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Thinking and writing at the intersection of faith and culture. We focus on both sacred and secular issues, and everything in between, because God does too.
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Dreams, Hope, and American Racism

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 02:14

Standing before the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his most famous speech to over 250,000 people:

I have a dream that my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Every Friday before MLK Jr. Day growing up, my teachers in school would project a video of his speech for us to hear. I’d listen thinking that since racism is over, the speech was simultaneously inspiring and repetitive.

Admittedly, we’ve come way since 1963: for example, many this people week are thinking of November 2008 when our country elected the first African-American president, Barack Obama – with a wife, Michelle, whose family ancestry includes black slaves. For some, this signaled the end of racism in our nation.

And, on this day celebrating racial progress, many other people are thinking about our future president and his controversial racialized language during the campaign. Subsequent post-election accounts of racist acts suggest that perhaps we’ve made less racial progress than we thought. Both ABC’s television show Black-ish and this week’s cover of the New Yorker Magazine boldly highlight the still wounding legacy of American racism.

Certainly voting for Trump does not mean one is a racist person – one who hates other persons based on the color of their skin. That being said, each of us make assumptions and have harbor prejudices about the people we interact with – including myself. These prejudices are implicitly formed by our conceptions of the great America – usually driven by the white heterosexual middle-class suburban version – shaped by a historical legacy of American exceptionalism, slavery, and Manifest Destiny.

Theologian Kelly Brown Douglass explicates this connection in her excellent 2015 book Stand Your Ground: Black Bodies and the Justice of God. Explorers like Christopher Columbus “found”two continents full of people. But because these settlers saw themselves as ordained by God to “cultivate” and “civilize” the lands, they justified via “God’s will” the extermination of the Native population in today’s now US while also creating a labor forced based in the enslavement of African peoples. This mindset infiltrated the consciousness of our Founding Fathers, too. When the land of the East was not enough, the Manifest Destiny narrative provided justification for more land seizures. Said another way, our great America was founded, already stained by the original sin of racism.

These personal biases – and the origin stories of our country – point to the deeper level of racism King addressed in his speech. Growing up we can’t help but learn these stories and incorporate them subtly into our understanding of what it means to be an American. We (the ones who benefit from the current racist power configuration) then end up making racialized excuses including:

  • I didn’t own slaves so I’m not racist.
  • I’m not racist, I have a black friend.
  • Slavery is over so black people need to move on, and my personal favorite.
  • Black people can be racist too. I am experiencing reverse racism.

Yes, in 2016 we do not own slaves. And sure, slavery is over in its 1850s version. It has, however, taken a new form via institutional racism: two examples include the prison industrial complex and neighborhood segregation.

And finally, while all people (including minorities) hold prejudices about other persons, Jim Wallis argues that racism is “prejudice plus power.” Racism is more than just implicit biases: it is the ability to use personal or institutional power and prejudice to deem some as less than equal – whether in school, court, communities, or the ideal of the Great American Society.

Were King living today, he would protest against the social fabric of our country. Take two examples from his speech:

“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.”

Sadly, despite the work of the Civil Rights movement fifty years ago, racial segregation continues to be a chronic American problem: “if you’re a black person in America, you’re more likely than a white person to live in an area of concentrated poverty,” the BBC reported just earlier this month. The consequence often means schools with less resources, worse housing options, and less access to financial credit. Women of color have higher rates of complications during childbirth. It also means that white and black persons are less likely to form friendships that could break down even well intentioned prejudices.

The liberal Northeast and West who voted for Obama perpetuate this segregation just as badly as the supposedly more racist Southern States. The difference is, in the Northeast and West, major urban centers tend to blame segregation on class, not race. But in reality, racialized social policies created many segregated areas intended to separate black from whites.


“We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

Tragically, black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, even if they are not suspected of any crime. And ironically, suggests The Atlantic, this is our system working properly: innocent young black men like Trayvon Martin are killed because our society “takes at its founding the hatred and denigration of a people.” The Atlantic concludes that we should expect more, not less, cases like Travyon’s because we are socializing ourselves to assume black persons are suspicious.

