Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is [email protected].

Articles by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J.

Annunciations of Suffering

Mar 25, 2015 / 00:00 am

When Jesus began his ministry, he chose to make us men and women his cherished followers.  Wanting us to be his companions, he expressed it in the words, “I call you friends, for I have made known to you everything I have learned from my Father” (Jn 15:15).  In calling us in to his friendship, Jesus wanted us to share his divine life.  This raising up to a godlike stature is best expressed by the Psalmist:  “You have made them a little lower than gods” (Ps 8:5).  The Eastern Fathers never tired of proclaiming this sentiment in the words:  God became man that we might become God-like.  The Son’s descent in the form of a human person would be completed in humanity’s ascent to God. This is the point of today’s solemnity, the Annunciation of the Lord.The Incarnation at the AnnunciationWhen Mary of Nazareth accepted the angel’s message, she was chosen as the first of the Lord’s disciples in the New Covenant.  As mother of the Messiah, she shared his life and suffering as well as his victory. Her total trust was so unconditional that she accepted the mandate:  “You shall conceive and bear a son, and you shall name him Emmanuel, God-is-with-us.”  As Mary placed herself in the hands of Providence, so must we if we wish to be the Lord’s companions.First Sunday of the Lord’s PassionToday’s feast falls during the most solemn part of Lent when the liturgies ask us to focus intently on the Lord’s sufferings.  The universal Church will surely do this in the next week, the holiest of the year.  The entire emphasis will be on the Suffering Servant.   And so in preparation for Holy Week, we begin with a reflection on suffering itself. SufferingNo one likes thinking about suffering, least of all one’s own.  Jesus too feared it though he accepted it as part of the divine plan.  In the Agony in the Garden, he prayed to be delivered from it and then added, “But not my will but yours be done.”  He submitted to suffering and death out of love for all sinful humanity.  No masochist here: he knew that only a crucified God could carry out the plan.None of us escapes adversity.  Suffering does violence to a person both singly and in groups.  Suffering has no favorites and spares no one.   Without warning, it rudely interrupts the rhythm of human thought and action.  Its suddenness feels electric like a shock surging through the body.   It often immobilizes until reality settles in.  Adversity takes the form of sudden death in a family, sudden loss of a job, sudden betrayal, or a sudden bad diagnosis from the doctor.  Then there’s the suffering we inflict on ourselves through bad choices or unfulfilled expectations.  We seek like prosecuting lawyers to blame others for the pain.Why good people suffer amounts to a mystery.  Who of us dares to unravel it with satisfaction?  To whom do we go for consolation? Who can explain why suffering is clustered so unevenly over the world?  Christians, branded as infidels, have been put to death by fanatics in one country after the other.   Still, the Psalmist reminds us all that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps  34:18). Questioning GodQuestions about suffering lead to questioning God.  Where is God in suffering? Surely an omnipotent and loving God does not permit suffering to happen.  Such questions haunt persons of faith and those of no faith because suffering affects us all.   Even in the darkest hours, the light of hope may break through the darkness. Adversity often holds within it an opportunity for something greater.  Beethoven composed his most profound works after he had completely lost his hearing.If when all has been done to alleviate suffering, it still persists, a person either copes creatively or suffers it more intensely.  Grave suffering re-arranges one’s whole life. Accepting the struggle leads to maturity and to an integrated life.   The Human Condition of JesusAdversity invites us to grow in compassion, wisdom and love.  Despite disappointment and even despair, we cling to Christian hope.  Jesus is the forerunner of redemptive suffering.  As the Second Adam, he suffers in solidarity with us all, not as a passive victim; nor does he seek it for its own sake.  Human malice did him in even making his life an appalling failure.  True, he suffered and died, but if that were the final story, we would celebrate a tragic hero: someone good but powerless.  On the contrary, he triumphed over death and was raised to resurrection glory by his Father.  God’s FoolishnessThe Book of Exodus initiates us into God’s “foolishness.”  The Lord God commanded Moses to seek the release of his people from Pharaoh.  But God makes Pharaoh obstinate so that he refuses the request. Isn’t this madness? When Pharaoh refuses, all seems lost.  How can this be? God has master-minded the situation.  Moses is profoundly shaken. But God’s Providence saves the Jews in the miraculous Passover-Exodus event. God’s foolishness proves wiser than Moses’ doubt.   The lesson is clear.  Like the Jews, we do not save ourselves in the way we choose. We are saved by God’s power with our cooperation. In Psalm 22, faithful persons suffering before a silent God place themselves in the Lord’s hands that will deliver them.  The Psalm closes with someone afflicted praising the Lord.  Likewise on the cross, Jesus enacted the meaning of Psalm 22 in his prayer to his silent Father. He had already foretold his last hours: “If I be lifted up, I will draw all things to myself” (Jn 12:32).  In the same manner, Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. counsels the Christian not to swoon in the Cross’s shadow but to climb the Cross in its light (The Divine Milieu, Harper Perennial, 73).

Go to Joseph

Mar 18, 2015 / 00:00 am

St. Joseph’s role in salvation history celebrates the mystery of God’s dealing with a special man and his special vocation.  A unique grace was offered him, and he accepted God’s gracious gift.  It was entirely possible for him to turn away from it or reject. If, down through the ages, the beauty of Mary’s annunciation has inspired poetry, art, and music, the annunciation of Joseph merits similar artistry, for he stands with her, joint guardians of the Word-made-flesh.Setting the Familiar SceneTo paraphrase the Matthean narrative (1:18-24): Joseph was anticipating his marriage to Mary, his betrothed. According to Jewish Law, the marriage contract had already been drawn up by the parents of both parties.  Once the groom took the bride into his home, the marriage would be finalized.  Joseph had prepared their home in Bethlehem, and their plan was to settle down to a peaceful married life.  Their plan.What is the proverb?  Man proposes, God disposes.  The DilemmaThe stage is set for God’s inscrutable plan to unfold, and Joseph’s drama is about to begin. Finding Mary pregnant, he is shaken to the core.  He is not the child’s father. Either Mary has been unchaste, or she has been raped.  Under this cloud, he may not live with her.  But he cannot live without her. (The biblical scholar, Father Raymond E. Brown, S.S., tells us that Mary’s strange pregnancy is the fifth listed in the Matthean genealogy of Jesus. Four other Old Testament women also had strange or scandalous pregnancies before marriage (A Coming Christ in Advent, 28.)  It will take two angels to present a preposterous alternative to their plan and then untangle its knot.   And what of the human plan?  It will be turned on its head.  Joseph’s Sensitivity to MaryThe Law is clear. An unchaste woman must be stoned to death.  Joseph loves the Law and keeps it always in mind, but stoning Mary?  Unthinkable!  This horror cannot be allowed to happen. Though her pregnancy is deeply disturbing, he is convinced of her virtue and will not agree to a public trial. Nor will he permit her to be shamed or embarrassed.  The primacy of love is at work in Joseph’s heart.Quietly, very quietly, Joseph will divorce her with no formal inquiry into details.  He won’t flaunt the Law, but he will save Mary’s life and reputation by putting her away.  How the plan is to be carried out, we will never know.  Back and forth it goes—the Law or a quiet divorce, a quiet divorce or stoning.  This is his dilemma with no obvious resolution.  The problem follows him to bed.  It’s the decision of his life, and he must surely pray:  “God of my fathers, Lord of mercy, give me Wisdom, the attendant at your throne” (Wis. 9:6).Joseph’s Righteousness Scripture describes Joseph as a righteous man.  As a tekton, an artisan, a builder, he is known to deal honestly with others.  He who is righteous or just is a modest individual, one who can discern how to act in difficult situations, and above all, a person whose faith in God is steadfast and complete, even in the face of persecution. Many Old Testament figures like Joseph in Egypt are described as ‘righteous.’ Joseph’s Dream and the Angel’s Message The subject of dreams and their interpretation is usually related to unresolved issues which may be left over from previous years or from current problems.  So Joseph has a remarkable dream.  Most people wouldn’t make important decisions based on the mandate of a dream. But according to the wisdom of Depth Psychology, dreams offer us a latent truth about ourselves, however confusing.  The individual must decode the images so that, clearly, logically, the truth will emerge.The angel speaks:‘Joseph, you belong to the family tree of King David from whom the Messiah will be born.  You must not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the Child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit, a mystery wrought by God.’‘Mary will give birth to a son, and you must name him Jesus. As the Child’s earthly father, you must give him his identity.  The Law requires it.  Without your consent, God’s plan for the world will be thwarted.  This Child will save his people from their sins.’  Joseph awakens with the certainty of Mary’s innocence. He will obey the angel’s message. Fear no longer grips him. He and Mary will be God’s instruments in the plan of salvation.  The angel of the Lord has untied the knot.  Peace floods his soul.  He hasn’t flaunted the Law.  Rather, he has discerned its depth according to God’s design.Joseph’s DiscernmentThroughout the Child’s infancy, Joseph faced many decisions that needed discerning, supported by faith and reason.  His faith excluded naiveté and superstition.  Still, there was a limit to reason, and, in the long run, in this singular event, reason had to be suspended in favor of the leap of faith and complete trust in God. Patron of DiscernmentStrictly speaking, the notion of discernment refers to making small and big decisions in the light of faith and at the level of faith.  We human beings are moved by a maze of complex motives which are driven by images, ideas, attractions, revulsions—in other words, spirits, good and bad.  We use the word spirit in a number of ways, for example, school spirit, the spirit of generosity, the spirit of ’76, the spirit of the Constitution.When confronted with making a decision, certain variable emotions or spirits make us take notice.  Feelings of serving God’s pleasure or only my own may clash.  Certain feelings may pull us in the direction toward God, while others pull us away from God.  It’s a tug of war, the battle from within.Discernment may first involve a tug of war between choosing the good and the bad or between choosing the good and the better.  Prayer evens out this tug of war so that interior balance remains. When we can honestly tell ourselves that the good spirit is bringing us peace, joy, charity, and the like, then we can be virtually certain of a good decision.  If the opposite is true, that is, if in making a decision, unrest and agitation are present, we can almost always be sure that the decision is not a good one.   In “A Man for All Seasons,” Robert Bolt assigns these discerning words to St. Thomas More:“God made the angels to show him splendorAs he made animals for innocenceAnd plants for their simplicity.But to man, he gave an intellectto serve him wittily in the tangle of his mind.”Out of Obscurity: A Patron for All and for All SeasonsThere is good reason why Joseph is considered a hidden or forgotten saint. After the year 1,000, his name is mentioned in a few saints’ lists in Germany and Ireland.  In the Christian East, Joseph ranks as a minor figure in the life of Christ.  Beginning in the fifteenth century, Joseph is depicted as an old man because the Church wanted to preserve the notion of Mary’s perpetual virginity.  In the Counter-Reformation, he is depicted as the patriarchal head of the Holy Family, but he is still old and considered the foster-father of Jesus and not his earthly father, a more precise description. Following the leads of St. Bernardine of Siena and St. Francis de Sales, contemporary art rejects earlier depictions, and portrays the sound theology that Joseph was young, virile, and of marriageable age.  (Sandra Miesel, “Finding St. Joseph,” Online article). Our saint is the patron of families, patron of fathers, patron of laborers and of organized labor.  He is the patron of many religious institutes named after him.  In him, we have a shining example of all the virtues needed for the Holy Family, the Christian family, or any family.   Chi Mangia Bene Vive BeneOn March 19th, Joseph’s guidance over the family is celebrated mainly in Sicilian or Southern Italian families. An altar with fine linen is set up in his honor and is decorated with flowers, fruits, and fancy breads. Epecially-prepared foods, including stuffed artichokes, a variety of fish, pane di San Giuseppe, pasta di San Giuseppe, zeppole di San Giuseppe, sfingi, and other sweet cakes are served in several courses.  Chi mangia bene vive bene—whoever eats well, lives well:  the boast of Italians.St. Teresa of Avila: “Go to Joseph”St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of the Church, encourages the Universal Church:  “I do not remember even now that I have ever asked anything of St. Joseph which he has failed to grant.” “I wish I could persuade everyone to be devoted to this glorious saint, for I have great experience of the blessing which he can obtain from God. “Though you have recourse to many saints as your intercessors, go especially to St. Joseph, for he has great powers with God.” Go to Joseph.Happy feast day.

The Taste for God

Mar 11, 2015 / 00:00 am

Of the 21,000 restaurants in New York City, more than half specialize in Italian cuisine.  Whether the 12,000 serve Milanese, Venetian, Roman, Florentine, or Sicilian, Italian food reigns supreme.  People never lose their taste for ‘Italian,’ it seems.Taste in Sacred ScriptureHunger, thirst, taste, and tongue are words often used in Sacred Scripture.  When the Jews were trekking across the desert toward the Promised Land, they grumbled against God; ‘why did you bring us to this place? There’s no food to be found here.’  The Lord heard their prayer.  In the mornings, he rained down on them sweet cakes, called manna.  In the evenings, quail were miraculously provided for them in abundance. What Is Taste?Strictly speaking, taste refers to the appetite and is understood in the physical sense, as the intake of food and liquid.  In its basic expression, taste grasps what is bitter, sweet, salty, and sour.  Tasting food is meant to be enjoyable, but suppose one loses the sense of taste?  To be sure, it’s an unnerving disorder but can be cured by stimulating the taste buds with medication and natural remedies.   Food provokes a reflex of pleasure or revulsion.  Certain kinds bring the expectation of pleasure and our eagerness to enjoy them.  Sweets and fast foods are included in this category. Other kinds of foods conjure up disagreeable reactions, and we avoid them.   Brussel sprouts may feel like the loneliest vegetable on the shelf.TasteTaste, good or bad, is an analogous word extending to clothing and entertainment, to one’s choice of friends, and other aspects of life. Good taste is restrained.  Bad taste is excessive. The adage, taste must not be questioned (de gustibus non disputandum est), has its limits. Sound taste is not arbitrary but is based on the particulars of truth. Bitter is bitter and not sweet.Good taste pleases. It gives the sense of what is balanced and appropriate, a sense of what is polite and tactful. Good taste applies to table manners and public courtesy, caring for the body, and to attitudes of the mind that reveal one’s choices.    Bad taste offends. Vulgarians are bearers of bad taste.  Impeccable TasteThose with impeccable taste acquire the art of discrimination.  They have an eye for quality and “can infallibly distinguish art from kitsch, and excellent quality from average or merely good quality.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord, I: 481). A Sommelier and a Nose in the wine and perfume profession respectively have acquired the sense of discriminating taste.  We call them connoisseurs.  Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Audrey Hepburn were known for their impeccable taste in clothing, their elegant simplicity. Experts who know when something is too much, too little, or just right have transformed their professions into art forms.  The art of impeccable taste is a never-ending process because it chooses the better of two goods.  When Emperor Joseph II complained to Mozart that there were too many notes in his opera, “The Marriage of Figaro,” the composer indignantly replied:  ‘Too many notes, Sire? Not too many.  Just enough.’ The Taste for GodThe practice of Lenten asceticism is meant to intensify one’s taste for God. In the Psalmist’s exhortation to “taste and see how good the Lord is,” taste is used in the spiritual sense (Ps 34:8).  It participates in the act of faith.  The goal of spiritual taste is enjoyment and union with God.  Those with a distaste for God or for the things of God may suffer from acedia or sloth, “a loathing of the spiritual good as if it is something contrary to ourselves” (Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung, “Acedia’s Resistance to the Demands of Love: Aquinas on the Vice of Sloth”). Acedia or sloth, one of the seven deadly sins, was first discussed by the fourth-century desert fathers, but it is a contemporary problem. Acedia is an aversion of God, a restless resistance to God, and a distaste for spiritual things because of the effort involved in pursuing them.Those who live in the sacrament of the present moment live with purpose, directionally and dynamically.  They are aware that “in him, we live, and move, and breathe, and have our being” and that whatever they do is done to praise, reverence, and serve God (Acts 17:28; St. Ignatius of Loyola). The taste for God is beautifully expressed in Psalm 63:2-3, 9:“O God, you are my God, for you I long; for you my soul is thirsting.My body pines for you!Like a dry, weary land without water. . . .My soul clings to you;Your right hand holds me fast.”Defamation of Character, Lying, and SlanderThe tongue is a small organ of the body with power beyond description.  The first of its uses is of course to taste food.  But in the epistle of St. James (1:26), we are told to bridle our tongue because it acts like a sharp razor.  As a two-edged sword, it can devise wicked things and craft treachery (Ps 52:2).  It takes only a spark to start a forest fire and destroy the entire forest.  Similarly, through gossip and ridicule, the tongue can destroy a person’s reputation.  Lying or slander is a serious offense against one of God’s commandments, the Eighth in the Christian tradition; it is a tragedy as well. Where does one go to retrieve a shattered reputation?   Men and women are daily scorned by talk-show hosts who, in the name of humor, earn their millions at the expense of their victims, the Catholic Church, included.  Some of it is light banter; much of it is not. Profanity is an integral part of these programs. Do the hosts suffer from a paucity of vocabulary? Talk-show hosts with unbridled tongues act as questionable role models for our youth.  By validating their cynical humor, we are unwittingly raising a generation of cynics who roll their eyes at the mere mention of words like love, charity, and kindness but applaud ridicule of others. 1 Corinthians 13 overrides these harsh sentiments with a few beautiful thoughts: “Love does not dishonor others; it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.”

