Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Aschaffenberg, Germany

On my way to Amman, Jordan, I had a layover in Afschaffenberg, Germany, just south of Frankfurt, the financial center of Germany. I visited a childhood friend who moved to Germany eight years ago to marry her German friend, but sadly the marriage ended in divorce, which was finalized the day before I arrived. I was glad to be there for her because divorces always have a traumatic part to them. My friend is strong and will come through this, but she knows she will experience a great deal of pain first. She is very wise.

My friend could not have been more hospitable. After collecting me at the airport, we had a brief tour of her city. I loved seeing the castle and the king's summer residence. The city is old-time European with a modern flare to it. It is quite charming. The city is one of hills. In the old days, city officials did not level hills and fill in valleys; they just built around them. It makes for a scenic village with lots of architectural charm.

Janet brought me to meet her friends who were celebrating the start of the Volksfest, a two week summer festival with amusement park rides. Lots of cultural activities were scheduled. We visited some of her friends who gathered for a deck-party with lots of nice German foods. We told jokes throughout the entire night, which was a surprise to meet because I don't speak German. What I found interesting was that I could understand where most of the conversation was going. Too often, people were talking to me in German and expecting a response before they realized I am illiterate. Somehow it all worked out well and it was a fun party.

The next morning we meet one of Janet's friends for breakfast. We walked through the Farmer's Market where people were doing their produce shopping for the week. It was a great assembly of people. After the close of the market, many went to the pubs to get their weekend day started off right. We toured a few museums and churches as well as some artist galleries.

I did my first watercolor painting that night. It is something I may want to pick up in Jordan as a hobby. Later that night, we joined some friends for a meal at the Pomodoro restaurant, Italian, of course. It was quite good. As the meal was ended, a native German began speaking to me in English. It was quite fascinating to relate so easily to the people of Germany.

When I was on my way to the airport to go to Amman, I was filled with both fear and excitement about beginning a life in a place so culturally unfamiliar to me. I'll always be 'from away.'

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Finding God in laughter


Whether he’s discussing God’s ‘approval rating’ on The Colbert Report or writing books about Jesus’ sense of humour, or providing more serious analysis on CNNThe New York Times and other mainstream media outlets, Fr James Martin SJ has found a way of communicating the timeless messages of the Gospel that resonates with audiences today.

Province Express editor Michael McVeigh recently interviewed Fr Martin at the Americamagazine offices in New York, where he works as the magazine’s Cultural Editor.

M: You have a gift of being able to write in a way that connects with people. What’s your secret?

Well, I try to write for the person I was at the age of 27 when I entered the Jesuits: someone who knew nothing about Ignatian Spirituality. I didn’t know who the Jesuits were, I didn’t know who St Ignatius was, and I had never really prayed before. I didn’t go to a Catholic high school and I didn’t go to a Catholic college. So I know what it’s like to not know how to say the Rosary, and not know what a novena is.

It’s important to speak to people in accessible, inviting and down-to-earth ways. My model is Jesus. He used parables, and in those parables he would use simple things like mustard seeds, clouds, birds, or simple image of a woman finding a coin, a farmer sowing in the field – there’s no need for the Gospel to be abstruse.

How did you come to be a priest if you had so little contact with the faith?

I studied at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and received my undergraduate degree in business. Then I worked for six years at General Electric. In time, I started to feel like I was a square peg in a round hole. While business was a good career for my friends, it didn’t seem to fit me. So I just got more and more miserable.

One day I came home and saw a documentary about Thomas Merton. I went out and bought his book, The Seven Storey Mountain. His story just captivated me, and I felt the desire to do something like he had done.

What was happening on a supernatural level was that God was calling me through my desires: the desire to become a priest and enter religious life that was awakened by watching this documentary. On a natural level, I just saw something I liked. It seemed much more interesting and appealing than my life at General Electric. It seemed peaceful and beautiful and exciting.

Why join the Jesuits?

Well, I asked my local parish priest about the priesthood. Of course I had no clue about religious orders. I thought that a Jesuit, a Franciscan or Dominican was a different kind of priest – that they got a different degree or something. He said you should talk to the diocesan vocation office, and that I might want to talk to the Jesuits who were up the road, at Fairfield University.

So I went and met a Jesuit and something clicked. I felt that these guys were very normal and down-to-earth and appealing. I liked the idea of being a Jesuit and being something else at the same time: a Jesuit teacher or a Jesuit writer, for example,

Now, I wasn’t getting spiritual direction at the time. But I made a retreat that seemed to confirm what I was doing. Still, I entered religious life with a very shallow understanding of what I was getting myself into. But here I am, 25 years later!

It seems that your vocation has only deepened since then?

