Friday 28 June 2013

From Superheroes to God

By Artur Suski, S.J.


You may have noticed our contemporary society’s fascination with the themes of fantasy and superheroes. Take movies as an example: these blockbusters would include Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Iron Man, the Batman series, Superman, and the list goes on. Have you ever wondered why we are so enthralled by these books and movies? It has recently crossed my mind, and hence this blog entry.

Wednesday 26 June 2013

On the Anniversary of von Balthasar

By John D. O’Brien, S.J.

Hans Urs von Balthasar
Really raised the bar,
From descensus, to drama, to logic – higher and higher –
With a leg-up from Adrienne von Speyr.
— Clerihew by Kim Fabricius and Ben Myers

Today (June 26, 2013), is the 25th anniversary of the death of one of the 20th century’s great theologians, the Swiss priest Hans Urs von Balthasar. He died on this day in 1988, in his eighty-third year, just two days before the ceremony that would have made him a cardinal. For his friends and fans, and they are many, this dies natalis, or “day of birth” into heaven, was a great mercy for the former Jesuit, who once turned down a professorship at the Gregorian University to be a student chaplain in Basel. He always preferred the hidden spots to the social panoplies of the world, to contemplate with John at the foot of the cross, to give retreats and direct souls, and to write about the things that mattered most, a massive output of more than 1000 books and articles. Despite his personal modesty, the French Jesuit theologian Henri de Lubac once opined that Balthasar was “perhaps the most cultured man of our time.”

What did Balthasar have to say during his decades of intellectual and contemplative ministry? His biography is better read elsewhere; further, it is sometimes daunting to summarize his many and varied theological contributions. But in this Year of Faith and during this 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, it’s worth looking at some of his major themes that continue to reverberate in the Church today.

First, he was a pioneer in the returning of the “eye of theology” beyond the textbook neo-scholasticism taught in his day, to the wellsprings of sacred scripture and the early Church Fathers. Today we might take this for granted, but it is thanks to him and his friendships with thinkers such as de Lubac, Jean Danielou, Erich Przywara, and the Reformed Protestant theologian Karth Barth – a mid-20th century movement that became called la nouvelle theologie (though not by them) – that many of the Council’s reforms were precipitated.

He was a passionate advocate for the universal call to holiness and the role of the laity in the Church, although he also believed lay people were also called to new forms of consecrated life, and he founded such a community with the Swiss doctor and mystic Adrienne von Speyr, called the Community of St. John.

At the same time, Balthasar provided a response to what may be called Modern Experientialism, a trend in both theology and spirituality that emphasized the religious experience as a starting point, a subjectivist movement with roots in the writing of 19th century theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher, who had disciples in the Protestant thinker Paul Tillich and Catholic theologians Karl Rahner and others (Rahner, it should be noted, found Balthasar’s achievements “truly breathtaking” and Balthasar would praise Rahner’s contributions to religious psychology). The experientialist theologians were popular because they seemed to provide a solid basis upon which Christianity could be proposed to the world, establishing a "common ground" of religious experience on which all our symbols and doctrines were based and could be explained.

Having grown up in a time when the church culture seemed dominantly influenced by this sweep of subjectivist thinking, I can agree with Robert Barron, who wrote that his first encounter with Balthasar had a certain tonic effect:
I found [it] wrenching, disconcerting, but ultimately bracing. As I perused his texts, I kept waiting for the apologetic or explaining move, the justification for the project on the basis of some self-validating experience, but what I found instead was a stubborn command to “look at the form” of Christ. As I tried to get ahold of Christian doctrine, Balthasar kept telling me to relax and let Christian doctrine get ahold of me … I wanted to draw revelation into experience, and Balthasar, like Barth, was trying to extricate me from “the musty confines of religious self-consciousness” and draw me into a new world.

While many theologians were measuring the data of revelation by the structures of religious self-consciousness, Balthasar had chosen a more direct, objective and contemplative way of knowing, one that looked at the whole of its object without dismantling it analytically. He called for a “kneeling theology” over a “sitting theology”. Like the stained-glass windows of the great cathedrals, it sometimes meant that the radiant beauty of Christ could only be perceived from within the structure of faith.

It was natural, perhaps, that my own vocation as a Jesuit came out of a context in which I was reading Balthasar. With my freedom always engaged, the invitation to follow Christ was nonetheless very objective; it was on offer. The process was similar, in a sense, to Balthasar's own religious calling, which took place while doing a 30-day Ignatian retreat in 1927. In his own words:
Even now, thirty years later, I could still go to that remote path in the Black Forest … and find again the tree beneath which I was struck as by lightning … And yet it was neither theology nor the priesthood which then came into my mind in a flash. It was simply this: you have nothing to choose, you have been called … All I needed to do was to stand there and wait and see what I would be needed for.
De Lubac has written, perhaps, the most masterful assessment of Balthasar, so I will do no more than list several more themes that permeate his work: the love and life of the Trinity as the origin and destination of all things, childlike simplicity, receptivity and obedience as primary acts of the human soul, the restoration of Beauty as an equal manifestation of the divine alongside Truth and Goodness, and a profoundly Ignatian sense of the suscipe prayer: “Take, Lord, and receive, all my liberty, knowledge, understanding and will … your love and grace is enough for me.”