The Beauty of Catholic Education VI: The Delicate Sense of Touch

Mar 6, 2015 / 00:00 am

In his earthly ministry, Jesus healed those in need by touching them.  Today, educators are wary of broaching the topic of touch because of the highly charged and negative press focused on the Church.  In many cases, they are forbidden to touch their students. Nonetheless, this must not dissuade them from a positive treatment of it either directly through the scriptures and indirectly otherwise.  If we don’t speak about touch in the context of our faith, who will?  In approaching the topic with our students, the educators must tread with care and sensitivity.  This is especially true with older students. Touching:  A Basic Human NeedDesire for human contact whether it is a hug, a comforting hand on an arm, or a gentle pat on the back is a basic human need.  But touching has been largely exploited by social media.  Most of us are conditioned to link it first and foremost to sexual abuse of children.  Victims of this heinous crime must be helped to regain their sense dignity and self-worth.  Still, this does not mean that Catholic educators must avoid the topic altogether. The sense of touch is a gift from God to be used in a proper and ordered way.  Skin-HungerSkin-hunger occurs among infants, young children, the elderly, and infirm.  It deprives them of direct bodily contact with another, a fact that was brought home in the movie “Ordinary People.” In her Oscar-nominating performance, Mary Tyler Moore portrays a mother who expresses nothing but distance and coldness toward her husband and son.  Several years ago, a bizarre and chilling example of skin-hunger was reported on “60 Minutes” which featured life in the Romanian adoption system.  There, children up to six and seven years of age were crammed in cribs and locked in like animals. They had been long deprived of loving hugs, warm hand rubs, and gentle pats on the back by care-givers.  Their parents were nowhere to be found. Perhaps the orphanage enforced strict rules about avoiding direct contact with the children.  Nonetheless, these infants and young children were denied a basic human need.  To this day, those images of children, huddled together in cribs, remain imbedded in my mind.  It is impossible to recall those images without cringing with horror. Where are those children today?  How have they managed to develop as well-adjusted human beings?  Or, have these children even survived? The Magic and Mystery of TouchBodily touch has a beauty all its own.  Touch can say far more than words or eyes because it is immediate and direct. Different from all other senses, touch is not localized in any one organ but covers the entire body.  Sensations of touch are richer and more complex than their vague name would at first suggest. Direct touching is a presence. A child, being cuddled in the loving arms of a mother and father, knows instinctively that (1) it is loved and cherished; (2) the touch of mother and father embraces what is beautiful, true, and good. There is no closer physical contact than sexual intimacy to express one’s love for the other. But a man and woman locked in such an embrace can be strangers, miles apart psychologically and spiritually, if sexual intimacy is mere entertainment. The ‘hook-up’ culture denigrates the human person and inflicts pain that sears through to the core of the psyche. Touch As MetaphorA toothache and other aches touch and affect the entire body.  An unkind comment made in passing can touch a raw nerve like the sting of a bee. Some people have the magic touch for communication. Others have that touch of class, also known as impeccable taste in all they do and say.  Then there are people known to be touchy—meaning that one’s temperament is overly sensitive.  With the sheer touch of a finger, a person can be opened to a world of images on a small hand-held screen. The HandOne’s handwriting reveals many characteristics about that person’s character. The hand is best suited to convey the sense of touch whether it is the touch of a musician, painter, or sculptor, a surgeon, a construction worker, a masseur, or a seamstress.  One’s handshake can convey a friendly gesture. Over lunch, it can seal a business deal.  Holding hands is an every-day image. We all know the healing power of petting a dog and of care-giving dogs.  Miracles in the making!Touch in ScriptureIn Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam, painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, the artist depicts God extending his right finger to Adam’s to impart life.  Although God’s finger is about to touch Adam’s, the tip of his finger is already showing signs of life in an otherwise limp grey-like hand.  The finger of the paternal right hand of God comes from the medieval hymn, Veni Creator Spiritus. The hand of God is said to direct the universe, for God’s personal touch shapes all things. In an act of faith, Moses stretched out his hand, and the Lord God set back the waters (Ex 14:17). In his Incarnation, Jesus, a carpenter by trade, used his hands to make things and as healing instruments (Mt 8:3; 15; 21; 9:21; 20:34). A sinner kissed the feet of Jesus and wiped them with her hair.  A woman touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, and she was healed. Jesus held children in his arms. Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss, and the risen Lord bade Thomas to touch the wounds of the Master.  In the reception of Holy Communion, Catholics taste and touch the Body and Blood of Christ.  They sign themselves with the sign of the cross during the liturgy, and offer one another a gesture of peace with the hand. In his last moments on the cross, Jesus utters the Psalmist’s prayer to his Father, “Into your hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk 23:46).Touched By God  If we admit the sense of touch in the physical order, then we should have no difficulty in admitting the reality of spiritual touch.  What can we make of a person who is convinced that God has touched his or her soul?  Is this a vision in which God has physically embraced the soul?  When a person is attuned to God, he or she acts on the touch or the prompting of grace at work within it.  Children must be taught early that as their life of faith matures, God’s Spirit inspires them to virtue.  It is the evil spirit that lures them into doing wrong and to sin against the gift of touch.  The educator is charged with many responsibilities, and among the greatest is respect for the gift of touch.Finally . . .  Faith is a fully human and dynamic act engaging the whole person.  To ignore or denigrate the senses is to fall into errors that resemble Gnosticism.  This esoteric heresy spiritualizes the body, intellectualizes holiness, and denigrates matter.  Having originated in the pagan world, Gnosticism insists that the human body is evil and the material world is irredeemable.  Salvation comes only through knowledge (gnosis), and it is Jesus who brought this gnosis into the world. Accordingly, only the purely spiritual person will be saved. In the second century, St Irenaeus of Lyons refuted Gnosticism by proclaiming the goodness of creation and what is material.  The underlying tenets of Gnosticism exist today in the guise of some New Age movements. Gnosticism dilutes the meaning of the Incarnation. Jesus in his human person affirmed that the physical and spiritual faculties act in harmony with each other.  Catholic educators must teach this harmony, however difficult it is.  With the example of Jesus himself, it will not prove impossible to overcome a culture that defines the senses downward, especially the sense of touch.

Balancing Our Lives: 'The Great Game'

Mar 4, 2015 / 00:00 am

Imagine a painting that depicts a young girl taking one step at a time along the top of a fence.  Titling her arms now to the right, now to the left, she tries to maintain her balance to the very end.  Despite her lithe and willing body, it’s not easy. Thus far, it’s been a game, but when it comes to balancing time spent with her family, on schoolwork and other activities, the girl must discover the meaning of the word while she lives her life.  As an adult, she will discover what most of us already know: that finding one’s balance in life is far more than a game. It’s the great game of life.The image just described is also a painting entitled, “The Great Game,” a woodcut in watercolor by Sr. Marion Honors, C.S.J.  In this depiction, she captures the beauty of youth intent on play.The Great Game of LifeBalancing our lives is a perennial challenge for mothers and fathers.   In their desire to give their children as many opportunities as possible, they risk getting frazzled by parental devotion.  Then there are other duties, perhaps caring for a sick relative. Balancing the demands of family life is never easy.  For clergy and consecrated men and women, balancing our lives is not easier—to be “men and women for others” and also men and women at prayer.  This is our vocation.The Life of Jesus ChristWhen we look at the life of Christ, what do we see?  Jesus was a serene person, able to balance his life between prayer and his itinerant ministry. Yet, there were a few times when he stepped out of character.  Recall Peter’s show of dismay, even of irritation, at the mention of the Lord’s Passion. Jesus turns to him with the harsh rebuke, “Get behind me, Satan” (Mt 16:23)!  Who of us would have liked to be on the receiving end of this rebuke?  When Jesus goes to the temple and finds moneychangers there, his actions shock; he angrily turns over the tables of money: “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it into a den of thieves” (Mk 11:15-17; Mt 21: 12-13; Jn 2:14-17). Jesus is enraged when confronting such irreverence, but his anger is prompted by his Father’s glory. Balance in the OrdinaryMost of us conduct our activities according to a schedule, whether self-imposed or given from without.  It is in our choices that balance is kept or compromised. Some of us work too much and sleep too little.  Some love too much and risk smothering others.  Some love too little and treat others with cool detachment. What seriously compromises our balance? The inner and outer life need to be in harmony with each other.  Ingrid Bergman and Her ChoicesOccasionally it happens that a prominent and beloved public figure is denounced by a private scandal. In 1949, at the age of thirty-four, Ingrid Bergman had achieved international status as “the first lady of the screen.”  Moviegoers fell in love with her public persona and equated it with her private life.  Whether as the wife of an Allied Czechoslovakian patriot, a nun or a virgin-saint; whether playing the wife and victim of a crazed husband, a psychiatrist or the daughter of a Nazi war criminal, the glowing beauty thrilled her viewers. Her radiant facial features, pure and natural, her majestic nobility gave the impression of a saintly person with great inner strength. At the time of her death in 1982, Ingrid Bergman had won critical acclaim and awards for almost every role she played:  Oscars, three in all, Emmys, Golden Globes, the David di Donatello Foreign Award. As 1950 approached, Ms. Bergman’s personal life began to unravel. Her priority had always been acting, not commitment to her husband Dr. Lindstrom, a neurosurgeon, and to their daughter Pia.  Her absences from them lasted for months at a time.Ingrid Bergman’s desire to diversify her cinematic roles led her to Roberto Rossellini who was directing her first in Italy, “Stromboli.” During the film’s shooting, they began a scandalous affair.  Notoriety followed.  They sought to marry while they were both already married.  Rossellini became the father of her three children, a boy and twin girls.  Six years elapsed before Ms. Bergman returned to this country.  She had been denounced in Hollywood and in Congress but not by the Catholic Legion of Decency.  Her films were to be judged according to their artistic merit and not by her personal life, the Legion observed. Ms. Bergman, always articulate, offered this statement to the press:  “People saw me in ‘Joan of Arc’ and declared me a saint.  I’m not.  I’m just a woman, another human being.”   She felt boxed in by her controlling first husband, by the roles she played, and then by the greater control Rossellini exerted on her. After she divorced him, she married Lars Schmidt. Her children have narrated their own experiences.  All this is a matter of record and not intended to cast judgment on Ingrid Bergman’s motives. She is ranked as one of Hollywood’s greatest film stars. The events of her life are here presented to express the dilemma all of us face despite differences of time or circumstance.  And what is that?  We walk not at the top of a fence, as in a game, but on a moral tightrope. There is conflict between the outer and inner person.    Lent is a good time to regain our precarious balance. It is a time to focus on God’s action in the ordinary details of life where balance is so difficult to achieve.  “To destroy our taste for the ordinary is to interfere with the foundations of our life,” writes Ladislas Orsy, S.J.  He explains: “We need much peaceful monotony to enjoy surprising happenings.  At the time of monotony, the spirit of the inner man awakes.  Not distracted, he can reflect on himself and on the outside world.  The quiet rhythm of the ordinary is the best framework for thinking in depth.  Great deeds and movements never originated in shallow thoughts; all giant trees have deep roots” (The Lord of Confusion, 38-9).  Here is wisdom for balancing “The Great Game” we call our life.

Praying with the Psalms during Lent

Feb 25, 2015 / 00:00 am

The Psalms are a masterpiece of prayer, a treasury for prayer.  King David is considered their chief author, but this lyric poetry of rare beauty was written over a period of 700 years.  Intended for both personal and communal use, the Psalms are used not only at Mass but also at the Liturgy of the Hours. The 150 Psalms are prayed over the course of one week during the five Hours of the day:  Office of Readings, Morning Prayer, Day Time Prayer, Evening Prayer, and Night Prayer.The Psalms and Human EmotionAddressed directly to God, the Psalms reveal how intimate the relationship was between the Jews and God. It was unimaginable to live without Providence in daily ups and downs, for nothing happened by chance, they believed. God was at work in each event showing them what he was like, healing them, and challenging them to grow.  Life could be painful, exciting, joyful or dull, but it was always meaningful.   It comes as no surprise then that in the Psalms, we find the Jews pouring out their hearts in praise, thanksgiving and pleas for mercy. At the same time, they are not shy in expressing their raw emotions when overcome by anger and frustration. After 1,000 BC, foreign invasions dominated the land and the consciousness of the Jewish nation.  Between 900-700, the Assyrians ruled over them, and after them, the Babylonians from 700-500.  Jews were deported, and they became the Diaspora, separated from their homeland.  From 500-340, the Persian overran the Babylonians, and from 340-63 BC, the Greeks ruled over the Jewish nation.  Finally in 63, with the Roman occupation, foreign domination was about to end.Distress over foreign domination lasted for almost a thousand years.  Are we surprised that the Jews cried out for consolation, cursing their enemies, chiding God for withholding help, thanking God for his mighty arm in victory over their enemies? Most of all, they cast their cares on the Lord.  God was their rock, their refuge, and their song.  Nonetheless, emotions in the Psalms run high.  Psalm 44 exemplifies sharp indignation:  “Yet you have rejected us, disgraced us: you no longer go forth with our armies. You make us retreat from the foe, and our enemies plunder us at will.”  Often their sentiments become ours:  “Awake, O Lord, why do you sleep?  Arise, do not reject us forever!  Why do you hide your face from us and forget our oppression and misery” (Ps 44)?Some Reflections on PrayerPersonal prayer is analogous to spending time with a friend and deepening that relationship. The friend I meet in prayer is God in the person of his Son.  It is the great exchange, as Father Thomas Dubay, S.M. was fond of repeating.  Personal prayer is best done in a place away from noise and distraction.  But even in solitude, I pray as a member of the Body of Christ.  I am in communion with every member, for in the Catholic communion, there is no such thing as private prayer. At prayer, I bring everything in my life before the Lord, all that I am and am not. I bring to prayer my successes and failures, my fatigue, concerns, and fears.  To whom shall I go for consolation? Psalm 62 begins: “In God alone is my rest.”  This is echoed in: “Come to me, all you who labor and laden down with heavy burdens [you who are forced to bear heavy burdens], and I will give you rest.  Take up your yoke upon you, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11:28). If my heart is honest and docile, then prayer will transform me.  I will put on Christ, put on his mind and wear his heart, be his hands, his patience and energy and feet (Col 3:5ff). This is why St. Paul could say, “I live, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20).  In order for this to happen, I must shed my sinful ways.  I alone am responsible for my sin, always before me.Yoga and Buddhist MeditationYoga, Buddhist meditation, or other techniques are valuable ways to relax and quiet the mind, and relieve stress.  These strategies help in coping with life’s challenges.  If they benefit the individual, then that person will be better able to help others.  For all their value, these self-help techniques are no substitute for prayer.  They are not to be confused with prayer.  They are not prayer. Yoga and Zen can lead the individual to prayer.  They are additions to prayer.Whereas Yoga and Zen focus on self-help, prayer focuses on the encounter with the person of Christ who is our help.    Yoga and Zen quiet the mind.  Prayer quiets the mind so that Christ may enlighten and transform it.Some years ago, I made an eight-day Zen retreat with a noted Zen master who was also a Jesuit priest.  In silence, about thirty women and men sat on individual mats facing a blank wall—a still point—for seven hours a day, for eight days. This experience offered a different approach to western meditation.  In meditative prayer, the physical senses play an important role.  As one advances, prayer is simplified.  Here, the individual prays with the spiritual senses.  Some individuals can rest in the Lord with few words or with no words at all.  This is mysticism.  In the history of western art, there are several depictions of saints in a mystical posture.  “St. Teresa in Ecstasy,” sculpted by Bernini, is perhaps the most famous of them all. ConclusionThe Church needs men and women whose lives have been transformed through the prayer of the Church, men and women who are able to communicate to others the experience of encountering God in prayer.  The Church needs this kind of saint whom God uses to transform others, and by extension, the entire world.