*       *       *

Let’s be honest with ourselves: racism is deep-seated in our country, and isn’t likely to disappear tomorrow. Our governmental structures, laws, neighborhoods, schools, culture, and personal consciousness are socialized by our racialized original sin. What is more, our current political culture suggests that decreasing housing segregation and preserving the social safety net for poor people will be difficult – at best. That being said, we aren’t helpless in the fight against racism. For those of us with privilege, we can start by deepening our understanding of racism – and our role in it. We can:

  • Read and learn about racism: both published in 2015, Jim Wallis’s America’s Original Sin and Kelly Brown Douglass’s Stand Your Ground give comprehensive accounts of how racism has been with our founding. What they offer particularly is theological reflection that can help us choose to stand with God who stands with the marginalized.
  • Watch film and documentary series about racism: this year’s Golden Globe Best Picture winner Moonlight addresses the intersection between race, poverty, and sexuality. Netflix’s 13TH examines the history of being African American in the United States – from slavery until today.
  • There are excellent radio programs, too: BBC’s new “America in Black and White” tackles topics in depth including criminal justice and economic opportunity. New York City NPR affiliate WNYC has a new series too, called “Dear President: What You Need to Know About Race” to help educate with personal experiences of growing up marginalized.
  • Perhaps most important of all: When we hear the experiences of black and brown people today who suffer from racism, it is understandable to feel defensive and “blamed” since we’ve benefitted at their expense. Admitting that to ourselves, we can listen more closely to the experience of our black and brown brothers and sisters so that real partnerships can be formed.
  • Correct our friends when we hear racialized statements (like the ones above) that minimize the deep roots of racism and the privilege we’ve experienced as a result.  
  • Get plugged into undoing-racism trainings with organizations like Crossroads Antiracism Organizing and Training, and Whites Confronting Racism.  

In his farewell speech to the American public last week, President Obama noted that race relations have improved over time, but  issued us a call to work harder. That call means acknowledging that the effects of slavery and Jim Crow didn’t suddenly vanish in the ‘60s; that when minority groups voice discontent, they’re not engaging in reverse racism or practicing political correctness; they’re not demanding special treatment, but the equal treatment our Founders promised.

None of this will be easy, none of it will be quick, and it will draw us out out of our comfort zone. Towards the end of his life, King famously said that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice” When we benefit from racism, we can remain comfortable with the status, or we can choose to participate in the arc of the moral universe. Choosing to participate means challenging the arrangement that makes our privilege possible. It means choosing to say, yes, we can.


Images courtesy FlickrCC users jrr_wired, thinairchi, and Gage Skidmore.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Herramientas afiladas, vulnerabilidad, y dignidad

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 08:27

For English, click here.

Migrantes en el camino pa’l norte pasan mucho peligro y llevan muchas cicatrices, tanto físicas como emocionales. Un tipo llevaba una cicatriz gigantesca desde la oreja hasta la garganta, producto de una pandilla en Honduras. ¿Cómo conozco la razón? Bueno, le pregunté mientras que tenia una herramienta afilada a su pescuezo. “Que bárbaro, Andrés!” me dirías. “No,” te respondería, “qué barbero!”

Como parte de un grupo de jesuitas conociendo la realidad de la ruta migratoria, yo tenía el privilegio de encontrar migrantes en varias etapas de sus jornadas hacia una nueva vida. Una de estas etapas fue en La 72, un albergue cerca de la frontera de México con Guatemala.  Este albergue en Tenosique, Tabasco depende mucho con la colaboración voluntaria y nuestro grupito de jesuitas echó la mano como podíamos.  Buscando una razón para renovar el peinado “mociana” que llevaba, saqué mis herramientas de barbero y me puse a trabajar!

