Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Being a Jesuit in Homs, Syria

Fr Ziad Hilal SJ lives at the frontiers. He is used to crossing the borders between countries: he studied philosophy and theology in Paris, and is completing a doctorate in education and theology for St Joseph’s University in Beirut; he was ordained in Damascus in 20l0.

He now lives at the frontier between war and peace. He is working in Homs, the city that has beendevastated in the civil war in Syria. The United Nations brokered a ceasefire a month ago, but it is interrupted daily by shelling that each day takes lives. The Christian quarter in which the Jesuit community lived has now been deserted because of the fighting, and he has taken residence in another suburb.

Although the Christian community has not been targeted specifically in the conflict, it has been badly affected. Up to 80 per cent of the 150,000 Christians have fled into the mountains and to other cities.

Children are victims of the warfare. Schools are closed and children are confined to their houses, watching television with the adults. So Ziad decided to offer classes for children in a building near the church, which itself was damaged by a shell. He engaged unemployed university graduates to teach in the school. He says of the school, ‘It is a ray of light, a great source of hope, in this hell. We are educating 150 children now. Whether they are Christians, Sunnite or Alawite makes no difference.’ 

He also feeds the children with milk, sandwiches and fruit, and, with a group of religious and young people, distributes food parcel to families in Homs and the surrounding villages. This project is supported by Caritas.

Life is difficult in Homs. To travel to the Jesuit residence from his present house would normally take a few minutes by bicycle. Now he needs to travel by car, taking a huge detour. But he continues to move between the areas controlled by the Syrian army to those in the hands of the rebels.

Ziad refuses to take side in the conflict. ‘I am for peace, and don’t get involved in politics’, he says.

‘Apart from humanitarian aid to the people who suffer in this situation, my priority is the education of the children. We must form a new generation in order to lessen the tension between religious groups.’

This is difficult, Ziad says, because prejudices are so strongly held. ‘In this patriarchal society people are not very open. They do not venture beyond their own group.’

Ziad’s greatest fear is that extremists will control the public conversation. He blames the media for provoking division and hostility between the communities, with no respect for truth.

For all the dangers, he and his companion Jesuit have no plans to move.

‘Whatever happens, we have decided to stay’, he says, ‘because it is the people, and especially the children, who matter. Personally I don’t worry about my future; I live each moment as it comes.  Certainly I have brushed up against death on several occasions, but I have become used to it. At all events God has protected me.’

It’s a level of trust that is daunting, but essential for people like Ziad, whose Jesuit mission is to live at the frontiers.

Translated by Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ

Monday, May 28, 2012

My Mother's 80th birthday party

In honor of my mother's 80th birthday (on May 29th), we celebrated on Sunday at a gathering at the family home in Douglas. It was amazing that nearly every family member that could come showed up.

My sister from Maine with her husband and three sons came. My older sister from Worcester was able to make it despite losing her husband a week earlier. My niece-sisters' whole family came as did my brother's partner. My brother came later in the day as he was working. My brother in California/Virginia and his family were not able to make it. Everyone had a great time as food was bountiful on this Memorial Day weekend.

The children made things interesting and the dog who generally wears people out was the one who was worn down. She didn't know who to beg from. The temperature inside the house heated up quickly as many people kept coming and going. I still can't believe that a family of eight children with dogs and cats and two adults lived in such a small abode. 

My mother received the gifts she wanted and she was happy we were all together. The family related well to one another. I think it was good for Dara, who is grieving the death of her husband with the uncertainty of not knowing where she will live. Sh fears that after 23 years with her partner, Dennis, his family may be asking her to move out of the condo very soon. Poor thing. I've always suggested that she formalize the relationship with marriage. She took care of him so well since his four strokes 21 years ago.

 All the cousins got together and it was like they were discovering each other for the first time. They have grown a great deal since they last saw each other. They were happy to belong to a large family with such great diversity.

 It was bittersweet for me as I'm soon headed for Amman, Jordan. It may be the last time I see the family together in such a celebratory way. I was pleased that most of us were there. Something larger than us happened that day. And it was good.

