After the Palm Sunday Mass, the New World Pontiff greeted the crowd by jumping off the Popemobile a couple of times to take selfies with young Catholics from Rio de Janeiro and from Poland. Pope Francis also accepted a sip of herbal mate tea presumably from an Argentine admirer.
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Dutch Jesuit Fr. Francis van der Lugt was brutally murdered in Homs, Syria by masked gunman. The septigenarian cleric was beaten by a masked man on the street in front of the Jesuit monastery in Bustan al-Diwan, a Christian portion of the Old City, and then he was shot twice in the head.
Fr. van der Lugt who was a trained psychotherapist, had spent fifty years living in Syria ministering to disabled people at the Al Ard Center near Homs. The Center also took in refugees from the Syrian Civil War, but that mission curtailed as the staff fled since they could not ensure the safety of their guests. Fr. van der Lugt tried to be a companion to those in mental distress and give them as much food as possible.
Fr. Frans refused to be part of the February 2014 UN supervised evacuation of 1,400 people from the city, which had been besieged for a year and a half. In the Old City of Homs, the Christian population had shrunk from tens of thousands to just 66. Christians used to make up 10% of the Syrian population before the Civil War, but Christians have been brutalized for their faith during the conflict Fr. van der Lugt reasoned that he was the only priest remaining to minister to his people so how could he leave.
In January, Fr. van der Lugt made pleas through the media that gained world-wide attention to have humanitarian aid sent to the city to feed the starving Muslim and Christian population.
This led to meeting with UN officials to receive aid and hear first hand accounts of the humanitarian trials in Homs. Fr. van der Lugt procured four kilos of kilos of flour a week from a Muslim charity so that he could make bread and distribute half a loaf to the enclaves neediest 30 people.
Besides, Fr. van der Lugt considered Syria to be his home. The Jesuit proclaimed: “The Syrian people have given me so much, so much kindness, inspiration
and everything they have. If the Syrian people are suffering now, I want
to share their pain and their difficulties.” Per the priests instructions, his earthly remains will be buried in Syria.
Syrian opposition forces were quick to blame the Bashar al-Assad government for the slaying, claiming that government would be the only ones to benefit from the killing. Yet Fr. van der Lugt believed that even after eighteen months of being under siege that the opposition was not popular among Syrians. The amnesty which was offered in January only applied to Syrians. Thus the foreign fighters who remained in the Old City may have looked askance at one who was not a co-religionist.
Regardless of who was responsible, Fr. Francis van der Lugt was a martyr for the faith. Aside from Pope Francis’ cri-de-coeur at his fellow Jesuit’s brutal slaying, the Vatican voiced outrage over the killing of Fr. van der Lugt. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See declared: “This is the death of a man of peace, who showed great courage in
remaining loyal to the Syrian people despite an extremely risky and
difficult situation.” Lombardi added that the Dutch priest had offered “the testimony of Jesus to the end.”
Fr. van der Lugt’s selfless dedication to his fellow man and openness to serve the Lord even unto death echos the ultimate sacrifice that our Lord Jesus Christ which we will celebrate next week in the Triduum.
One of the important charisms that St. Igantius of Loyola brought through his spiritual insights is the notion of finding God in all things. In anticipation of the founder of the Society of Jesus’ feast day, the website Find Your Inner Iggy is running a series of stories about finding God in unlikely places.
The text was written by Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J. who discerned his spiritual mission working with the poor and outcast in Los Angeles. The language may be earthy but by keeping it real, it demonstrates the miracle of finding God in unlikely places.
Louie finished his 18-month training program with us at Homeboy Industries. A gang member and drug dealer, he was tattooed and had a long prison record.
“I was disguised as that guy,” he told me once.
He was now thriving in the new job we found him. He texted me one day: “My little fridge just died. Can you help me get a new one?” I text back: “Sears at 4:00.” He responds: “Got it. Beers at 4:00.”
When I arrive at the Sears Appliance section, Louie spots me, gallops over, and gives me a bear hug. “Have they called security on your ass yet?’ “Nope,” he says, “but it’s just a matter of time.” We buy a small refrigerator on lay-away, and I drive him to his small, humble apartment.
Before he gets out, he says, “Can I tell you something, G?” He pauses. “Lately… I’ve been havin’ a lot a’ one-on-ones … you know… with God. And … the Dude shows up.”
