Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some Christmas Poems I Like




This first one is poignant because of what must be happening with holy family at the time the maid is recalling... more than thirty years after Bethlehem:

The Maid-Servant At The Inn

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light

As plain as I beheld it then,

All silver-like and calm and bright-
We've not had stars like that again!



"And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.

The barn was dark and frightening-

This new one's better than the old.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Remembering a Children's Icon



In the wake of the senseless killing of the twenty children and their six teachers in Newton, Connecticut last week, there is some traction in the on-line world remembering the nation's unofficial children's pastor, the late Fred Rogers of the multi-decade television show, Mister Roger's Neighbourhood. Sometimes the object of jokes and parody, the fact remains that he was something of an icon of children's education and entertainment. His show lasted more than thirty years (1968-2001), and his gentle and patient persona affirmed and influenced generations of children.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Doings at the Country's End


Given this moment in the semester, a relative breather between mid-terms and finals, I have a miscellany of news and updates that I thought worth conveying to faithful readers, eminently loyal despite the lengthy delays between postings these days.

Regency life has so far been a great blessing, although mostly yet more growth in learning to manage time and rely on the strength that only prayer can give. Constant need to relearn that left to my own devices and strengths, I quickly fade into weakness and powerlessness, while at the same time, learning how even the smallest recourse to the Lord in prayer repays in dividends. This is, of course, a gift, if only I can remember it long enough!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Goulding on New Evangelization

The transcript of the October 23 Vatican Radio interview with my thesis advisor, Dr. Gill Goulding, who is a perita or advisor at the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization.

Photo: news.va

Among the participants at the 13th ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the new evangelization are various experts who assist the bishops in their deliberations. One of them is Sr. Gill Goulding, a professor of theology at Regis College, University of Toronto. She spoke to Charles Collins about the new evangelization.

It's an extraordinary opportunity and I feel very honoured, very humbled, very thrilled to be here. And to have a sense of just listening across the wealth of interventions, gives you a real sense of the universal Church in a way that I didn't have previously. I had more of a theoretical sense of that. For my own Congregation, since it's a international congregation, yes, I do have a sense of internationality. But here you do have a far broader sense of the reality of the Church on the ground, in every continent and across so many different countries. And that, in it's own way, is very inspiring because the issues people raise can be very different -- some are in common -- but there's a sense that everyone is hearing, and therefore the recommendations that will come from this and go to the Holy Father -- and the Holy Father is there at many sessions -- are clearly well-reflected upon by the group, and there's a sense that you do feel that you've heard both the joys and the sorrows, as Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, used to say, of the various situations in various parts of the world. And I think that in itself is an extraordinary experience and something that's really irreplaceable in any other scenario.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

2013 World Comm Day Message: social networks




The theme for the 2013 World Communications Day message was revealed at a press conference Tuesday:

"Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization." 

While the message itself is always published on the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers (January 24), the theme is released on the feast of archangels (Oct. 2) the fall before, and sets the stage for reflection and teaching to begin. The announcement of this theme of digital media continues a thread that began with 2009's "New Technologies, New Relationships" and which continued with subsequent annual messages. WCD was the sole annual celebration called for by Vatican II, and began in 1967.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Refusing to Vote?




With the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, and many voters unimpressed with both candidates and their parties, a legitimate question is being posed: can one abstain from voting in an election for reasons of conscience? What does the Bark of Peter have to say on this?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Old Missions of San Antonio

On the recent retreat tour of the U.S. South, I went to visit the old missions of San Antonio. I had heard of their famous cousins on the West Coast, the missions of California, but was not aware of the southern Texas line. They were quite stunning in their age and beauty. Moreover they represented the missionary spirit of the men who built them. They were mainly founded by Franciscans in the early 1700s, and are remarkably preserved today.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hearts on Fire: the Interview

Fr. Phil nailed the interview on the EWTN Live last week. They say the network reaches 110 million households. Probably a million people watched their flagship show. But this knowledge did not enervate our fearless leader, who spoke very eloquently about Hearts on Fire.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Tampa