Coptic Christians and the White House

Feb 19, 2015 / 00:00 am

Pope Francis has called them martyrs, the twenty-one Coptic Christians executed in Libya.  “Jesus, help me,” were the last words of one of the Egyptian migrant workers, all of whom were trying to eke out a living for their families.  This mass butchery was carried out by Isis describing its victims as “crusaders.” In the act, Islamists cursed the cross.  Rome would be their next target. So they warned. The White House described the slaughtered victims simply as Egyptian citizens.  The Egyptian military took action against the Libyan government.Last month, Josh Earnest, the White House press secretary, announced that what had happened in Paris was an attack on Parisian shops. He misspoke. In fact, it was a pogrom on Parisian Jews.  This week, instead of the White House accurately describing the massacre in Libya as an attack on Coptic Christians, it diluted the language once again. Imagine the reverse situation.  Had twenty-one Muslims been executed by Christians, would the White House have called the victims citizens? Reluctance to Define WordsIs there reluctance at the White House for saying the word Christian? The White House has a handpicked, educated staff, presumably canny, articulate, and capable of parsing words.  Every word is carefully weighed before it is announced publicly. What was so difficult about using the well-defined words, Coptic and Christian, words that needed no parsing? There has been a concerted outcry by social media faulting the White House for omitting the words Coptic Christians in the news brief announced to the world.  And of course, Pope Francis heard it and corrected the misstatement. Who Are Coptic Christians?A word about Coptic Christians.  Over the years, they have been in the news emerging out of Egypt.  Coptic Christians belong to the oldest of the Oriental Christian Churches living in Egypt.  Most Copts belong to Orthodox Christianity with the smaller number, Catholic.  The Copts have inhabited present-day Egypt since at least the fifth century. In the mid-seventh century, their land was invaded by the Arabs, and by the mid tenth century, the Muslim conquest was complete.  The Copts are no strangers to hatred, persecution, and discrimination.  Through the course of centuries up until recent times, their beautiful worship services have been interrupted, churches have been attacked, homes, destroyed, and Coptic women, violated. It is only in the past few years and days that the Egyptian government has begun to befriend them. The Arabic word qibt, that is, Copt, has come to mean the nation of E-gypt/Egypt.  Coptic Christians have been immortalized in at least one classic, The Alexandria Quartet, a tetralogy written by Lawrence Durrell between 1957 and 1960.  In 1998, The Alexandria Quartet ranked number 70 of the 100 best English-language novels of the twentieth century. A number of the main characters are Coptic.Who Is a Martyr? Pope Francis named the Coptic Christians as martyrs. A martyr is someone who suffers persecution and death for the sake of one’s faith.  The word martyr means witness. Men and women give witness to what they believe.  In the case of the workers in Libya, they died, persecuted solely because of their Christian faith.  Pope Francis acknowledged this fact.  The White House should have noted their martyrdom but did not. Chief of the White House Staff and “Mr. Catholic”At the White House, the current chief of staff, Denis McDonough, is known as “Mr. Catholic.”  Of all the White House staffers, he should be the first one to notice a lack of sensibility toward Christians.  Why so?Mr. McDonough is a devout Irish Catholic.  He is an alumnus (summa cum laude) of the prestigious St. John’s University in Collegeville, MN conducted by the Benedictine Order.  He holds an advanced degree from Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.  Two of his brothers are Catholic priests, one of whom is a theologian.  A Redemptorist priest living in the Washington area counts as one of his closest friends and advisers.   Mr. McDonough is the one on whom Mr. Obama relies for faith-related issues:  inner workings of the Catholic Church, the “just war” theory, even his dealings with Muslims.  He helped prepare the theologian Miguel Diaz to become ambassador to the Vatican.  Mr. McDonough deserves the title the White House has conferred on him, “Mr. Catholic.”  Not the death of Egyptian citizens but the martyrdom of twenty-one Coptic Christians—this is the crux of the matter that has offended so many Christians, non-Christians, and those of no faith. The White House should apologize for its recent misstatement.

'The Picture of Dorian Gray:' A Parable for Lent

Feb 18, 2015 / 00:00 am

The Lenten spring has come as planting and dying give way to rising and harvest.  If we have been buried with Christ, we shall rise with him (Rom 6:4; Col 2:12). The power of Lord’s death and Resurrection makes us new creations.  Lent is that time in the liturgical year when Christians journey together, as the Body of Christ, toward Calvary and the empty tomb.  It is as individuals however that we take stock of our relationship with God and with others probing it earnestly and sincerely.  This Lent, what do I want?  What do I really want?In the Christian EastIn the Byzantine Church, Great Lent, beginning on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, is a time of strict fast, of hastening to tame the flesh through fast and abstinence.  St. John Chrysostom (d 407) writes in a homily:  “When a pagan asks you why you fast, you do not answer that it is because of our Lord’s passion or for the cross, but for our sins, because we are to approach the holy mysteries.  The passion is not a reason for fasting or mourning, but one for joy and exultation:  we mourn not because of that, but because of our sins, and for this we fast.”  The Maronite Church puts it concisely:  ‘During Lent, we fast from the world.”  A Modern-Day Parable for LentIn 1890-91, Oscar Wilde published his only novel, “The Picture of Dorian Gray.” In it, the Irish wit and esthete treats beauty as ars gratia artis, as art for the sake of art.  Beauty is detached from truth and goodness, and for that matter, from love.  The Parable Unfolds . . . The Beginning  This novel is a stinging, biting, moral thriller, brilliant and beautifully written. It concerns one man’s desire for eternal youth, pleasure, and beauty, and his obsession about clinging to them at all costs. Like the Greek god Adonis who worships beauty, desire, and pleasure, Dorian will do anything to retain his handsome figure.  Like Faust, he is willing to sell his soul to the devil. And he does. Dorian is a wealthy, cultivated, and incredibly handsome young man who yields to the seductions of sin with disastrous results.  Not a thought about using his natural gifts, status, or position to help others.  His view of life excludes noblesse oblige.When Dorian’s artist-friend Basil paints his portrait, Dorian reasons in this way:  ‘Even if I flaunt the acceptable standards of morality, this portrait can never change.  It will retain its pristine beauty.’  Dorian locks the picture away in his childhood play room in a remote part of his palatial home. The picture will soon take on a mystery of its own.Advancing the ParableDorian embarks on a life of sin.   A young actress Sibyl falls in love with him and is devoted to him.  But after he spurns her love, she commits suicide. Dorian begins to check the picture, his soul and visual diary.  As one evil act follows the other, so the painting records his sinfulness.  In fact, the picture begins to sneer.  For the next eighteen years, Dorian sinks more deeply into a furtive and dissolute life experimenting with every imaginable vice.  Rumors abound concerning his relationships.  Why do they end fatally—in suicide?  Then one night, before leaving for Paris on another escapade, Dorian is confronted by Basil, his artist-friend.  Dorian shows him the portrait.  Basil is startled by his own creation which has become disfigured as though from within.  He sees in it not Dorian’s beauty but a moral leprosy eating away at its own flesh.  Basil speaks of the rumors. Hadn’t Dorian heard? He admonishes him to prayer.  He pleads with him to repent.  Pointing to the picture, he blurts out: ‘So this is what you’ve become; this is what you’ve done with your life! Come to your senses!’  ‘It’s too late; it has destroyed me.  It’s no use!’ replies Dorian in a panic.  Then in a fit of rage, he stabs Basil with a knife.  On examining the picture, he sees that it is dripping blood.   The symbiotic relationship between him and the picture defies belief.To cap off Basil’s murder, Dorian blackmails his chemist-friend Alan into destroying Basil’s body by nitric acid so that it will completely disappear.  Shortly afterward, Alan commits suicide. Dorian goes to the picture, its eyes, bulging out of their sockets, staring in shock.Next, Dorian hunts down Sibyl’s brother James who has accused him of causing his sister’s suicide years before. Dorian shoots him in a dark alley and returns home.  Gladys, an attractive young noblewoman, loves him unconditionally and has expressed her desire to marry him. She proposes. His response is a mere velleity, and he remains cold and aloof. Though she is puzzled by his behavior, her love for him remains steadfast.  Unwilling to break her heart, Dorian accepts her marriage proposal.  After all, he still cuts a handsome figure. And she doesn’t know . . . .Finally . . . At this point, the picture reeks with depravity. Bloodshot eyes, large red facial blotches, loose skin, swollen lips, parched and blood-curdled—the horror is too much for him. He is on the verge of suicidal remorse and despair, the sin of Judas!  “I cannot change; I’m too far gone,” he cries out. Taking the knife that killed Basil, Dorian drives it into the picture.  But something extraordinary happens. He is thrown to the ground, the one who has been stabbed. As he succumbs to death, uttering, “Forgive me, I have sinned, through my fault, through my fault,” his face assumes all the horror of the picture.  The wages of sin are now made visible on his face.  But amazingly, the picture reverts to its pristine beauty just as Basil had painted it. The last words Dorian utters are from Omar Khayyam, the medieval Persian polymath:“And by and by, my soul returned to meAnd answered, I myself am heaven and hell.”

Lourdes and beyond

Feb 11, 2015 / 00:00 am

The town of Lourdes in southwestern France is one of the world’s most frequently-visited pilgrimage sites. Its tourist industry has fared well.  Every year, about five million people, of great or little faith, or of no faith, visit Lourdes.  Their reasons are varied.  Most seek physical healing, inner peace, conversion of heart, and if not for religious motives, then out of curiosity about the pilgrims who do make the arduous trek to the town nestled at the base of the Pyrenees Mountains.From a French Trading Town to a World-Famous Pilgrimage SiteOver a five-month period, between February 11, 1858 and July 16, 1858, the market town of Lourdes with a population of 15,000, was transformed into a center of Catholic religious devotion that has since attracted world-wide attention.  From that year on, the life of Bernadette Soubirous, a teenager whose peasant family lived in extreme poverty, was forever changed.  One Sunday after Mass, Bernadette was gathering firewood in a secluded area near her home.  She narrates: “Suddenly I heard a kind of rustling sound.  I turned my head toward the field by the side of the river, but the trees seemed quite still, and the noise was evidently not from them.  Then I looked up and caught sight of the cave where I saw a lady wearing a lovely white dress with a bright belt.  On top of each of her feet was a pale yellow rose, the same color as her rosary beads.” (Liturgy of the Hours I, Office of Readings for Saint Marie Bernadette Soubirous, 1375)It was the first of eighteen apparitions Bernadette was to experience.  A few days later, she, her sister, and some other girls returned to the grotto. She was the only one to see the vision and fell into a trance.  One week later on February 18th, she said that the lady asked her to return to the grotto every day for the next two weeks.  The townspeople assumed the lady to be the Virgin Mary, but Bernadette refused to give her a name other than “the lady.”On February 24th of the next week, the lady instructed Bernadette to bathe and drink from cold, muddy water!  “When I got to it,” she narrates, “I could only find a few drops, mostly mud.  I cupped my hands to catch some liquid without success, and then I started to scrape the ground.  I managed to find a few drops of water but only at the fourth attempt was there enough for any kind of drink” (Ibid., 1376).  On the next day, the waters began to spring up and flow, all-fresh and clean.  Since then, thousands have bathed in that spring water, linked with miraculous healings.  One month later on March 24th, the lady instructed Bernadette to have a chapel built in honor of her.  On the following day, March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, the lady identified herself as the Immaculate Conception after church officials had prompted Bernadette to ask the lady her name.  Bernadette did not understand the meaning of the two words, Immaculate Conception, even though the Church had defined the dogma four years earlier in 1854.  Today, the Church celebrates the feast of that lady, Our Lady of Lourdes. When she was twenty-two, Bernadette Soubirous entered the Sisters of Charity and Christian Instruction of Neverre despite the fact that she suffered from asthma and other debilitating ailments.  She remained there doing menial tasks until her death at thirty-five.  She was canonized in 1933.Miraculous CuresSince pilgrimages to Lourdes began in the last half of the nineteenth century, five thousand cures are known to have taken place.  Fifty-eight have been declared miraculous by Church officials though unofficially as many as seventy have been reported.     “The Song of Bernadette”    In 1944, Jennifer Jones won an Oscar for her portrayal of Bernadette Soubirous in the film, “The Song of Bernadette.”  The motion picture won three other Oscars: for best picture, best music, and best cinematography. Franz Werfel directed the movie.  As a Jew, he was drawn to Catholic sensibilities.  Years later, he became a Catholic.  Just after 1938, Werfel and his wife Alma, the widow of Gustav Mahler, had to flee Nazi Germany, and in Lourdes, they were befriended for several weeks.  In this country, Werfel wrote and published a novelized version about Lourdes entitled The Song of Bernadette, which then became the motion picture.One Dogma with Two EmphasesThe Roman Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th. The dogma states that the Mother of God was “from the first moment of her conception, by the singular grace and privilege of almighty God and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin.”  The dogma is not found explicitly in Scripture however.  But among the Eastern Christian Churches, according to their own ancient traditions, they had already celebrated the same dogma on December 9th under the title:  “The Maternity of Anne, the Mother of the Mother of God.”  The power of God extends over the powers of this world, and where Mary is concerned, this truth is fully realized.  In fact, it is emphasized because Anne and her husband Joachim had been childless into advanced age.  According to a second-century record, Joachim was not permitted to offer sacrifice in the temple because he had produced no progeny.  He and Anne promised to dedicate a child to God if they were blessed with one.  When Anne did conceive, the fruit of her womb would be offered as a gift to God.  Mary was that gift.  The following two prayers of the Christian East refer to the feast as “The Maternity of St. Anne.”  “The  soul of the Virgin Mary whom God had chosen from all eternity to be the Mother in the flesh of the Incarnate Word was created full of grace and free from original sin, united to a body formed according to the laws of nature through the operation of love of her parents, Joachim and Anne.” (Troparion)“Today the universe rejoices, for Anne has conceived the Mother of God in a manner provided by God Himself:  for Anne has borne the One who is to give birth to the Word in a manner beyond all telling.” (Kontakion; Most Rev. Joseph Raya, Byzantine Daily Worship, 537) Thus, in the Eastern Churches, the mystery of the Incarnation of the Lord is placed in a wider biblical and genealogical context.Mother: A Word with Multiple Levels of MeaningWe know that mothers may be described in different ways, especially by their children, for example in the film, “I Remember Mama.”  Since mother is a primordial word, your mother and my mother participate in the universal understanding of motherhood.  What of the Mother of God?  From the early Church, she is a constant and ubiquitous presence in liturgical worship and in devotional prayer.  In the Liturgy of the Hours there is a classical prayer available for every major Hour that venerates the Mother of God.In the Christian East, the liturgical Office of Praise of the Mother of God (Acathist Hymn) sets forth a litany of praise that exalts the mystery of the Incarnation in its fullness:  the miraculous maternity and perpetual virginity of Mary.  Here Mary is admired with admiration of God’s condescension, wisdom, and power in using her womb to hold and enclose the Word who took her flesh.Mary is the softer face of God, even the feminine face of God.  Poets have exalted her as the exemplar of all women, “the eternal feminine,” whether she is named Mary, Maura, Mariah, Miriam, or the Madonna.  The Mother of God has been the subject of the sculptor’s hands, the artist’s brush, the iconographer’s contemplative gaze, and the composer’s musical imagination.  Women and men bear her name.  Cities, towns, villages, churches, and chapels wear her name.  Her image is burnished on the facades of cathedrals, homes, and walls of Italian towns.  Virtually every country has claimed her for its own. Whatever her feast, whatever the country, Mary transcends all and belongs to all.  Visit the lower level of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., and you will see in one nation’s chapel after the other the many faces of Our Lady.  Yet it is only one face, universally recognized.Mary is the ‘second Eve,’ the Theotokos, that is, the one who bore God, the mother of Christ’s humanity, the paragon of chastity, the mater dolorosa, the mater gloriosa, the woman clothed with the sun, the queen of heaven, the daughter of Zion.  Often she assumes a majestic reserve and a certain detachment as she sits on her throne, symbolizing ‘the seat of wisdom.’  As the mother of the redeemer, she was preserved from being touched by sin.  She is not an inaccessible goddess but a mother, sister, or friend who stands before her son to plead for us when, like the hosts at Cana wedding, we have no more wine to give (Jn. 2:3).Mary is that lovely rose which Bernadette describes and of which the Jesuit-poet Daniel Berrigan, S.J. writes:“Credentials”. . .So the rose is its own credential, a certainunattainable form: wearing its heartvisibly, it gives us heart too: bud, fulness and fall.Time without Number, 10.

