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Law, culture, and Catholicism...up in smoke!

Monday, July 31, 2006

The Feast of St. Ignatius Loyola

There are certain moments in life that a man carries with him forever. One of those moments, for me, occurred in a very early morning in May about a decade ago. It is one of those things that some among us might call part of my formation. I won't dispute the description. Indulge me for a few moments.

First, some background. I attended Jesuit institutions for both high school and undergraduate studies. In both institutions I did the traditional Jesuit thing: studied Latin and Greek and was treated to certain militaristic temperments regarding discipline in study. When I was an undergrad, I added to these subjects philosophy and it was there that I first came to know and love St. Thomas Aquinas through the influence of the fine Jesuits who were my teachers. Don't get me wrong, there were flaky Jesuits too--hardly worthy of the name in my estimation--but I chose to attach myself to those Fathers who, at the time, were in their 70s, 80s and some even in their 90s. I was privileged enough to have unique access to them in that I worked a part-time job at the famed JR (or Jesuit Residence). Now there were multiple Jesuit residences at the University, but this one was where all the "old dads"--as I affectionately called them--resided. It was a residence that seemed not to be tainted with unhealthy accoutrements of the post-Arrupe Society (e.g., Men's Health on coffee tables, scholastics holding a meeting to plan protesting Ft. Benning and the School of the Americas (yawn)).

The JR had a beautiful old chapel. As one walked in, on the left and right were about 8 side altars--four on each side. There was the old high altar on which sat the tabernacle, the main altar, and two side altars up front (not unlike the 8 just described). There was a large refectory--recently renovated--which solidified the impression that the good Jesuits were not lacking. The main entrance had a porter's office which housed the switchboard. This is where I worked. It was right outside the chapel and the main hallway which housed many original Rennaissance paintings--a gift to the Jesuits from years back. Whenever someone would come to call, I would have them wait in the outer parlor and call the particular priest. The treat for me, however, (and, incidentally, the finest education I have ever received) was when the old dads would come to the office and visit me--either to shoot the bull or to give me a new article that they were writing or reading. The Fathers were rather liberal with me giving me free reign with the refrectory's coffee, etc.

Now to the point. It was the end of the semester and I was working on a 36 page paper for Fr. Leo Sweeney, S.J.'s PHIL 999 seminar: "Augustine and Aquinas: Metaphysics and Morality." Needless to say, the seminar was apprpriate for Ph.D. students but not for my skull full of mush. Anyway, Fr. Sweeney (of happy memory) was one of the spry octogenarian Jesuits and one of those unsung Thomists of which we are in short supply. His standards were exacting but he had a heart of gold and, though I ultimately received high marks in his seminar, I know that I probably disappointed him with my paper. In any event, the Fathers of the house allowed me to stay all night and work on the computer to complete the paper. As the hours passed, I made several trips to get some coffee and even left the house at about 11:30pm to get a bite to eat.

Not long after I returned to continue writing the paper--probably around 1:00am--Fr. John Kinsella, S.J. (again, of happy memory) came down to see me. He was clad in his robe, slippers and had disheveled hair. The retired Professor of Law and Yale Fellow plopped down, promptly lighted up a Marlboro and asked me how I was doing. After chatting for awhile amidst the cigarette smoke which was odor suavitatis in conspectu Altissimi, he proceeded to get me another cup o' joe for the final push on the paper. After Fr. Kinsella shuffled back to bed, I was ready to finish this baby up. Around 5:30am, having exhausted my mind, the only thing remaining was grammar and spelling checks. I went out into the outer parlor and looked over the lake--which was some 500 feet away. Morning was just breaking and I thought of the famous Homeric description of the dawn as being "rododaktulos" (I wish this damn blogger would allow Greek script) or "rosy-fingered." It was very quiet and peaceful, with small ripples coming over the lake. All was very still. In this peaceful silence, I stretched and made my way into the JR for the last cup of coffee. As I entered the hallway, it was completely dark--black in fact--except for several lights in the JR Chapel. I paused for a moment and beheld something in the stillness of that morning and in the darkness of that hallway, that I will never forget.

Three of the most elderly priests of the house were offering their private Masses on their chosen side altar. I paused for about five minutes, but in reality, I didn't pay attention. I was utterly consumed by this sight. Words do not do it justice. It wasn't so much remarkable for the priests' age--for two were 93 and another in his 80s, it was remarkable for the awesomeness of the act in the stillness and darkness of that morning. An act that those men had performed thousands of times before in their priestly lives but no less significant--nay, THE most significant act in the world. The very act that redeemed the world was being re-created anew. The act in which heaven and earth are united. The act in which, paradoxically, the creature is holding the Creator in his hands. The holy Jesuits offering their Mass, were simply doing what their Lord had commanded be done in remembrance of Him. They were also communicating with their Lord whose Most Holy Name they are priviliged to have as their own--Jesuits. This act is the heart of the Jesuit's life. And that singular act, was, is and always will be, the most powerful act in the world.

So powerful, that the Founder of the Society of Jesus, who died at 5:30am 450 years ago today, wept every time he held his Lord.