Underneath Balthasar one will always find St. Ignatius: the God-lover, the contemplative in action, the one for whom God is living and true, to whom is due all praise, reverence and service. For a world hungry for God, it’s no surprise Balthasar is being discovered and studied in campuses, parishes and formation houses around the world today.

Monday 24 June 2013

Memories of Halloween Past

By Eric Hanna, S.J.
There's a famous novel that begins with the protagonist smelling tea and biscuits. The scent brings back a whole series of memories for the protagonist and sets the entire novel as a flashback. Recently, I tasted a particular candy and it brought a whole series of memories flooding back to me of my childhood in Yellowknife, NWT. Enjoy a little trip to my past, which if nothing else will help you beat the summer heat.

Nighttime. -34 degrees Celsius. I am twelve years old. In this neighbourhood, time can go by for hours without a car passing to break the stillness. The quiet tastes of pines and ice. You can hear the gentle, constant roll of air that is not a breeze but the entire sky moving slowly past you. Behind me is the five hundred meters of empty snow where houses will probably be put in the future. There are only drifts. You can't walk through them without falling in to snow above your knees. You must follow the compressed tracks of the snowmobiles that cut through the field. There the snow is dense enough to support your weight.

Friday 21 June 2013

The Strangeness of the World

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

Wonder by Akiane Kramarik

Horatio – O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
Hamlet – And therefore as a stranger give it welcome. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

Allow me to relate two stories about children that I heard recently.

The first is about the nephews of one of my Jesuit companions who, along with their parents, visited my community a month or so ago. Since they were coming from the States, it turned out to be much cheaper for them to fly into Buffalo than Toronto, so my companion drove across the border to pick them up. On their way to Toronto, they stopped at Fort Niagara, on the American side of the border. My companion said to his nephews, “I hope you brought your bathing suits, because we have to swim to Canada.” His nephews weren’t sure if they had their suits or not. It wasn’t what they were expecting, but it didn’t seem terribly surprising to them: after all, they had never been to Canada before, and for all they knew, the way one got there was by swimming across the river. Of course, it was only when they were told that their uncle was pulling their leg that they saw the joke: before that, it was quite plausible.

Monday 17 June 2013

Shake and Bake: on the Relationship Between Clergy and Laity

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

Throughout my past year at Campion College in Regina, there were a few instances where urgent lay services (with a Gospel reflection and the distribution of already-consecrated hosts) needed to happen on short notice. On these occasions, I had worked with a daily mass-attending graduate student, with each of us doing our respective parts. I jokingly named this type of collaboration between clergy and laity the “Shake and Bake”, in reference to a sophisticated manoeuvre between two race cars from the film Talladega Nights.

The important dynamics between clergy and laity was again highlighted for me as I reflected on the latest Hearts on Fire retreat (HoF) in Canada, which took place this past weekend in the beautiful St. John's, Newfoundland. Three Jesuits – including myself and two other Ibo contributors – flew into St. John's to give the retreat. One of the main goals of HoF is to provide tools for our retreatants to tangibly develop their relationship with the Lord; it is not the type of retreat where one comes out of it feeling good about learning a few inspiring intellectual concepts. It is the responsibility of the retreatants to incorporate Ignatian contemplation and the examination of consciousness into their spiritual regimen, along with living a more intentional sacramental life. There is precious little that we Jesuits can do if our retreatants do not use the tools with which they have been provided.

Friday 14 June 2013

St. Anthony of Padua, a Saint for the New Evangelization

By Artur Suski, S.J.


We are now well beyond the halfway point of the Year of Faith that Pope Emeritus Benedict called last October. At the beginning of this "Year", Pope Benedict encouraged all Catholics to especially pay attention to the New Evangelization. As such, I thought it would be beneficial for us to take a look at role models whose lives may inspire and help us in this pursuit. We sometimes underestimate how powerful it is to look at the lives of the saints; they continue to work amongst us through their lived examples.

For instance, the life of St. Anthony of Padua was celebrated in the Roman Catholic Church yesterday. A Franciscan contemporary of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony’s life is a model for the New Evangelization. How so? I will illustrate this by discussing a few aspects of his inspiring life.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Cheap Grace and Atheists

By John D. O’Brien, S.J.