We rushed from Tampa to Irondale (Birmingham), Alabama for the EWTN Live interview, that it took us a little longer to get our pictures organized. But this retreat (July 20-21) went very well. We were blessed to have David Paternostro, SJ, a New Orleans Province scholastic currently working at Jesuit High in Tampa, help us out. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

EWTN Live & Humanae Vitae posts

I'm writing from Birmingham, Alabama, where the Hearts on Fire mission band has docked after a long drive today from Tampa, and where we are enjoying the hospitality of Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the host of EWTN Live! and fellow Jesuit. Tomorrow night, Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J., our intrepid leader, will appear on the show and talk about what we do. The rest of us will be there too, probably waving from the stands!

To tune in online at 8 PM (Wed, July 25), visit: http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/live.asp

This day is also the 44th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. The editors of the Jesuit blog Ibo et Non Redibo (of which I am one) decided a while back to do a series of reflections on the teaching, which have been posted at the site over the past week. My own humble contribution is on the meaning of "ends", which seemed to me the crux of the issue. I hope it is intelligible. You can read it here, along with the others.

Finally, since we're in the South, here's a song by the Quebec band "The Lost Fingers", their jazz cover of Alannah Miles' "Black Velvet":



Good night and God bless!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Orleans

I've been mulling over whether to say this, but I think I will. Once we arrived in Louisiana, all the characters from the southern writers I've read left the confines of my imagination and appeared in real life, the cuisine magically became distinctly delicious, and we entered another time.

Our first stop was the St. Charles College novitiate and retreat centre in Grand Coteau, where spanish moss hangs from oak trees, the cicadas buzz incessantly in the humid heat, and where the birth dates in the cemetery begin in the 1700s.


Monday, July 16, 2012

Corpus Christi, TX


Fr. Jay Hooks, S.J. celebrates the Vigil Mass at the retreat

The Hearts on Fire mission band has had a busy two weeks, journeying to Corpus Christi, Texas on the Gulf Coast. The team stayed at the campus of the SOLT community, which operates a retreat centre there, alongside their novitiate and the shrine of Our Lady of Corpus Christi

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Hearts on Fire - San Antonio

The Hearts on Fire Team in San Antonio, Texas

First of all, San Antonio is a great, if underrated city. Seventh largest in the United States, and second biggest in Texas, yet often overshadowed by its younger brothers Dallas and Houston with all their corporate behemoths and professional sports teams (S.A. only has one: the NBA's Spurs). But S.A. has more history, and Texans will forgive me, more charm. Home to a huge Latino population, the oldest cathedral in the U.S., and a series of historic missions, the city was very receptive to us both as visitors and retreat-givers.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CERC & thesis passed!


The website called Catholic Education Resource Center is an excellent source of articles on topics of all kind, from abortion to world religions. Calling it a website seems to shortchange the quality of editorial effort that goes into producing and organizing CERC's content. It's more a refined aggregator of articles, columns and editorials of note from around the world. The chief editor, Mr. Fraser Field, has a discerning eye and is very selective of what pieces make it to his roster.

Notwithstanding the high bar, CERC was kind enough to include a little piece of mine called "The Recovery of Focal Practices", in which I discuss the theories of Albert Borgmann on how to discern and live with our new technologies and devices. It's a theme I treat in my master's thesis, "The Recovery of Silence", which was recently accepted and passed by the readers at the Toronto School of Theology -- deo gratias!

You can also download the audio .mp3 of the article by right-clicking on the link called "listen" at the article page which is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hearts on Fire in Dallas


The first Hearts on Fire retreat was last weekend. It's taken me this long to blog about it, since we needed some time to rest and get photos back, and basically let the experience settle in. Dallas has proved to be a hospitable first stop, from the Jesuit communities at Jesuit Prep High School and Montserrat Retreat Centre at Lake Dallas where we stayed, various families, and the parishioners at St. Ann's Parish which hosted our retreat.