Photos: My Mother's 80th Birthday

To see photos of the family gathering at my mother's 80th birthday party, click on the link below:

Pics of my mother's 80th birthday party

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Preparing the Jesuits of tomorrow

Recent statistics have reinforced the fact that Jesuit vocations are increasing in Asia Pacific and declining in the West. The President of the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific, Fr Mark Raper SJ (pictured), reflects on the role of the Society in preparing new candidates for the demanding mission given to them today.


There are many factors contributing to the increase in vocations, such as poverty and lack of otheropportunities, along with the piety and devotion of the communities from which our candidates come. Our attention has been to improve the quality of those who are accepted rather than to increase the number of candidates to the Society. This is certainly the case for Myanmar, Timor Leste, Vietnam and Korea, where, over the past ten years, there have been good numbers of applicants. We have introduced tougher screening. We ask whether the applicant can take the long and rigorous studies, is ready to learn other languages and live in unfamiliar cultural contexts, is adequately free to make an independent decision about his life. As a result of this screening, we tend to accept fewer persons. It also means that their formation can be more focused.
       
During the last few years, the conference has been examining its purpose for the ‘formation’ of Jesuits in Asia Pacific. We see formation as deep human education, a profound personal transformation. This transformation occurs often, perhaps exclusively, through experiences of vulnerability. In other words, compassion is a key: enduring something with another person and allowing the pain of other people to get inside us dispose us to change, to being transformed. If the experience is deep, it is difficult to return to the isolated self again. But this formation cannot be forced; it is an invitation. It means being open to the outsider, to the poor and to those who suffer.

Our greatest challenges do not come from our changing demographics, but rather from the complexity of the world to which we are sent. Asia Pacific is changing fast.  Moreover, perhaps thanks to the changing distribution of Jesuits, we are recapturing a sense of our universal mission that was so much in the mind of Ignatius. He did not seek a Society that was grand in terms of numbers or prestige. He wanted a body of men prepared and disposed to go wherever the needs are greatest.

The challenge therefore is both to prepare Jesuit personnel for this type of mobility, and also to have the organisational arrangements that facilitate sending the right person to the right place at the right time.  Strengthening our communication and cooperation within the Conference is an important step to fulfil this requirement. But we need to go further in adapting governance arrangements. That restructuring is a work in progress. More redistribution of responsibilities within the Jesuits of Asia Pacific will take place.  Across the whole Society we are examining ways in which provinces will cooperate more, and smaller or diminishing units will be amalgamated with others for greater efficiencies.

One challenge for fast growing units of the Society is that they lack mentors and leaders: they have many younger Jesuits and fewer mature ones. The demographic in some of the more established provinces is the reverse: few young and more mature. By sharing personnel this imbalance can be partially addressed. Thus Australia, for example, is called on to supply personnel to assist in the formation programs and institution-building in other provinces. One member of the Australian Province, Fr Pham Van Ai, serves as Dean of the Theology Faculty in Vietnam, and Fr Brendan Byrne visits there frequently to teach scripture. Frs Nguyen Van Cao and Quyen Vu have recently been sent to Myanmar and Timor Leste respectively to help build local capacity.

The greatest decline in the Society has been occurring over the last thirty or forty years in Europe and North America. We can learn a lot from their examples, both where they face this changing reality and in places where for various reasons they do not face it. What remains important is our mission. Mission means being sent to new frontiers. This implies that we recognise and face challenges and respond freshly. One fresh response involves recognising how much these challenges are a product of global realities and must be dealt with from an international perspective. This implies greater international cooperation. Jesuit Refugee Service is an example of a coordinated international action undertaken in a contemporary way.

The Australian Province has fewer Jesuits than it had twenty years ago, but it has a far stronger social base – more lay persons who identify with its mission and are prepared to join it. But compared to ten years ago, this same diminishing body of Jesuits is also ageing. At the same time the context in which we exercise our mission is changing. Our society is less receptive to religious belief and argument.    

