Saturday, October 28, 2006
Divisions, all around. Here we are too often, contrary to Paul’s admonition to the Corinthians, Gentile and Jew, Slave and Free, Woman and Man. I think so often it is a component of our society, which transcends St. Louis, to put us all in a neat little box and to admonish us from birth not to go outside of it. It’s not even a race question primarily, though that is one way it manifest itself, it’s not a class issue primarily, though that is another way it manifests itself, it is the prevailing sense that this little box which is your identity is the context from which you are to relate to the world. This little box you are given is there to keep you safe, and increasingly for the purposes of your own comfort. This box can dull the heart and blind the mind too though, because being comfortable excludes us from large portions of reality, being safe demands a surrender to the mediocrity of out own myopic stances. The truth is that we come more face to face with the world, and with the wonderful reality of an incarnational faith, when we can see as brother and sister those who are outside our neat little boxes. Its when we transcend the plastic of our own little packages that we become able to really live, to experience joy, sorrow, love, passion, full rationality which is in touch with the world, and perhaps maybe, just maybe, the revelation of God’s undying love for the whole world. The incarnation is borne out of a love for the world both inside and outside of our little plastic boxes, but to love God means to love what God loves, which means everything beyond the little packages we are socialized into which keep us comfortable and safe.
“How about those Cardinals?” This man outside of the context of a World Series victory probably never would have said anything to me, and if I am honest with myself, I probably never would have gotten comfortably into a conversation with him outside of the context of my sense of duty as a Jesuit to do so. It’s strange how things like this help people to transcend the differences which make us feel uncomfortable. It is as if at that one moment something which is common to both of our realities provides the middle ground to, at least for a little while, encounter each other outside of our boxes as human beings. I was down at the Stadium last night after the game, walking around with some friends, and there was the normal celebration one would expect going on, but it seemed like, if only for a few hours, everyone could be joyful together. That common moment of joy provided the vehicle for a brief transcendence of that which divided us and made us stay content in our own comfortable little spaces.
As we were leaving, Ben Bocher, subject of a previous post on this blog, said “Man if only we could get people this excited about Jesus.” I think his intuition is dead on, but perhaps not for the reason he suspects. Something about these equalizing and uniting moments mirrors just a glimpse of the Kingdom of God for us strangely enough. In those moments if we pay attention and look beyond the particulars of the event (viz. the drunken revelry that was also going on) to the unified reality as a whole we can see what we are meant to be, people living out of a common love, which just is a to love and be loved by God. If we could get that reality out there, then we would love what God loves, each other. If only we could get people that excited about Jesus, about an incarnational God that comes from the ultimate space of comfort and safety, eternity, and becomes human, while still being God himself, a God who goes out into reality, to love it and bring it back to himself. The manifestation of that Love would be the kingdom of God. Simple Social Justice may not be enough, Social love may be the only answer.
Monday morning the parade will be done, the lights in Busch Stadium will be off for the winter, and North St. Louis, South St. Louis, the City, and the County will all probably fall back into their normal divisions, but for one moment there can be a brief glimpse into what should be, if only we look close enough……
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The Prophet Jeremiah appearing to be in thought in the Sistine Chapel
Originally uploaded by mikerogerssj.
I know many very good intentioned people who would like to think of themselves as living or acting prophetically. These can be very genuine people of very good will, but often times it seems that they have accepted various interpretations of the Law or various ideologies not their own, or perhaps they lack the discipline, drive, or desire to learn, for themselves, about the Law. It seems that they encounter God’s law only secondarily, or worse even in some tertiary light, and they never fully get it, their faith praxis becomes bound up with political positions rather than tenets of faith and pangs of conscience. For some, I have seen the actions they take as being prophetic to merely be salve on their white suburban guilt, something which makes them feel like one of the good guys in the light of all of the poverty and injustice that exists in the contexts of systems of which they, themselves, are the greatest beneficiaries. There is a real arrogance in their ignorance, because they don't realize the privilege that makes their choices easy. Often times for those people there is a real sense of belonging in a community of prophetic voices as well; and those who have no genuine vocation, or who would choose not to speak in the fullness of truth join a cause for the sake of their own comfort. There is simply something too comfortable, to blissfully ignorant, and falsely joyful, and while these are good people, they often do more harm than good, making genuine prophetic action trite and genuine concern meaningless. I know that if I am not careful, I can just as easily become one of these people, and perhaps have been tempted to be one at times.
The prophets, particularly Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, and Hosea, teach us that there is no salve for the fire that burns in the bones of the prophets; there can be no quelling of guilt, or easing of shame. They are, in fact, consumed with a zeal for God’s word. This is a sign of a true prophet. That they learn for themselves what the truth is, until like Ezekiel and Jeremiah they devour the very word itself, and it becomes a part of their being. Every word read, every thought produced in that tabernacle of the mind where man encounters God brings forth a moment ripe with the expectation of revelation. It is not about what the prophet wants the law to say, it is about what the law says, what the Lord says, even if it convicts the prophet’s way of life, and the way of life of those around him. It cannot be about one particular issue, but rather about the law taken holistically, as worship and justice, love of God and love of neighbor, so intimately bound up in one another that they simply cannot be put asunder. The role of the prophet is to speak the truth, but first he has to know the truth, first he had to have studied it, and have had in emblazoned on his heart.
So it is with me, I want to follow God’s call, but I want it for real. Each of us called to priesthood is called to share in the ministry of Christ, called to act someday in his very person. If we view Christ as prophet, priest, and king, then we too are called to share in those offices, to act with that authority. So I study, so I engage what some who are in the business of acting prophetically view to be the obsolete academic life. In the end, it is that loving relationship between God and man worked out in the mind that is the only thing that can really change the world, my prayers enforce my thoughts, my thoughts inform my actions, my actions always lead me back to prayer, and so it begins again. I want to know the law so that when I act in the person of Christ as a priest in the Catholic Church I can act with the fullness of the prophetic office of Christ. As the ordination rite commands I want to know what I am doing… and in doing that serve the people of God in the fullest, most genuine love and concern, so that in that I can serve the one who created me to someday act as a prophet.
Friday, October 13, 2006
Dreaming dreams can be a bit tricky sometimes, because we can dream for things which aren’t reality, or idealize things which just aren’t so ideal in reality. Such is the case with the discernment of my assignment to regency. As most people closer to me know by now, it looks like after I finish up here in St. Louis (hopefully) in May I will be heading to teach in a high school for the next three years, and I am actually really joyful about that possibility because it engenders a freedom I couldn’t have chosen for myself.
When the whole question of where my next assignment would be began to come up, there was some question that perhaps given my academic qualifications that I should go teach in a college. I went along with it, and was fairly puffed up and prideful about the opportunity, externally at least. Inside I was conflicted though, I felt a little bit of anxiety about not being ready, and about being a second class citizen at any higher education institution because of having only an MA. Now while an MA is good enough for a teaching assistantship at a big PhD granting university, most of the places I could have gone to work at pride themselves on being places where their faculty members all have terminal degrees. So I was nervous, at the very least, about that possibility. Meanwhile, I thought about going to a high school and felt calm and at peace at that opportunity. I felt like it was what I deep down wanted to do right now. Eventually maybe I would like to go back and work in Philosophy in higher education, but for now it just doesn’t seem to make sense. I couldn’t say that though, until my superiors said “let’s try high school” Which brings me to my point.
Sometimes we need help saying no to our pride to be really happy. There are things which we would try to do and commit the sin of presumption in attempting to do them in first place, simply because we’re not equipped to handle it at that point. I probably would have said yes to working in a college just to say “I teach at ___________ college” but been miserable for three years doing it. I wouldn’t have been happy simply because I am not sure I am ready to do that work yet. There was a strange and wonderful relief in the opportunity to work at a high school because I have done it, I have learned from my previous experience, and I know I can do it again. I think this is true for everyone too, sometimes we become so fixated on what we think the dream reality could be that we lose sight of the deeper realities. Sometimes, perhaps, we set up some sort of strange self image of what we think we should be, and we forget that what is most important is who we are, with all of our gifts, our talents, and even our shortcomings. We need, I need, to get away from that and just let ourselves be. When we can do that we become the gift God intended to give the world in bringing us into existence, with all of our abilities and shortcomings. To just be who we were created to be, to fulfill our vocation in the deepest sense, is to allow ourselves to experience radically that son or daughtership with God that Christ exeperiences in the Jordan “This is my beloved son on whom my favor rests…” That place of humility, that place where we can get past our own self aggrandizing deceit and get down to knowing ourselves more fully for who we are and in that we begin to experience ever deeper right relationship with a God who loves us.
So it looks like I will be coming to teach at a high school near you soon….. (that is of course if you live somewhere within the boundaries of the New England Province of the Society of Jesus)
Monday, October 02, 2006
The last one out has to turn out the lights at Fenway
Originally uploaded by mikerogerssj.