St. Ann's is the fifth largest parish in the United States, with 30,000 members. It is a campus. The parish complex literally includes a former strip mall with clock-tower and parking lot, a massive gold-domed church, a plaza with fountain, and halls and auditoria galore. The church employs four full-time youth ministers. I had never seen a Catholic mega-church before, but this was it!


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

For Greater Glory

Taking advantage of my American sojourn, I went see the film For Greater Glory in the cinema, as it looks like it will not be playing in Canada, and its U.S. run is winding up. I'm glad I did. The film is emotionally moving and engaging notwithstanding its 2.5 hour length. It chronicles the Cristero War in Mexico (1926-29), which took place when the government of Plutarco Calles began enforcing the anticlerical laws of Mexico's 1917 constitution. Religious observance was essentially outlawed, foreign priests were expelled and many clergy murdered and altars smashed. Eventually, the people organized themselves into an armed resistance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ten Secular Songs with Religious Themes

While preparing songs for our retreats and coffee house ministries this summer, I have come across many by secular artists -- that is, musicians who don't self-categorize as belonging to genres of religious music -- which were nonetheless powerfully spiritual. This is my top ten list from past and present.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Jesuits in St. Louis

Happy Feast of the Sacred Heart, live from "the Sacred Heart convention" -- that is, the national gathering of the Apostleship of Prayer in St. Louis, Missouri. The AoP is not a movement in itself, but considers its mission as inspiring other groups, to animate and act as leaven by assisting people in their spiritual lives. Here, over the past week, I have met many inspiring Jesuits from all walks of life.

Excellent talks were given by national director Fr. James Kubicki, S.J., my team leader and director the youth and young adult wing, Fr. Phil Hurley, as well as Fr. Claudio Barriga, the Director General Delegate of the AoP in Rome.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

The Resurrection of William Kurelek

By John D. O'Brien, S.J.

It is difficult to think of a Canadian artist more praised and more polarizing than William Kurelek. His phenomenal eruption upon the art scene in the 1960s and 70s was at odds with the more dominant abstract trends of the day: his paintings were pastoral, humorous, human, even naïf. Still more unusual, they often contained religious imagery. But Kurelek – both the man and his work – was unforgettable, which is why, after a near eclipse during recent decades, the reappearance of his work in a major cross-country exhibition bears scrutiny.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eric McLuhan on "The New Culture"

This past winter I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Eric McLuhan, the son of the celebrated media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and communications scholar in his own right. Eric has been continuing his father's line of reflection and insight since the 1970s and has authored or co-authored some half-dozen books.

Recently, we were corresponding on a few issues concerning communications and society. I was interested to learn that over the last few years, McLuhan has delivered three talks in Rome, which to the best of my knowledge remain unpublished. He was kind enough to share the transcripts with me. The first talk was delivered at the Lateran University in 2009 to a group of university rectors. In it, he discussed contemporary students and the pressures they face. He makes eight points, all of which share a certain amount of interrelation, but together constitute a recognizably McLuhanesque reflection on the effects of our digital environments today.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eliot: Tradition and the Individual Talent




By T.S. Eliot

Eliot once wrote "Immature poets borrow. Mature poets steal." The great modern poet, who died in 1965, wrote the following essay in which he outlines the relationship of a poem to other poems, that is, of how artists to assimilate themselves to a literary tradition that has come before them. Coming from a poet considered one of the most revolutionary and emblematic of modern literature, it is extraordinary, and is reproduced here in its entirely.

In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to "the tradition" or to "a tradition"; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is "traditional" or even "too traditional." Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archæological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archaeology.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Word and Silence in 2012



The French poet Charles Péguy once wrote these beautiful lines:

Nous nous taisons. Heureux ceux, heureux deux amis, qui s’aiment assez, qui veulent assez se plaire, qui se connaissent, qui s’entendent assez, qui sont assez parents, qui pensent et sentent assez de même assez ensemble en dedans, chacun séparément, assez les mêmes, chacun côte à côte, de marcher longtemps, longtemps, d'aller, de marcher silencieusement le long des silencieuses routes. Heureux deux amis, qui s'aiment assez pour (savoir) se taire ensemble. Dans un pays qui sait se taire. Nous montions. Nous nous taisions. Depuis longtemps nous nous taisions. 