Desde que comencé a cortar pelo, he tenido la teoría que la gente divulga mucho de su vida personal a su peluquero porque están haciéndose físicamente vulnerable al peluquero que lleva herramientas afiladas cerca de sus cabezas. Esta confianza física genera una confianza emocional. La 72 es un espacio de mucha confianza, entonces uno no tiene que tener el puesto privilegiado del peluquero para que los migrantes le cuenten lo que han vivido en la ruta. Sin embargo, aquellos veinte minutos sentados tranquilitos en mi silla me daba acceso único a sus historias y sueños.

A Daniel, quien era bien peludo, le quité casi todo para que no tuviera que aguantar tanto calor en su camino hacia Monterrey. Se mudó de Honduras a Monterrey pocos años atrás porque decidió salirse de la pandilla en que llevaba más de 10 años. Como no existe la posibilidad de salirse de una pandilla tranquilamente, tuvo que huir. Se retornó a Honduras para traer su esposa y dos hijos pequeños consigo y empezar una vida nueva con ellos donde ya había conseguido un trabajo digno.

A Freddy, le di una ‘española’ o ‘moicana,’ cuyo estilo suele ser visto en los grandes futbolistas. Como Freddy estaba jugando fútbol diariamente con los otros migrantes en la cancha de La 72, quería un estilo como Arturo Vidal para inspirar su jugada. Con apenas 20 años, Freddy venía solo desde El Salvador en búsqueda de trabajo y esperanza. Su plan era llegar a los Estados Unidos, pero debido a las dificultades que uno enfrenta en la ruta, ahora piensa buscar trabajo en un lugar turístico de México. De cualquier manera, será difícil encontrar un buen trabajo siendo un migrante irregular.

A Yeison, un niño con 7 añitos, le di una rebajada normal. Su mama quería que yo le diera un recorte “hongo,” pero yo la convencí por otra parte debido a la sensación que siento cuando veo fotos de mi infancia llevando este mismo recorte lamentable. Yeison y su familia vienen de Honduras. Fue difícil terminar el recorte porque el no aguantaba las cosquillas que la pequeña maquinita le daba. Se reía mientras me contaba que quería ser piloto cuando creciera. Al preguntarle si tenía miedo de las alturas, me respondió que sí y casi se cayó de la silla por la risa.

Como puedes imaginar, los migrantes llegan a los albergues cansados, sucios y con pocas cosas. Es posible que tengan solamente un cambio de ropa. “¿Por que se preocupan con el estilo de su pelo si tienen tantas otras preocupaciones?” me preguntarías. Porque también son personas con dignidad. Tienen deseos y sueños como tú y yo. Quieren trabajo digno como tú y yo. Se preocupan por cosas simples – como su apariencia – como tú y yo y por cosas serias – como el bienestar de sus familiares – como tú y yo. Ellos mismos reconocen su dignidad y por eso aprovechan los servicios gratuitos de un peluquero. Y yo les doy mis servicios con mucha humildad porque sus historias son sagradas, como todas historias humanas. Si yo no las hubiera conocido, no cambiaría el hecho que son sagradas. Pero el encuentro humano me dio la oportunidad para ver la chispa divina que llevan.


El blog original de la inmersión migratoria en 2015

Categories: Things Jesuit

Sharp objects, vulnerability, and dignity

Sat, 01/14/2017 - 08:26

Haga clic aquí para español.

Migrants on the northward trail face much danger and wear many scars, both physical and emotional. One guy had a massive scar from his ear down to the bottom of his throat, a reminder of the gang violence that encircled his daily life in Honduras. How do I know? Well, I asked him as much as I held a sharp object to his neck! “What barbarity, Andrew!” you’d say. “No,” I’d respond, “what barber-ity!”

As part of a group of Jesuits in formation immersing ourselves in the gritty reality of Latin American migration, I had the privilege of encountering migrants at different stages of their respective journeys toward a new life. One such stage was at La 72, a migrant shelter just across the Guatemala-Mexico border in Tenosique, Tabasco. Heavily dependent on volunteers to assist with the daily routine of the shelter, our band of 7 Jesuits pitched in however we could. Looking for an excuse to freshen up my summer “mohawk” and stir up conversation about the ongoing Copa America, I busted out my barber tools.