All this implies change. Change is never easy for anyone. In order to facilitate change we need to know why we want it, we need a vision that is shared, a shared understanding of our mission today and what it asks of us. Good leadership helps for this, but also good conversation. Without a sense of where we want to get to by changing, we can be without a rudder, without a sense of direction, overwhelmed by problems. A vision of the future that we want to create can generate energy, enthusiasm and purposeful activity. This is what gives life. Everyone and everything age. The point is to retain a sense of hope and purpose rooted in our mission. 
It will be a big challenge for the Church to have a voice and role in civil society in countries like Vietnam, Myanmar and Timor Leste. This will involve confronting and helping build societies that are ethical and respect human rights. This challenge for Jesuits relates precisely to our universal mission. How can our Jesuits return to their local communities and cultures with a vision that looks beyond those communities, is universal? Our formation, hopefully, does not alienate them from their cultures, but should help them to develop a capacity to be critically present in their local communities. Our education institutions should not build a prestigious elite but rather serve the whole country.

Only God knows the future. But because our mission is God’s mission and is so immense, there is every reason to go and seek the young men to engage in it and to prepare them for that service. Our mission is not reserved only for Jesuits but we seek collaborators with whom we can establish ‘organisations and networks to continue these and many other services’. 

In the concluding words of GC35 Decree 6 on Collaboration, ‘To respond today to the pressing needs of our complex and fragile world, many hands are surely needed. Collaboration in mission is not only an effective strategy, it expresses our true identity as members of the Church, the complementarity of our diverse calls to holiness, our mutual responsibility for the mission of Christ, our desire to join people of good will in the service of the human family and the coming of the Kingdom of God. It is a grace given to us in this moment; one consistent with our Jesuit way of proceeding.’

Fr Mark Raper SJ, as told to Giselle Lapitan

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Wheelbarrows are Set

This morning I planted some impatiens, including New Zealand hearty impatiens, alongside a few marigolds in the wheelbarrows at the new gardens the retreat house. With a few good waterings and these bright sunny days, we'll have bountiful annuals overflowing in the wheelbarrows.

Right next to it in the terrace gardens are some bright red oriental poppies mixed among twenty other perennials. Summer is here and these flowers will provide a fun splash to the deep greens of the retreat house lawns. Happy Memorial Day.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The changing face of the Jesuits


The Curia’s release of the latest statistics on the Society of Jesus on 10 May 2012 reveals the changing face of its members and reexamines the ways in which Jesuits can carry out its universal mission.


The figures showed the total number of Jesuits at 17,637 as of December 2011. This number includes 12,526 priests, 1,470 brothers, 2,896 scholastics, and 745 novices, with a net loss of 296 members from 1January 2011.

The numbers are also laid out historically, showing the total number of Jesuits in 1973 at 30,013, down to 17,637 in 2011. Despite an overall decrease worldwide, the Jesuit Conference of Asia Pacific (JCAP), which includes the Australian Province, was the only region that saw an increase in the number of novices (11) over the past year. The youngest Jesuits are found in the South Asia conference, which is also home to the largest percentage of Jesuits.

These figures are best studied in the context of more detailed numbers from JCAP. Based on figures since 2001, projections for older and more established Provinces within the Conference, such as China, Japan, Philippines, Indonesia and Australia show a pattern of declining membership.

The news is not all bad. The Jesuits remain the largest men’s religious order. The flipside to the Asia Pacific estimates in fact indicates a steady increase of Jesuits in relatively young provinces, such as Vietnam, Korea, East Timor, Taiwan and Malaysia.

What are the implications of this shift in membership within the region and elsewhere, in carrying out the Society’s mission? Fr Mark Raper SJ, President of JCAP, emphasises the importance of the quality of Jesuit formation and of providing mentoring and leadership skills to younger members.

‘Our concern is not primarily with numbers, but with the capacity of our applicants for the demanding mission we are given by the Lord today. Our attention has been to improve the quality of those who are accepted, rather than to increase the number of candidates to the Society’, he said.  

Another crucial task lies in developing the capacity to be more fluid and adaptable, but to still retain definition.

‘Ignatius wanted a body of men prepared and disposed to go wherever the needs are greatest. The challenge therefore is both to prepare Jesuit personnel for this type of mobility, and also to have the organisational arrangements that facilitate sending the right person to the right place at the right time’, said Fr Raper.