The Beauty of Catholic Education Part V: Teaching Troubled Children

Feb 6, 2015 / 00:00 am

It is a little-known fact that Beethoven came from a dysfunctional family.  Even music historians skim over this fact to focus their attention on the many aspects of the composer’s musical genius.  Nonetheless, family life placed undue burdens on the young man with a large, illustrious, and consequential future ahead of him.    Beethoven’s father Johann was a musician and a member of the electoral chapel choir until 1789 when he was dismissed from his position, presumably because of his affinity for alcohol.  His drunkenness brought degradation on the family. His nineteen-year old son was forced to take charge of the family with a sickly mother and two younger brothers to support and guide.  His father had begun to teach him music but was a harsh task master who wanted to see in his son another Mozart.  It was not to be. Beethoven’s EducationAt the age of fifteen, Beethoven approached the thirty-year old Mozart hoping to study with him.  But before he could return to Vienna in 1791, Mozart was already in the grave.  It was Haydn’s turn to receive Beethoven, but the elder composer was ruffled by the young man’s volcanic temperament.  There were other teachers as well. In the final analysis, Beethoven grew up trusting no one and felt excluded from the world. He was self-taught and remained uneducable all his life. He never learned the mechanics of spelling, and his handwriting was illegible all his life.  Teaching Troubled ChildrenChildren who come from troubled families, enter school largely unaware that they are crying out for help all the day long.  Many cannot concentrate; they are restless and uncooperative.  Others are listless and withdrawn as if in another world.A number of years ago, I taught in a town where a large mental institution preoccupied its people and gripped their collective psyche. Most families had at least one member working in the dreaded place.  Children of these families were enrolled in our school; I had about sixty of them in my fifth-grade class. One afternoon early in the term, I wrote on the board a variety of words:  happy, family, mystery, danger, ugly, fear, play, beautiful.  For our art lesson, I asked the class to select from their crayon box two or three colors. I asked them to choose one word and depict it with the colors and a ruler.  The results were as remarkable as they were enlightening.  Children whose family lives seemed happy drew houses with flower boxes, hearts, with mother, father, and children standing together, holding hands, smiling.  They had chosen bright colors.  Children whose family lives I knew to be troubled chose dark colors—purple, black, brown. They used the ruler to draw angular crisscrossing lines that had no focus, no center.  I could see that these children had not simply drawn with the crayons but had dug the crayons into the paper as though in anger and frustration. Not just ugly but frightening, all the more so because the activity was spontaneous!In that same class, some children found it difficult to listen to classical music.  At the beginning of the semester, when it came time for music period, one boy, whose parents worked at the mental institution, would disrupt the peaceful atmosphere.  He pounded on the desk, placed his fingers in his ears, and shuffled his feet. He wouldn’t listen to such “junk.” I took on the challenge of ‘converting’ him.  By the end of the semester, he was checking up on me to make certain that we didn’t skip a music lesson, especially if it was Beethoven.The Long View NeededIn volatile situations, it may be nearly impossible to take the high road and think of the ultimate destiny of a troubled child.  But sooner or later, the Catholic educator is brought face with the fact that this child living with this set of difficulties is a child who remains in God’s loving embrace. The child is in great pain but doesn’t know why. And yet, some of these children may be quite talented, even gifted, awaiting someone to befriend them.Befriending ChildrenWe will never know how Beethoven would have fared without such a forceful, determined personality and his remarkable talent.  If Catholic educators firmly believe that every child is a unique person with unique abilities and talents, then our approach in dealing with each child must also take on a unique and creative character.  This was the conviction of St. John Bosco (d 1888) who lived in the early nineteenth century.  His father died when he was an infant, and his family lived in poverty for years.  As a priest, he gathered about him orphans to teach them the catechism.  He is known as a champion of uniting the spiritual development of boys with their study, work, and play.  He insisted that boys be taught trades, and for this, he became the pioneer and patron of modern vocational training.  John Bosco (d 1888) founded the Salesian Order of priests and sisters to befriend homeless boys and girls.The Power of One  Some years ago, before my cousin Peter chose an architect’s profession, he taught boys in three of New York City’s trade and technical high schools, two of them located in the ghetto.   The boys, who came from lower income families, were mostly African American.  One thread linked them together:  There was no sign of fathers anywhere in their lives.  The worst Friday in the year for the boys was anticipating the upcoming Fathers’ Day. Without their fathers, they were like orphans.  In the eighteenth century, Victor Hugo observed that “he who opens a school door closes a prison.”  Today, 83% of youth in prison have been born to unwed mothers.The boys’ mothers were the bread winners; grandmothers raised the children.  When a boy was absent from class, in most cases, he was caring for a sick grandmother. Mothers couldn’t afford to get sick. My cousin taught his students the basics of trade, architecture and building construction, drawing, drafting, and reading blueprints, but more importantly, they learned from him self-discipline and self-respect. My cousin loved his boys with a firm yet understanding heart, gave them direction for the future, and often served as in loco parentis.  Here was a model of a dedicated public school teacher.  Our educators in Catholic schools and in public schools need more apostles of youth like my cousin to persuade them to live virtuous, productive, and meaningful lives. 

Boys and Girls Town and the Cristo Rey Schools

Feb 4, 2015 / 00:00 am

Catholic education begins with the early Church which took Jesus as its exemplar.  Not only was he a rabbi, a person of the book and the beneficiary of Jewish study and scholarship but also the divine teacher, “the truth,” and “the wisdom of God” (Jn 14:7; 1 Cor 1:24; Matt 28:19-20). He gave the disciples the mandate “to go and teach all nations.” Here the Church exercises its divine mandate and mission “which entitles it to precedence over all other agencies regarding final decisions about educational means and ends” (V.P. Lannie, “Catholic Education II, New Catholic Encyclopedia 5:168). With the family and state, the Church shares in the responsibility for educating youth. Thus, the continuous striving for academic excellence integrated with social responsibility and fidelity to Catholic faith.  Boys and Girls Town:  Saving Our Youth and Healing Their Families    In 1921, the Irish-born Father Edward Flanagan founded Boys Town for abandoned and abused boys.  His motto has become famous: “There is no such thing as a bad boy, only a bad environment, bad training, bad example, and bad thinking.” At first, only a few boys needed rescuing and rehabilitation.  The numbers only increased.  Father Flanagan had to find funds to build an entire town of homeless boys, later including homeless girls.The statistics about homeless youth are appalling. 80% of Boys and Girls Town children come from single-parent homes. Over half of all the girls and 30% of the boys have been sexually abused. One in five has considered suicide. 63% have mental health problems severe enough to be diagnosable.Education and Spiritual DevelopmentAt the main campus near Omaha, Nebraska, there is a fully-accredited non-sectarian school with teachers for the middle and high school levels where the boys and girls are educated.  The goal is to have them grow into responsible and productive members of society. The high school is organized around a seven-period day without study halls, and academics, social skills, and employable skills are emphasized.  Boys and Girls Town has its own sports team, band, choir, student newspaper, and a self-governing body with its own mayor. Father Flanagan respected the faith traditions of every child, adding that “every boy must learn to pray.  How he prays is up to him.”  CostsThe cost of maintaining a child at Boys and Girls Town is close to $50,000 a year.  Of that, two-thirds is privately supported through donations and a trust fund established by Father Flanagan in 1941.  The remainder is funded by social services, juvenile justice, and educational agencies.  On the Omaha campus, there are 400-600 youth. The boys and girls live in family-style homes with four to six of them assigned to families, mothers and fathers with their own children. These adults serve as counselors to the residents. The transformation at Boys and Girls Town is nothing short of amazing. Almost 83% of its residents graduate from high school or earn a GED, and administrators continue to monitor the progress of the alumni after graduation.ExpansionToday, Boys and Girls Town has more than eleven locations nationwide and growing in number.  The mission at Omaha has flourished but has assumed a new and improved approach. Instead of removing young people from their troubled families, counselors visit them in their own environments and try to heal the family unit. About 30,000 of these young people receive this attention as do their families.  At-risk children and the family are given outside support to overcome their circumstances, and through healing, find their way to the future and realize their potential.  Since the start of Boys Town in 1921, almost 1.6 million boys and girls have been influenced by the vision of Father Flanagan. This mission has succeeded in transforming the lives of young people.  Spencer Tracy and Boys TownIn 1938, the film, Boys Town, became one of Hollywood’s biggest hits even though it lacked sensational effects.  It was nominated for five Oscars, and Spencer Tracy received one for best actor. In his acceptance speech, he praised the founder of Boys Town, Father Edward Flanagan.  Though Tracy kept his Oscar, he had one made for the priest, with the inscription on it: “To Father Flanagan, whose great humanity, kindly simplicity, and inspiring courage were strong enough to shine through my humble effort. Spencer Tracy.”Honoring Father FlanaganIn 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a four-cent Great American series postage stamp honoring Father Flanagan. The cause for his canonization has begun with the title, “Servant of God,” the first of three titles bestowed before canonization as a Catholic saint.  This great humanitarian ‘rescued boys from the dark streets of this country and gave them hope for their future.’Cristo Rey Schools (Christ the King):  Educating Our Youth and Their Families     In the mid-nineties, Cristo Rey, a Catholic college-prep school serving low-income students, took shape as the creation of Father John O. Foley, S.J. and a few other Jesuits in Chicago.  The scriptural text that inspired the Cristo Rey vision was that from Acts 9:6:  “[Paul], get up and go into the city where you will be told what you must do.”  Like the Apostle, the Jesuits went into the streets, but of Chicago’s Pilsen district and asked the residents how they (the Jesuits) could best respond to the unserved needs of the Mexican and Latino immigrants living there.  The response was unanimous.  They wanted their children to attend a college-prep high school that would educate them for a better future.  In August 1996, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago was born.  Every Cristo Rey school is permeated with Catholic faith and values with biblical and Catholic social teaching forming the centerpiece of the celebration of Mass, retreat experiences, and community service. It is Christ the King who leads the way.Genius of Cristo Rey: High School and Business at FourteenThe parents of Cristo Rey schools cannot afford large tuition bills, but herein lies the genius of the Cristo Rey plan.  The schools function as a vast work-study agency in which clusters of five students each rotate working as an intern one day a week at a job in a business like Pfizer and American Express. Part-time salaries cover a portion of each student’s tuition. Parents pay approximately $1,000 a year to defray some of cost of that tuition.  Here they are, young people, beginning to build their resumes at age fourteen.  Business ‘boot camp’ calls for wearing suitable attire, learning telephone etiquette and skills, team work, precision, accountability, technical skills, and how to conduct oneself in business. The other four days of the week, students are immersed in a rigorous course of academic studies.In this way, study and work are integrated, and tuition is covered. Students gain exposure to the corporate world while receiving a first-class education in a thoroughly Catholic environment. Of the 9,000 students enrolled in Cristo Rey schools across the country, 40% of them are not Catholic and need not become Catholic.   Enterprising SponsorsIn addition to the Jesuits, many religious groups endorse and run Cristo Rey schools. Each is independently owned, each is explicitly Catholic in mission, and each has received official Church approbation. From the endorsing group to the president, principal, and teachers, down to the youngest freshman,  a common four-fold mission is actively  promoted:  (1) commitment to the Catholic character of the school, a character that permeates the curriculum, (2) admitting only students from lower income families, (3) using a college-prep curriculum,  (4) work-study.  Currently, there are approximately twenty-eight schools in the Cristo Rey Network, but new schools are in the planning.  Empty buildings are being bought up and  renovated for the 400-600 students who will study there and from there go to business one day a week as an intern.  The Cristo Rey Network based in Chicago ascertains that all the schools are adhering to the four-fold mission.       Course of StudiesStudents in Cristo Rey schools have a longer school day and year. What course of studies do the students follow? Across the United States, the college-prep, academic curriculum is rigorous experience. Most students take four years each of English, mathematics, religion, and science, three years each of a foreign language and history, two plus years in health and physical education, at least one year of the arts, and computer science.  Cristo Rey schools are transforming urban education through Catholic values through Catholic values, rigorous study and student-internships.  By 2001, Cristo Rey’s education model became known to educators and community leaders throughout the country.  As of 2014, twenty-eight Cristo Rey schools have enrolled 9,000 low-income students, and every year, every student is accepted into college. The primary long-range goal of Cristo Rey schools is to have their students enter and graduate from college.  Eight goals emerge from Cristo Rey schools:1.    Academic excellence and lifelong learning are essential.  As important keys, they unlock doors to a meaningful future for the students.2.    Importance of well-trained teachers equipped to engage their students.  As leaders, they must be committed to the Catholic vision.3.    Character is developed largely through faith experiences.  4.    All-in. Every person is committed to the program.5.    Belief in every student that he or she has the ability to enter and graduate from college.  This attitude prompts students to believe in themselves.6.    The importance of community with students and parents.7.    Importance of data.  Test scores are used by the schools themselves to improve their programs and by outside groups to assess the impact of Cristo Rey education. 8.    Cristo Rey pursues a culture of high expectations of everyone. (Adapted from Megan Sweas: “How a Jesuit Network Is Transforming Urban Education”).Conclusion     Catholic education gives human persons a vision of the transcendent as well as an appreciation of their lives on earth. Thus, they can realize their destiny in the life to come.  A Catholic education that attempts to achieve less than this is an incomplete Catholic education and short-changes those students enrolled in a particular Catholic school.The Latin poet Virgil saw most deeply how we are wrapped in history’s tools, how quickly we as individuals pass, how necessary it is to build institutions to live on.  Boys and Girls Town and the Cristo Rey schools are two cherished institutions of the American Catholic Church.  They are leading young men and women to fulfill their potential as God’s masterpieces, God’s works of art.