It refers to the silence that is rich in meaning and significance for two friends who know each other well. They do not need to speak very much. There is deep communication in their silent presence to one another. Happy the two friends who love each other enough to know to be silent together.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Focal Things and Practices

Albert Borgmann
The German-American philosopher Albert Borgmann is professor at the University of Montana and author of several books on the effects of electronic media on the human person. He rejects both technological determinism -- the view that technology is a irresistible force that forces our hand as we shape our culture, and technological instrumentalism, which sees technology as a mere collective of neutral processes and structures that can be used either well or badly. Like Marshall McLuhan, Borgmann is aware that the medium “is” the message, highly transformative in and of itself, and requires critical analysis and understanding. For example, he writes:
Using or not using the interstate highway system is not a matter of choice anymore for most of us, and neither are the moral consequences of long commutes and the neglect of family, neighborhood, and inner city. When we finally come home, late and exhausted, greeted by a well-stocked refrigerator, a preternaturally efficient microwave, and diverting television, there is little choice when we fail to cook a good meal and summon the family to the dinner table.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From Their Mouths Comes Perfect Praise

It's been a busy week: I assisted at the silent discernment retreat which was full of many graces for all the participants, and now am slaving away merrily on my next chapter of the thesis. I couldn't pass by posting this remarkable video interview of a young boy who knew he was going to die. It's not morbid in the least, but rather is one of the more inspiring interviews I've seen in ages. May we have such conviction and serenity when our moment comes. Take a few minutes...



It's hard not to imagine the Lord welcoming this boy into his kingdom with great joy. One gets the impression he was already mostly there.


L'esprit d'enfance is our goal too. One of Catherine Doherty's well-known prayers was:
"Give me the heart of a child, and the awesome courage to live it out."
Also, my latest posting over at Ibo: another young person who shows us the way. Meet Rose Prince.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Teaching Opportunities

Dear Readers,

If you or someone you know is looking for a new opportunity to teach in a small but vibrant Catholic school community, you might be interested in the following job openings.

I will also take the opportunity to recommend a wonderful essay by Dorothy L. Sayers -- yes, the Dante scholar and detective writer -- on classical curriculum, here. Also,
 my own take on Wayside Academy from my personal experience, blogged not long ago, which might be of interest.

Finally, on the theme of teachers and Easter, a short reflection I made over at Ibo.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

War Horse



Last night I went with my community to see the stage production of "War Horse" at the Princess of Wales Theatre in Toronto. About once a year we go together to see a live drama, and this year it was to this six Tony-award winning (2011) play about friendship between an English farm boy and a horse during the years of the First World War.

Most reviewers have already said what every audience member soon discovers: that the technical achievement of the play is mesmerizing. This is true -- the Handspring Puppet Company, which designed the larger-than-life horses, was given a special award at the Tonys. The models, each of which are operated by three people at all times, are uncannily life-like in their movement, from every twitching ear to their equestrian trot. They are veritable characters in the story. This may, however, also be the show's weakness. It's hard to suspend disbelief when one is being impressed by the puppeteers, whom you can see at all times (they are even costumed in period clothes). So during a private scene between the horse and his boy, there are actually four humans in the picture on-stage.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Victimae Paschali Laudes


Christ is Risen! Resurrexit sicut dixit!

This morning, a confrere and I went to St. Michael's Cathedral in downtown Toronto for Easter morning Mass, where the boys choir from the St. Michael's Choir School sang. The choir school is one of perhaps only two or three Catholic choir schools in Canada and one of only six in the world affiliated with the Pontifical Institute of Sacred Music. The boys receive a solid academic formation, presently guided by the strong vision of Mr. Barry White, school principal and friend. They tour the world every year, and are often compared to the Vienna Boys Choir (which they have defeated at the International Choral Festival!).