You see, we were spoiled in the afterglow of 2004, when the Sox won the Series, the Patriots won the Superbowl, the banners at Logan Airport welcomed people to title town, God was in his temple, and all was well with the world. That was 2004, this is 2006.
I think I forgot that for 8 teams to make the playoffs, 22 other teams had to have their seasons end on October first. I remember now. I forgot that for many, many, years of my life that neither team made the postseason, and I think I forgot how much I despised people who had expectations like I now do. Now those people have returned with their smug grins and intolerable consoling “Well there’s always next year for you guys..” Growing up in Connecticut and along the Rhode Island Shoreline I grew up on the border of Red Sox Nation and the Evil Empire. I grew up in a place where fights would break out on playgrounds about what ball cap you were wearing, and where even our Yankee fan Cub Scout masters would taunt us poor Red Sox Fans, just a little. I grew up hating what it seems that I have to be careful not to become, or if I have become it, to now be humbled and eschew it.
Sometimes success blinds us to our past failures, and makes us forget what it was like when we were on the bottom. Sometimes the pride that one can take in success can make us forget deep down who we are, and how it is that we hurt and were humbled when we weren’t always succeeding. It’s an addiction, this success thing, and it becomes something we feel like we need to feel validated all of the sudden, as if the honor made the man, and not the man himself, or better yet God, in whose image and likeness man is made. We can’t rely on our success, or in this case the success of others who we live surrogately through, to make ourselves feel more alive, to feel better about who we are. That has to derive from that inner place that says “you know what, I am a child of God, God made me, and God doesn’t make garbage, in fact God only makes things that are good.” So it has to be with anything we do, we can’t measure self worth by success, but by love. We can’t measure self worth by honors, but by that deep sense of our own worth. It is at that moment that we can recognize ourselves as children of God and really, truly be free.
So the Sox season is done, sadly, disappointingly. That minor disappointment means less in the long run, if we can just remember who we are, and maybe that should be a new Mantra for the Red Sox organization, we’re not the Yankees, let’s not try to be. The season is done, that means that its time to dig in and do some schoolwork, and time to cheer for my other favorite team, anyone who will BEAT THE YANKEES.
Thursday, September 21, 2006
Jon’s impending presence here is also kicking my butt, figuratively of course, because I find myself reminded of those men he lived with, and his testimony to their tireless work on behalf of the kingdom. These were men who were unafraid of a little work (or a lot of work) and always embraced doing that work as a part of the concrete manifestation of their love for Christ.
In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius says that love manifests itself more in deeds than in words. I find myself forced to ask the question of myself: What deeds have I done lately to manifest that love for Christ? Am I talking the talk more than I am walking the walk? In the exercises, in a meditation on sin, Ignatius also has us ask while contemplating the crucified Christ: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What will I do for Christ?” Ignacio Ellacuría, one of of the men killed that night, shared Romero’s intuition that Christ is made manifest in the poor, as Matthew 25 is so clear about. This forced him to ask the question “What have I done for this crucified people? What am I doing for this crucified people? What will I do for this crucified people?” These are words which call us to account for ourselves.
So often we can be overcome by the malaise of day to day life, and forget to be intentional about what we are doing. So often we (I) can become lazy, and perhaps pay far too much attention to our (my) own personal tiredness, or the mundane tensions of day to day life, and simply fall back into a banal existence. The cure, as each Jesuit knows, is what Ignatius called the Magis, the more, always asking not just what is for God’s great glory, but for God’s greater glory. This doesn’t mean one shouldn’t attend to what one needs to do for personal health, but it does mean that sometimes we need to buck up and work through the tiredness, sometimes we need to work through the annoyances and sorrows of everyday life. We do this to make of our lives a complete oblation to God, living and dying for his greater glory, living so that others may be able to realize their own dignity. We do this because we were loved first, because we are called to love, and because love manifests itself more in deeds than in words.
P.S. Jon Sobrino’s Lecture is in the Anheuser Busch Auditorium in the Cook school of Business at SLU on Monday night, September 25th at 7pm. It is free and open to the public.
Wednesday, September 13, 2006
My Mom and Dad, who I now remember to always say "I love you" to.
Originally uploaded by mikerogerssj.
..........I remember the morning like it was this morning. I awoke late that day. I was an RA at Holy Cross, it was my senior year, and I had been up late with some students who were friends of another student who had committed suicide the day before. I woke up, turned to my computer to check my email, and on a campus wide bulletin board site I read simply “TURN ON YOUR TV!!!” So I did, and there I saw it. I admit that at first I thought I was watching a movie, so many disaster movies had come out, like Armageddon, Independence Day, and others, that the reality of what was going on was initially a little skewed. Then I realized, no this is CNN, and no the caption on the bottom of the screen that said that one of the towers had just fallen was real….. Then immediately I realized that my Dad was supposed to be at a meeting in New York that morning, immediately I thought of the 2 or 3 friends I had who worked in those towers. I called my mom, and mass pandemonium ensued. We didn’t know where my father was; his cell phone, like every other cell phone in the city, wasn’t working. I remember hanging up the phone in a panic and running to the office of the Jesuit who was my spiritual director. At that point it was 11am. I then went down to the Chapel to pray. It was 11:30 and noon mass was starting in an hour, and prayer was my only recourse at that moment, I prayed for my Father, for my friends, I prayed for everyone in the buildings, I just prayed. My friend Rachel was the only other person in the Chapel at that point. She was from Queens, and she too had people she knew in those towers. By the time mass began St. Joseph’s Chapel was packed. And we sat there together, praying. I left mass turned on my cell phone and had one new message. It was my father. He was fine, he had gotten on the first metro north train out of Grand Central Station. There were people who were wounded on that train with him, but they made it out. He said in the message that he could see the smoke rising from Downtown Manhattan and he was on his way to New Haven to his car, and to home. There were many other cars which never returned to their homes that day. They sat in commuter lots for weeks after, waiting for drivers who would never return. My dad was lucky, one of my friends wasn’t. A friend from grade school worked for Cantor Fitzgerald, and died after the plane hit below where he was working.
So here is the thing. I didn’t post this yesterday, mainly because a lot of things I saw and heard made me angry yesterday. The way we view this anniversary now seems largely exploitive to me. While those of us who had friends or family die that day remember it solemnly, and hopefully prayerfully, it has become a polemic and political device in our society, and rather than learning from it, we have seemingly used the event to push us along at a more fevered pace down a path which we were already taking. So much glorification of the military industrial complex has occurred as a result of that day, and yesterday was no exception. We feed the military machine while the poor suffer and starve, and nothing makes barbaric extremists and terrorists like starvation and death. We call ourselves the city on the hill when we have forgotten the orphan and widow, the poor and immigrant at our gates, and nothing breeds hate like complete disregard. We call ourselves the bastion of civilization, when we sow the seeds of war and civil strife. The prophets in the bible spoke out strongly against it. We haven’t really learned. We could change the world, build the kingdom of peace, if only we built grain mills in stead of guns, baked bread instead of building bombs, treated disease rather than administering attacks on all of those who seem to be a threat.
I am not advocating not bringing those responsible to justice, but let’s not work other motives into that. I am not advocating a hatred of American and western cultures, in fact I love it so much I call it to task, call it into question. I am advocating Love in the face of hate, food in the face of starvation, medicine in the face of disease, education in the face of ignorance, and peace in the face of war. I am advocating participation with God’s grace in building the kingdom of God. I am advocating the most fitting memorial to those who died, that we live truly not in fear, but in the greatest of hopes, hope that this world can be saved, hope that a country which is largely Christian can live up to its hype, hope that no one will feel compelled to hate, hope that there will never be another September 11, 2001.
Friday, September 08, 2006
Some of my most important friends on the back patio
Originally uploaded by mikerogerssj.
References to readings from the Jesuit Proper.
Psalm 147, 1-6
Jesuit friendship is a very dangerous thing….. It can plant the seed of support, shine forth light into the darkness that we ourselves are afraid of, or be the beginning of a long journey that begins with simply stepping out of one’s front door. Jesuit friendship as companionship with Christ can be a very dangerous thing because it challenges the status quo, forces us to proclaim light into darkness, justice into inequity, and love into a world all too often is filled with hate, objectification, and segregation. Jesuit friendship, as a result of the love of Christ for each man in this room and dare I say for each of the people that we encounter in the world, is a manifestation of the one thing that has ever really made a lasting impact on the world, love itself. Jesuits in friendship have throughout the years founded our Order, taken important roles in Church councils, and have supported each other in the far more mundane realities of day to day life.
Friendship…. In Deus Caritas Est, Benedict XVI writes of friendship that Christ’s friend is our friend, that is to say that we love each other in friendship in God and with God and that our friendship itself is a manifestation of God’s presence working within each of us, impelling us to mission and making of us the corporate body which the original companions referred to simply as “friends in the lord.”