A man of frugal speech

Jan 28, 2015 / 00:00 am

He is honored as a Doctor of the Church, the Angelic Doctor, the Church’s “very own theologian and philosopher,” and patron of Catholic schools and universities.Today is the feast day of St. Thomas Aquinas, Dominican friar, priest, philosopher, and theologian.  He died in 1274 when he was not quite fifty, leaving his unfinished magnum opus, the Summa Theologiae.  Down through the centuries, college students and scholars alike have poured over this masterpiece of clarity, line by line.His biographers record that on Dec 6, 1273, while celebrating Mass, Thomas fell into ecstasy.  Though he didn’t speak of it, his secretary begged him to continue his work on the Summa, but he replied, “Reginald, I cannot, because all that I have written seems like straw.” He never again wrote or dictated anything.His Life, SummarizedThomas Aquinas was born in Roccasecca, a small town near Monte Cassino in the Northern Kingdom of Sicily.  As a child, he was educated first by the Benedictines at Monte Cassino and later studied at the University of Naples. Ridiculed by fellow students as a “dumb ox” because of his taciturn manner, he cared little if they thought him a dunce. His powers of analysis and abstraction soon proved them wrong.  What is it that they say about still water running deep?Though intellectually superior to his opponents, Thomas avoided personal attacks on them when given the chance to embarrass them.  G.K. Chesterton writes that “he had a massive and magnetic presence; he had an intellect that could act like a huge system of artillery spread over the whole world; he had that instantaneous presence of mind in debate, which alone really deserves the name of wit.  But it never occurred to him to use anything except his wits, in defense of a truth, distinct from himself.  It never occurred to Aquinas to use Aquinas as a weapon.” Despite fierce opposition from his family, Thomas chose to enter the Dominican Order, attracted as he was to its charism of teaching and preaching.  His became a protégé of the distinguished scientist and future Dominican saint, Albert the Great, who predicted that the teaching of his student ‘would one day produce such a bellowing that it would be heard throughout the world.’  Thomas lectured at the university level all his life, at the University of Paris and in his own Italian province.  In 1274, Gregory X asked him to attend the Second Council of Lyon to reconcile the Latin West with Greek Orthodox Christendom.  On his way, he fell ill.  He died in the nearby Cistercian Abbey of Fossa Nuova.     Work Ethic of St. ThomasSome people love to work at their art or profession with little diversion.  Mozart, for one, was never not composing.  Whether he was walking or riding in a carriage, even in his sleep, he was working on a piece of music.  He died at thirty-six, having composed more than six hundred works. The same could be said of Johann Sebastian Bach who died at sixty-five, his compositions numbering more than one thousand. Every week, he had to write a cantata for the Lutheran Sunday service, the long one, lasting four hours and the short one, only two. Aquinas was known as a clear and original thinker and a powerhouse of quiet, consistent energy.  In his style, Thomas strove for clarity, reserve, and transparency.  He tried to reflect the order of the world with rigor and clarity. The theological synthesis of the Summa Theologiae dealt with topics such as the atheism and existence of God, how to know God, and what we would today call language about God through analogy,  humankind, its virtues and vices, Jesus Christ and the Incarnation, and the sacraments.  There were other ‘summas,’ academic disputations, expositions of Sacred Scripture, writings on Aristotle, and polemical writings! Thomas arranged for a well-organized staff of secretaries to copy needed texts and take dictation, as his own handwriting was illegible. The New Catholic Encyclopedia shows a facsimile of an autograph manuscript with an example of his littera inintellligibis (14:103).  The scope and content of his works are breathtaking! Unrivalled! In the thirteenth century, Europe was a world of three faiths, the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. Though the Protestant Revolt was still some three hundred years away, the Church faced a deepening schism between the Latin and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Reconciliation was high on the Church’s agenda.In his pursuit of truth, Thomas’ enlisted the views not only of Christian writers like Augustine and Anselm but also of men of other faiths, including the Jewish philosopher Maimonides and the Muslims, Avicenna and Averroes. They became interlocutors in the Summa Theologiae.  For Thomas, “there was no opposition between truths discovered by reason and those revealed by God” (W. Principe, “St. Thomas Aquinas, Encyclopedia of Catholicism, 94). Aristotle confirmed Thomas’ own belief that human knowledge begins with experience; ‘nothing is found in the intellect which is not first found in the senses.’ Because of the Incarnation, the divine is humanized, and the human is divinized.  Thomas could see in the senses the wonder of the Incarnation.One Line, Studied and Studied AgainThe Ancients and the Church Fathers couldn’t quite formulate a satisfactory definition of beauty.  It took Thomas Aquinas to sum up ancient and patristic teaching on beauty, offering a terse definition of it:  “Beauty relates to the cognitive faculty; for beautiful things are those things which please when they are seen” (Summa Theologiae, I, q 5, a4,).  Beauty is what pleases the eye (id quod visum placet). He gives three formal criteria of beauty: (1) integrity or wholeness, (2) proportion or harmony, and (3) clarity, brilliance or radiance.Something is beautiful not because I say so, or because I like it.  A thing has beauty, and  it pleases me if I have the capability of seeing the beauty.  There has to be something beautiful outside of me before I can respond to it as beautiful.  A beautiful sunset presents itself to me, and I respond to it as beautiful.  An easy example to grasp.Integrity or wholeness means that the parts fit together as a unified and intelligible whole.  Proportion or harmony connotes a certain aptitude of the parts fitting together to produce its overall harmony that is good. The idea of proportion conjures up ballet dancers, trapeze artists, the sitting Buddha or a Pythagorean theorem.  Here we see balance, symmetry, and harmony at their finest. Finally, brilliance refers to things that are what they should be.  Because of this, they are lightsome and conspicuous. These three criteria are taken together as one.So much for an abbreviated discussion of Thomas’ simple sentence, “Beauty is that which pleases the eye” (id quod visum placet).ConclusionThe Church has found in St. Thomas Aquinas a shining exemplar of sanctity and scholarship.  Thomas was that official theologian “who treated the radiant power of Christ’s revelation without any trace of decadence.  But after Thomas Aquinas, theologians of such stature are rare.”  For several hundred years, his influence was so widespread, that after him came schools of theology that were essentially a process of commentary on his works.”  (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord II, 16). The poem below by Emily Dickinson is a fitting tribute to this saint and scholar.I fear a Man of frugal Speech—I fear a Silent Man—Haranguer—I can overtake—Or Babbler—entertain—But He who weigheth—While the Rest—Expend their furthest pound—Of this Man—I am wary—I fear that He is Grand—.

From Paul's Desert to His Garden of Wonder and Delight

Jan 21, 2015 / 00:00 am

Several years ago, I went to see Philip Gröning’s movie, “Into Great Silence,” chronicling the life of Carthusian monks, the most austere religious order in the Catholic Church.   It is a silent film without music or commentary, long but riveting. It shows the monks, who live in almost total silence, at prayer, tasks, rituals, and weekly outdoor excursions. Following the spirit of their founder St. Bruno (11th c) into the “Desert of Chartreuse” near Grenoble, France, they have chosen to seclude themselves in their monastery.  They have chosen to enter “into a windless zone of impenetrable stillness” (Joseph Roccasalvo, Chartreuse, 105). Midway through the viewing, a woman sitting behind me, rose in an agitated state. “Where are you going,” whispered her companion?  ”They’re not doing anything,” she blurted out, shattering the deep, profound silence in the theater.  Quickly, she bolted for the exit. In the Right Time and PlaceSaul was a man of three worlds, destined to become God’s ambassador to the Gentiles.  He was an Orthodox Jew of the Diaspora from Tarsus in southeastern Turkey.  His family sent him to Jerusalem to study with Gamaliel, a leading authority in the Sanhedrin. Saul was also a Hellenized Jew steeped in Greek culture; he spoke and wrote koine Greek. Finally, Saul was a Roman citizen.  Proudly did this learned, urbane, and cosmopolitan man wear his threefold identity.  The NarrativeOne day on his way to persecute Christians in Damascus, Saul was thrown to the ground, encircled by a great light.  He heard the voice of Christ asking, “Saul, Saul, why are persecuting me?” Stunned, he replied, “Who are you, sir?”  The voice directed him to visit Ananias, a disciple, where Paul recovered his sight—he had been blinded during the vision—and was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:13ff).  Paul then began preaching Christ in the synagogue.  How could this be?   In Jerusalem, the persecutor was preaching to the persecuted disciples.  Then there were the Hellenists with whom he argued.  They were determined to kill him. What to do?  He retreated into the Arabian desert and stayed there for three years. But in the desert, there was nothing to do, to paraphrase the woman in the theater.  It was now the Spirit’s turn to speak gently, to mold and shape Paul into his supple instrument.  Paul had simply to cooperate with God’s innovating activity in the school of the Holy Spirit. On January 25th, the Church celebrates Paul’s conversion of heart.The DesertThe Scriptures record several instances of people being led into the desert.  For the Jews, the desert experience was a mixed blessing.  The Lord brought them out of slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land.  But during the forty-year trek, they experienced physical hardship, and their faith wavered and weakened. Periodically, they worshiped idols.  There was nothing to do in the desert but press on to the finish and trust in the innovating activity of God.Meaning of the DesertFor forty days, Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert over material things, power, and vainglory. Filled with the Spirit from beginning to end, he emerged prepared for his mission. The desert is the archetypal symbol of a world hostile to God, to nourishment and to growth.  It is subject to Satan, and to the death-dealing world to which the Messiah brought new life. The desert is a place of:1. Physical stripping. Here is one description about the first Carthusians: “Blaise imagined the seven hermits with scythes and axes, cutting their way through the hostile, unyielding forest.  Gradually, they made their way into the dreaded wilderness, only to reach a place terrifying for its aridity among boulders spewed forth by volcanoes eons ago.  Having reached their destination, the seven hermits began building cabins from branches and a wooden chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Huts” (Roccasalvo, Chartreuse, 105-6).  2.  Psychological struggle.  One struggles against fatigue, discomfort, thirst and hunger, loneliness, against the devil, the world, and oneself.  It is the struggle for peace.3.  Spiritual struggle.  Retreat into the desert prompts the person to discern one’s vocation, one’s mission, one’s purpose in life—all the essentials.4.  Wonder.  If one can endure the push ahead trusting in Providence, then eventually something beautiful will come out of solitude–a new attitude and vision, a new mandate and mission, a new and vibrant life.Paul’s Personality and Physical AppearanceFilled with the Spirit, Paul emerged from the desert “a new creation.” The charism received at Damascus was deepened in the desert, which served as the springboard impelling him to travel to the major cities of the Mediterranean, preaching the good news of the crucified and risen Christ. Due to frail health, Paul dragged himself from place to place—ten thousand miles’ worth—adapting to hardship with the words: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13).  He cut quite a figure, this urbane firebrand with a long, hooked nose, bandy-legged and balding, a man, driven, as though running a race (2 Cor 12:7). Whenever he left a local Church, he wrote a letter to each of them.  The kerygma reflected his total love for the Lord whom he had never met in person.  Their content became part of the Church’s canon of belief; it became scripture. How to absorb this incredible fact!  Paul had no books at his disposal to research Christ his subject-matter, no mentors to guide him.  The gospels hadn’t been written. Where did he gain his knowledge about Jesus Christ? It was in the desert that his life-vision was formed and honed.  Here is Paul, the Church’s first theologian whose charism is a gift to the entire Church.      Paul’s Literary Style Different from His TheologyPaul’s eloquence coupled with wisdom and truth attracted the Gentiles.  His gift lies in his ability to be all things to all people.  His style and language are highly individualistic because of an intense personality, impetuous, single-minded, indefatigable, irrepressible, unflinching, and decisive. He adapts and adjusts his style, now rhetorical, now dogmatic, but also poetic.  Chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians is a masterpiece on human love. In the sixteenth century, Orlando di Lasso set to a polyphonic motet a portion of the Ode to Love.  The music is a beautiful interpretation of the text. To the Corinthians, his problem child, he railed against fornication and incest.  He rebuked the Galatians for favoring a new ideology instead of holding fast to the gospel he brought them (Gal 1:6-8). He tells the Philippians how much he loves them, and how much he loves being loved by them; “In the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, they shine like stars in the world” (Phil 1:3ff; 12-13). On all his missions, Christ, the preacher, becomes the preached.Paul tells us very little about himself except that he has been caught up in the third heaven, and that a thorn was given to him in the flesh to buffet him (2 Cor: 12:1-3; 7-10).The Roman authorities executed him with St. Peter in Rome around A.D. 67. That feast day is celebrated on June 29th.  Through the ages, artists have loved to use Paul as a subject for their masterpieces.  He has been depicted in painting and sculpture, mosaics, icons, and stained glass.The Desert TodayCarthusian monasteries are closed to the public. In 1957, a museum was created at the heart of the Chartreuse Mountains near Grenoble and has already welcomed 5.5 million visitors. Other groups like the Trappists and Benedictines welcome those who seek something beautiful from retreating into a desert experience.     Where is the desert today?  Is it within? “The fault, dear Brutus, lies not in the stars, but in ourselves,” writes Shakespeare. Is it without as well?What of the woman who couldn’t bear to see what she considered the monks doing nothing?  It should be noted that Catholic monasteries have long waiting lists, very long waiting lists, of men and women who are eager to retreat into the desert, if only for a weekend, there to meet God or their unknown God.  They long to savor the silence, to listen to Gregorian chant, and to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, to reflect, to pray for their families and for direction in their lives, and to be filled with the Holy Spirit as Paul was in his desert. Or, simply to be in the presence of a monastic community that witnesses to Transcendence.  Finally, to emerge refreshed as new creations. Out of Paul’s Desert … a Garden of Wonder and DelightPaul’s letters are surely a garden of wonder and delight.  His memorable expressions are flowers bringing their color and vibrancy into our lives.  In the end, it was through his letters that St. Paul changed the course of history.  Some verses are suggested below for prayer.1 Thessalonians4:4 What God wants is for you to be holy.4:11 Live quietly attending to your own business and earning your living.5:2  The day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.Galatians5:6   What matters is that faith makes its power felt through love.5:14   If you go snapping at each other and tearing each other to pieces, you had better watch or you will destroy the whole community.6:2 You should carry one another’s burdens and troubles, and thus to fulfill the law of Christ.Letters to the Corinthians.  In all, there are four.  Letter One is lost.  1 Corinthians is Letter Two.Letter Three, the ‘letter of tears,’ about the Corinthians, is lost.  2 Corinthians is Letter Four1 Corinthians 1:25 For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.2: 3  I preach only  Christ and Christ crucified.3: 16-17  Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s spirit lives in you?  The temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple.5: 7  So get rid of all the old yeast and make yourselves into a completely new batch of bread.12 & 13 Both chapters2 Corinthians 5:17 If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!5:20 We are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.Philippians1:3  I thank my God whenever I think of you; every time I pray for you, I pray with joy.2: 5-11  The Hymn of Self-Emptying3:12, 14 I am still running, trying to capture the prize, and I strain ahead for what is still to come. ... I am racing for the finish, for the prize.Ephesians2:10  We are God’s work of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as he had meant us to live it from the beginning.3:20-21 He whose power is at work in us is powerful enough and more than powerful enough to carry out his purpose beyond all our hopes and dreams (Ronald Knox translation)..   Romans5:21 Where sin did abound, grace did more abound.6:8  We believe that having died with Christ, we shall also live with Christ.7:15-16 I cannot understand my own behavior.  I fail to carry out the things I want to do, and I find myself doing the very things I hate.8:35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