Friday, April 06, 2012

Life and Death in Jamaica

A few years ago, I found myself confined behind the brick walls of the Jesuit house in Kingston, Jamaica, while gunfire raged outside. For three days, army, police and gunmen were battling for control of the city, the catalyst being a government decision to arrest Jamaica’s leading criminal don. Drought had made the city even more combustible, and the urban water shortage was making life difficult. Ironically, those three days were the first time in months I had opportunity to reflect – a rest from the days of teaching at the inner-city school. I spent those house-bound mornings reading and thinking about why I had been led to this violent but hospitable and beautiful island nation.

Above all, I was there because I had been sent, like my fellow novices from Canada, who at the same time were serving in Haiti and the native missions of northern Ontario. We were meant to meet Christ in the face of the poor. Now, as the city was being rocked by the trauma of violence, I was anxious to get out and help in some way.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Les Xavieres

Ignatian spirituality for women? As many know, there is no female branch of the Society of Jesus or Jesuits. St. Ignatius considered it, but in the end did not found any such branch. Instead, several groups spontaneously sprung up independently of the Jesuits, but who share with us a spiritual kinship.

One such group is the congregation of women known as Les Xavieres - or Xaviere sisters. Their life is based on Ignatian spirituality, and they take their name from the great missionary Jesuit of the Far East. Similar to their namesake, the Xaviere sisters are outgoing and apostolic, spread out in nineteen communities in France, Africa and now Canada (where they have two houses: Montreal and Toronto), evangelizing in the name of God. Founded in France in 1921, and officially approved in 1963, there are presently 112 Xavieres, many of them young vocations.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Spiritual but not Religious

Nowadays you often hear people say that they are “spiritual but not religious”. How might we respond to this?



There are many good and morally upright people who do not practice religion. Some have been disillusioned by the human failures of the Church’s members. Others have simply never been presented with the good news of the Church in its fullness. Yet we believe, according to the Catechism, that “those…who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience – those too may achieve eternal salvation.” Often they show us many things about God by their own natural virtue.

The recent but growing phenomenon of SBNR has come about by (and is most pronounced) among the baby boomers and their offspring. The boomers widely withdrew from religion, emphasizing the need for personal choice over cultural inheritance, and largely left their children to find their own way in matters of ultimate meaning. It's no surprise, then, that many describe themselves this way today. There's also unfortunately a subtle implication  often held expressly  that being spiritual and religious are mutually exclusive, with the latter associated with rules, restrictions, and narrow-mindedness. If you are SBNR, does that make me RBNS?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Artwork of the Week

Jesus Returning in the Spirit, John Lee Vince, oil on canvas.

Click on the image to see a larger version of the painting.

"Then Jesus returned in the power of the spirit to Galilee." (Luke 4:14)

John Lee Vince is a contemporary artist who works from California. He has an online gallery

What Exactly is Glory?

"I wanted to be loved because I was great; A big man. I'm nothing. Look at the glory around us; trees, birds. I lived in shame. I dishonored it all, and didn't notice the glory. I'm a foolish man."
 Mr. O'Brien, The Tree of Life




In yesterday's Gospel Jesus made a statement about glory. He said that If I were to seek my own glory that would be no glory at all; my glory is conferred by the Father…" Jesus saw fit to point out that everything about him – his preaching, his life, and even his soon-to-be death and resurrection – he was not doing because of the glory it would accrue him. Self-glorification is not the motive behind his mission; rather, it is for the glorification of the Father. Yet Jesus is frank to acknowledge that he does receive glory, as a gift from the Father, a glory that rebounds to him when he fulfills the Father’s will.