Such is the case with the man we celebrate today. Peter Claver, in no small part because of his friendship with Alphonsus Rodriguez became a saint. This young man, from a poor but distinguished family, went to Majorca to study philosophy, and it was the friendship that developed with the door keeper there, a brother who was years his elder, that would lead to the exhortations from Alphonsus that Claver should go to the Americas, and subsequently it was this friendship which lead to Claver going to Cartegena to spend the rest of his life ministering among the African Slaves brought into the Columbian port town. In many ways, it is out of the friendship that Claver had with Alphonsus that the reality that Christ, being in the midst of these two men gathered in his name, sent Claver, as apostle, to share in the proclamation of today’s Gospel. To boldly proclaim that: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, 9 because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” The fulfillment which Jesus speaks of takes place because of the depths of a friendship, which as friendship in the Lord, allowed for the indwelling of the Spirit in the mutual love between friends.
Jesuit Friendship is a dangerous thing because when we are truly friends in the Lord, when we are open to the kinds of spiritual conversation that these two friends shared, God can and will move and act, exhort and inspire. These men in their friendship provide an example for us, especially now in studies of just what this time can be. Their friendship developed at a philosophate, and it was their spiritual conversations that lead to the mission Claver undertook to Columbia. Our mission here is studies, but in that mission we live in the already but not yet of the kingdom of God. We must be careful and tend the seeds of preparation we receive here well, for what flowers from those seeds may be an important part of the realization of God’s will being done on earth, as it is in heaven, Just as it was for Claver.
In Deus Caritas Est, Benedict also points out that the love from which each friendship is born has a character which orients us ultimately out of ourselves, towards the other. It orients us beyond our close personal relationships, destroys any chains of selfishness, and carries us forward to something more, towards the magis. It is this outward turn which is precisely what Isaiah talks about in our first reading which is the natural result of friendship. Friendship with Alphonsus not only helped Claver to discern the call that was his to boldly minister to African slaves brought to the new world to work in the mines but gave Claver the proper outward orientation to be able to begin to even conceive of “releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thong of the yoke, sharing his bread with the hungry, and sheltering the oppresses and homeless.” Peter’s life was a life animated by friendship. It is recorded in some of his papers that Peter knew what so many of us have come to recognize in the exercises, that love should manifest itself more in deeds than words. Peter’s mission of evangelizing and baptizing slaves was then not simply about giving instruction, but also about making manifest that love of friendship to them by caring for their temporal needs and defending their human dignity when their slave masters wanted to resist even their being baptized on the grounds that they were less than human. Peter cared for so much more than the simple tasks which are seen often to be the proper provenance of a priest, he could have simply baptized immediately, he could have simply fed the slaves, but he ate with each, had conversations as best he could with each, and defended them before the authorities of the time. Love turned out from oneself is love that participates in God bringing his kingdom to bear on earth just as it is in heaven.
Jesuit friendship is a dangerous thing… because it can challenge the status quo, shake us from complacency, and impel us forward. Jesuit friendship is a dangerous thing because it can give us the support to do things we once thought ourselves incapable of. Jesuit friendship is a dangerous thing because it is participation in the awesome work of God in shaping and molding a world of justice, love, and peace. These men serve as example, we can learn today about just how it is that we get the strength, joy, and peace to share in God’s kingdom. Pedro and Alfonso, just two men having spiritual conversation. Pedro and Alfonso, just two Jesuit brothers praying for each other. Pedro and Alfonso, the great saints, friends, and companions even on the day they were canonized together. Pedro and Alfonso, pray for us.
Saturday, September 02, 2006
I have also moved into our new house at 3900 Westminster Blvd. This is a beautiful old house, well over a hundred years old, and having much of the Victorian charm about it that one would expect from a turn of the century house in a city which was entranced by the World Fair’s arrival in 1904. The house itself served as a radio station for over 60 years, producing the old Sacred Heart radio program broadcasts which were used as public service announcements for many radio stations. Changes in broadcasting regulations, however, made their little radio snippets less and less popular, and the station closed in November of last year. Now we live here.
Almost immediately after the demise of the station, the house underwent renovations, some things were removed, (like massive steam heaters) others were restored, (like the mural of angels on the parlor ceiling) and then others were added. (like the slew of antique furniture which came out of storage from the old novitiate in Florissant, Mo) Now we live in a massive, beautiful house a block from the University filled with beautiful 150 year old antique furniture which you couldn’t buy if you wanted to. One recent alum from the university has taken to calling this place the “Bellarmansion.” (a clever play on the fact that this house is a part of the Bellarmine House community) While it could be cited as a testimony against our vow of poverty, I think it actually testifies to it, and that some of the stuff holds a deep and rich history which can humble the people that live here and remind us that we stand on the shoulders of giants.
My room, which is arguably the largest in the house, has a big beautiful old secretary’s desk in it which is over one hundred and fifty years old as well as a smaller curio cabinet of probably about the same age. I don’t think I realized the significance of these two pieces of furniture, however, until I looked in the desk across in the room across the hall from me though. That desk bears a card which gives a little history of the desk it says:
“For about 100 years this secretary-bookcase stood in the room of the pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church. It was identified as such by brother Vowels in 1944. When the limestone rectory was about to be torn down in late 1965, Father Louis Hanlon, S.J., the pastor, gave me this case because he knew it would be too high for the ceilings of the new (cream brick) rectory” ---Claude Heithaus, S.J.
Now the history of this desk is important. It stood in the room of the man who performed the famed St. Louis exorcism (which would later become a book and movie known in popular culture as The Exorcist.) Aside from that infamous chapter in its history, however, and the thing which pops out most to anyone who knows a little bit of Jesuit history in the Missouri Province is that this desk also belonged to the man who wrote this card, Claude Heithaus, who, in a time when many Jesuits and many at the university were timid at best about speaking out about segregation in the City, spoke publicly one Sunday from the College Church pulpit, denouncing racism, segregation, and all of the horrible effects it had, and still has in many ways to this day, on the city of St. Louis. Fr. Heithaus was a prophetic voice who was misunderstood in his time, but today is idolized among all of the Jesuits who know his story.
It’s a cool thing that that desk is here. It’s amazing to be able to live in this house, but this isn’t a newly acquired property, and it was given to us as a bequest many years ago. The upkeep of this house, like the furniture that now sits in it, is a testament to the gratitude of the men who have faithfully maintained it down to this day. It is a testament to men who have lived out their vows of poverty in gratitude to God and their benefactors, and displaying that gratitude by not being wasteful of those gifts. In this house, this “bellarmansion,” the eight of us who live here stand on the shoulders of giants. We are caught up in a living monument to the history of this place and the Jesuits who have lived here, worked here, or used (or in many cases made) the things which fill it. In the letter to the Hebrews (12:1-2) the writer says: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith.” The example of these men is what leads us and spurs us on. So as I sit here at my desk, in these days of reading Aristotle and Plato, preparing for comprehensive exams, I think back to those men who came before me in the society, and who are now hopefully with God. And I ask their intercession. All Saints of the Society, pray for us.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
The Boston Globe
August 21, 2006
Roxbury MA (AP) - A seven-year-old boy was at the center of a Boston
courtroom drama yesterday when he challenged a court ruling over who should have custody of him. The boy has a history of being beaten by his parents and the judge initially awarded custody to his aunt, in keeping with child custody law and regulations requiring that family unity be maintained to the degree possible.
The boy surprised the court when he proclaimed that his aunt beat him more than his parents and he adamantly refused to live with her. When the judge then suggested that he live with his grandparents, the boy cried out that they also beat him.
After considering the remainder of the immediate family and learning that domestic violence was apparently a way of life among them, the judge took the unprecedented step of allowing the boy to propose who should have custody of him. After two recesses to check legal references and confer with child welfare officials, the judge granted temporary custody to the Boston Red Sox, whom the boy firmly believes is not capable of beating anyone.
Ok so I didn't write that, it came in a forward from my dad, but unfortunately it seems to be true. The Sox are tanking, and there is nothing we can do about it. No postseason this year, no World Series, I won’t be wearing my once lucky jersey until late October, and I will be watching football far sooner than I normally care to. All this because the Sox are tanking. When Yankee fans, and I know a few, get into it with me over the sad state of affairs at Fenway park, I simply give a gracious smile if I can, even though deep down I want to tell them precisely what they can do with their $200,000,000 payroll. At some point, though, you just have to laugh, and be able to laugh at yourself and your own situation. When I get upset about the Sox I am obviously taking myself and the game WAY too seriously….. and perhaps losing streaks are most in order for my own spiritual well being at that moment.
I think that we all have things in our lives which, if we are honest, we have to admit that we take way too seriously. In general they are things which are far more important than the Boston Red Sox. They are things which drive us often enough, things which we are passionate about, things which can motivate us, and drive us forward. All of that stuff is straw, as Thomas Aquinas once said, in comparison to knowing and loving God. In the end its not that I shouldn’t enjoy the Red Sox, with their ups and downs, but its that moments like this remind me how insignificant something like being a baseball fan is in the long run. Its fun, but will I remember who played second base for the ’06 Sox in 20 years? Probably not. I am a passionate baseball fan, no doubt, but this applies to other things, be it what I enjoy studying in philosophy, or the kind of apostolic work I do, in the end, its all one small, broken gift which we offer up to God, to be made whole in the glory of his Love for us. That is the same love which flows through each of us in the person of the spirit, and the very thing which impels us on to the one thing which is not straw in the end, God himself.
