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.
AL, SJ

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Remarkable

October 3, 2011

It’s easy when one is working fulltime for the Church or studying theology or sharing opinions on the Catholic blogosphere (do all of you have jobs?) to get caught up in minutiae and the controversies of the moment and lose sight of the Big Picture or forget just how remarkable the Big Picture really is.  (And just so we’re clear, when I say, “Big Picture,” I mean, “The Gospel.”)

Last week, after slop buckets of minutiae, a few frustrations, and a futile circle or two, I decided I needed a day off the reservation (literally).  So I pulled on my jeans and my cowboy boots and grabbed a volume of Greek tragedies (you can take the nerd out of the university, but you can’t take the nerdiness out of the nerd) and drove down to Valentine, Nebraska to sit on the porch of Auntie D’s Coffee Shop and read Aeschylus in the late-September warmth, as trucks full of hay bales drove past on Main Street.

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Shameless self-promotion

August 24, 2011

Jesuit formation, as I wrote in my last post, aims to prepare us to go anywhere, and this August marks a major step forward in that formation for me, as well as a major change in scenery.  I have traded in the skyscrapers of Chicago and the philosophy books of Loyola University for the prairies of south-central South Dakota and parish administration at St. Agnes, St. Bridget, and St. Charles parishes on the Rosebud Reservation.

The Jesuits out here on the prairie don’t often make it into the headlines, but we do work of which the Society can be rightly proud.  So take a moment and check out the work of St. Francis Mission here on the web, and if you happen to be visiting the Badlands or the Black Hills take a somewhat longer moment and a slight detour off of I-90 to learn a bit about Lakota culture and the work of the “Blackrobes” over the past century—and today.

And since, as you can imagine, this transition has taught me just how much I still have to learn about everything from parish finances to Lakota burial traditions to how to polish brass, these weeks have left me with a bit less time for blogging than what I’ve been used to.  Fear not, however, loyal readers of Whosoever Desires, for this latest assignment promises even more stories and observations to share with all of you in the months and years to come.

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J.F. Powers: Catholic literature’s forgotten gem

August 1, 2011

Over the last Christmas break I had lunch with my old high school English teacher, Mr. Studer.  (Mr. Studer has a first name, but it still feels impious to use it.)  More than anyone else, Mr. Studer is responsible for getting me interested in writing.

At the end of our lunch, Mr. Studer gave me a small stack of books by J.F. Powers, a collection of short stories and two novels.  The pages of the books were brown with time, and one, Morte D’Urban, was held together with a rubber band.

I had read an odd J.F. Powers short story here or there before, and my last pre-Jesuit job was at St. John’s University in Minnesota, where Powers spent most of his career.  Powers wrote only two novels, Morte D’Urban and Wheat That Springeth Green, in addition to several collections of short stories—an understated literary output that in some ways seems appropriate.

Powers is a master craftsman; in terms of tightly constructed prose—taut, subtle, perfectly pitched—he surpasses even Flannery O’Connor, though his subtlety and understatement mean that his work never packs quite the same explosive punch as O’Connor’s.  Powers’ subject matter is the Catholic Church of the Midwest in the middle of the twentieth century, and his mastery of his material is flawless.  He seems especially fascinated by priests—and by all the petty ambitions, joys, politics, and frustrations that occur within the walls of a rectory.

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Are we there yet?

March 30, 2011

This Sunday at Mass you might notice an anomaly—pink vestments.  No, the Lenten vestments didn’t get ruined at the cleaner; the pink (technically “rose”) color means we’re halfway to Easter.

The fourth Sunday of Lent goes by the name “Laetare Sunday,” which comes from the Mass’s “indroit,” or opening antiphon, which begins “Rejoice, Jerusalem!”—in Latin, “Laetare, Jerusalem!”  We break out the rose on the third Sunday of Advent, too, when we’re over halfway to Christmas.

There’s something delightfully human in allowing ourselves a splash of rejoicing in the middle of this penitential season.  It’s sort of like stopping at the Dairy Queen for a sundae after passing the halfway point of a long road trip.  Of course, to my mind, Lent still is a joyful season, because penance can—and even should—be done with joy.  Good Friday is a day of mourning because that too is a part of the human experience, but penance does not mean sadness.

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F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jesuit story

February 7, 2011

I have long thought F. Scott Fitzgerald to be a very Catholic writer, though explicitly Catholic themes show up only rarely in his work.  There’s the urbane Monsignor Darcy in This Side of Paradise, for example, and a few scattered references in Tender is the Night, but mostly Fitzgerald’s Catholic sensibilities come through in his moral vision, in the interplay of truth and illusion we see, for example, in The Great Gatsby.

In a Fitzgerald biography, however, I’d once come upon a reference to an early (1920) short story called “Benediction,” and I took advantage of a Chicago snow day last week to track the story down.  I was not disappointed.

The story is a gem, written in the witty, dancing prose of the youthful Fitzgerald, and touching on many of his typical themes—the giddiness of coming of age, the wistful sadness of romance, even a hint at class sensitivities.  The story centers around Lois, a romantic and beautiful nineteen-year-old travelling to Baltimore to meet her lover, Howard; on her way to their rendezvous she stops to visit her only brother Keith, a seminarian she has not seen in seventeen years.

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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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