Study and Beauty in the Family and Consecrated Life: Part II

Jan 14, 2015 / 00:00 am

The Catholic Church has a long, deep, and abiding respect for the habits of the minds and for the pursuit of beauty.  One could say that the Church’s vocation is to show the world that faith and reason are inseparable friends and that beauty is a stepping stone to God.  The Catholic family is ‘the domestic church,’ where a love of learning is fostered and where beauty is lived from day to day. Children learn from exposure to learning and beauty. If their parents read, most likely, they will read. If beauty is a part of the home, they will choose beauty.  Children can bring joy to the family by reciting poetry, singing and dancing, playing musical instruments, or dramatizing mini-plays. In this way, habits of learning and of making things beautiful can become part of their lives. In this way, the family “shines in use.”In consecrated life, the love of learning and the pursuit of beauty are carried on in a more public, extensive and universal way. Benedictine beauty, piety, and learning are their legendary attributes. The Dominican spirit is encapsulated in the motto, “To praise. To bless. To preach.”  Their studies are directed to the service of others proclaiming Truth in beauty. The Poor Clare nuns are committed to making something beautiful out of their poverty. Then there is the Franciscan charism, highly visible, for example, at Milwaukee’s Alverno College, conducted by the School Sisters of St. Francis. There, progressive learning is celebrated and made all the richer by the splendid epiphany of beauty, in music, painting, sculpture, dance, drama, and poetry. Franciscan warmth permeates the academic atmosphere in joy and optimism, in a love of nature, and in an intuitive mysticism that beckons, ‘come and see.’ Study and LearningStudy is a spiritual activity. The love of learning throughout one’s life is a way to God, for it prompts the realization that the mind is a uniquely human gift. Pope Paul VI was inspired by The Intellectual Life, a miniature classic written by the French Dominican priest Antonin Sertillanges. Since its revision in 1920, it has been reprinted and translated many times. Though it develops a spirituality of intellectual work for the serious writer, it guides those who desire to integrate their love of learning with a life of holiness.  Study is the raw material for growth in interiority, in prayer, and other religious activities. Study, reading, memorizing and enjoying poetry enlighten the mind and quicken the soul. They are a power that enriches one’s service to others. “The mind governs everything; it begins, accomplishes, perseveres, finally achieves,” writes Sertillanges.The love of learning consists not just in knowing how to learn and find resources. It takes an idea, works it out in the best way possible as yeast is kneaded into the dough, and then makes it available to others through teaching, writing, lecturing, or preaching. When preparing his speeches, the late Mario Cuomo followed this habit all his public life. They were sparkling pearls. A person who loves learning is curious about the world. One’s broad interests nurture enthusiasm, energy, and openness to others that is universal, a word whose root is the Latin, unio versus alia, one turned to others.      Contemplating God’s LoveThe wise person sees all things as gift. The parable of the talents implies our cooperation with God in bringing about a peaceful world by developing our own gifts. Thus, all things are sacred, for God lives within them. The wiser we become, the more we see that God is providentially at work laboring in all things. Study makes it possible to find God always and everywhere. Even in suffering, it is possible to find God, hidden behind the pain!  The recent massacres in Paris press us onward to bring good out of evil, however daunting the challenge. Leisure Needed for BeautyThe love of learning can lead to wonder, and the truly great people of the world are the guardians of beauty. To experience beauty, one needs leisure time, a time to relax, however brief or prolonged. While parents of young families may find leisure almost out of reach, some still find time for a weekly date night.Leisure is self-authenticating, a value in itself. Leisure is characterized by certain universal similarities, bringing freedom from external constraint, joy and meaning to life. Sunday worship, taking a walk, gardening, attending or playing a ball game, enjoying a fine movie, reading a book, enjoying or memorizing poetry are qualitatively the same: they refresh and enrich a person for the return to routine of work.Ceaseless work and overwork destroy the spirit’s inclination to beauty because, in practice, they tend to view men and women as machines. Acedia and ennui, states of listlessness and boredom respectively, dull the sense of wonder, a thought implicit in the psalm verse: “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). Without periodic rest to restore the soul, acedia and ennui afflict one’s overall well-being that weaken the taste for God and spiritual activities. As if to confirm the need for leisure, Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28). The Catholic Church and BeautyThe Catholic Church is the crucible of beauty. Its vocation is to show beauty to the world. The family and those in consecrated life are an integral part of this mandate to promote beauty wherever possible.  Catholic Christianity has exercised a powerful and formative influence on the daily lives of the faithful and those not of the Catholic faith.  “Anyone who has ever experienced the transforming power of great liturgy, great art, great music, will know this,” writes Benedict XVI. Beauty is proper to the Church’s sacred arts because, with the sacramental signs, they represent the primary way in which the mystery of the Incarnation continues to be effective in the world. Catholic Christianity is a religion of beauty—beauty  of our dogmas, the presence of God’s majesty, the wonder Providence unveiling itself, the exalted vision of the human person as a replica of God, the majesty of the arts, wonderfully made. Habits of beauty in prayer and devotion jog our memories. Such actions like making the sign of the cross with or without holy water have religious meaning even without conscious reflection because they operate at a deeper level of the psyche.Ugliness is darkness. Jesus, the light of the world, signals the presence of beauty. It is as if he were telling us: “Whoever sneers at beauty as if she were the ornament of a bourgeois past . . . can no longer pray and soon will no longer be able to love.” (Hans Urs von Balthasar, The Glory of the Lord I, 18). Learning is the wellspring of truth, and truth is a hymn to beauty.

The Beauty of Catholic Education: Literature and Poetry

Jan 9, 2015 / 00:00 am

In his homily for New Year’s Eve, Pope Francis spoke about the importance of time and the way we use it.  He urged that we make a daily examination of our attitudes, activities, and our behavior—how we use time.  As our students advance from grade to grade, we see how time affects them in all aspects of their development. The Gift of TimeSome years ago in one of my college music classes, I had a student, a bright, beautiful young woman, conscientious about her work, a fine athlete, poised to apply to graduate school.  She loved the class, and her face would light up at the sound of the music. On a given test, I had mistakenly awarded her two credits for a wrong answer.  She could have pocketed the error without my ever discovering it.  Instead, she came to me on a Friday afternoon prepared to forfeit the credits.  I told her to keep them; her honesty was so refreshing.The following Monday, I trembled at the tragic news; I wept, incredulous at the narrative.  Over the weekend, the young lady had been killed by a driver, recklessly jumping the curb at the corner where she was standing, ready to cross to the other side.  For months, her parents were inconsolable.  Later, they told me that she had a maturity far beyond her short span of twenty years.  I of course knew this.   The Scriptures and writings from Early Christianity to the present exhort the followers of Christ to live in present moment. The spiritual director, Jean-Pierre Caussade, S.J., writes that life is really all about the “sacrament of the present moment.”  Educating Our Children through Literature and Poetry     Our students are our first priority.  This concern begins with the neediest, the most vulnerable and at-risk children.  Reading books that inspire and uplift, and memorizing classic poetry are the raw materials of a first-class education.  They contribute mightily to building students’ self-confidence.  When I taught in dangerous and depressed neighborhoods, my classes of sixty ethnically-diverse children came from difficult backgrounds.  But they were eager to learn because we educators believed in their future. Catholic education was the key to their success.  They relished those hours of diagramming sentences and playing grammar games, giving oral topics on any topic, but especially about their future.  They cultivated the habit of reading and writing well. Most of all they loved reciting poetry.  Learning was fun!Our students should be encouraged to make solid and uplifting books their close and constant companions.  Reading and memorizing poetry jog the mind.   Reading frames our thoughts and values.  It makes our world grow larger.  Children should begin reading the classics at their own level.  When they are in the early grades, children in Italy read a simplified version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.  As they mature, they read Dante in the original.Memorizing poetry, presented in an attractive way, can be enjoyable as well as intellectually stimulating. I recommend reading an article in the New York Times (August 3, 2014) entitled, “The Case for Bribing Kids to Memorize Poetry” by Kate Haas.  She remains unapologetic for bribing her young son to memorize the classics—Shakespeare, Keats, Tennyson, and many other poets. The author ends her essay on this note:  “Educators and writers still make the case for memorizing poetry:  It teaches rhythm, improves vocabulary and instills a sense of ownership in kids.” Educating for Wonder and BeautyRecently David Brooks of the New York Times wrote a fine article entitled, “The Subtle Sensations of Faith” (Dec 22, 2014).  His central point is this.  When people say that they have no religious impulse whatsoever, they should be asked if they have ever had an experience of wonder.  Religion is “the means of making these moments part of your life rather than merely radical intrusions . . . .,” writes Brooks’ friend, Christian Wiman.  “Religion is what you do with these moments of over-mastery in your life.”  We can wonder at the beautiful person of Jesus Christ, the Mother of God, St. Joseph, wonder at the lives of the saints.  They help us to answer the all-important question of life:  What does it all mean?  Ours is a beautiful faith filled with wonder and joy.  Apparently, the 26,000,000 Catholics who have left the faith in recent years would disagree, or they would not have severed their relationship with the Church.   We Catholic educators owe our students opportunities for wonder, beginning with the arts:  enjoying classical music, singing, dancing, painting or drawing, dramatizing the scriptures and becoming part of the scripture stories.  All these offer them opportunities for celebrating the beauty of a faith that celebrates the arts.New Year’s Resolution Commitment to fine literature and beautiful poetry, so easy to memorize and to love—this is a lofty resolution for 2015.  Now and again, one hears television journalists recite parts of the classics and poetry when they speak on public platforms. Gov. Mario Cuomo who died last week rarely gave a speech without quoting poetry, not to mention great thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Lincoln, and Churchill.  He was educated in Catholic schools.  He became a Renaissance Man. As for writing his speeches, his son Andrew said this at his Mass of the Resurrection: “At his core, my father was a philosopher and poet. Every sentence, every word was arranged like fine pearls, each chosen for its individual beauty but also placed just so with the one that came before and the one that followed in a seamless flow of logic and emotion . . . .”Maria Bartiromo, the Wall Street analyst, is fond of reciting Rudyard Kipling’s “If” whenever she delivers a commencement address.  The poem is printed below. President John F. Kennedy and Mrs. Kennedy supported the arts with splendid enthusiasm. One month before his tragic death, Mr. Kennedy received an Honorary Doctorate at Amherst College. In his speech, he describes the role of an artist in society, noting Robert Frost’s many contributions to American arts and culture.  This is what he said:. . . I look forward to an America which will not be afraid of grace and beauty, which will protect the beauty of our natural environment, which will preserve the great old American houses and squares and parks of our natural past, and which will build handsome and balanced cities for our future.. . . I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business and statecraft.  I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all our citizens.  And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. THE WELL OF BEAUTYbyEileen Lomasney, C.S.J.A canticle of color,A symphony of sound,Asks the eager-hearted"Where is beauty found?"The liturgy of seasons,The rhythm of the skies,Reads like Wisdom's PrimerFurnishing replies.We marry moods to beautyEarly in our youthAnd find our spirit tutoredIn goodness and in truth.We search our inner being,Our birth, our life and death,To learn we are dependentOn beauty's very breath.All syllabled creationSpelleth last and first,"The Word is Beauty's Well-Spring,O come, all ye that thirst."SWIFT THINGS ARE BEAUTIFULby Elizabeth CoatsworthSwift things are beautiful:Swallows and deerAnd lightning that fallsBright-veined and clear,River and meteors,Wind in the wheat,The strong-withered horse,The runner's sure feet.And slow things are beautiful:The closing of day,The pause of the waveThat curves downward to spray,The ember that crumbles,The opening flower,And the ox that moves onIn the quiet of power.BARTERby Sara TeasdaleLife has loveliness to sell.All beautiful and splendid things,Blue waves whitened on a cliff,Soaring fire that sways and sings,And children's faces looking upHolding wonders like a cup.Life has loveliness to sell,Music like a curve of gold,Scent of pine trees in the rain,Eyes that love you, arms that hold,And for your spirit's dear delight,Holy thoughts that star the night.Spend all you have for loveliness,Buy it and never count the cost;For one, white, singing hour of peaceCount many a year of strife well lost;And for a breath of ecstasyGive all you have been, or could be.IfbyRudyard KiplingIf you can keep your head when all about youAre losing theirs and blaming it on you,If you can trust yourself when all men doubt youBut make allowance for their doubting too,If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,Or being hated, don't give way to hating,And yet don't look too good, nor talk too wise:If you can dream—and not make dreams your master,If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;If you can meet with Triumph and DisasterAnd treat those two impostors just the same;If you can bear to hear the truth you've spokenTwisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:If you can make one heap of all your winningsAnd risk it all on one turn of pitch-and-toss,And lose, and start again at your beginningsAnd never breath a word about your loss;If you can force your heart and nerve and sinewTo serve your turn long after they are gone,And so hold on when there is nothing in youExcept the Will which says to them: "Hold on!"If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,Or walk with kings--nor lose the common touch,If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you;If all men count with you, but none too much,If you can fill the unforgiving minuteWith sixty seconds' worth of distance run,Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Charism and Consecrated Life: Part I