Monday, August 14, 2006
Benedict XVI said in his angelus address for this week that: “Vacation also makes for a precious opportunity to spend more time with family, to reunite with relatives and friends, in a word to give more space to the human contact which the rhythms of everyday tasks keep from being cultivated as we would like.” Those relationships are at the very core of my and any vocation, not just to religious life and priesthood, but in general. It is those relationships which support us, which help us to grow and become increasingly the person we were created to be, it is those relationships which are at the very heart of how it is that we experience Christ himself. Genuine companionship with others is at the heart of the Christian mystery, because Christ consistently creates community, among the apostles, disciples, and among the whole Church. In the end the mystical act of giving His body and blood to us in the Eucharist is enjoined by the prayer that they all may be one as He is one with the Father. Augustine says that by the Eucharist we become what we consume, that is the Body of Christ which Paul identifies as being the Church, community itself.
Often times it is the rhythm of mundane life which breaks those bonds, and can leave us with a feeling of loneliness, of isolation, and alienation. The desert fathers warned against just such a thing when they warned against sloth in the spiritual life, and I think it applies here. Sometimes the day to day wears us down, and makes us slothful around community life. Such is a reality for us all, when work, study, or other circumstances make us less intentional about tending to the people that we care about, especially those not immediately present to us, we lose something. We lose a sense of our deeper connectedness, we lose a sense of just how much we are genuinely loved by those friends and family who care for us, and that is a dangerous thing.
So here I am at Cohasset, on vacation, resting, recouping, and perhaps most importantly reconnecting with many of the people who make this life worthwhile, enjoyable, and living in gratitude for it.
Tuesday, August 08, 2006
Strangely enough given that my job is pretty much talking to whoever will listen or whoever will talk back with their own spiritual needs, I think that for me in a lot of ways it has been a time to embrace silence. It’s a different silence though, not one of total quiet, not one in which I have been jealously guarding my solitude, but rather a silence which has allowed me to allow God to bring me back to life in a lot of ways.
This past year was a tough one for me. Many things happened in the context of my life at SLU. Friendships were made and broken, people came and went from my life. I have had to come into better contact with what these vows I have taken mean concretely. The honeymoon of vows ended; there was no more novice master to guide me as closely as they do. I was left to be a Jesuit on my own accord. I didn’t do that perfectly by any stretch, and by the end of the year I found myself asking in my retreat that whatever small, humble offering I was making to God would be a sufficient enough manifestation of my love for him who loved me first. In the midst of whatever struggles I was having two of my closest Jesuit friends left, and I was left to mourn the loss of friendships which were for me a constant support and continual joy. I had a bit of a premonition that last year would be tough, that it would involve some suffering, and it did. Maybe such a premonition was a self fulfilling prophecy, but the reality is that it doesn’t matter if ti was or wasn’t. What matters most is the reality itself, that last year was hard, and I learned deeply the meaning of “take up your cross and follow me”..
So why am I writing all of this? Well it’s because of the silence. Sometimes after death and suffering we all need to enter into the only appropriate response, silence. When I was a novice in the Society during the full boat Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius we spent a whole day meditating on Christ dead in the tomb. For some of the novices this meant staying in their room all day and emerging as little as possible. I didn’t do that, but I did spend that day in the silence, anticipating Easter. Some of that silence is sitting face to face with the cold hard reality of death itself and the ways in which it causes us to come up against our own mortality, which is the ultimate limitation of ourselves. We come to realize just how finite we are, and there is a great sense of liberation in the humility that that can bring. This is a lesson though that I have learned over and over again this summer, and it’s been a summer of that silence which can do nothing but simply be with itself, simply face the reality that there are many forms death takes even while we are alive.
I have faced this all with the poverty of spirit I prayed for earlier this summer; the sense of my radical dependence on God, and that has been healing. The hospital forces your hand on that, being with people, walking with them on their journey, makes you embrace those quiet moments when all you can do is keep silence, those moments when healing can only come in a complete lack of words. The time in the tomb here at Georgetown, that is, this time in the silence away from many of the realities which were at the center of that suffering, this time to rethink and reclaim, this time to remember my own deeper poverty, this time to come to terms with the possibility of resurrection..
Friday, August 04, 2006
-Oscar Romero (from outside the U.C.A. Chapel)
Photo by Laura Hershberger
Prayer/Poem "Prophets of a Future Not Our Own" attr. to Archbishop Oscar Romero
There is a sense of liberation in knowing we cannot do everything. We are ministers, not messiahs, workers, not master builders. At some point for each of us there is a moment where we have to leave behind a project, a job, a way of life, in order to carry on to whatever the next stage may be. For some of us, very practically here, this means that at the end of these next few weeks we will leave our jobs as chaplains here in the hospital and move to carry on our ministry elsewhere. For some watching or listening, this may mean very practically that what has happened in the context of your being here in the hospital, whether it is illness, surgery, birth, or death has changed your lives to such an extent that you will not, cannot go back from where you came.
We can mourn this part of our lives just as much as anything else, and we should though we may also look ahead and see the work that will be done, but will not be for us to do. In our reading from Deuteronomy, Moses looks into the holy land, the fulfillment of his prophetic longings, but does not, cannot, enter in. Of course scripture points to this being punishment for having doubted God, but there is more at stake here. The kingdom of God, the story of our salvation, both supersedes any one man and is at the same time fully realized in one man, who was also God. We are not God though. Moses, the greatest of the prophets, was not God. In truth we carry nothing to completion, but each event finds its fruition in the community of believers that we gather around us as the people of God. For Moses the realization of his dream was a realization through his progeny, which was a free community of God’s chosen people now coming into the inheritance God had promised them. For many of us it may be the same, and often it is the case with the greatest who walk among us, those men and women like Moses, Martin Luther King Jr., and the author of the poem which is at the center of this reflection, Oscar Romero, we too might just be able to walk to the Jordan, but not cross over. The future we prophesy is so often not our own, and often the world which we try to create is one which is just a little better, a little more loving, a little more humane for our children, and their children, entrusting to them what was once entrusted to us, the gift to participate with God’s grace in the shaping of the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.
The Psalmist comes to us with a perspective which says that we can sometimes think that we shall never be shaken. But we know better, for people who are sick and in the hospital very often it seems as if God seems to be hidden, and that the best of our efforts in life, because of illness or injury will ultimately come to nothing, that with the psalmist we might ask “will my life blood come to nothing?” We have hope in God though, and it can be in just that recognition of our relationship with God which is made manifest in crying out for mercy for whatever humble, broken, offering we make of our lives in which we can allow God to show us his mercy, his love, and that we can know that our incomplete offering is merely a step along the way, and an opportunity for God’s grace to enter in and do the rest in our lives.
We sometimes need to step back and look at the broader picture, because in context what little we accomplish in our lifetimes often makes a significant contribution to the building of the kingdom of God, and the seed we sow, though we may never reap it, bears fruit far beyond our imagination. There is a commitment in this to participate in the building of that kingdom for each of us; a commitment to participate in the sowing of the seed; a commitment to participate in the watering of that which is already planted. That commitment is the command of Christ to Peter that we hear in our Gospel reading, to love Christ is to feed his sheep and tend his flock. This is perhaps the only pastoral visit in recorded history which one could argue brings wholeness, Christ visiting Peter after the resurrection, the Messiah himself, brings forgiveness and a chance to amend his life to Peter to counter act the Peter’s denial of the kingdom in the face of the fear of the crucifixion that all Christ had said and done would be for naught. The resurrection stands as the surest hope, that life never really ends, it changes. The resurrection is the surest hope that in our weeping we will find joy. The resurrection is the surest hope that the seed which falls to the earth and dies lays dormant only for a while, only to see bountiful grain arise after the shoot which produced that seed is long gone. Yet there is, even in this, a sense that no life is completely filled, no life given its fullest meaning on its own merits. Jesus warns Peter: “Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." Even Peter, seemingly made whole by the work of Christ himself is left with a moment to ponder, that his work may never be full, may never be complete, and that in that moment of recognizing his limitation, there is the liberative moment of Christ’s words to him: “Follow Me.”
So it is for us, we may never see end results, and what we do may in the end be very incomplete. Still we minister; still we love, hoping for the kingdom which is beyond our vision. Still we plant and water the seeds which may not be our own, but in truth belong to future generations. Still we find meaning in our lives as incomplete as they may actually be, because we participate in something much larger than ourselves, and in this hope we prophesy of the kingdom of God, we prophesy of a future that is not our own.