Eventually I realised that Jesuit spirituality fits me. It’s very practical and down-to-earth. I also love Ignatian contemplation. The style of prayer that the Jesuits use, of placing yourself in the Scripture scene, suits me.

But I entered with very little research, as I said. There was a novice in the same entrance class with me who had been doing research on religious orders for years. He was from Czechoslovakia, and he settled in Boston, had spent a couple of months with the Dominicans, a couple of months with the Franciscans, a couple of months discerning with the Trappists, and a couple months with the Jesuits before joining them. But he left before Thanksgiving, and I’m here 25 years later.

Where is your joy in your ministry? Is it sitting behind the computer typing, or is it getting out and talking to people?

Well, I love to write. And I don’t think I’ve ever had writer’s block. I try to write only when I have things to say.
And I love writing about Ignatian spirituality. I loved writing my last book on joy, humour and laughter as well. I’m currently writing about Jesus – I could write about Jesus from now until the end of time. I love the idea of sharing with people the story of Jesus, and inviting them into his story.

Many years ago I read for the first time John O’Malley’s book, The First Jesuits. To my mind, it’s the best book on the Jesuits. It looks at the early Jesuits in a witty and stylish way. He says that the phrase that occurs most frequently in the early Jesuit writing is ‘to help souls’. That’s what I try to do in my work – to help souls.

I like the public speaking side of my work as well. And, needless to say, I enjoy my priestly duties, like celebrating Mass, presiding at baptisms and weddings. And I enjoy preaching a great deal. I feel that the Spirit is especially moving within me when I talk about the Gospel--whether I’m writing about the Gospel or preaching.

Your latest book looks at the place of humour in our religion. It’s a topic I haven’t really seen explored before. What inspired you to write about it?

Jesus used humour in his preaching all the time, although some of it doesn’t translate to today’s audiences. For example, the idea of building a house on sand (Matt 7:26) would have been, according to several Scripture scholars I spoke with, hilarious to people of the time.

There’s also the first time he meets one of his eventual apostles Nathaniel (John 1:46), and Nathaniel teases Jesus for coming from such a small town in Nazareth. ‘Can anything good come from Nazareth,’ he says. Rather than getting angry with him, Jesus says, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’ He seems delighted by his sense of humour.

What are the things that you know will move people in your writing?

First, honesty. That’s the key. Honesty about your own personal spiritual struggles, about your own foibles and flaws, and about the spiritual life. For example, I’ll be honest about times I’ve struggled in prayer, or times that I’ve struggled in my life, in my vocation. I think that’s attractive to people.

Second, telling a good story. That is important, as is remembering that humour needs to be part of it. You can’t approach writing as if it’s medicine – that this is something that people should read. You have to make it interesting and attractive for them, the same as Jesus did. The parables were interesting stories. The prodigal son is an interesting tale. You want to know what happens at the end – it’s kind of a shock.

Third, meeting people where they are. Jesus met people on different paths – he met the Roman centurion, the woman at the well, and he met the sick, tax collectors and prostitutes. He didn’t say that in order to listen to him they needed to come to him on his terms.

That’s what I try to do in my writing. And a little self-deprecating humour never hurts.

And finally, a funny story from Fr Martin’s latest book.

Cardinal John O'Connor of New York was once at a fundraising dinner and the master of ceremonies got up at the end of the evening and proceeded to thank everyone who had helped with the dinner, but kept forgetting their names. Every time he forgot a name he would pull out a little note card to help him remember. ‘I would like to thank our fundraising chairman, Mr….(and he'd pull out his note card)….Smith. ‘And I would like to thank our communications director, Mr…(and he pulls out the card) Jones.’ ‘And I would like to thank our board chairman, Mrs… (and out comes the card) Johnson.’ Finally, he said, ‘And now Cardinal O'Connor will come to the dais, and give us his benediction.’

And the cardinal got up and said, ‘Almighty God, we thank you for all the blessings you have bestowed on us and we do this in the name of your son….(and he pulls out his note card)…Jesus Christ.’

Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything are published by HarperCollins. Earlier books, including My Life with the Saints and A Jesuit Off-Broadway are available throughLoyola Press.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Photo: View from the Jesuit Center

Image Detail

The Jesuit Center in Amman, Jordan


Photo: Gloucester Harbor Cruise

To see photos of an Irish Session cruise around Gloucester Harbor, click on the link below:

Pics of Gloucester Harbor cruise

Photo: Eastern Point's Rocks and Tidepools

To see photos of Gloucester's shore rocks and tidepools, click on the link below:

Pics of rocks and pools

A new Church paradigm needed


The Catholic Church must change the way it approaches ministry if it is to continue to minister effectively to people across Australia, Fr Michael Kelly SJ told parishioners at Our Lady of the Way, North Sydney, last week.