Jan 7, 2015 / 00:00 am

In popular jargon, the word charisma is used to describe a person with dazzling gifts of charm or grace. Charismatic individuals form part of every walk of life—stage, screen, sports, and faith-traditions.  Charism and the Married VocationIn the vocation of marriage, a woman wishes to marry a man not for what he earns but for the person he is. She doesn’t fall in love with a career but with a man whose strong identity and values harmonize with hers.  He attracts her through his attitude toward life and the way he lives his life.  What he does may very well emerge from his identity, but this is secondary.  The same may be said of a man about a woman.  As the two live out their married vocation, professional options may change, but their personal identities remain fundamentally the same.  Charism in Consecrated Life     2015 has been designated as the Year of Consecrated Life which is essentially rooted in the founder’s spirit and special purpose.  Since the 1960s, Vatican documents have exhorted consecrated men and women to revitalize the spirit of their respective founders.  With a religious charism, God singles out individuals with an experience of intense love, unearned, unexpected, indelible, and unforgettable.  With eyes of faith, they see Jesus Christ from a particular aspect of his life, his poor life or preaching, his sufferings, solitary prayer with his Father, itinerant ministry. The particular charism given to an individual is shaped by the historical times, a person’s own history, culture, temperament, gifts and limitations.  Though one person receives the charism, the gift belongs to the entire Church, as St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12.  A charism is given not for the glory or satisfaction of the recipient but as a responsibility to benefit others.  Every institute is founded with a particular spirit to address a particular need in the Church. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, graced individuals who received special charisms are: Moses, Ruth, Esther, Judith, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Mary of Nazareth, and St. Paul. “I Thirst”In 1946, while traveling on a train from Calcutta to the Loretto convent in Darjeeling, Sister Teresa, the future Mother Teresa of Calcutta, heard the words from the crucified Lord, “I thirst.” She was to quench his thirst in serving the most destitute, the scum of society.  Following this charism, she and her Missionary Sisters of Charity serve the most destitute, the most unwanted and dying of humankind throughout the world.  Their charism, “I thirst,” answers the question, ‘who we are—what our root vision is.’ Their mission emanates from their charism; action follows being.Schools of Spirituality of Large Religious OrdersThe Benedictines, Franciscans, Dominicans and Jesuits have well-defined charisms, each with a unique identity out of which a special mission has emerged.  A word about each.The Benedictine Charism:  Ora et Labora (Work and Pray, Balance and Moderation)The monastic charism of the Benedictine Order bears witness to Jesus’s mandate to pray always. For those men and women who follow the Rule of St. Benedict, their primary mission is to live out this mandate.  In addition to the traditional three vows, monastics take the vow of stability, that is, the vow to live all their lives in one particular monastery instead of moving about from one place to another.  They chant in common the Liturgy of the Hours and listen to the lectio divina, the continuous reading of Sacred Scripture and patristic literature.  Round the clock they pray: in the very early hours of the morning, during the day at appointed hours, and finally before retiring. Carthusians chant the three-hour Night Office beginning around Midnight.The apostolic work of monastics is performed on or near the premises of the monastery or abbey.  These include: education, writing and publishing books, farming, raising cattle, growing herb gardens, making wines, liqueurs, and jams, baking breads, making vestments and other handmade crafts, training dogs, offering hospitality to guests.  These works are secondary to the primary mission, that of the choral praying the Liturgy of the Hours.   Monastic InstitutesMost monastic orders, which are more or less cloistered, follow the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict.  Some of these groups maintain indirect contact with the world, but the Carthusian Order of men and women is the most separated of all.  Apart from a rugged silence, prayer and rigorous fasting, they write and publish spiritual books, but anonymously.  The Carthusians at La Grande Chartreuse in France make the famous liqueur, Chartreuse.      The Dominican Charism (12th Century)  St Dominic’s charism is largely indebted to the Rule of St. Augustine which espouses God as perfect beauty, truth, and goodness.  Like the Benedictines, the Dominicans engage in the choral celebration of the Hours, prayer, and contemplation.  Their studies are oriented to preaching about the Word Incarnate and, by extension, about the Mother of God.  Defending the Church is their main approach in preaching.  They are quite successful in applying the principles of St. Thomas Aquinas to contemporary situations.In the twelfth century, thanks to the Dominicans, 150 Our Fathers were given to an illiterate laity to pray as a substitute for the 150 psalms that were prayed by the monks and nuns.  Later, the prayer became 150 Hail Marys, the rosary as we know it. Dominican women are of two groups:  cloistered and non-cloistered.The Franciscan Charism:  “Francis, Go and Repair My Church”  In the thirteenth century, a rudderless dandy heard the words of Jesus, “Francis, go and repair my church.”  At first, Francis of Assisi, later known as “Il Poverello,” took the words literally and began to repair some churches.  Then, he saw that the great need in the Church was to repair it spiritually.  Today, Franciscans work to rebuild and repair the Church through parish work, preaching and the vast world-wide evangelization program of the Eternal Word television network.  It was founded by Mother Angelica, a Poor Clare cloistered nun.  The Poor Clares are among the many sister-institutes of the Franciscan family.  Franciscans enjoy a close bond with the laity.  They are known and revered for their love of creation and the environment, for their devotion to the humanity of Jesus both in his birth and sufferings, and in the Eucharist. These qualities endear them far beyond the Catholic faith-tradition. Their approach is sweet, consoling, and even rhapsodic, a fact borne out by the Christmas crèche which has been immortalized through them. The Ignatian Charism: “For the Greater Glory of God” (The More) The Spiritual Exercises, the heart of the Ignatian charism, are a gift to the entire Church. Through St. Ignatius of Loyola and his early Companions, the Exercises brought to the sixteenth-century Church a new, fresh, and vital approach to the gospel message.  In their rich and versatile way, the Exercises encompass all of salvation history and every approach to prayer.  Ignatian spirituality integrates contemplative prayer with service. Prayer is apostolic prayer, prayer done for the sake of the mission, and the mission sends the Ignatian person back to prayer.  One is done for the sake of the other.  The prayer for finding God in all things, the daily examen, is essential, the sine qua non, of the Ignatian charism.  It is a restful prayer when a person examines and evaluates the hours of one’s day in the light of faith.  If, during the day, one has failed to pray or failed to respond to the mission, the examen will reveal the reason why.  ‘Never skip the daily examen,’ admonished Ignatius to busy Jesuit scholastics.In the Ignatian mindset, nothing is profane because the human is wedded to the divine–from work to play. In the Ignatian charism, one is at home everywhere and at home nowhere—the definition of a pilgrim.  The Jesuit priest and poet, Daniel Berrigan, entitles an early work, A World for a Wedding Ring.  The Jesuit priest and scientist, Teilhard de Chardin, sums it up:  “By virtue of creation, and still more, of the Incarnation, nothing is profane for those who know how to see” (The Divine Milieu, 65-66). Accordingly, the daily examen keeps one poised in the world—spiritually balanced to live a discerning secularity lest the individual be swallowed up by the –ism of the day.  The Ignatian charism is based on the motto, “for the greater glory of God,” (ad maiorem Dei gloriam, the More, Magis).  If one admits the comparative degree, then there is always something more and better to do.  Magis translates into restlessness for the sake of the mission, the first and primary concern. The mission can be a person or groups of persons, place, event or situation. The Ignatian person stops and drops everything to respond to the mission.Aggiornamento of Male Religious OrdersTo a large extent, the charisms of these male religious institutes have remained robust. In the early 1970s however, the Jesuits re-examined the manner in which the Spiritual Exercises were presented.  For years, they had been preached to large groups, a practice which St. Ignatius would not have recognized.  A wide-scale program was undertaken to update them.  Instead of being preached, they were given to laity and religious on a one-to-one basis—tailor made, as St. Ignatius intended.   To sum up: The charisms of male religious orders are clearly distinguished, one from the other.  No one would confuse the Jesuit scent of sanctity from that of the Benedictine, Dominican, or Franciscan. Their differences have spawned an industry of jokes for the ages to enjoy—even in heaven.  Aggiornamento in Women’s InstitutesVatican II mandated that religious communities of women update their stance in the modern world.  Most religious institutes responded, some moving at a slower pace than others or on a superficial level.  When we speak of schools of spirituality, many women’s religious institutes don’t fall into neat categories as do the men’s orders unless they are the sister-institutes of the male orders.  All consecrated institutes embrace the Gospel and the evangelical counsels. Women’s groups must place their unique imprint on them.  Ignatian women’s communities have a special emphasis on the gospel message, influenced by their founders.  Basically, they have four characteristics of the Society of Jesus:  (1) reliance on Ignatian texts in the formation of their own original constitutions, (2) influence by individual Jesuits, (3) modeling certain internal structures on those of the Society of Jesus, and (4) drawing inspiration drawn from the Ignatian apostolates (Mary Milligan, RSHM, “What Is an ‘Ignatian Congregation?’” Way Supplement 70). No one has done more to advance the Ignatian charism than has Sr. Mary Milligan (d 2011), an outstanding American religious woman and scholar devoted to her institute and to its charism.According to one study, there are about fifteen Ignatian institutes of women. The Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Congregation of Jesus (IBVM, CJ), both founded by Mary Ward in the seventeenth century, actively promote the Ignatian charism in their schools. The opening sentence of the mission statement of the Faithful Companions begins:  “Ignatian spirituality is at the root of the FCJ way of life.” The Religious of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (RSCJ) profess that the charism of St. Madeleine Sophie Barat and the Ignatian Exercises are at the core of their spirituality.  The Religious of the Cenacle give retreats and are committed to offer the Spiritual Exercises as part of their mission.Other institutes, Ignatian or not, define their charisms by what they do.  And many do the same thing.  Still other institutes have altogether abandoned their heritage, adopting an ideology that is not a charism.  Promoting justice and caring for the environment are important ministries but emerge from a charism. Mention of the Catholic Church is often missing.  Marketing experts tell us that tampering with an identity—a brand, a restaurant, a cola, or any other consumer product can be a risky business. Those religious groups that have reinvented or discarded their identity are in peril. Those with a revitalized identity and mission appear to be in a strong position to survive.  Dying and RisingOver the centuries, it was a bitter experience for the Church to witness the demise of religious institutes, but the essence of consecrated life has never died.  After each crisis, it recovered and showed signs of internal strength and a remarkable ability to adapt to the needs of every age. Not all institutions die because of persecution.      Today in many institutes, decline has set in. Numbers are plummeting. No large corporation or small business would permit losses without a realistic analysis of facts, without a corporate examination of conscience.  Religious are in denial and refuse to face the losses.  Instead of discussing them with honesty, both intellectual and emotional, they defend, even glorify, a way of life that is fast ebbing away.   Smaller institutes have already succumbed. A few have merged with larger ones.  Religious communities are facing extinction because of internal reasons: deconstruction of their charism and divisiveness over it, laxity, and fashionable ideologies. Increase of Vocations In the past thirty years, vocations to some groups have increased. The Benedictine community at Our Lady of Clear Creek Abbey in Oklahoma, the Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, and the Sisters of Life are growing by leaps and bounds with their large number of applicants.  The cloistered Benedictine Abbey of Regina Laudis in Bethlehem, CT has a waiting list of aspirants.  Every nun has brought with her a professional background and a practical skill. At the Abbey, Gregorian chant flourishes as do other arts. Theirs is a vibrant presence in Bethlehem. Mother Margaret Georgina Patton, O.S.B., the granddaughter of Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., and the former Hollywood actress, Dolores Hart, now Mother Dolores Hart, O.S.B., are two of many nuns who live in this cloistered and gifted community.  Young women and men interested in religious life are avoiding institutes in decline.  Instead, they are seeking groups with fiery vision to build the future, “all ablaze with God springing up everywhere” (Teilhard de Chardin, Letters to Léontine Zanta, 41).  ...To be continued.

Renaissance and Baroque Christmas Music

Dec 17, 2014 / 00:00 am

Every year, Händel’s Messiah seems to claim the center stage of Christmas performances. Yet, there are other classic works no less sparkling that repay listening during this season.  Timelessly beautiful, their joy and buoyancy are sure to lift the spirit.Music of the RenaissanceChristmas music of the Renaissance is sufficiently removed from contemporary sounds that it refreshes the ear and the whole person with its sobriety and restraint.  Any of the following CDs make for a satisfying listening experience: music of the Tallis Singers, the King’s Singers, “A Renaissance Christmas,” by New York’s Ensemble for Early Music.  The quality of these voices is delightful for the absence of affectation.  Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610Claudio Monteverdi’s monumental Vespers of 1610 and was recorded in St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice.  Its conductor and narrator of this presentation was John Eliot Gardiner, the renowned English music historian and conductor.  This DVD, advertised in the Italian as Vespro della Beata Virgine, is sumptuous for many reasons:  the Vespers are performed live in St. Mark’s, a space with natural quadraphonic acoustics; four full choirs are used with period or original instruments; Gardiner narrates the story behind the story of how the Vespers came to be performed in Venice; and finally, Gardiner provides a travelogue of Venice from one island to another.  The DVD has a festive quality to it and one which heightens the joy of the Christmas season.Bach’s Christmas OratorioBach’s Christmas Oratorio is available on CD and DVD.  This large-scale composition carries with it the joy expected of Bach’s genius, but listening to it may require a patient ear:  The text is in German; the work spans an entire period of the church year.  No matter.  The buoyant music guides the feelings of the listener.The Bach B Minor MassIt is said that without Martin Luther, there would be no Johann Sebastian Bach.  Bach was born into a devout Lutheran family and lived as a devout Lutheran his entire life.  Still, the Mass expresses Bach’s interior grasp of the Catholic texts and an intense external fervor.  His talents emerge from a full treasury of emotion, and with equal mastery, he composes joy, sorrow, intimacy, and grandeur.The Mass, composed for the Catholic Augustus III of Saxony, was completed in 1749, the year before Bach’s death. Taking almost two hours to perform, it is a tour de force of Catholic devotion vis-à-vis the Ordinary parts of the Latin Mass.  The preferred performance has been recorded in a spectacular setting, in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Among the largest, well-known, and most beautiful churches in all of Europe, it is the home of French kings and many historic events. Notre Dame, with its sharp acoustics, houses perhaps the most magnificent organ in Europe not to mention its breathtaking rose windows, stained glass, and famous bells.  Its liturgical interior is the perfect setting for this overpowering composition.  It is fitting then that in this famous cathedral, the DVD of Bach’s B Minor Mass is performed.The B minor Mass is uniquely Bach’s with Baroque trumpets and timpani serving as two massive book ends to the orchestral sound.  Then there is the famous Bach musical symbolism:  strings descending over the words that describe the Holy Spirit’s descent over Mary as she accepts her vocation of Divine Motherhood in the Incarnation and the dying out of music at the text passus et sepultus est to express the death and burial of Christ.Bach’s MagnificatBach’s composition of Mary’s Magnificat is also a tour de force.  He expresses an interior grasp of the Catholic texts with an intense external fervor. The text tells what the mystery means with the music telling the listener how to feel while listening to the Latin words. Prior to his conversion, the French writer Paul Claudel (d 1955) had neither the desire nor knowledge of the extraordinary graces awaiting him through to the beauty of the Church’s sacred arts. Claudel was moved to conversion when he heard the Magnificat sung during Vespers on Christmas Eve at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.  Claudel describes that moment of conversion: “In an instant, my heart was touched and I believed. I believed with such force, with such relief of all my being, a conviction so powerful, so certain and without any room for doubt, that ever since, all the books and arguments, all the hazards of my agitated life have never shaken my faith, nor, to tell the truth, have they even touched it” (Paul Claudel, “Ma conversion” in Contacts et circonstances, Gallimard, 1940, p. 11ss; cf. also in Ecclesia, Lectures chrétiennes, Paris, No 1, avril 1949, p. 53-58, quoted as note 34 in “The Via Pulchritudinis, Privileged Pathway for Evangelisation and Dialogue” (2006). Sacred music is a sensory way of experiencing the great mysteries of Catholic faith.  And music is the only art form that touches the human heart more deeply than the others.  At this time when Christendom celebrates the mystery of God becoming human, is it any wonder that festive music bursts forth with splendor, intensity and grandeur?  

Here Is Your God! He Comes to Save Us!

Dec 10, 2014 / 00:00 am

In many respects, 2014 has been a dark year.  One tragedy after the other has befallen Americans while our brothers and sisters around the world endure hunger, starvation, persecution and even martyrdom for their beliefs, all unimaginable in America.      ‘Where have you been, Lord,’ we ask, ‘where were you this year?’      ‘I am with you all days,’ Jesus replies, without hesitation.      ‘We’ve already had our winter of our discontent,’ we quip.      ‘I give you Advent readings to lift you up out of the deep so that you may     return to me,’ he responds.  ‘Unlike ordinary words that plod and trod, my words skip and dance, they sing and shout joyfully that I am at hand as your Emmanuel.  Go to them for comfort, for consolation.’  Isaiah, Our Companion and Other Advent Verses Isaiah predicts the advent of the Messiah in soaring poetry, captured so beautifully in George Friedrich Händel’s oratorio, “Messiah.” Isaiah expresses the profound longings of the heart.  In part two of his book, this “the fifth evangelist,” boldly cries out: “Here is your God!  He comes to save us!”  The following verses come mostly from Isaiah and are here presented as a way of lifting up the reader throughout Advent. Even for a minute in the midst of a busy day, we can ponder one at a time. 1.    “Behold, the Lord comes to save his people; blessed are those prepared to meet him.”2.    “Behold, the Lord will come descending with splendor to visit his people with peace, and he will bestow on them eternal life.”3.    “The Lord is my light and my salvation.”4.    “Come and show us your face, O Lord, who are suspended upon the Cherubum, and we will be saved.”5.    “Our God will come to save us!”6.    “Behold the king will come; the Lord of the earth, and he himself will lift the yoke of our captivity.”7.    “Come, O Lord, visit us in peace that we may rejoice before you with a blameless heart.”8.    “The day of the Lord is near: Behold he comes to save us.”9.    “Let the clouds rain down the Just One, and the earth bring forth a Savior.”10.    “Those who follow you, Lord, will have the light of life.”11.    “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight his paths.  All flesh shall see the salvation of God.”12.    “Say to the fainthearted:  Be strong and do not fear.  Behold, our God will come, and he will save us.”13.    “Behold, the Lord will come, and all his holy ones with him; and on that day there will be a great light.”14.    “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.  Indeed, the Lord is near.”15.    “Lord, come to save us.”The human heart lacks strength to quiet and comfort itself.  The Advent readings give us that inner quiet and comfort from the Lord whose coming in history we are about to celebrate.  His strong arms like those of a shepherd caring for his sheep consoles the spirit.    Christ told us that he is this light in the darkness that surrounds us.        Advent, an Attitude of Mind, a Way of LivingThe season is so lovely with expectation that the Lord will make the glory of his voice heard in our hearts.  As 2014 comes to a close, Advent affords the individual the space to think about the meaning of one’s life, what is important, and what one is doing to leave it more beautiful than when we entered it. It takes quiet time to wonder at the beautiful mystery of this season as we wait with hope and expectation the magnum mysterium, the great mystery of the Lord’s coming again in our midst.  Living in the spirit of Advent means ‘putting on Christ.’  It means being clothed in his manner for all to see on Christmas Day and beyond.