Saturday, July 29, 2006
“live Maine Lobsters… I have never had an account like that before”
These were the words of the Kitchen manager here at Georgetown to me about her preparations for the annual feast which follows mass on the feast of St. Ignatius. Live. Maine. Lobsters. Now as a New Englander by birth, I have to admit, live Maine lobsters evoke a ton of memories. Memories of being kids and having lobsters race across the kitchen counter, memories of steaming them on the beach, and of course all of the memories of Ignatius Days past. (all 4 of ‘em) As a Jesuit, there’s a part of me which has some moment of trepidation, because while live Maine lobsters are a little pricey at home, they seem extravagant here in the land of the soft shell crab from Chesapeake bay. This of course brings me to the point of real tension which is of course with the vow of poverty, but that’s another discussion for another time because while Live Maine Lobsters evoke something extravagant, they also point to another reality, the reality of the importance of celebration.
We mark extraordinary moments in our lives with extraordinary gestures. We have feasts for weddings, ordinations, baptisms, first communions, and then the more common occasions of Christmas, Easter, and Thanksgiving. Food serves as a symbolic medium of what is most important, the closeness of people who are important in our lives to mark the important days and moments together. For Jesuits, St. Ignatius day, as the feast of our founder, has an especially significant meaning. In celebrating Ignatius we celebrate the saint of course, but we also celebrate the society of which we are a part, and I think we celebrate being Jesuits, and just what that is. For some of us it is a celebration of having survived the year, for others it is a moment of profound gratitude and joy.
Our lives aren’t perfect, and even though we strive to be the companions of Jesus, we find ourselves so often like the disciples running away on Good Friday. We can grow faithless when the road grows dark like anyone else. We can be stupid, confused, and broken. There is some reassurance in that though, because as surely as we can be the disciples running away on good Friday, there is still I think in us a bit of the rabble that feasted with Christ in Matthew’s house. That rabble, which could hear, could see, and leave all behind to follow Christ who sought them out first at a feast.
I often hear (and hate) the phrase “the poor you will always have with you” quoted as a reason why someone shouldn’t do the kind of work for justice I do. Taking Christ so horribly out of context repulses me. In context there was a certain admonition that the extravagant things which sometimes happen in life (and should probably only happen sometimes) mark the more important reality which lies underneath. The feast of Ignatius is not about those live Maine lobsters, and I have been without them on Ignatius day before, but that extravagant moment reminds us of the specialness of the occasion which is born out of the joy of our brotherhood, the grace of our vocation, and the beauty of the world in which we are called to act as companions of Christ.
Friday, July 21, 2006
If you are a Catholic from New England like me you grow up with your parents taking you to Church, (in the case of Rhode Island) drinking Dell’s Lemonade, and taking you from a young age to Fenway Park to see the beloved Red Sox. It becomes a little religion unto itself sometimes with observances like wearing lucky jerseys. It is a little sort moral observance that bears certain words to be foul language (i.e. Buckner, Boone, and Bucky (bleepin’) Dent). There is a sense of pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Red Sox Nation in the Fens, and if you can’t make it there, there are parish churches in Portland, Lowell, Pawtucket, and Ft. Meyers which are nowhere near as glorious, but still satisfying. There are also the great saints, by the names of Williams, Yastrzemski, Fisk, Petrocelli, and Pesky. Along with those saints there are also the fallen in Ruth, Clemens, and Damon (Strangely close to Demon, no?) Finally, of course there is a cosmic struggle of Good verses Evil, Steinbrenner vs. Henry.
So now that I have quasi-heretically put my fandom in Catholic terms, what’s the point? Well I think the point is this, we all have certain things in our lives which, put in proper perspective bear a certain sacramentality to them. In truth, I love the Sox, but not so much for who they are but for what they mean to me. To me the Sox are a sacramental because they remind me of the sacred. Boiled down more specifically, they remind me of the love of my father (earthly) for my brother and I over the years, and now my sister as well. (As we try to initiate the precious 9 year old into our little dose of insanity) That love, which manifested itself every summer in hot dogs and “Spohts Bahhs” (as my father says to this day) along the first baseline of Fenway park, and in the constant morning declaration of “Sawx Win, Sawx Win” over the morning paper as we got ready to go to school, is a sure sign of God’s presence, God’s care, and I think in the real and genuine delight which God takes in the things of this world put into proper perspective, heck he did “see that it was good” after making it all. So I cheer for the Sox, but more because my heart warms when I think of all of the good memories and same heart is filled with gratitude for my father whenever I check the box scores………
Monday, July 03, 2006
Anyhow I am taking a long weekend at the Jesuit Villa (which is the unexpected result of spraining my ankle last week) and I have had somequiet time to think and realized I hadn't posted in a few weeks, so heregoes.
So I am here out on a tributary of the Chesapeake Bay staring off at our boat down on the dock and thinking about something I heard last night ironically enough while watching Star Wars Episode III of all things. Now I am not a huge Star wars fans, and I think any comparison between Jedi knights and the Roman Catholic Priesthood or life in a Religious order more specifically to be odious at best, however something struck me last night when I was watching the movie with two other Jesuits, and though I think it is applicable to my life specifically, it had broader implications for the life of a Christian as a whole.
At some point when comparing the life of the Jedi (the good guys) to the life of the Sith (the bad guys) young Anakin Skywalker, who is not yet Darth Vader, points out that the Sith draw their power from their passions, that they are focused inward, while the Jedi are completely selfless, and draw their power from their service to others. And here is the catch, I know I have in many ways lived on both sides of “the Force.”
The Gospels remind us that we can’t cling to closely to our lives or we inevitably lose them. If we become so obsessed with our feelings, with self-preservation, and self-care, we miss out on the things that make life worth living. We miss out on genuine relationship with friends and family, we miss out on experiencing beauty, joy, and love. We can miss the experience of being an incarnation of the Glory of God, which St. Iraneaus calls “The human being fully alive.” Christ himself points us out from ourselves and makes clear that the life of one who chooses to follow God is best exemplified by one is focused out onto the world which God made, and ultimately and most importantly on God himself.
So often the world tries to tell us that it is our angst that makes us interesting; that it is the thing which makes us special. It is some existential pain that is supposed to tell us that we are, in fact alive, and we (and by we I mean younger people specifically) buy into it. Look at the popularity of emo music, and Comic book super heroes who have “issues,” look at the popularity of the drama that goes on on T.V. Shows like “The Real (sic) World.” This is of course not the first generation to feel that angst, to want to be set apart by the passions which can rule us, and from which we can seek to draw some sort of strange solipsistic meaning. Our parents and grandparents did it before us, but somewhere it got out of control and became less about who a person is in the world, and more about what the world had done to the person. We have found this angst without responsibility and used it to turn our emotions into a decadent form of living by the drama we create. The result is a non-integral life focused not on gratitude but on mourning a life which will never exist. The result is a constant attempt to be immersed in the strange hedonism of suffering which individuates that person who is suffering precisely by their suffering.
As Christians we must learn better. The beatitudes lead us to the life of Christ itself, a life which is completely outward focused, a life which can be honest about what one feels, as Christ is in the garden and many other times particularly in the Gospel of Mark when expressing frustration at his disciples, but one which is convinced that it is beatitude which makes the person special, and it is the love of God, so often made manifest in the world around them, which makes them an individual. It is a life which can and should be dissatisfied with a world in which people starve and are oppressed, but one which fights for righteousness and liberation out of a sense of a deep and abiding love for others, and for Christ himself, and not one which is bound up in the salving of one’s guilt or the projection of one’s interior pain onto the situation of injustice. It is a life which can revel in the beauty of art, a life which can laugh long and hard with friends, a life which can savor the beauty of a sunset, and praise God in the conquering splendor of the sunrise. It is a life that looks less into one’s gut, and seeks to understand how what is within can help those on the outside. It is one that seeks to understand how all of our curses, pains, and agonies can become blessings to ourselves and the world around us. It is a life of beatitude, and the life of a man or a woman for, with, and united to others..
Saturday, June 17, 2006
Much to the chagrin of my mother, as well as a few other important people in my life, I have had a beard since I was 17. At this point I have gotten used to looking in the mirror and seeing some form of facial hair staring back at me. While it’s not a particular point of pride or anything, I have just gotten used to it, and have come to recognize it as a part of who I am. Then the other night came along. I went to Best Buy in Alexandria and bought a beard trimmer. I stood in front of the mirror and trimmed down my beard to a level 1 on my new trimmer (the lowest setting on the trimmer) and low and behold, it looked simply like I hadn’t shaved in a few days, and for the first time in nearly 7 years I have a fairly clear view of my chin. Now I know this really short beard thing is in vogue, though my intent was simply to be a little cooler in the noon day sun. (Frankly anyone who knows how I dress and knows of my inability to wear anything fancier than a Red Sox or Patriots Jersey and Jeans on many occasions knows that to be the case.)
