Reservation Story

October 26, 2012

It has been a while, dear readers, since I posted anything new here.  Running three parishes in American’s second poorest county has kept me busy, to say the least.  But you will be happy to know, I hope, that the Church here is growing once again — Mass attendance up by 40% over this time last year, sacramental prep programs expanded, a good number of people in RCIA, and a great shot of energy and joy last week with the canonization of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha.  I had a little talk with Kateri, back when she was still just a Blessed, and I think she’ll be helping us out here in the future.  In fact, I think she may have pulled a few strings for us already this week.

I hope to write a bit more about our little (but growing) Lakota church here in the near future, but first I thought I’d share something I wrote a while back, after my first visit to Rosebud, which has now finally appeared in print in the very fine Christian literary journal Relief.  I’d recommend a look at Relief even if they hadn’t published my story, and they’re available on Kindle.

I’d also recommend liking St. Francis Mission on Facebook to see a few more pictures of all that’s been going on here, especially our celebrations for St. Kateri.

St. Francis Mission on EWTN

January 17, 2012

I am told that astronauts orbiting the earth from space can see the lights of our big cities.  It is probably safe to say that the metropolis of St. Francis, SD, has thus far escaped the notice of NASA’s crews.  But the lights of the world will soon be upon us when St. Francis Mission is featured on EWTN Live this Wednesday, January 18, at 8:00 EST.

The theme of the show is “Bringing the Gospel to the Lakota,” but it would be well worth tuning in even for those who aren’t Lakota and don’t plan on visiting St. Francis, SD (or viewing it from space).  That’s because the question of how evangelization and the inculturation of the Gospel takes place is relevant far beyond the borders of the Rosebud Reservation.  Moreover, I believe both that Lakota Catholics have something unique to contribute to the Church and that the model of mission and ministry we are developing here on Rosebud could serve as a model for evangelization in other contexts as well.

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April 11, 2011

For those in the New York area, it’s one week until “Confession Monday,” April 18, 2011.  Confession Monday is a pastoral initiative of the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Brooklyn and Rockville Center in which priests will hear confessions in all parishes from 3 – 9 pm.

As part of the initiative, the participating dioceses have sponsored a contest for kids in Catholic schools to make one minute videos promoting the event.  The videos are delightful, so if you need a little added motivation to have your soul cleansed before Easter, take it from these young New Yorkers:


What do I offer?

April 6, 2011

I suggested at the beginning of Lent that this season is a good time to get back to basics, and for Catholics it doesn’t get more basic than the celebration of the Eucharist.  It’s well known that the Second Vatican Council called for the “full and active participation” of all the faithful in the Eucharist, but interpretations of what this phrase means have differed so widely that the Council’s vision hasn’t born the fruit we might have hoped for.  On the most basic measure of full and active participation—Mass attendance—we’re actually far worse off today than we were when the Council began.

For me this Lent has coincided with work on a master’s thesis about sacrifice and the Mass (some of the ideas for which I test drove here on Whoseoever Desires), and my research has raised a question so basic we usually forget to ask it:  what exactly do we do at Mass?

Answering that question depends on how we think about the Mass, what models we use to describe it.  An incorrect model for thinking of the Mass is that of a show or play.  Unfortunately, a lot of people fall into this kind of thinking.  I’ll sometimes hear complaints that Mass is boring, which doesn’t make sense because Mass isn’t supposed to be entertainment.  Even those who should know better sometimes fall into the trap of turning Mass into a kind of high school musical.  I once attended an Easter Vigil in which the man delivering the third reading dressed up as Moses—complete with beard, robes, and staff.  It almost made me root for Pharaoh.

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Some Jesuit-themed books

January 11, 2011

Over the Christmas break I had time to do a little Jesuit-themed reading.

The more scholarly of the two books I read is Trent Pomplun’s Jesuit on the Roof of the World (2010).  It chronicles the life and travels of Ippolito Desideri, an eighteenth century Jesuit missionary to Tibet.  Born in Pistoia, Tuscany, Desideri entered the Society of Jesus in 1700 and realized his dreams of becoming a missionary in a region almost completely unknown to Europeans.  His detailed accounts of Tibetan religion, culture, and politics have led some to consider him the father of “Tibetan studies.”

Desideri’s career involved harrowing sea voyages, bouts of snow-blindness in the Himalayas, and fleeing from invading Mongol armies.  Of his fourteen years outside of Italy, he spent six in Tibet and the rest of the time in transit—or trying to avoid superiors who might send him back home.

Desideri was a man of immense courage, intellect, and faith, but his mission was not ultimately successful.  He finished his career as a missionary embroiled in ecclesiastical litigation with the Capuchins over which religious order had rights to the Tibetan mission.  At times hotheaded and vain, Desideri launched an ill-considered lawsuit against the Capuchins, which ended his own missionary career and forced his return to Rome.  His account of Tibetan life was published only after his death at the age of forty-nine.

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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.

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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 »

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 »