What is glory, then? My Concise Dictionary of Theology says that in the Old Testament glory was the majestic radiance manifesting God’s presence. In the NT, the glory of God is revealed in the Incarnation, death and resurrection of the Son. The many meanings of glory were summarized by St. Augustine, who simply called it clara notitia cum laude, or "brilliant celebrity with praise".  Since God is the origin of all that is, glory is one of his attributes, and by our being we reflect it back to him.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Collier's Annunciation


The Annunciation, John Collier


In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent  from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:26-28)

Happy Feast - March 26




Sunday, March 25, 2012

Jesuits in Canada

Last summer, the Jesuits of English Canada, together with a number of lay collaborators and some Jesuits from the French Canada province, joined with the Father General of the Society of Jesus, Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, for a congress in Midland, Ontario. The occasion was the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Jesuits in Canada, and to pray, discern, and discuss directions for the future.

A short video was just released today on that gathering, which also serves to provide a certain portrait of the Society in Canada today:






For those with a little more time, here's a video of a talk recently given by Sylvester Tan, SJ, a Jesuit from the New Orleans Province, at Loyola College (New Orleans). It's on the question of "What is Jesuit Education? This, too, gives a certain portrait of the Society of the Jesus, from both a historical and spiritual perspective. Highly recommended.




Finally, I wrote a short blog article over at Ibo, our SJ scholastic group blog, on last weekend's atheist and papal gatherings, called A Tale of Two Rallies. We love to hear your comments on our site.

Thanks for reading!


Friday, March 23, 2012

Artwork of the Week


Dinnertime on the Prairies, William Kurelek, 1963. Oil on masonite.
McMaster University Collection, Hamilton, Ontario

Click on image to see larger.

Dinnertime on the Prairies is best described by the artist himself. On the label for the back of the painting Kurelek wrote, “This is an intuitive painting. I was wondering how to paint a Western religious painting and suddenly this idea came to me so it is open to interpretation. The meaning I put on it is that sin, which crucifies Christ over and over, can just as easily happen on a summer day on a Manitoba farm as anywhere else. The farmer and his sons doing the fencing may have had an argument just before dinner or one of them may have enjoyed a lustful thought. Or got an idea how to revenge himself on neighbours, etc.”
To preview the exhibition and learn more about William Kurelek, visit: kurelek.ca.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Climbing Canada


Brendan Quigley (l) and Frank Callaghan (r) with
Bishop Nicola de Angelis of Peterborough
In 2008 two friends, alumni of Wayside Academy in Peterborough, Ontario, planned and executed a bike trip across the Australian continent, cycling through nine dioceses while begging their way in a manner reminiscent of the Ignatian pilgrimage (of the Jesuit novitiate). They arrived 50 days later in Sydney for World Youth Day. The local newspapers covered their departure, and the young men blogged about their great adventure, which is still a great read. 

Frank and Brendan are off once more, this time planning a monumental expedition to "climb Canada", from sea level in Newfoundland to the summit of Mount Logan in the Yukon. These intrepid adventurers have been leaders in various Catholic groups and projects in their home diocese and beyond, and are an inspiration to many. They have written about their latest mission, with an appeal for support, which I append here below. Be sure to visit their expedition website and blog, www.greatcanadianascent.ca and watch their trailer at the end of this post.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Heidegger on Technology

For a long time I've wanted to read Martin Heidegger's essay "The Question Concerning Technology" as its topic concerns my thesis. I spent the greater part of today plowing through its nineteen pages, plus footnotes. It's not an easy text; he uses lots of original terms (which have been translated from the German). But it was worth the effort.

What follows is the shortest possible summary of this essay that I can make.

For Heidegger, truth is unveiling or revealing, in ways that are beyond mere knowledge, because human beings are more than mere knowers. We love, have goals, desires and personalities. Modern technology poses a problem because it views the world as a pure resource. The difference, he cites, between a windmill and a hydroelectric power plant -- the difference between technology and modern technology -- is that in the former there was greater harmonious relationship with nature, while in the latter, nature is seen as an object to be exploited, in which other principles such as gaining "the maximum yield at minimum expense" predominate. Furthermore, the problem with modern technology is that it requires us to view the whole world in this way, as a "calculable coherence of forces", and excludes other forms of revealing. He calls this mentality "enframing", that which calls out, impels, and challenges forth the revealing of the actual. While it's true that all objects in the world have the aspect of being resources, of being objects of scientific analysis, there are poetic, religious and aesthetic modes of revealing truth as well.