By Giselle Lapitan

Monday, May 21, 2012

Death and New Life

My sister's husband (partner of 23 years) passed away on Friday. He fell ill on Easter Sunday and was in Intensive Care for over five weeks. His will was strong, but his body weakly succumbed. My sister, Dara, spend most of her waking hours with Dennis in the hospital. I hope the services on Wednesday will bring her some consolation.

In the fourth week of ICU, my sister noticed that robins were building a nest on her patio. She let it be. They soon laid eggs. When she returned home after the news of her husband's death, the eggs hatched and the parents were busy feeding the hungry mouths.

Michigan weekend

I spent a rich weekend in Ann Arbor and Detroit, Michigan. I was scheduled to give a retreat to the parish council of St. Mary Church, the catholic church at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, but because of various circumstances it was not pulled off. It gave me a free weekend to reconnect with a good Jesuit friend, Fr. Ben Hawley. He landed in a great assignment.


University of Michigan

 The University of Michigan is big business. It has a combined 43,000 undergraduate and graduate students - a city unto itself. While only one quarter of its students were around for this time of year, the city retained vibrancy. The students seem very serious. Sure, campus frat organizations will party on the weekend, but the students give the impression they are committed to their studies as their first order of business.

 St. Mary's church is in an enviable position. The church is an old structure that has recent additions to expand its range of services. Offices are a comfortably large size with a lounge area for parishioners and students on each of the three floors. A verdant courtyard is a pleasant one to sit - one of the rare pieces of green on a city campus (outside of its main diag.)

Ann Arbor

 The demographics of Ann Arbor is like a typical Northeastern city. It is filled with progressive, educated Democrats who are committed to social justice. Sure, there are Republicans too. Many of them are the business and farm owners who come into the city each weekend to sell their goods to urban shoppers. The area is filled with a wealthy upper middle class who like to eat out and buy nice clothing. It is a quaint urban area that is over-regulated but is safe and fun.

While the main campus is on the eastern and southern parts of the city, Main Street and the traditional center of town is to the west. Kerrytown, the cultural district, is northwest. Each weekend, Kerrytown holds a Farmer's Market that attracts merchants from all over. Zingerman's Deli is the most famous sandwich and coffee shop in the area. Overflow seats were added to the patio for the influx of visitors, like me.

Fr. Ben and I ate at Vinology. We are thankful we ordered half portions. The crispy duck wings were inspiring; the duck fat potatoes were dull. Best of all, Fr. Ben bought an Iphone 4s and he is thrilled with the intuitive nature of the cloud's processing. The visit was too short.

Detroit

I went to Detroit afterwards to visit Carrie and Dave and their two-year old son, Liam. It was great to see good friends after a year's absence. It is amazing how quickly their son has grown. He is speaking sentences that are intelligible to himself. He is a talker. I enjoyed having brunch with Carrie's dad, Rick Fling. He is enjoying retirement and he likes to spend time with his grandson.

I visited with Dave Nona, an Iraqi friend and graduate of Al-Hikma university and Baghdad College. We had a dinner at the Traffic Jam restaurant, which is close to Wayne State University. Dave will be helpful to me in my transition to the new assignment to Amman, Jordan.

On Sunday, we took a walk along the Riverfront near the GM headquarters. I was very happy to see so many people outside and enjoying the bright sunshine. Everyone was happy. So many people were in the downtown area. Does Detroit have a chance at rebirth? Of course. I hope investors make the right moves. After a late flight back to Boston, I went to bed at 3 a.m.

Photo: Dave and Carrie in Detroit


To see photos of Dave and Carrie in Detroit, Michigan, click on the link below:

Pics of Dave and CArrie in Detroit, Michigan

Photo: Ann Arbor


To see photos of Ann Arbor, Michigan, click on the link below:

Pics of Ann Arbor, Michigan

Photo: All Things Bright and Beautiful


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Pics of All things Briight and Beautiful

Photo: Tulips and Birds


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Pics of Tulips and Birds

Photo: The Super Moon


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Pics of the Super Moon

Photo: Seals and their pups

To see photos of Seals and their pups, click on the link below:

Pics of Seals and their pups

Open to the Possibilities


                I often implore retreatants to stay open to God's possibilities. Saying 'yes' to invitations is one way of doing just that. I believe we are happier and healthier when we embrace new opportunities, especially when fear is associated with them. These are the moments we grow inwardly. The most common words Jesus speaks to his disciples are "Peace be with you" and "Do not be afraid." If his resurrection is to mean something, his words will take hold.