Ever since I started cutting hair, I’ve had a theory that people divulge much of their personal lives to their barbers/hairdressers because making oneself physically vulnerable to a blade-wielding barber simultaneously generates an emotional vulnerability. While sharing meals and playing soccer with migrants were also opportunities to connect, those 20-ish minutes in the barber chair gave me privileged access to their stories and dreams.

Daniel, who had a thick head of hair that my subpar tools could barely get through, got a clean buzz so he would not have to withstand the heat on his way to Monterrey, Mexico. He moved there a couple years ago from Honduras because he decided to leave a gang to which he had belonged for over 10 years. It is not possible to retire peacefully from a gang so he was forced to flee. He made a brief return to Honduras from Monterrey to pick up his wife and two young children so that they could join him where he had found dignified work.

Inspired by the “mohawk” I was sporting, Freddy requested one that would make him look like Chilean soccer star Arturo Vidal. He thought it might boost his skills on the concrete court the migrants play on every day to pass the time. Barely 20 years old, Freddy journeyed from El Salvador in search of hope and work. His plan was to get to the US, but due to the difficulties that he’s heard migrants face on the route, he thinks he’ll settle for a job in the tourism industry in Mexico. Either way, it will be difficult for him to find good work as an irregular migrant.

Yeison, age 7, received a routine trim. His mom wanted me to give him a “bowl cut” but I convinced her otherwise while recalling an image of myself rocking that regrettable style in elementary school. Yeison and his family had traveled from Honduras. It was hard to finish the job on Yeison because the battery powered trimmer tickled his neck and he couldn’t sit still. He giggled while telling me that he wants to be a pilot when he grows up. When I asked him if he was afraid of heights, he almost fell out of the chair laughing as he shook his head affirmatively.

As you might imagine, the migrants arrive at the shelters tired, dirty and with few possessions. They might have one change of clothes. “Why do they worry about their hairstyle when they have so many other things to worry about?” you might ask. Because they are also people with dignity. They have desires and dreams, like you and me. They want dignified work like you and me. They worry about simple things – such as their appearance – like you and me and they worry about serious matters – such as the well-being of their family – like you and me. They recognize their own dignity and therefore take advantage of the free services of a barber.

And I provided these services with much humility because their stories are sacred, as all human stories are. Whether or not I had noticed, their stories still would have been sacred. Thankfully for me, the encounter helped me notice their divine spark.


The original blog over the experience in summer of 2015

Categories: Things Jesuit

What Dylann Roof Deserves

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 02:00

On June 17, 2015, Dylann Roof entered Emanuel AME Church and sat with a bible study group for 45 minutes. As the group entered into prayer, Roof began shooting. He killed six women and three men.

Roof faced 33 charges in federal court. The jury found him guilty on each count.  A second federal jury has sentenced Roof to death.  He’ll be the first person to be federally condemned for a racial hate crime.

But does Dylann Roof deserve to die?  Would this execution help to heal the incomprehensible heartbreak of the victims’ families and mourning parishioners?  Would it be a step in the fight for racial justice?  Is it the right thing to do?

* * *

A lot of Twitter thinks so.  Tweets like this abound:

#DylannRoof was sentenced to death for his racially motivated crime. At least, some justice

— Black To Live (@BlackToLive) January 11, 2017

Some made puns about “Da Roof is on fire.” Some celebrated that 2017 was already looking better. Memes and GIFs of dancing, dabbing, and asking for an HD livestream of the execution are currently flooding the internet.

Melvin Graham, brother of victim Cynthia Hurd, said that the death penalty was a hollow victory. He would much rather have his sister back. But, in these circumstances, Graham believes that Roof’s lack of remorse and clear hate should lead to his execution.  

Others, however, decry the further violence and death. Political commentator Jamil Smith is particularly astute.  

Killing Dylann Roof won’t revive the parts inside of us that already died that June day in Charleston. No state murder makes things better.