The thing is though, I looked in the mirror, and I saw and still see a different person. Sometimes we all can get an image of who we are stuck in our head, and sometimes that image that gets jammed in there is an image of how we are too. Often the things which dictate this for us are superficial realities (like my beard) and when we get rid of them we can be left a little disoriented sometimes. The reality remains however that we are still the same person, and perhaps by letting go of those superficial things we see something we haven’t seen in a long time. Practically, this can mean something as simple as shaving one’s beard, but the reality holds for things which are much more sublime too. We can often stack roles and self images on top of the image and likeness of God which is in each of us, so that it becomes so obscured that it becomes hard to recognize when we pull all of that other stuff away. For me the temptation is in the image I have of myself as philosopher, as a particular type of friend to some people, or in the role I feel like I should play in community life. None of those things are necessarily bad, but they need to all be subservient to the reality which lies underneath, the reality of the Holy Spirit within impelling us, pressing us forward, and bringing us together in the most important of ways, as Church, as the Body of Christ.
It’s strange, because when we let those images get in the way of seeing the image and likeness of God in which Genesis tells us we were all created we engage in a perverse sort of idolatry, an idolatry of the self. In this idolatry we become worshipers of our own selves, our own egos. We can become strangely self obsessed, and even the vocation that God has called us to can take the life out of us. But if we are really worshiping God, and if what we really seek to venerate is the image of God within, then that vocation, and any other role becomes what it was meant to be, the relationship of love made manifest through actions. Then that role, that self image can, in the proper context, be what St. Ignatius talks about in the Contemplation to Attain divine love, it can be a sharing in love which manifests itself in deeds more than words.
So my beard suffered a near death experience…. It’s till there to some extent, I think I will let it grow back. Some members of the community here in fact have already told me that they miss it. It’s not a bad thing, but like all things it’s good to remember that the most important self image I can have is the image and likeness of God.
Monday, June 05, 2006
So I am the chaplain on call here at Georgetown university hospital and I can’t sleep. The call room we have is a claustrophobic’s worst nightmare and it seems every time I am getting to sleep my pager goes off, and here is the catch… its dealing with stuff I feel woefully inadequate to deal with. I am good working with the poor, and with young people, but I am really ill equipped in many ways to handle death and dying. Some of it is my meticulous nature, some of it is a real and deep desire not to look foolish, but most of it is really wanting to help and feeling my complete and utter poverty of spirit to do so.
Poverty of spirit, it manifests itself in me both as a real need to rely on Christ and as my own inability to do this kind of work outside of his grace and his love for me. Metz was right to say that poverty of spirit is the foundation for the rest of the beatitudes. Sometimes too I think it might be precisely being in that moment of having no idea what to do that we actually end up doing the right thing, perhaps even in spite of ourselves. The gospel says that Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, even though he would raise him from the dead a few minutes later, something about that experience left even Christ himself in his full humanity stand before death and feel what every human feels in front of it, confusion, frustration, anger, and sadness. The letter to the Hebrews says that we have a high priest who bears all of our iniquities, and so I suppose he bears this too. All of that also leads to the moment of realizing just how dependant upon the Father each of us is, a moment in which the sharing of life between Christ and the Father made Lazarus come out of the tomb. Without this moment of poverty of spirit we can never really live in that connection.
So its 2:40am and I will with the psalmist await the dawn, knowing that in the dark sometimes we are left only with our poverty of spirit.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
So this past week as I have been finishing up my papers and such I have been asking myself the question of just why it is that I study philosophy like I do. I have already more than fulfilled the Church’s requirements for one preparing for ordination, and I am doing a level of MA here at
the university which no Jesuit has undertaken in
22 years. Why do this? Frankly, its more frustration than its worth in those terms. Ellacuría, who I am writing my thesis on, had it right when he wrote:
“Philosophy as the search for the fullness of truth- not the mere absence of error, but the full presence of reality- is thus an indispensable element in the integral liberation of our peoples. When those peoples count on the real possibility of thinking for themselves in all the orders of thought, they will take the path of liberty and of full possession of themselves. That is what philosophy is for.”
Sometimes I find that my activists friends think of philosophy as just a goofy mind game, and that the only way to free people is just to be down in the trenches, that this is a waste of time. I think they’re wrong, (though I still love them) and maybe a bit impatient. The whole ideological superstructure of the world has to change for people to be genuinely free, so I write.
Sometimes I find my philosopher (and theologian) friends don’t quite get why it is that I do go out into the trenches, to places like El Salvador. They sometimes view it (I think) as a waste of good studying time. I think they’re wrong, (though I still love them) why would we do philosophy if it means nothing to real people? It can become just as banal and oppressive as anything else if we don’t have genuine contact with the real world. Plus the world is a beautiful place, why do philosophy if its not worth saving?
To serve Christ poor and voiceless in the suffering and oppressed, that’s why I do philosophy. I can’t do meaningless overly abstract metaphysics, I just need to stick here and do stuff that genuinely makes a difference in the lives of real people. This is why I do philosophy, and this is what philosophy is all about at its highest moments. We pray in the Our Father: “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” That the kingdom of God may become even more of a reality on earth and ever more closely resemble the kingdom in heaven, that is why I do philosophy.
Sunday, April 23, 2006
The Gospel story of the road to Emmaus strikes me in a way it hasn’t yet to this point. The story of the road to Emmaus is not only the historical account of two men encountering the risen Christ, but it is in so many ways a parable unto itself.
Traveling the roads alone in Jesus’s day was dangerous, one was likely to be robbed, beaten, even killed. Being out on the roads alone at night was even worse. The two disciples encounter a stranger on the way. This was a man who was along the way and had no friends, no place to stay, and so they lived out their faith by bringing him along, by sharing with him what little they had in their companionship and material goods. Even in the midst of their confusion, their doubt, their insecurity they lived their lives committed to who they were, out of the dispositions of love and hospitality which had grown in their hearts by encountering Christ. On the road they met the stranger, who took them in to himself in so many ways.
On the road the road to Emmaus the stranger taken in taught the disciples who they were, who Christ was, who God was. Their hearts burned because in their midst was the Son of God, but so often it is in welcoming in the stranger, the outcast, the oppressed, that we discover who we are in God’s light. It is in welcoming in the stranger that we are challenged, shaken from the complacency of our confusion and ambivalence and radically made to choose… to remember who Christ is for us.
They knew him in the breaking of the bread.. They knew him in sharing what they had with him. They knew him in welcoming him, a stranger along the road, in to their home, into their lives. Without regard for their personal security, without worrying about how much food they had, they welcomed him in. That is how they knew him. The recognition of the risen Christ comes in hospitality, in welcoming in the stranger. The story is evident, the parable is simple. We come to know Christ in welcoming the stranger, the outcast. We come to know Christ in breaking bread with those who have none. We come to know who we are by listening to them, by hearing them with new ears. Our hearts then burn with the love of the one who loved us to endure Good Friday, and come to us even as the stranger on Easter Sunday
Friday, April 14, 2006
Paul says that Jesus was obedient suffering on the cross even unto death. Obviously I have been thinking about this a lot all of lent. As Religious, obedience sometimes encourages us to take up crosses we would never choose for ourselves. There is a value simply in that act alone. Jesus never said “pick up your dandelion and follow me” or “pick up your remote control” or “your Playstation 2” it was something hard, something brutal, it was to pick up the cross. I realize now that obedience to the will of God, for religious but also for everyone else committed to living Christian life, particularly when it is obedience to do something which, like Christ, we want to cry out to the father saying “remove this cup from me!” is not only obedience for the sake of doing God’s will, but it is the imitation of Christ in its very heart, sacrificial, and a real surrender (not simply resignation) to the love of God.
This life is hard some times, let no one convince you otherwise. It is immeasurably worth it though, and not in the sense that the world thinks of worth either. Living a life of Christian discipleship is living the life which makes us most fully alive, and that is what it is doing for me.
The people of El Salvador have been in my mind and on my heart lately too. Maybe it is because I am working on a paper using Salvadoran philosophers. But it strikes me that they have helped to teach me this lesson in their joy and generosity in the midst of the suffering they still wrongly endure. The mystery of the Cross teaches us that obedience to the will of God is about imitating Christ, even to the end. That imitation of Christ necessarily has to include being with the people Christ first came to, the poor. Proclaiming good news to them, as Christ did, proclaiming their dignity, their value, their liberation. Taking up the cross means standing with those members of the Church, which just is the body of Christ, who are crucified, and asking along with Ignatius meditating on the crucifixion.. what have I done for Christ, what am I doing for Christ, what will I do for Christ?
Monday, April 03, 2006
Brother Pozzo's Fresco at the entrace to the rooms to Ignatius to the left.
Have you ever had the moment, joyfully, when you have felt like its time to get back to something more basic, more rudimentary about who you are to remember where God’s grace has been?
I think that’s me right now.
Now don’t get me wrong, my life is great, and I am grateful for the way things are going, but at the same time I think it may be good to get back from time to time to that space that you can remember God calling you from (spiritually and mentally) to reap greater benefit from it.
