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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New Jesuit Review

December 7, 2009

A news item about which some WD readers may be interested:  A new online Jesuit journal, the New Jesuit Review, has recently been launched.  According to the review’s statement of purpose:

The New Jesuit Review has as its goals the recovery of Jesuit spirituality from its authentic sources and reflection by contemporary Jesuits on its significance for their lives.  The writings of St. Ignatius and the First Companions, the lives of Jesuit saints and martyrs, and classics of Jesuit spirituality are examined in the spirit of Perfectae Caritatis, the Decree on the Adaptation and Renewal of Religious Life of the Second Vatican Council.

Articles in the first volume include: “The Self-Sacrificing Pastor: Anthony Daniel in the Year of the Priest,” by Archbishop Terrence Prendergast, S.J.; “‘Circa Missiones‘: on the Jesuit Fourth Vow,” by Fr. Kevin Flannery, S.J.; and “Ignatian Spirituality and the Apostleship of Prayer,” by Fr. James Kubicki, S.J.

That in Majorca Alfonso Watched the Door

October 31, 2009

St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJThis post is going to do three things I usually try avoid when blogging: commenting about matters pertaining to the Society of Jesus, writing spiritual reflections, and posting things that are essentially another’s work.  But I cannot resist a word about St. Alphonsus Rodríguez.

Today—as the secular world celebrates Halloween and most of the Church observes the 30th Saturday in Ordinary Time—the Society of Jesus remembers the lay brother Alphonsus Rodríguez, who died on this date in 1617.  When we think “Jesuit saint” the type that comes most readily to mind is a heroic missionary priest or a valiant martyr.  Think Xavier, Jogues, Campion.  Alphonsus was none of these things.  The task assigned to him was different: answering the door at the Jesuit college in Majorca.  For nearly four decades, answering the door.  That, at least, was what seen on the exterior.  In his interior life of prayer—unknown until after his death—Alphonsus was blessed with the highest mystical graces.  The students at the college came to the holy porter for advice and encouragement—including the future “slave of the slaves” St. Peter Claver, whom Alphonsus urged to the missions.

This month began with the remembrance of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the great saint of “Little Way.”  Today, the month ends with another “Little Way” saint, Alphonsus Rodríguez, who reminds us that holiness need not come through martyrdom in a foreign land, but can come—and in fact, for most of us, will come—through our everyday tasks, even if they be as humble as opening the door in an ordinary Jesuit college.

Alphonsus’s confrère Gerard Manley Hopkins has captured the spirit of this saint’s life perhaps better than anyone, and so I close with the following Hopkins poem:

In honour of

St. Alphonsus Rodríguez

Laybrother of the Society of Jesus

HONOUR is flashed off exploit, so we say;
And those strokes once that gashed flesh or galled shield
Should tongue that time now, trumpet now that field,
And, on the fighter, forge his glorious day.
On Christ they do and on the martyr may;
But be the war within, the brand we wield
Unseen, the heroic breast not outward-steeled,
Earth hears no hurtle then from fiercest fray.
Yet God (that hews mountain and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violets and tall trees makes more and more)
Could crowd career with conquest while there went
Those years and years by of world without event
That in Majorca Alfonso watched the door.