The Beauty of Catholic Education III: Classroom Preparation for the Coming of Christ

Dec 5, 2014 / 00:00 am

During the month of December, children of Christian families dream about the gifts they hope to receive on Christmas Day. How would it be otherwise? Ads have inundated—no, they have bombarded parents,grandparents, and guardians, pressing them, coaxing them to splurge on their children! The syndrome of Santa also contributes to the fever-pitch desire for trinkets, many of which will be discarded soon after their excitement has waned.Christmas may be a time for giving to our children, but they must be taught to reciprocate unselfishly, even in small measure. If not, they will grow into uncaring selfish adults. Scrooge comes off as a thoroughly unpleasant person until he embraces kindness.Christmas, Secularized? Advent, Buried?Irving Berlin, a Jew and a widower, wrote “White Christmas” for his second wife, Ellen McKay, a Catholic socialite. Made famous by Bing Crosby, the song virtually secularized Christmas. But the secular celebration of Christmas this year was accelerated; it began before Halloween. It would seem that Advent has been hopelessly buried by the secular blitz. Still, as tomorrow’s Catholics, our children must be taught about the Church’s seasons of grace as a way of living them and putting on Christ (Rom 13:14; Gal 3:17). We must not despair—the word despair has no part in the Catholic lexicon. It is not impossible for children to celebrate and come to love Advent, if we educate them. It will always be a challenge for Catholics to navigate in choppy waters and crosscurrents.Saint Nicholas, BishopSeveral countries have adopted Saint Nicholas as their patron whose feast this year is tomorrow, December 6th. Catholic educators can show their students how the two words “saint” and “Nicholas” were changed from ‘Sinta Klaus’ to “santa” and “claus.” This fourth-century bishop of the early Church brings his own wonderful story.Advent and the Expectation of the JewsThe coming of Jesus Christ is the greatest event in human history. By reason of the Incarnation, God becomes a human person—one with us in everything except sin. “He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory that I may share in his fullness.” These are the words of St. Gregory of Nazianzen, a fourth-century Church Father.Christian faith is a relationship with this God.The story about Jesus Christ begins with the story of Abraham who begins the origin or genealogy of Jesus’ human life. For four thousand years, the Jews waited with great expectancy for their promised Messiah. Old Testament books are filled with this longing, but we Christians already acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Messiah of humankind. We anticipate this great feast in Advent. And the Old Testament prophet Isaiah helps us to do so. He is ‘the evangelist of Advent’ because almost all the First Readings of Advent come from his book. His clairvoyance is startling. It’s as though he enjoyed the inside scoop about the Christmas narrative hundreds of years prior to the event.The Annunciation to Mary and JosephDuring Advent, the Church again celebrates the Angel Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary which is officially designated for March 25th. The angel’s Annunciation to Joseph is as important however. Joseph is being asked to cooperate with the divine plan of redemption by claiming the Child-Messiah as his own when the child is not his own.It’s all terribly confusing for him as the angel places before him the case, but all in a dream. What is the divine plan? He must marry Mary and give the child his identity. He will come from the House of David. Children can be taught to meditate on this mystery, if only for a minute or two. What lesson can they learn from Joseph, a man of faith?Suggestions for the Classroom Preparation for the Coming of ChristAdvent is a lovely season to celebrate with children because there are so many activities for them to do. A few suggestions follow:Advent wreath and accompanying prayers. The children can be prompted to express their own eagerness at the coming of our Emmanuel, God-with-us, expressed in the prayer, “Come,Lord Jesus, come” (1Cor 16:22). They should be encouraged to sing the ancient and beautiful Gregorian melody, “O Come, O Come,Emmanuel.” The children, God’s People, journey together with the Lord of history through history and toward the fulfillment of the Kingdom.The Advent wreath, with accompanying ceremony, symbolizes eternity; the evergreens, eternal life; the purple candles and ribbon, preparation;the rose candle and the four candles, the four weeks and four thousand years of waiting for the Messiah.As the days grow shorter and the darkness of the long winter nights sets in, Advent prompts reflection on the Light who graced our darkness. We rediscover the beauty of being united on the journey. Christ is the Light in the tunnel and at the end of the tunnel. Awaiting the birth of the Incarnate Word calls for silent wonder.The Jesse Tree suggests the lineage of Jesus: “The shoot shall grow from the root of Jesse” (Is 11:1). The Jesse Tree is especially meaningful during the season of Advent. It depicts in art the biblical ancestry of Christ as a family tree that has its origins in Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of David. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus came from the House of David, an essential fact that legitimized the birth of the Jesus of Nazareth and the Son of God.Kris Kindl or Kris Kringle. In this custom, a person’s name is picked out of a hat as one’s“little Christ Child.” Throughout Advent, one prays for his or her Kris and may send Kris a note to say so. As Christmas approaches,the individual gives his or her Kris Kindl a gift of prayer offerings and a small gift to remember that Advent.The Liturgy of the Hours. At appointed times of the day, Catholic educators may choose one psalm and have the children pray it in antiphonal fashion. This maybe followed by a special Advent-Christmas Prayer of the Faithful in which the children may offer their own petitions. In fact, praying the psalms, which are part of the Liturgy of the Hours is our response to the Lord’s command to pray always, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Of course, it was never possible to take these words literally. Nevertheless, the Church has set aside certain canonical hours at various times throughout the day and night. These are the canonical Hours: Matins, Lauds, the Little Hours, prayed from 6 AM to 3 PM, Vespers, and Night Prayer (Compline), the final canonical Hour of the day that asks for peaceful sleep throughout the night.  As children mature, they too must learn to travel the road to discipleship in the Lord to pray always.O Antiphons. From December 17th to the 24th. On December 17th, the Church begins its final efforts at preparation for Christmas. With special solemnity, seven “O” antiphons are sung in the evening. They read as follows:December 17th “O Wisdom, You ordered all things mightily and sweetly. Come!Teach us the way of prudence!”December 18th “Come and with an outstretched arm, redeem us! O Adonai (God of the covenant) and Rule of the house of Israel, You appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and on Mount Sinai gave him Your Law:Come, and with an outstretched arm, redeem us!”December 19th “O Root of Jesse, you stand for an ensign of mankind; before You kings shall keep silence, and to You all nations shall have recourse. Come, save us, and do not delay.”December 20th “O Key of David and Sceptre of the house of Israel: You open and no man closes; You close and no man opens. Come, and deliver him from the chairs of prison who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.”December 21st “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe. O Rising Dawn, Radiance of the Light eternal and Sun of Justice; come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.”December 22nd “O King of the Gentiles and the Desired of all, You are the corner stone that binds two (the Jews and Gentiles) into one: Come, and save poor man whom You fashioned out of clay.” May Thy kingdom come also to our fellow men!”December 23rd “O Emmanuel (God with us), our King and Lawgiver, the expected of nations and their Savior: Come, and save us, O Lord our God!”December 24th This is a sacred day filled with eagerness. The liturgy of the feast begins at midnight.George Friedrich Händel’s “Messiah”Part One of Händel’s “Messiah” sets most of the texts of Isaiah to some of the most beautiful music composed for Christmas. Here the classroom teacher should choose wisely. The music should not be presented for listening without some explanation of what the children will hear, or they will grow restless in the process.Ceremony of Lessons and CarolsIf the school is planning a Christmas pageant, it might be possible to plan the traditional Ceremony of Lessons and Carols the day before.This event has become a quasi-liturgical service that recalls Jesus’ origins that have led up to his birth. The service is filled with scripture readings and appropriate hymns. It is highly recommended that Catholic schools incorporate this practice into the Advent-Christmas cycle. In the United Kingdom, the service has become the standard format for schools’ Christmas celebrations.Every Christmas Eve, public radio broadcasts the event from King’s College, Cambridge. It is one of the loveliest events of the year.Order of the Service of Nine Lessons and CarolsHymn:“Once in Royal David’s City”Opening PrayerFirst Lesson: Genesis 3:8-19 Optional: a hymnSecond Lesson: Genesis 22:15-18 Optional: a hymnThird Lesson: Isaiah 9:2; 6-7 Optional: a hymnFourth Lesson: Isaiah 11:3a; 4a; 6-9 “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” or another hymn to MaryFifth Lesson: Luke 1:26-35; 38Sixth Lesson: Luke 2:1; 3-7Seventh Lesson: Luke 2:8-16 “God Rest You, Merry Gentleman”Eighth Lesson: Matthew 2:1-12Ninth Lesson: John 1:1-14 “O Come, All Ye Faithful”Closing Prayer“Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”When children learn patterns of behavior, they are likely to take those very habits into adulthood. The liturgy is the source of an authentic Christian way of life. The whole meaning of living the liturgical year is for the Christian to be transformed, gradually, into Christ and “to put on Christ.”Advent in Two PartsThe Christmas season has its proper liturgical place, beginning at midnight on Christmas Eve and concludes in January on the feast of Epiphany. December 1st to December 16th recalls Christ’s historic coming at the Incarnation and at the Parousia to fulfill the divine plan.December 17th to December 24th celebrates the prophecies of his coming and his birth of the Virgin-Mother. The key prayer throughout Advent is “Come, Lord Jesus, come.”We Catholic educators owe our children, who are the future of the Church, the opportunity of grasping, living, and loving the year of grace. If we don’t teach them, who will?P { margin-bottom: 0.08in; 

Francis, This Is Your Mission

Dec 3, 2014 / 00:00 am

This was not the plan.  Not the human plan. Xavier, the gifted, debonair hidalgo-turned-Jesuit was destined for great things.  At forty-six years of age, exhausted from serving others, he died on an island off the mainland of China thousands of miles away from his community. Xavier, the nobleman, who was unused to roughing it, became the greatest itinerant missionary-saint in history, second only to St. Paul of Tarsus.  Such are the strange but wonderful ways of Providence to fulfill the divine plan.For the Greater Glory of God     From his young years at the Javier castle in Navarre, Francis excelled in high-jumping.  As a student at the University of Paris, he cut a handsome figure in his stylish clothes, and his extroverted personality won him friends.  He and his chums were more attracted to the night life of the Latin Quarter than they were to studies. Francis roomed with Juan de la Pena, an instructor, Peter Faber, the gentle Savoyard, and a middle-aged fellow Basque, Ignatius Loyola, a former soldier, reputed to be a religious oddity.    Xavier avoided Ignatius and even scoffed at him in public. Ignatius warned him about his excesses even as he loaned him money to feed them.In 1530 with licentiate degree in hand, Francis took a teaching post at the College of Beauvais at the University.  Ignatius, with his religious project in mind, had already won over Faber to it. During the latter’s home visit, Ignatius broke through Francis’ facade and gained a second recruit and a friend.  Francis went through the Spiritual Exercises and emerged from them on fire with apostolic zeal.“Francis, This Is Your Mission.”In March 1539 even before the newly-formed Company of Jesus was canonically approved by Paul III, King John III of Portugal requested that two of the small group be sent as missionaries to the Portugese colony of Goa.  Simon Rodriguez and Nicholas Bobadilla, both Portugese, were slated for the mission, but when the latter fell ill, there was no one else to send except Francis.  He had overworked himself in various Italian towns and was, at this time, recuperating from burn-out and doing clerical work.  When Ignatius called him in and broke the news that due to the circumstances, ‘This was his enterprise,’ Francis responded, “Good enough! I am ready!”  His ready willingness astounds even the most generous soul, given the fact that with these words, Xavier’s life was forever changed.  He hastily darned some clothing, received the pope’s blessing, bade farewell to his companions, and left Rome the next day.  He took with him his breviary, a copy of the Spiritual Exercises, and a treatise by the Croatian Christian humanist, Marko Marulic, De institutione bene vivendi per exempli sanctorum. India and the Pearl Fishery Coast (1542-1549) In 1542 at age thirty-five, his ship arrived in Goa after a seasick journey. Appalled at the religious conditions among the Portuguese, he made the well-run hospital there the center of his activities. At the Cormorin region at the southern tip of India, thirty-thousand people lived in fishing villages along the coastline. About two-thirds of them were nominal Christians but had received no religious education.  The remaining villagers were Paravas, one of the lowest of the Hindu castes.    The first thing Francis did was to learn the rudiments of Tamil.  Under his supervision, two companions translated the basic Christian prayers, and he memorized them by rote.  Francis had no ear for foreign languages, but when he preached, it hardly mattered.  The sheer force of his personality made up for this disadvantage.  In fact, when preaching, crucifix in hand, Francis could speak to people of about thirty dialects at one time and be understood without a translator.  This gift however did not apply apart from his preaching.Cures Attributed to XavierFrancis set up a daily schedule which he followed everywhere.  After his morning prayer, reading the breviary and saying Mass, he attended to baptisms or funerals of children and adults.  Soon Christians and Paravas begged him to visit them and pray over the sick. Miraculous cures had been attributed to him, and word spread fast.  In private letters to Ignatius, Francis does tell him about the gift of tongues and miracles.   He came to be known as “the Holy Father,” and the Brahmans feared and disliked him.  Francis however taught and baptized one of them.Francis taught the people to sing the Catholic truths and would often dramatize a lesson.   At midmorning, he went up and down the streets ringing a little bell and called the children and others to instruction.  He sang the lessons in rhyme to fix the instruction in their memories. The melodies chosen, whether from his childhood or from the indigenous ragas, were easy to sing. He returned to each point and explained it. He was a born educator.While his servant prepared his meal, Francis again prayed and, after dinner, took a rest. Early in the evening, he met with those who wished to speak with him.  At the end of his work day, he withdrew to a lonely spot to pray. Francis ate what little his stomach could endure.  Among the poor fishers, there was no meat, no bread, no grape wine.  The staples were rice, fish, and milk.  He slept little on the bare earth or a wooden frame fitted with a coconut-fiber net and a hard pillow without sheets or covering. Sometimes he relaxed with the natives.  Once a week the adults would gather for two hours of worship and instruction. Women came on Saturday, men on Sunday. Before he left a village after a month or so, he left the community a copy of his catechism which was written on palm leaves.  He told a leader to copy out the prayers, and he appointed another leader to assemble the people on Sundays.  When he returned to the village, he would examine the children on how much they knew.  He grew to love these people, and they him.  They followed him everywhere.  In 1546, twelve Jesuits were sent to help Xavier.The Archipelagos  After spending two years on the fishery coast, Francis traveled from one island to another.  He catechized the people as he did along the fishery coast, and he undertook some administrative work. He taught the natives, counseled European merchants, sailors, and colonists, and settled disputes.  More help came, and the Jesuits opened schools throughout the Portuguese-owned region. While in India, Francis catechized a Japanese man named Anjiro who sparked in Francis the desire to sail for Japan.  Japan (1549-51)  Francis arrived in Japan in April 1549 at a time of civil unrest.  When dignitaries he visited strongly resisted his direct appeal to preach Christianity there, his vision began to fade.  Japanese culture valued subtlety, refinement, honor, and reason.  With sudden clarity, Francis realized that his approach with them had to change.  Doing an about-face, he put on fine clothes, attended tea ceremonies, brought gifts - even chiming clocks - to dignitaries, and conversed indirectly about faith.  Adaptation was the key that opened the door for his new ministry, and Francis found someone to translate the Christian scriptures into Japanese.  He grew to love the Japanese people, and he worked in Japan for two years winning about two thousand converts. The Plan to Enter ChinaFrancis had heard that the Chinese, on whom the Japanese were culturally dependent, were eager for western knowledge. Here was another opportunity to do more.   He returned to Goa until the end of February 1552 to make immediate plans for his next mission.  During the last week in August 1552, Francis reached the island of Sancian off the mainland of China.  He tried to arrange entry into the country, but on November 21, 1552, a fever gripped him.  Two weeks later on December 3rd, he died on the island at the age of forty-six.  After two months, his body was found to be incorrupt and fresh.  It was taken to Goa and there enshrined in the Church of the Good Jesus.  In 1622, he and Ignatius were canonized: two Basques, two kindred souls.  In 1927, St. Francis Xavier was proclaimed patron of the missions; St. Thérèse of Lisieux shares the title.The Power of OneThe high-jumping of Francis the youth was superseded by even higher feats: traveling  thousands of miles to the Indies and Japan to bring the Catholic faith there, all in ten years.  Then there were the reports of miracles and the gift of tongues.  His zeal for souls leaves one speechless. Theodore Maynard observes that “it was impossible to talk with Francis and not be conscious of his charm. It was also impossible to talk with Francis without knowing that he was a man of God.”  On one occasion, a Portuguese dignitary revealed that, on experiencing the power that went out from Xavier, he knew for the first time what it meant to be a Christian.  Ignatius once noted that Francis was the “lumpiest dough he had ever kneaded.” We can agree that it was stretched to its limit and took on an exquisite sheen. (Much of the material in this essay is taken from James Brodrick, Saint Francis Xavier and Georg Schurhammer, Francis Xavier, His Life, His Time.)