Now obviously I am not talking about going back to Westerly, Holy Cross, or the Novitiate. (all three places which I have a very deep love for granted.)What I am talking about it perhaps more like this story.
The rooms of St. Ignatius in Rome are obviously considered by many to be a very holy place. This was the space in which he wrote the constitutions, sent Xavier to the East, and governed the Society in its early years. Over time, in order to honor the holiness of the place pilgrims came and left behind gifts, the Society started decorating more and more until some 20 years ago, after nearly 450 years, the rooms would have been unrecognizable to Ignatius. They were baroque in every sense of the word, golden altars, candles everywhere, even a goofy looking mannequin of Ignatius. (In other words every little bit of bad religious quiche that one could imagine)
The society decided to strip down everything that had been built up over the years to get back to the original spirit of those rooms, to their original aggiornamento. Now the rooms are back to something much simpler, much more recognizable to Ignatius himself probably, and people seem to love them more than before. Stripped down from all of the baroque and back to their original simplicity, where people can commune with the spirit of Christ present because of the holy man who lived there.
So it is with me, and I think with all of us as we walk down the path of life in Christ. Occasionally we need to admit that we have gotten too baroque, to flowery, stuffy, and maybe even a little full of ourselves. Its then we have to go back to that moment when we really first heard the call of Christ to “come follow me” and began to do it. Obviously, as Catholics we have confession, and I have been faithful to that, but moreso sometimes its good to go back and remember what it is that got us here in the first place, to let ourselves become more and more like that Child in order to enter the kingdom more readily. Remembering those first moment of our walk with Christ I think fill us with gratitude, can overwhelm us with joy, and reinforce us wherever we are in our spiritual life. Obviously not to deny how far I have come and how I have grown (no one wants the current general to move back into those few rooms and govern 20,000 men and the world’s largest single religious order from there) but simply to be able to remember, reclaim, and marvel at how God’s grace continues to move in our lives, that’s not such a bad thing. So in these last days of lent, I am stripping away all of my baroque outwards show and pomp and getting back to the bare walls underneath, that bear a far greater story than the decorations which cover them.
Saturday, March 25, 2006
Meet Ben Bocher, S.J. ..... Man.... Myth..... Legend... Engineer in Training..... World Class Marathoner (No Joke)..... Jesuit Scholastic. Ben hails from the mighty north, the Wisconsin Province. Right now he is studying engineering over at the Wash U here in St. Louis. Last year he nearly would have won the St. Louis marathon (the paper in town had him as one of the favorites) had it not been for drinking some bad milk the night before. His specialty in engineering is building water treatment for the third world, starting chapters of engineers without borders, and some other stuff that I have no hope of ever understanding.
When we were all in Central America this past summer, a new word was coined (in Spanish) to describe just how Ben behaves, "Minchar" which means to eat like a vaccum cleaner; (hence the bad milk the night before the marathon) to run 14 miles a day no matter the elevation, heat, or possibility of bodily harm by nature, man, or beast; to know everyone in a 14 block radius; and other assorted things.
This is a picture of Ben looking particulalry thuggish, notice the Jesuit stocking cap nonetheless. His other past times, other than looking slighty thuggish, include karaoke (which is not a good idea) bowling, and general tom foolery. A more generous, good hearted, and kind man you are very unlikely to meet however, and on top of it a man commited to living in God's grace. Underneath the fun exterior is a man of deep prayer, solid faith, and a willingness to lead others joyfully to the love of God he has experienced. He leads a discernment group over at the Catholic Student center at Wash U, and also has been active with retreats there as well. Seriously good guy who I am blessed to call my friend.
Friday, March 24, 2006
I wrote this little bit of philosophy a little over 5 years ago now. It was my first attempt at writing legitimate philosophy, and it tried to prove the existence of God. (yep, I know, way to start small) I know now that it is certainly not Thomistic, or even necessarily orthodox (philosophically speaking). The way I try to construe God is also possibly problematic. This was, however, enough to win the Markham Memorial Prize in Philosophy at Holy Cross, so while it needs to be worked on a bit, it still may have something to it. Anybody with any thoughts on this let me know. It is archived in the Holy Cross Library in Worcester, MA, (in other words, I have proof that it is my original work) so enjoy it, comment on it, but please don't rip it off, especially because it is still problematic in my mind. Ok that's all.
Fides Super Rationam
By Michael J. Rogers, Jr.
With the heights and depths of humanity, we seek to understand the world around us, we have created physics, biology, psychology, chemistry, sociology and every other science to explain why that which is, is. We seek understanding through knowledge, we seek to understand more and more why things are here, why they exist, both good and bad, and what we can do to have some control, to be masters of our own destiny. As we break things down into infinitely smaller parts, as we analyze the stars and the universe, as we build the ability to destroy ourselves, to truly choose life or death for the planet, we come to one undeniable truth, everything changes. It seems as if nothing stays the same, seasons change, organisms are born, grow, live, and die, the inanimate is moved and shifted and molded into something new, or made seemingly animate as we breathe the life of our own knowledge into them. All things change, all things posses the ability to be something that they are not, and all things that are once were something else. We can see that when Aristotle made the case for actuality and potentiality that despite all of our scientific advances, this is perhaps one of the few clear truths about the world, that what exists in actuality has a potential to be another actuality. Within time and space, change does not end because time does not end. We know that logically actuality and potentiality must be, in some way, separable, or else we would not be able to define them at all, or even conceive of them as concepts. Within the world we are able to make sense of things because we can boil them down to their parts, and in doing so understand more clearly what it is that causes something to tick, to exist, to be.
The same must be true with potentiality and actuality as concepts, there must be some way to divide these and understand them more clearly as a result. Within time though, we know this is not possible, nothing can be fully actual, because it has some potential, if only to be moved from one space to another. At the same time, nothing can be fully potential, because in order for it to exist at all it must first be something. The two seem inseparable, except if we remove time. If we remove time then we come to understand the nature of what it is to be unchangeable and unchanging, to be both fully actual and fully potential, and in this place outside of time we know that full potentiality and actuality must exist. This is apparent because if full potentiality and actuality did not exist outside of time then there would be no change in time because the two most basic principles of change, that something has the ability to change and that change has some effect, would not exist. Simply, we know they are inseparable within time, yet we know that in order to exist they must first exist as principles independent of each other. Just as we isolate things in nature in order to show their function and definition so must we be able to isolate potentiality and actuality in order to see that as principles of change they must exist separately, if only outside of time.
We can see, however, that as principles of time actuality and potentiality are limited to a subject, something that possesses both full potentiality and actuality separate and distinct from one another, furthermore this subject must exist outside of time. In saying that this subject possesses full potentiality, we say that it must posses within it all of the possibilities for the universe, that it must in essence be all powerful, and through its potential nature creative. Through its actual nature that which exists outside of time must also be all actual as Aristotle said, and as such must be the driving force behind the universe. Furthermore it is impossible for more than one thing to exist fully independent of time, as there is no true concept of space, for without time we cannot place one thing at a point of reference in the plain of existence. For example, what makes something essentially occupy a space is that it occupies it at a certain point in time. St. Peters is in Rome because it is there now, but were we to move St. Peter’s, it would no longer be in Rome, and yet now it is still in Rome, any movement would be in the future, and therefore the dependence of its place in reality is largely dependant upon its place in time. If something exists independent of time we know then that it must not only be immutable, but that since any interaction with anything else would cause some change, that things totally independent of time must be singular. In essence, there must be a God, a creator and final cause that exists independent of time and singularly so.
In looking at this argument several questions arise: First, what is the fundamental nature of change? Second, is it necessary for things to have an actual and a potential nature? Third, must we separate in order to define what actuality and potentiality are? Fourth, in what context can we separate actuality and potentiality, and why? Fifth, can we conceive of that which is outside of time coming from our temporal understanding? Finally, Is it necessary that there be a God existing outside of time in the context of potentiality and actuality.
First we ask what is the fundamental nature of change. It would seem as previously stated that all things change, the earth and the universe itself seem to be in constant flux, as the universe expands and the earth is governed by the laws of nature which in turn bring season to bear and life to flourish and to die. Paradoxically it seems that change is the only constant we can conceive of within time. The only thing that seems inexorably constant is that in fact nothing is constant. Even our own existence is not a constant, but rather the reality that we are conceived, born, that we mature, age and will die is in fact constant. Inherent within change is that we change from one thing to another, from one actuality to another. What we are actually now is vastly different from what we actually were as infants, the only thing that remains is the fact of our humanity, but even in that context we are a different actualization of what it is to be human. Clearly one that attends university and sits down to write within some confines of reason is different from the child who knows little more then to cry for milk when it is hungry or sleep when it is tired. Therein we see two different actualities, within nature as well clearly a seed that falls from a flower is different then the flower that is will become, there are two different actualities of one being. Change itself is also laden with potentiality, for which all things in the universe in their mutability must possess. For a thing to change it must first have some actualization, it must be something, but it must also posses the ability to become something else, it must possess some potential. There must be some driving principles within it that cause it to move, to change to morph into something new. Clearly one cannot become a learned scholar if he does not possess first some intellectual capacity, some potential to become something else. Likewise, the seed that falls from the flower does not become a flower itself unless it first possesses within it the necessary parts of a flower, the small seedling that emerges with time. Even that which is inanimate has potential this can be seen more clearly through the example of a rock, which when chiseled and put in order becomes a beautiful sculpture, this is not possible unless within the very nature of the rock there already exist the potential for it to be sculpted. Therefore the principle of change is predicated upon two primary principles that must exist if in fact change exists. Change must exist however, because we experience that which we know to be change all around us.