Sadao Watanabe, The Anointing with Oil and Tears, 1979

Recently I gave a talk called “What Pope Francis Expects from Us” at a forum in Vancouver, in which I shared six points I thought the Holy Father has highlighted in the first three months of his pontificate. One of these points was his frequent emphasis on God’s mercy. This could very well end up being the major theme of his papacy.

First, Mercy was the topic of his first homily at the Vatican parish St. Anna’s, on the first Sunday after his election. “For me,” he said, “and I say this humbly, the strongest message of the Lord is mercy.” That day, the Gospel was about Jesus sitting and eating and talking with sinners. “Jesus forgets,” the Pope insisted. “He has a special capacity to forget. He forgets, he kisses, he embraces, and he only says, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.’”

Monday 10 June 2013

Drenched in an Incomprehensible Love

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

In the past few weeks, we’ve been graced with wonderful material for meditation with the celebrations in our liturgical calendar. Two weeks ago, we had Corpus Christi, reminding us of the importance of the Eucharist in our journey as Christians, and the impact it can have on our lives. This past week, we celebrated the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary. These celebrations helped us reflect not just on God’s profound love for us, but also on the rich interior life that we are called to in our journey with God.

As a person who came to the Church only later on in life, celebrations like the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart used to leave me rather confused and indifferent. It's only when I was in Guelph for to do the Spiritual Exercises (in 2009) that I made my peace with the Sacred Heart of Jesus. It is only then that I truly came to understand what this devotion stood for in my life. This happened because in the early days of the Exercises, we were asked to illustrate our faith journey with something concrete that we could make with pottery. Not having any artistic talents, I was not comfortable with this idea at all!

Friday 7 June 2013

Jesus the Homeless

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

The dying, the crippled, the mentally ill, the unwanted, the unloved – they are Jesus in disguise.  –Bl. Mother Teresa.

Regis College, through which I have been studying philosophy for the past two years, has a unique crucifix in each classroom and numerous pieces of art throughout the building. So when I heard a couple of months ago that the college was acquiring a new sculpture, I didn’t make much of it. It would be nice to have another work of art, but I didn’t think that it would make a big difference to to the building, even when I heard that this work was a bit different, for it depicts Jesus as a homeless man sleeping on a park bench.

As it turns out, Timothy Schmalz’s “Jesus the Homeless" has attracted a lot of attention, even receiving writeups in many secular journals such as the Toronto Star and the Huffington Post. Although much was made in the news reports of the fact that Schmalz had some difficulty finding a venue for his piece—it turns out that two prominent cathedrals were unable to find a place for it before it was offered to Regis—the positive side of the story was also reported, and this is what has resonated most with people. There is something plainly true about a statue that depicts our Lord as a homeless man, identifiable only through the stigmata in his feet poking out from beneath a shabby blanket. As a result, many have come to see the statue and there was a big crowd at a panel discussion on homelessness hosted by the college.

Wednesday 5 June 2013

Helping to Germinate the Kingdom of God: Young Adults and the Mystery of the Church

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.


“The Church is not a country club for saints, but a hospital for sinners!” I have pondered this statement many times. I have considered it as I think about what the Church is and is not. The Church is neither a club or a hospital. It is not a sacrament dispenser, a spiritual service provider or a Sunday show. The Church is the Body of Christ, “a people made one with the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Eph 1:4-5). As the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium (LG) of the Second Vatican Council stated, the mystery of the Church is manifested in its own foundation. The Lord Jesus set the Church to build the kingdom of God, which began with him, and continues to germinate and grow in all nations. The Church is not an end in itself. As our Pope Emeritus has often said, the mission of the Church is to carry on what Jesus started, to act as Jesus would act. As Lumen Gentium expresses, the Church is a sheepfold whose one and indispensable door is Christ (LG 26).

I recently began to ask young adults about how well the Church is living out such a mission: what they perceive as the Church's strengths and limits; the ways they have experienced consolation and desolation through the Church, that is, an increase or decreased in faith, hope and love. This question came as a I prayed with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. In the First Exercise of the First Week, or the first phase of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to contemplate: “What I have done for Christ, what I am doing for Christ, and what I ought to do for Christ?” This contemplation led me to ask the same of the Church.

Monday 3 June 2013

Dissecting Angelina

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

The double mastectomy undergone by the actress Angelina Jolie garnered much attention from the media throughout the past few weeks. Many have chimed in from different angles, including this brief commentary from our brother Jesuit blog in the United States. Much can be said about her decision, but I would like to focus on a few points.

Jolie decided to undergo this medical procedure after discovering that she is the carrier of a mutated copy of a gene called BRCA1. Women who carry a BRCA1 (and also BRCA2) mutation have a much greater chance of getting breast cancer. That being said, it doesn’t mean that all breast cancers are caused by BRCA mutations, nor does it mean that everyone is equally susceptible to such a genetic mutation.