Come, Lord Jesus!

December 21, 2011

It is almost 2012, and the world will soon be ending.  At least, according to the Mayans and a fundamentalist preacher in California, it will.  Even though the Church’s readings in November, the end of the liturgical year, and Advent, the beginning, point toward the Second Coming, I have, I admit, not been overly concerned.

But then I had an unusual conversation a few weeks ago with a priest who was passing through town, one of those delightful Jesuits one meets who could be described as “a little crazy, in a good way.”  On the surface, this good priest appears a tad unkempt, but you can tell from the way he prays the Mass—and he is praying, not performing—that the man has real spiritual depth.

While visiting our community, this man talked about his time, many years ago, working on the Rosebud Reservation, where I am now stationed.  He talked about working with prisoners and people in one of the reservation’s most depressed communities and then said, almost out of nowhere, “It was here that I realized that prisoners and the really destitute have an intuitive understanding of the apocalypse—the good news of the apocalypse.”  And then his voice rose slightly and he gave his little-crazy-in-a-good-way laugh and added, “Because it is good news.”

I realized I had never thought of the apocalypse as good news before, but I should have.  The Bible itself ends with an urgent prayer for the Lord’s swift return:  Come, Lord Jesus!  (Rev 22:20).  We pray for the end of this world every day in the words of the Our Father, Thy Kingdom come.

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Of Gods and Men

March 15, 2011

It takes a lot to leave me speechless, but the French film Of Gods and Men, which tells the story of the 1996 assassination of seven Trappist monks by Islamic extremists in Algeria, did just that this weekend.  It may well be the best religious film I’ve ever seen.

Like the 2005 documentary Into Great Silence, the film allows the Trappists’ monastic lifestyle to unfold simply and quietly.  We see the monks at prayer, tending their garden, making honey, attending patients in their small clinic.  The film makes great use of silence and of the rugged Algerian countryside to allow us to feel the elemental beauty and humanity of the Trappists’ way of life.

We also feel the humanity of the Algerian villagers who live around the monastery.  As we watch the elderly physician Br. Luc tending a child’s wound, then rummaging for shoes for a mother and her daughter, or another of the monks helping a village matron address an envelope to her son in Paris, one has the sense that the relationship of monastery to village we’re seeing might as easily be unfolding in medieval Europe as in Muslim Algeria; it touches on timeless parts of being human—sickness, celebration, making a living, family, death, elders complaining that the world has gone mad, falling in love.

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Whose conception is it anyway?

December 6, 2010

There always seems to be a bit of confusion around this week’s Solemnity.  Despite falling in the middle of Advent, December 8 is not a celebration of the conception of Jesus—which would have meant a remarkably brief pregnancy—but of Mary.

Still, even if we remember whose life it is we’re celebrating, that doesn’t clear up every mystery about the Immaculate Conception.  I must confess that for most of my life even though I knew we had to go to church on December 8, I wasn’t exactly sure why.  It had something to do with one of those Marian dogmas, I knew, but most Catholics tiptoe around those nowadays for fear of offending the Protestants.  And even though I, being a somewhat contrarian lad, was prepared to pick Mary over the Protestants, I really had no idea why.

Even today, while I know a bit more about theology, I still have to admit to finding this particular Mystery particularly mysterious.  Among the writing I’ve found shedding light on the subject is an excellent essay titled “The Immaculate Conception” by the British Thomist, Herbert McCabe, OP.

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Nietzsche in November

November 21, 2010

We are nearly at the end of the liturgical year, with daily readings from the Book of Revelation reminding us of the end of everything else too.  Indeed, the month of November as a whole, beginning with the feasts of All Saints and All Souls, is dedicated in a special way to remembering the dead and contemplating our own eternal future.

Some people have a problem with that.

Friedrich Nietzsche, one of Christianity’s most brilliant enemies, criticizes our faith for placing too much emphasis on the life to come, thereby emptying this life of meaning and giving unhappy and unsuccessful human beings—“mutterers and nook counterfeiters”—an excuse to wallow in their own misery until they arrive in “heaven,” which in Nietzsche’s estimation seems like little more than a very long nap.

This, I’m afraid, is not one of Nietzsche’s better arguments (though to give the poor old guy a break, I don’t think it’s original to him).  Unfortunately, it has too often been taken up in one form or another by well-meaning Christians themselves.  If we spend too much time contemplating heaven, they say, we will be neglectful of our duties here on earth.  Or, as that summit of liturgical kitsch, “Gather Us In,” puts it, “Gather us in… [but] not in some heaven, light years away.”

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Prayer for Jesuit Vocations

November 5, 2010

November 5 is a special day on the Jesuit liturgical calendar, the Feast of All Saints and Blessed of the Society of Jesus.  It’s also a day of prayer for Jesuit vocations.  So whether it’s Ignatius, Miguel Pro or Peter Canisius, Alphonsus or Stanislaus, Hurtado or Campion, or any one of the Francises, ask your favorite Jesuit in heaven to pray that God will send us more men who will strive to be holy, faithful, and passionate for the Gospel.

 

 

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A Jesuit shout-out from the Pope

September 17, 2010

I might be risking the sin of pride by saying this, but we Jesuits have some pretty cool saints.  One of the great unmerited blessings of this vocation is to be able to think of men like Francis Xavier, Peter Claver, and—today—Robert Bellarmine as elder brothers.  And among those saints, I’ve always gotten a special thrill from the martyrs of the British Isles.

If, like me, you were avoiding homework yesterday by poring over transcripts of the papal visit to Scotland on Whispers in the Loggia (yes, I am a really big dork), you might have noticed that the Pope mentioned one of those Jesuits, St. John Ogilvie, as an example for the Scottish clergy.

John Ogilvie (1579-1615), was raised a Calvinist but converted to Catholicism at the age of seventeen.  This meant he had to leave Britain to study on the Continent, first in Belgium and then in Germany and what is today the Czech Republic.  There he studied in a Jesuit college and joined the Austrian province of the Society of Jesus.

He went through the usual lengthy formation process, was ordained in 1610, and wanted immediately to return to Scotland.  His superiors thought Scotland too dangerous at first (and they were proven right), but he was finally able to sneak into his homeland in 1613 disguised as a horse dealer.

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Happy Birthday, Mom!

May 22, 2010

Since the weekend’s big feast, Pentecost, is sometimes colloquially referred to as the birthday of the Church, I thought I’d offer a little birthday greeting.  I couldn’t fit two thousand candles on a cake, so I came up with a top ten list instead.  Maybe it’s not really my top ten, but here are ten things I love about the Church.  (The New York Times doesn’t want you to know this, but, yes, it’s still okay to love being Catholic.)

10.  Songs about Mary. Whether it’s Pavarotti belting out “Ave Maria” or tone-deaf Jesuits (like yours truly) humming their way through the “Salve,” the Blessed Mother brings out something sweet and beautiful even in the gruffest of us.

9.  Relics. They may seem a little weird to contemporary American tastes, but think about all that relics say about the importance of the body, the embodied nature of our faith, and our hope, ultimately, in the resurrection of the body.

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