Next we must examine the necessity of things having a potential or an actual nature. It would seem that it is not necessary for things have both an actual and potential nature, yet we do know the changing nature of the universe, that which exists changes. Therefore it would seem inherent with existence comes change, and that which changes must have a potentiality and an actuality, therefore having both a potential and an actual nature is necessary to existence. No thing can exist without change within time, we witness this everyday, from a fleck of dust flying off of our shoulder that had previously been there, to the birth of new life, there is constant change, both within nature and in man made interaction, things will always change. Therefore it seems necessary for all things to have a potential and actual nature.
How do we come to an understanding of potentiality and actuality, must we separate them to understand them? It would seem that we could only understand actuality and potentiality in the context of each other. Thus far we have only spoken of these concepts in those terms, however, these seem to be imperfect actuality and potentiality if only because they seem to operate not as ends in and of themselves, but as means to yet another actuality and potentiality arising. The seed falls into the ground and grows to be a flower only to produce more seeds, which will fall into the ground and produce more flowers. The potentiality of that seed to become an actual flower then shifts to the potential of that flower to produce more seeds. The human works hard to make money, in making that money he hopes to achieve some semblance of happiness and security. The human works hard to attain the actuality of having money, which carries with it the potentiality for some sense of happiness. Each time a potentiality produces an actuality that actuality has a potential to be something else. The kind of potentiality/actuality exhibited is imperfect. There is, however, movement that is observable, from highest potentiality to highest actuality, all things move from what they were to what they are becoming through each change what something is to become becomes more apparent, we can say that there are degrees of potentiality and actuality. A child has more potential then a ninety-year-old man, just as a seed has more potential then a withering flower. The child is free to become whatever it will and be whatever it will in the context of its society. The seed may become a flower with many different colors and can produce many seeds. Conversely the ninety-year-old man has more actuality then a child and a withering flower more then a seed. The ninety-year-old man has lived more life and simply understands better then the child what it is to be human to have life. The withering flower has been a flower it has reached some actualization. From this we can see degrees of actuality and potentiality within all existence. If there are degrees of actuality and potentiality then there must be pure potentiality and pure actuality by which all other actualities and potentialities are measured, therefore it is apparent that there must be pure potentiality and actuality.
Since we now see that there must be pure potentiality and actuality, we must see under what context they exist. Change demands time, what makes something essentially different is the two fixed points within time that it is referenced, from that we can observe change. It is also this very concept of time, which makes change possible. If, however, we can remove time from existence, it would seem that change would be impossible, therefore the unity between actuality and potentiality is no longer feasible, as such, we see that potentiality and actuality must exist outside of time as pure and independent of each other. Can we say that there is a place independent of time? It would seem not in that all of history is marked by time, and our human understanding of existence is inexorably bound by time. Before the universe came into existence, however, time would not have existed for two reasons: The first obvious one is that before the creation of the universe there were no stars, no planets, and from that it becomes obvious that there can be no time because there is no daylight by which one could measure day and night. The second, albeit slightly less obvious reason, is that without humanity to observe the form of time in nature, there is no time. If we ourselves had not first conceived of time it would not exist, however, as soon as we began marking the days and nights, plotting the lunar calendar to mark the months, and tracking the changing seasons to determine a year, it began to exist. Without this it is possible to say that time would not exist in some strange way. While change would still occur in this context, the idea of time would not exist. If we can place ourselves in that place before time and the universe existed though, it becomes more apparent that time can be transcended, just as ideas and beliefs can transcend time, as basic mathematics and belief in religion broadly have, and while our ways of looking at these things can change, the ideas and beliefs themselves do not. Furthermore though, in that place before time there exists full potentiality in that all that can be done must first exist here, any possibility exists within the space before creation. Also in this space must exist full actuality, because this space is neither made no better nor any worse by creation, which has to exist independent of it. We can also say of this space though that to some degree all things that exist within it must essentially be one, because without time we have no way to differentiate what takes up different spaces, and therefore any conception of separateness is clearly impossible.
Any speech of that which is outside of time would however seem to beg the question of our ability to conceive of that which we have never actually encountered. It would seem that any talk of that which we have not actually encountered is frivolous if not fanciful, as if we were speaking of unicorns and leprechauns, for these are things which no person has ever encountered and yet we say that we can conceive of mystical horses with golden horns attached to their heads and little men with magical powers, while knowing that they do not exist. The difference seems to be that we know that the universe at some point began to exist, without even presupposing the existence of God, as many who would deny the existence of God would still ascribe to theories of a big bang and evolution to explain the birth and development of the universe. If we know that the universe began, then before that beginning was a shapeless timeless void, and that which can exist independent of all creation. Time comes to be when nature is formed, when planets begin to spin around stars, and the entire universe begins to rotate. Therefore there must be a place outside of time, for even as astronomers tell us our universe is ever expanding, there must be a place for it to expand into, and that is a place untouched by creation that exists independently of it, a place where time cannot and does not exist.
Finally the question arises of whether we can say that that which exist outside of time must be God, it becomes at this point a matter of word play. We know that that which exists outside of time is fully potential, and therefore to some extent acts upon creating all that is and all that ever has been. We also know as Aristotle said that that which exists outside of time is fully actual, and therefore is the greatest actualization of all things, it is that which all things by their nature try to emulate in their own way, as Augustine says “all nature cries out that it is created.” In this capacity as full potentiality too it must be omnipotent, as all possibility for the universe lies within it. As full actuality also that which exists outside of time must be omniscient, it must know all things because it is the fullness of all things. Furthermore because it is outside of time we can say that it is omnipresent, since it is not ruled by time or space. Also, because of its timeless nature that which exists outside of time must be immutable. It would seem then that that which exists outside time must be all of the things which one would ascribe to God, and whether we ascribe to it the name of “God” or any other arbitrary name the reality of the nature of that being which exists outside of time remains the same, as all powerful, all knowing, ever present, unchanging, as God.
What philosophical discourse can say of the existence of God however pales in the light of what faith can know of God, reason can only take us this far, to know that God exists. Faith is what drives us to further understand this conviction and come to know the God that drives the universe from creation to finality, that causes the moon and stars to turn, the night and the day to happen, and is present at every moment of existence in every moment of existence. The God that moves over the waters of the seas, in the rushing of the wind, and in the all consuming heat of the fire cannot be understood by reason, and all that human mouths utter as Thomas Aquinas once offered “is mere straw” in comparison to the actual reality of God. To those with faith, any argument from reason for God’s existence serves only to examine faith from a different perspective. For those from outside of faith the intellect may serve to except the possibility, but those who ultimately reject any argument for God’s existence have closed themselves off to it already, for God can only be seen through the eyes of faith and poorly understood through reason.
Does God Exist? It would seem that He does, and He dwells within the hearts and souls of each man that struggles to show by reason that which by is made evident only by faith. To rise to the heights of Godly contemplation one must seek not the reason which one can argue from, one must seek the simple faith of a child, knowing that what we seek in reason can be found only through the eyes of faith. All to easily one may dismiss through reason what others know in faith, but those who hold in faith that they are children of a living God will never be put to shame, for the light of reason can bolster that which they have known, that in this world, all that potentially may be, and all that is to come flows from an eternal creator, and that all that we are longs ever more for the light of that presence which guides us ever closer to the fullness of who we are. To be fully human, to walk in the light of that which we are, not simply what we should be is to be in the presence of our eternal creator, and to stand in that presence is something which reason cannot explain, although it tries. One may all to easily dismiss this argument or any other, to say that God does not exist is too easy, for then our freedom becomes license and our lives inconsequential, and somewhere we all seek to deny God so that we may be free to walk by our own reason, just as the enlightenment fathers sought. That freedom has fallen short though, for if by freedom we allow others to starve, if by freedom we can legally kill others because they cannot speak for themselves, if by that freedom we are free to be enslaved by greed or desire for power, then we are not free, then we are not human. To know that God exists is to know that there is an end to which all things move. To know that God exists is to know that there is a place from which all things came. To know that God exists is to know that we are made higher, our reason for something better then ourselves. Our reason can let us know that God exists, even in that which we cannot fathom, eternity. Our faith is what ultimately brings us ever more into the light of all that we can be, all that we are, and all we will be, in that light we can only hope to stand in awe and silence before that from whence we came and to where we are going, God.