I chuckle a little, but he is quite serious. He turns to me, “Now why would he do that?” His tears make a get-away, and he can barely speak. “I mean … after all the shit I’ve done … why would He do that?
|Bert Thelen, (ex) S.J.|
Bert Thelen, S.J., an eighty year old Jesuit who had spent the last 14 years at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska has petitioned to become laicized. Thelen announced his intention to abandon his vows in an open letter to friends and colleagues that was also published in The National Catholic Reporter. In his apologia, Thelen professed to renounce his ordination as well as leaving the Society of Jesus is to protest what he describes as a patriarchal church which refuses to allow for priestesses and permitting homosexual so called marriage.
Although it is lamentable that it took Thelen 45 years of service to the Church to discern his objections to the Magisterium about the vocation of Holy Orders and Marriage, but the manner which he chose to “self-defrock” was troubling. Rather than showing some semblance of personal integrity by conducting his change in spiritual status in private, Thelen chose to publically score some partisan political points. Hence it is only fair to scrutinize Thelen’s conduct and consequences of the spiritual change of status which he seeks.
Although ordaining women and gay marriage were the polemic flash points for Thelen’s new calling, he also had condemnation of his order of the last 45 years which he connected to his aspiration of religion without pedestals.
So after bad mouthing his brothers, octogenarian Bert Thelen will set off on his new calling. While I know of an 80 year old Jesuit who recently celebrated his 50th year of being a Jesuit and is active being a spiritual director and Christian Life Community facilitator, these wonderful ministries would not pay the bills. It is dubious that the prophetic protestor will earn his keep so he will live off of the largess of the Society of Jesus as provisions need to be made for a laicized priest. That’s rich in irony.
Catholics have the appreciation that our spiritual vocations, namely Marriage and Holy Orders, not only reflect states of living but that sacramentally mark us. This is why Catholics seek to ensure that one is sacramentally understand their vows (and annulments take so long to adjudicate). Similarly, the Church believes that once a priest, always a priest like the order of Melchizedek. But because of political pique, Thelen wants to walk away from his vows and be a useful idiot for those who rail against the Church’s teachings.
Reading the rhetoric in Thelen’s open letter, one wonders if there is much of a loss. With phrases like: “Biocide is even more devastating than genocide” and the “survival and well being of ALL earthlings” Thelen’s views may be more welcomed amongst secular humanists and activist atheists rather than in an ecclesiastical environment. But I am scandalized by Thelen’s assertion that through his new calling, he as lived and died as a Jesuit but now is free from being shackled by a judicial, institutional, clerical, hierarchical system. Thelen’s fickle commitment and sui generis understanding of death to me shows the shallowness of his sacred professions. Moreover, the emphasis of Earthlings (sic) preventing biocide, egalitarianism which obliterates authority and championing secular humanist trends intimates what Thelen holds in deep esteem.
Rather than respecting his polemic philippic, I find this apologia to be a tardy Jesuitical discernment. It is a pity that years of serving the People of God is marred by a cheap political stunt.
Now that the College of Cardinals have elected Pope Francis as the first Jesuit pontiff, people have been discerning the Society of Jesus’ contributions to building the Kingdom of God.
Some wags defined Jesuits as: An order of priests known for their ability to found colleges with good basketball teams.”
There is some truth to that observation as Gonzaga, Marquette, Georgetown, Creighton and St. Louis all were participants in the 2013 edition of NCAA March Madness. In the new look Big East (which really should be called the Conclave Conference) four of the nine Catholic members are Jesuit. This S.J. hoops tradition is so strong that when Marquette contemplated changing its mascot and team moniker in the early 1990s, one of the seriously considered suggestions was the “Jumpin’ Jesuits”.
However, Fr. James Martin, S.J. insists that Jesuits ought to be known for more than prowess on the parquet floor.
So we should raise a glass of Gin and Tonic to the explorers, the linguists, the scientists, the educators, the artists, the thespians and the theologians who have been part of the Jesuits’ proud 472 year history.
We should not ignore the recent miracle in the election of the former Fr. Jorge Bergoglio as Pope Francis– there is such a thing as a humble Jesuit! ;-)
As he celebrated his underdog win in the 2012 Iowa Caucuses, former Senator Rick Santorum began his remarks by offering a paean to his wife which credited to C.S. Lewis:
“A friend is someone who knows the song in your heart and can sing it back to you when you have forgotten the words.”
The same sort of qualities certainly ought to be attributed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
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As this year, April 1st marks both April Fools Day and Palm Sunday for most Western Christian churches, it is worth trying to appreciate how humor aligns itself with scriptural hermeneutics. Some straight laced religious types wonder about Laughter and the Lord. But on a deeper level, the Passion of the Christ left many to wonder about heaven’s perceived foolishness.