                I am sitting at my desk this morning feeling very peaceful. A soft breeze blows through my bedroom window bringing refreshing sounds and smells of a moist sea air. Sunshine is obscured by thin blankets of clouds and it does not diminish the strength of the sun. Lobster ships rush back and forth across the cove as they strive to meet their quotas before the markets open. All is well in God's world. I think about the peace the risen Jesus offers us - a peace that differs from the type the world offers. This peace consoles me though many friends suffer from illness, grief, and heartbreak. This peace from Jesus quiets my soul so I can lift up friends' sufferings and joys to him. I pray that my heart remain open.

                I paid attention to my own advice a couple of weeks ago when I was confronted with an opportunity I thought was beyond my abilities. As if I was an outside observer to myself, I heard my voice repeatedly ask retreatants to remain open. Jesus was asking me to do the same because he knows it is good advice. He knew of limitations and anxieties and he still asked for more.

                I was honored when the well-respected and often-lauded conductor of Chorus North Shore asked me to be a house tenor for a selection of Verdi's Requiem. A house soloist is one who rehearses with the chorus in the place of paid professionals who perform at the concert. If you haven't listened to Verdi's Requiem, you may want to listen on ITunes or YouTube because it is one of the most powerful music pieces in history. The Chorus North Shore performs it on June 2nd in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

                You could imagine I was both honored and flummoxed by the conductor's request. Immediately, I heard the words "stay open." A second thought was, "Why didn't she ask someone more secure in musical abilities," but music is her life's work and she knows something about it. She would not ask if she did not think I could work into it. I received the gift in gratitude and I knew to treat it seriously.

                The section she invited me to sing was the quartet for "the offertorio." It seemed fitting. The offertory is the part of the Mass where the elements of bread and wine are offered to God with the prayers and needs of the entire community. It is a prayer of gratitude and humility as we praise God for divine steadfastness. Additionally, "the offertorio" is perhaps the most moving piece of the whole arrangement. The honor was double. I knew I had to give significant weight to this request though in all humility, the piece was beyond my range. I had to stay open.

                I rehearsed with good friends and they realized the atonal complexity of the piece. I knew I would publicly stumble with singing in front of a well-polished chorus, and they would be very forgiving and encouraging. I declined the invitation in freedom. I wanted to say "yes," but it was at the same time my sister's husband suffered a major heart attack and was admitted to intensive care for four and a half weeks. We continue to pray for his life as many of his organs are ceasing to function. My choice was to stay open to my sister's suffering or to stretch myself as a singer.

                Many friends recently asked me if I like my work. They know I do, and they realize I am dealing with others' sufferings each day. They wonder, "Does it wear you down?" Of course. It is awkward to reply to them by explaining that I enjoy listening to their stories, even though each story contains great suffering. I find Jesus very present in these situations. If it is where the action is, where else would I want to be? Each person's suffering is sacred. Each person needs to be seen and heard and known.

                A hallmark of Jesuit life is availability. It means being open to the possibilities and invitations that come from the Lord through our provincial and Superior General. An area of the world that needs the type of peace the risen Jesus gives is the Middle East. The Superior General considers this as one of the apostolic priorities of the worldwide Jesuits.
 
                In 1932, New England Jesuits were invited by the Pope and Father General to establish a high school, university, and spirituality center in Baghdad. These institutions existed until 1969 when the Ba'athist party rose to power and nationalized the schools. We were expelled. We retained our center in neighboring Jordan and set up a Jesuit Center there, which we have kept as a base for ministry. Today we serve a number of different types of people, but especially Iraqi refugees.
 
                I am newly assigned to Amman, Jordan. I will become pastor of a non-geographic parish that has five worship sites, one that includes the American Embassy. It is unlike a parish setting in the U.S. since it is a heavily Muslim country. Jordan is a kingdom. (Interestingly, an alto in Chorus North Shore was a high school classmate of the Queen.) English is the common language of the churches, but I will begin taking Arabic language classes this summer.
 