In a talk titled, ‘The Elephant in the Room – Ministry Past, Present and Future’, Fr Kelly said the culture that sustained the Church in Australia for its first century-and-a-half had ‘cracked open’ in the years since the 1960s.

‘That’s a good thing because the culture of tribalism and ritual practice and conformity, the clericalism and management by command and control, the centralism and authoritarianism that shaped Church governance may have worked well for a poor, embattled and uneducated immigrant minority as it struggled to shape an identity and lay claim to a destiny. But they are plainly unable to meet the challenges that life in Australia today sets the Church as a community’, he said.

‘The very success of the Church’s biggest investment in its future in Australia – the Catholic education system – has produced what education aims to provide: resourceful people who can think for themselves, choose their directions in life and make their own evaluations.’

In addition, he said the Church can no longer expect people to simply accept the teachings of the Church uncritically, but needed to show visible evidence of what faith in action means.

‘Attraction to Catholicism will be by invitation and persuasion rather than interdict and control’, he said. Distinctive service to the world that plainly flows from faith and a deepening and discerning spiritual wisdom are antidotes to the pervasive forms of escape in our culture and the real home for believers in a world grown weary of religion.’

Fr Kelly said the declining number of priests in Australia means that the old ministry structures will soon be unsustainable, and there is little chance of addressing the issue by importing priests from Africa and Asia where priests are also in short supply. Instead, he said, a new Church was beginning to emerge in Australia, one in which lay people provided the leadership.

‘Today, leadership of the Catholic community rests more in the hands of school principals, religious education coordinators and lay chaplains and pastoral workers than it does in the hands of the declining number of ageing clergy’, he said.

Source: Cathnews

Image: Our Lady of the Way Parish

Sunday, June 10, 2012


Last night, after returning from the priestly ordinations in New York City, I attended a night of song and prayer in a home of friends from Cambridge. We shared a light meal and light conversation before singing evening prayer.

It was a terrific experience for the eight of us. As best we could, we took the SATB parts of the St. Paul Hymnal and produced beautiful music. Our gathering was atypical as we have four tenors and one bass. Typically, tenors are in short supply. It was good to come home to very good music, but a type I have not sung for years.

I added myself to the bass line, which made my eyes look at the bottom line and not the words or the words but not the notes. It was awkward. Also, the music was set to the old liturgy, since a newer translation has not been completed. I noticed that more of the new liturgy is stuck in my mind than I expected. The new liturgy does not flow well at all, but somehow I've made the transition.

Anyways, the long and short of it is that it was a beautiful night among good friends with high quality liturgical music. I want to do this more often.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tri-Province Gathering

The three eastern Jesuit provinces in the U.S. gathered this weekend at Fordham University in the Bronx, New York for its first intra-province days in anticipation of our impending mergers. New England and New York will merge in 2015 with Maryland coming on board in 2020. The days were a chance to get to know each other, to pray, and to celebrate the many good works we are doing.

The keynote address was given by Pat Lee, S.J., provincial of the Oregon province. Small group table conversations followed with three representatives from each of the three provinces. Following a liturgy at Fordham University Church, the mother church of the New York province, the Jesuits and colleagues gathered for a social and dinner. Jesuit Jeopardy wrapped up the evening. Each of the colleges/universities awarded prizes from their gift shops to winners of Jeopardy.

On Friday morning, four panelists (a Mercy Sister from Jamaica, the head of the Jesuit Collaborative, the Vice Principal of Xavier School, and a political science professor from Scranton University) discussed various aspects of colleagueship with its inherent challenges and opportunities. Small group discussions deepened the conversations.

The free afternoon afforded us a chance to rekindle distant relationships and to catch up on the personal and professional events of each other's lives. Mass and dinner celebrated the 31 men who are 50 years a Jesuit. An ordination haustus (party) honored the three men who were ordained on Saturday morning to the priesthood.

Many thanks for Fordham University for its gracious hospitality and generosity to us.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Changing to best serve the universal mission