Heidegger does not see danger in technological inventions per se, but only if they prevent us from experiencing the other forms of revealing. In his conception, a fullness of human consciousness results from allowing nature to more fully reveal itself, that is, in greater variety. We can resist the overwhelming power of modern technology to reduce our worldview by recovering the sensibilities of the craftsman or artisan or poet, which, he holds, was the pinnacle of ancient Greek culture. Just as nature allows a tree to come out of a plant, the artist brings a pot out of clay, or a song out of silence, and his or her sense of wonder and respect for the object is retained. In this way we have a harmonious relationship with nature, rather than one that merely seeks to corral and consume its energy. This "saving power" regarding technology lies in our ability to listen, reflect and witness.

Food for thought.

P.S. This past weekend I also posted on maternal prayer-leading, called Theology in 15 Seconds at the Jesuit blog, Ibo et Non Redibo


Sunday, March 18, 2012

Discernment of Spirits

Today I've been attending "day one" of a weekend retreat on "Discernment of Spirits", directed by Fr. Timothy Gallagher, OMV, and sponsored by the Sisters of Life at their centre at St. Catherine of Siena Church on the Danforth in Toronto.

Fr. Gallagher is growing in renown as popular retreat leader, lecturer, and scholar of St. Ignatius of Loyola. He has written best-selling books in recent years on discernment of spirits, the examen prayer, discerning God's will, Ignatian meditation, and a few other themes. He is a gifted communicator, and the message clearly flows from his own interior life.

The "rules" for the discernment of spirits, of course, come from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. They were the fruit of Ignatius's own experience and observation of interior motions, which he refined and bequeathed to the Church. They are as valid a means of spiritual growth today as they were when he wrote them in the 16th century. In brief, they are rules for becoming aware and understanding to some extent the different movements which are caused in the soul, to discern which ones are good, and which are bad (and accepting or rejecting them).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Discernment Retreat in April


There's a retreat coming up on the weekend of April 20-22 in the Toronto area, for young men who wish to discern a possible vocation to some form of consecrated life. To be lead by Fr. Anthony Wieck, a Jesuit from the United States, this silent retreat will be based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is not a vocations retreat for any particular order or group, but an encounter with Christ to help clarify his Word in the life of the retreatant. There are only a small number of spots available, so if you think you or someone you know might profit from this, please contact me directly.

My email address is on the bottom of the following poster. Thanks and God bless. -John


Thursday, March 01, 2012

Wayside Academy: Light on a Hilltop


Faces run headlong into the wind,
Oblivious to its ferocity,
Sending sonic ripples shooting into the sky,
Proclaiming the innocence of Eden.

Swiftly they make their way to the gates,
Testing new virtue and gallantry,
Parrying and thrusting in the poetry of play,
Young warriors on fields of Pelennor.


They gather their experiences,
Spoils of war, and tuck them away,
Anticipating the trials and unknowns,
But conscious of deep-beauty and grandeur.

The tears of loss, and cries of victory —
All the breathing tangibles of existence,
Are manifest here in this nondescript place,
Hidden by the wayside.


("Wayside" -  2006)


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dickens, McLuhan and the B.V.M.


There is a story in Britain's The Catholic Herald about the night Charles Dickens may have had a vision of the Virgin Mary. The English novelist was certainly no Catholic, and at times revealed his own prejudices about "popery", typical of his time. Yet this unusual account reveals how quickly Catholicism leapt to Dickens' mind, in a moment of rather dramatic religious experience. 

It's worth reading in its entirety, but here is the kernel of the account, from a letter Dickens wrote to his biographer John Forster:


Monday, February 13, 2012

George Grant Revisited


In the course of my research on the question of human relationship to emerging digital technologies and their environments, I've read from two books by the Canadian nationalist and philosopher George Grant. Grant was once a fixture on the Canadian intellectual landscape, roaming alongside other giants like Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye in the 1970s heyday that put the University of Toronto on the radar screen of the world. It was an era, it seems, that produced a set of remarkably penetrating and prophetic thinkers.

