular habit of mine.

In the “Statutes on the Religious Poverty in the Society of Jesus” published in 2003, Jesuits are told that “the standard living of our houses should not be higher than that of a family of slender means whose earning members must world hard for its support.”  Of course, leave it to Jesuits to decide what “slender” means, and nothing will ever get done.   But one thing I realized in prayer was that prior to entering the Society of Jesus, I had to take Greyhound to college in Ohio out of necessity.  I couldn’t afford to fly at the time.  My poverty then was of the involuntary kind. Read the rest of this entry »

St. Ignatius’ Devotion to the Holy Trinity

August 1, 2010

Yesterday was the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, but due to the exuberant celebrations that tend to mark the day, we were unable to post anything.  I would like to offer some reflections on what is something of a trademark of Ignatian spirituality, and that is devotion to the Trinity.

For starters, in his autobiography, paragraph 28, Ignatius recounts:

One day while he was reciting the Hours of our Lady on the steps of the same monastery, his understanding began to be elevated as though he saw the Holy Trinity under the figure of three keys.  This was accompanied with so many tears and so much sobbing that he could not control himself.  That morning he accompanied a procession which left the monastery and was not able to restrain his tears until dinner time.  Nor afterwards could he stop talking about the Most Holy Trinity.  He made use of many different comparisons and experienced great joy and consolation.  The result was that all through his life this great impression has remained with him, to feel great devotion when he prays to the Most Holy Trinity.

Nor was this devotion a purely abstract reality. Read the rest of this entry »