The Society is now at a new stage brought about by a couple of converging factors – the demographic realities and how we can best serve the universal mission today.
Our numbers have been in decline for the last 40 years – from over 30,000 in the 1960s to fewer than 18,000 today.  The steep declines in Europe and North America and consistent decline in Latin America have not been offset by the significant increase in South Asia and a small rise in Africa.  
Here in Asia Pacific, our numbers have held steady for the past 25 years and look likely to do so in the next 25 years. But this constant total number belies the enormous changes going on within our various provinces and its impact on how we continue to carry out our universal mission. 
We are seeing significant demographic change from province to province. Some are growing rapidly, especially Vietnam, which had around 70 members at the turn of the century and can be expected to reach over 300 within 25 years.  The Korean Province is growing spectacularly, while Myanmar and Timor Leste evidence significant increases.  Thailand and Malaysia reveal new life, and Indonesia, our largest province, is holding steady.  However our numbers in Australia, China, Japan and the Philippines are declining in numbers and ageing.   
provincesAcross the Conference, there are now many young Jesuits and fewer older ones, which means the necessity for and at the same time a shortage of experienced men to act as spiritual fathers and formators to mentor our young men.  It also means that there are fewer experienced Jesuits for leadership roles not just within our Conference but for the whole Society.
As the customary (Western) sources of “personnel” dries up, pressure is put on other parts of the world to supply key people for international roles, as well as for key leadership, administration and teaching roles in its international institutions.  Even if we don’t have people readily available, we in Asia Pacific are still expected to supply them.
All this demonstrates the need for greater cooperation across provinces in distributing personnel according to the needs, as well as a re-evaluation of our governance arrangements.
It would be wasteful and inappropriate to maintain the same support services for a body of 100 that were formally deployed to back up say 400 Jesuits.   It is also timely to review our province frontiers, which through convenience and historical circumstance, are contiguous with national boundaries.
As an international body, we should not remain cocooned in provincial arrangements developed in a former era.  Although national identities and local insertion frequently lead to efficiencies, local enculturation and a universal vision are not mutually exclusive. Teams and communities of Jesuits and their collaborators are frequently international in character and can be deeply inserted in very localised cultural settings.        
In parts of the world where there has been dramatic demographic change among Jesuits, there have been some interesting examples of re-organisation.  Five or six Spanish provinces are becoming one.  The 10 provinces of the United States are re-configuring their ways of cooperating and halving the number of support centres that handle finances, personnel support and apostolic planning.  The Jesuits in the Scandinavian countries, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, at one stage four or five separate Jesuit provinces, cooperate now in apostolic planning.  Ireland, Britain, Netherlands and the Flemish speaking Jesuits from Belgium are evolving a cooperative structure.
In Asia Pacific, which is perhaps the most diverse part of the Society in terms of languages, cultures and political entities, cooperation among provinces has been impressive.  Examples of common projects include a recent agreement for mutual support between Japan and Korea and the adoption by Korea of the mission in Cambodia.  Vietnamese Jesuits have worked in a Korean centre that supports migrant workers.  
There is the traditional witness throughout Asia Pacific of those who go as missionaries to live with another people. Many Australian, Indonesian and Korean Jesuits serve on missions outside their countries of origin, and a great number of the Jesuits serving in Cambodia, Thailand, Micronesia, Timor Leste, Myanmar, China and Japan are from abroad.
The major factor, however, must be the re-emphasis given by GC 35 to the Society as “a universal body in service of a universal mission”.  Numbers may be relevant, but the mission is far more important.  The mission is universal and the body that serves this mission is universal. No one can or should completely slough off national identity, but our identity as Jesuits gives us reason to go beyond national or local boundaries. Jesuit identity should trump national identity.  Fr Arrupe foresaw this 40 years ago, when at GC 31 he called on Jesuits to “break down the walls between the provinces”.
Ignatius did not want the Society to be the biggest or most prestigious religious community.  He wanted a body of men prepared and disposed to go wherever the need is greatest.  This perception influences greatly how we undertake our mission in today’s world and how we prepare for it. 
Mark Raper SJ
May 19, 2012

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Verdi Concert

After 13 weeks of rehearsal, Chorus North Shore performed the Verdi Requiem to a full house at Our Lady of Hope Church in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The audience received a solid performance. I was so pleased to recognize very many faces in the audience.

The orchestra was 46 pieces with two trumpets played from the balcony in the Dies Irae selections. The 140 strong Chorus was supplemented by four SATB soloists who sang with such ease and power. Though some selections has great forte force, other movements were absolute tear-jerkers. It reminds us that our lives are governed by Christ. All power, honor, and glory belongs to him. The Requiem reminds us of our mortality - even as the last breath drops from our lips.

Sunny Pryor is quite the worker. She teaches us, forms us, encourages us, and is patient with us. She, however, also orchestrates a great deal of other pieces to conduct disparate pieces of the concert. She studies the score and is always finding ways to sync the pieces that come together for two nights before the performance. She is always rehearsing with the absent others in mind, but she stays very attentive to what we need. I don't know how she pulls it together in a way that looks effortless, but hours of hard work are needed. She was splendid tonight.

We held a reception afterwards to honor our audience. Very many friends and music lovers from the North Shore came to say hello. The gift of music lightens and heightens the soul. I think everyone will sleep well tonight.

It has been quite a week for me - the funeral service for my sister's partner, myy mother's 80th birthday, and excellent and full-engaging retreat, and three rehearsal plus the concert. I feel accomplished.

I will miss so many good people associated with the chorus and the music scene on the North Shore. It even felt like my own requiem.