                I will make a visit to Jordan in a few weeks. Amman is a city of 2.8 million people. It was a British protectorate until the World Wars when it became an independent nation. It is the most western-friendly city/country in the Middle East. It is a cultural and educational hub for many Arabs and Europeans. It is very safe. The city itself is simple and clean and contains many American-type restaurants, museums, and malls. Nearby my residence is an archaeological site and other nearby ruins are well preserved. I will be secure.
               
                I'll begin my transition out of Gloucester relatively soon. I'll finish up a few retreats and begin to divest myself of possessions - once again. I will begin language studies in Arabic, which means I will probably just learn the alphabet. It is a whole new world. I'll have to learn to read backwards. It is going to make reading music look easy.
 
                I love the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises and I will continue it in Amman. I am delighted at my new endeavor and I will mourn the loss of budding and existing friendships. I feel like I am just entering into the life of the North Shore and the rich music world around us. My parents are of an age where they need additional visit. Please know I will often use Skype, email, phone calls, and yearly visits to keep you in my life.
 
                As Jesuits, we remain open to God's rich invitations. We are sent to the frontiers - both interior and exterior ones. We do it because the peace of Christ is with us each step of the way.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Energizing Concert

I just returned from a energy-filled concert by the Cape Ann Symphony at the Fuller Auditorium in Gloucester, Massachusetts. It was titled "Mother's Night Out" and was also a celebration of the close of the 60th anniversary year for the symphony. What a night!

Sadly, it was the last time the CAS will play at the Fuller Auditorium. The next season will be at Manchester-Essex High School. I wish the City of Gloucester would pour money into the Fuller Auditorium to repair the roof and to make cosmetic changes to the hall. It is acoustically fit and is a lovely hall in a traffic-friendly location. Cape Ann has enough clout to build or renovate a performing arts center. Especially with the construction of two new hotels (one very nearby Fuller at Gloucester Crossing), the city can accommodate and needs a state-of-the-art arts center.

Music Director, Yoichi Udagawa, led a spirited concert that featured the Semiramide Overture by Rossini. This was performed so well that I thought it might be the best piece, but it just got better.

Violin Soloist Elita Kang regaled us with a mesmerizing performance of Bruch's Violin Concerto #1. She stole the show with her powerfully passionate talent. We were stunned by her poise while playing such a demanding piece.

Before the Brahms Symphony #4, Mr. Udagawa explained the music we were about to hear. It was a highly intellectual piece and we benefited from the explanation. It directed our ears to listen to the complexity while also appreciating the beauty of the symphony.

We were thoroughly entertained and it was a fitting celebration for Mother's Day and for the finale at Fuller, but Gloucester would do itself proud to find a way to keep its musical heritage in the city.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Verdi Requiem


Come to our Chorus North Shore concert!

It is a great value.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Remembering a Jesuit math whiz


This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the death of Christopher Clavius, the great Jesuit mathematician. He was a contemporary of Copernicus and Galileo, and lived from 1537 to 1612.

Clavius, who signed his 23 books Clavius Bambergensis, after his birthplace in Bamberg, was received into the Society of Jesus by St Ignatius in 1555 and studied in Coimbra , Portugal, where he observed an eclipse of the sun, a portent of his later interest in astronomy. He became the Professor of Mathematics at the Jesuit Roman College in 1567 and held the chair until 1595.  After his retirement he revised his publications and focused his attention on astronomy.

Clavius’ great work lay in the teaching of mathematics. At the Roman College he fostered good scholars who went on to teach in the Jesuit Colleges throughout Europe. He published several manuals for teaching mathematics and wrote commentaries on the geometry of Euclid and Theodosius.

He came to public notice, however, with the reform of the calendar. The Julian calendar, prescribed for the Roman Empire by Julius Caesar in 45 BC, was current though Western Europe. But it was inaccurate, and the inaccuracies affected the dating of the spring equinox, and consequently of Easter. Gregory XIII commissioned a reform of the calendar and proclaimed it in 1582.