In his 1969 book Technology and Empire, Grant (incidentally, the uncle of erstwhile politician Michael Ignatieff), lamented that the idea of progress had lost its connection to moral development and had been co-opted into a utilitarian mastery of nature to satisfy human appetites. He was not blind to the multitude of benefits wrought by science and technology, and struggled to hold them in tension with his growing criticism of the emerging technologized man, but he did so confident that it was because we had internalized technology as a way of thinking, and could not step outside ourselves "to see the forest for the trees."

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Ignatian Spirituality - Roving Bands and the Digitally-Delivered


People often say to me that they would love to take an Ignatian retreat, but live too far away from a retreat centre, can't take the time off from daily life, or can't afford it (long retreats are sometimes costly). St. Ignatius foresaw this, and in Annotations 18-20 in his Spiritual Exercises, he describes some alternate retreat scenarios, among which is the option to remain in one's daily rhythm of life, but devote an hour or so to meditative prayer each day. In Jesuit parlance this form of retreat is called "Annotation 19". Without delving too much into this kind of retreat, it does raise the question of daily spiritual practices of a specifically Ignatian character. What might these be?

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Violent God of the Old Testament

The reading from Mass yesterday is among the most difficult to comprehend in the whole of scripture, ranking up with the episode in which God punishes Saul for not killing all the Amalekites and their animals (the priest Samuel had to slay the captured Amalekite king, you may recall). In our reading, King David makes the mistake of ordering a census, revealing his desire to know how many fighting men he has, and hence a lack of faith. David repents of this sin, and God offers him a choice between three penances. David chooses three days of pestilence, which causes 70,000 Israelites to perish. David laments this (it was his sin after all), and God recalls his angel of death. 

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Summer Discernment in Italy


There's a rather unique opportunity this summer for young men who would like to discern more about the possibility of a vocation -- outside the programs of any particular group or order. It begins in Rome, followed by a study session on the island of Sardinia. A U.S. Jesuit, Fr. Anthony Wieck, will direct this course along with Fr. Jacques Servais, director of Rome's Casa Balthasar. Here's the details -- if anyone knows young men who might profit from this, spread the word.



Saturday, January 28, 2012

Information Overload Syndrome


This video, while humorous, looks at the phenomenon of information overload in our daily lives. Fifteen years into the Internet (plus or minus for most of us), the problem is quite topical.




Monday, January 16, 2012

Obedience! Jesuit Saved from Titanic


While he was having a meal in the first class dining room he got chatting to a wealthy American couple. They liked Fr. Frank Browne, S.J. and asked him to stay on the Titanic with them until the boat reached New York. The American couple even offered to pay the rest of his fare to New York but Fr. Browne told them that his superior in Dublin would never allow it so he had to get off the ship when it stopped in Cobh.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Kurelek Comes to Hamilton

I've been given tickets to the opening of the William Kurelek exhibition at the Art Gallery of Hamilton on January 29. Titled "William Kurelek: the Messenger", it's the largest exhibition of this important Canadian Catholic painter's works ever launched, coinciding with the 25th anniversary of his death (1977).

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

We Are Not Alone






This is a clip from the Mennonite choir, the Emerald Chorale, singing "We are not Alone" in a cathedral in Dublin. Both the music, and the spirit with which they sing it, is beautiful.

Monday, January 09, 2012

First Entry in a Decade

I just discovered that I've had a blog for the last ten years, a blog that began in 2002, and for which I managed to write a total of 26 words (see below). I think I will try and improve on that during the next decade. To be honest, I forgot about the blog after its first, rather terse and procrastinating entry. Even then it was incomplete.

Now it was a traditional Jesuit habit -- oh yes, I became a member of the Society of Jesus since I last wrote -- to write something every day, even if it is only for 10 minutes. I can't be sure that I will write every day, but I hereby commit to posting items that I think merit public sharing. I hope these are found to be fruitful. Was WYD Toronto really 10 years ago?