Edward Rowland Sill, an American Poet in the mid Nineteenth Century, penned “The Fool’s Prayer”
The jester doffed his cap and bells,
And stood the mocking court before;
They could not see the bitter smile
Behind the painted grin he wore.
He bowed his head and bent his knee
Upon the monarch’s silken stool;
His pleading voice arose: “O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!
” ‘Tis not by guilt the onward sweep
Of truth and right, O Lord, we stay;
‘Tis by our follies that so long
We hold the earth from heaven away.
“These clumsy feet, still in the mire,
Go crushing blossoms without end;
These hard, well-meaning hands we thrust
Among the heart-strings of a friend.
“The ill-timed truth we might have kept –
Who knows how sharp it pierced and stung?
The word we had not sense to say –
Who knows how grandly it had rung?
“Our faults no tenderness should ask,
The chastening stripes must clense them all;
But for our blunders – oh in shame
Before the eyes of heaven we fall.
“Earth bears no balsam for mistakes;
Men crown the knave, and scourge the tool
That did his will; but Thou, O Lord,
Be merciful to me, a fool!”
The room was hushed; in silence rose
The King, and sought his gardens cool,
And walked apart, and murmured low,
“Be merciful to me, a fool!”
Several things are striking about this Victorian aged verse. The mocking royal court commanding a comedic solemnization misses the true message about prayer. The fool has a bitter smile that is hidden by his painted grin. This reveals to the reader that he bows before the terrestrial potentate with dutiful reluctance. The fools prayer alludes to his foibles and failures. While asking for mercy the fool gently shows truth to power revealing how this world lauds the knave (which can mean deceiver) and punishes the fool who does the Lord’s work.
These arresting dichotomies are reminiscent of what was termed “jarring ambiguities” in the Johnine Passion account. Jesus knew that deciding to visit Jerusalem during the Passover could lead to His death, yet He did so anyways as he was obedient to His Father’s plan. Jesus’ triumphant entry into the holy city was greeted by throngs of adulating fans, yet Jesus cried as He realized that they could not embrace the true Kingdom of God as they were still slaves to sin. The people still expected the Messiah to be King who would overthrow the Earthly Oppressor and they would have trouble embracing the Prince of Peace who road to the seat of power on an ass. When the earthly end game began, the Christ chose to be meek and allow Himself to be crucified amongst common criminals. These ironic details in our salvific history of Passiontide could certainly seem foolish to the eyes of man. But as Paul taught in 1 Corinthians 1:25 “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men”.
Long time Harvard Divinity Professor Harvey Cox was inspired by this concept of the foolishness of God. When he wrote “Feast of Fools” (1969) he included a chapter entitled “Christ the Harlequin” which proposed a Theology of the Jester. Cox theorized that Christ the Harlequin shows the divine willingness to reveal the true self to the world through humbleness and ways that may seem foolish to the world. Steven Schwartz and John Michael Tebelak thoroughly embraced this joyful revelation of the divine in Godspell ((Play 1971, Film 1973).
But the reach of the Theology of the Jester did not stop on Broadway or in Hollywood. Fr. John Naus, S.J. who has graced the Marquette University campus for nearly fifty years, also was inspired by Cox’ spiritual insight. For years, Fr. Naus would periodically conduct a Harlequin Mass and celebrate the Liturgy in the guise of Tumbleweed the Clown. While this was not a High Mass held in the basement of Schroeder Hall was definitely no mockery of the mass. Fr. Naus is a Doctor of Philosophy who shared the Jesuit charism of “Finding God in all things”. The Clown Mass was a way of reaching college students to demonstrate how Jesus could identify with our weakness and was willing to “look foolish” to the world and shed His own Precious Blood for the New Covenant and give us eternal life. Naus’ good humor helped him recover from a serious stroke in 2004 to remain active as Marquette Alumni Memorial Union’s Chaplain at age of 88.
Indubitably, some Christians would find expressions of Christ the Harlequin as improper or perhaps even sacrilegious. In Fr. Naus’ Philosophy of Humor course, comedy was understood as taking was readily identifiable but having it presented in an incongruous way. So often humor can stem from sadness or pain but be transformed through a change of vision (metanoia) into something that can overcome the original hurt and uplift many.
While most celebrations of the Triduum will be rightly somber, understanding the jarring ambiguities in the Passion remind us of how Our Father’s Plan took in what Zealots would consider ignominious end in Jesus’ crucifixion into a divine victory which releases God’s family from the shackles of sin. If it’s God’s will, stay foolish!