Clavius was given the task of explaining and defending the reform. This was a delicate task, because the reform meant that 10 days would be lost from the calendar in 1582. Such theft of time from people’s lives could cause riots. Some Protestant critics also saw the reform as an abuse of papal power.  Clavius published three books explaining and defending the reform.

This work focused his increasing interest in astronomy. One of his earlier books had been a commentary on the astronomical synthesis of an English thirteenth century teacher, Johannes Sacrobosco (John Holywood to his friends). This was based on the authoritative work of Ptolemy, a second century scholar from Alexandria. Clavius remained convinced of Ptolemy’s argument that the earth was the centre of the universe, and that other heavenly bodies revolved around it.  But although not persuaded by the heliocentric thesis of Copernicus, he was impressed by his arguments, as he was by the discoveries of Galileo. He saw the need for a reformed astronomical theory.

In this Clavius was true to his fundamental insight, that science needed to be founded on mathematics and on experiment, not simply on deduction and on ancient authorities. In this respect he was part of the beginnings of modern science. And his position provokes one of the great unresolvable ‘what ifs’ of Jesuit and European cultural history.

Clavius worked to persuade other Jesuits of the importance of mathematics in the educational curriculum.  In a draft revision of the Ratio Studiorum, the curriculum for Jesuit studies, he proposed that mathematics should be made central within the teaching of philosophy in Jesuit Colleges. He also proposed that the lack of good teachers should be remedied by a specialist academy for the training of gifted Jesuit mathematicians. 

The response to the draft was that the lack of good teachers made the proposal unworkable. The final draft was simply aspirational in its general commendation of mathematics. At a time when the Jesuit Colleges played such an important part in higher education and culture in Europe, one wonders what would have been the effect of making mathematics a central part of their curriculum. Might the gaps that developed between church and science, and between metaphysics and the common scientific world view, have become so neuralgic?

Clavius made a key contribution to his age, but some doors even he was unable to unlock.

By Andy Hamilton SJ

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Grand Party

The Chorus North Shore held their 80/50 Anniversary Party at the Masonic Lodge in Ipswich, Massachusetts on Saturday night. It honored Sonja (Sunny) Dahlgren Pryor, our esteemed conductors who has worked with the chorus for 50 years. The Chorus has been in existence since 1932.

The hall was decorated with programs from each concert including those oversea performances in Europe. A stylish cake represented the major accomplishments of the chorus.

The Disc Jockey played the greatest hits from the eight decades. Gift bags were drawn as raffles according to the themes of the decades. Sing-a-longs for each decades were aptly performed in harmonies by the singers. It was quite a festive time of song.

Two young sisters from the Honors Youth Chorus sang a tribute to Sunny, who was obviously moved by their warm regard of her. Composer Paul Jensen assembled a small group of singers to honor Sunny with an original composition and a medley of Broadway tunes tailored towards Sunny's life.

Food was too bountiful. We could not finish eating the delicious food made by chorus members, but we did make room for the birthday cake. And the best part was that everyone danced for hours. I mean everyone. Every party-goer celebrated the fun music with some unique dance moves. We can't wait for the next party.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Finally, Rain

Finally, we have a solid day of rain to replenish a parched land. Spring flowers are vibrant, but they have had to draw on their own reserves to do so well with only one day of rain in April. With warm weather on the horizon, the gardens and forest saplings will sprout in just a few days. Buds will open and blossoms will fall off producing a fresh green that signifies hope.

The other night I attended a Rockport Shalin Liu concert. The stage windows were opened to capture the setting sun in back of the performers. The Honors Youth Chorus performed spring songs with their conductor, Sonja Dahlgren Pryor. The youth sing with their older counterparts, Chorus North Shore, during Christmas concerts.

I am grateful that these children have this experience of singing and performing. These experience give them great poise and confidence. Many children performed solos with a haunting one by a thirteen year old male who brought tears to the eyes of many. He sang about sea travels and missing home. A female soloist sang the soprano lead on Laudate Dominum with elegance. The music ranged from classical to folk to nursery rhymes.

The Chorus North Shore celebrates their 80th anniversary this week. Sunny Pryor has been with the chorus since 1962 - for 50 years. We are preparing for our June 2nd concert that features Verdi's Requiem. We are practicing hard and enjoying our weekly progress.