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) January 10, 2017

French philosopher Albert Camus wrote, “What then is capital punishment but the most premeditated of murders.” Twitter user @Delo_taylor takes a more practical view of the consequences of executing Roof:

There’s no reason to celebrate Dylann Roof’s sentence. White supremacy has not been eradicated, in fact it just found itself a martyr.

— #J20 (@Delo_Taylor) January 10, 2017

Smith takes this thought further.  Not only would Roof’s death validate white supremacists, it would also validate those who see his execution as evidence of receding racism, even though Roof’s death changes no structures:

Roof, I’d argue, wanted to be a martyr for white supremacy. But more pernicious is the fiction that his death somehow punishes racism.

— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) January 10, 2017

If it wasn’t already clear, it’s impossible to speak about Dylann Roof without speaking about race.  It’s even tougher to speak about his execution without speaking of racism.

* * *

Still, some try by talking about Dylann Roof’s plausible mental illness.  Rather than prison, the proper way to respond to Roof’s behavior is psychiatric attention.  People who commit violent crimes are frequently described as crazy, insane, nuts, or screwed up in the head. This is troublesome, because it portrays people with mental health challenges as deranged, dangerous, and violent. This reasoning adds further stigma to the lives of those who already suffer from mental illness.

More than mental illness, Roof’s actions were the product of someone steeped in racism we live and breath in every day. Roof may have found a particularly virulent form of prejudice, but his actions were enabled by complacency and systematic oppression. If we blame Roof’s disordered mind and give a pass to the environment from which it developed, we excuse ourselves from our participation and acquiescence to systematic racism.

* * *

Racism even pervades the mainstream narrative of radical forgiveness response from some family members of the victims.   Liliana Segura writes, “On a deeper level, there was a sense that the model of forgiveness so praised and admired by white people allowed Americans to divest themselves of the task of dealing with the roots of the hate that animated Roof’s deadly actions.” In story after story, the Emanuel AME Church was lauded for the mercy shown toward Roof.  Yet by highlighting this forgiveness and minimizing its accompanying rage, this narrative fosters complacency in the fight for justice. It hides the broad, racist, structural background of this hate crime.   As Emanuel churchgoer Willi Glee say, “We have to say that the country was founded as a racist, white supremacist society. And Dylann Roof is just a byproduct of that.”

The state-sponsored killing of a murderous white supremacist will not create justice. It will stall the legacy of Emanuel AME at violence, death and white supremacy. White supremacy and violence must not dictate the legacy of Emanuel AME. Rather, the legacy must be of radical mercy and concrete justice. For forgiveness and healing to work, we must admit our fault, comfort, ignorance, and role in not just the deaths at Charleston, but the many forms of violence wrought by white privilege across the United States.

Categories: Things Jesuit

From Sith Lord to Jesuit

Thu, 01/12/2017 - 02:14

2016 was a good year for the Jesuits. In what other year would The Ringer declare “Jesuit Priests” Pop Culture winners? Sorry/not sorry, Taylor Swift.

We can thank Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver for some of that cred. Both actors have been making the rounds sharing their experiences from Martin Scorsese’s new film Silence. Driver says that his role as a Jesuit young priest in the Oscar-contending film resonated with him on a deep spiritual level — although he didn’t go so far as to make the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius like costar Andrew Garfield.

“I guess when we initially talked about it, the idea of the anguish of faith just seemed to make sense,” Driver said during a Q&A panel with the movie’s cast and crew.

Silence, based on Shusako Endo’s historical novel of the same name, takes place during the anti-Christian persecution of Jesuit missionaries under the xenophobic Tokugawa shogunate. Scorsese cast Driver as a young Portuguese Jesuit who finds that the catechism approach to Catholicism fails to prepare him for the impossible moral decisions that await him in feudal Japan.

Asked about his journey of “deep faith and belief” while making the film, Driver added that although he was “raised in a very religious household,” he felt the story’s theme of spiritual anguish applied to any kind of relationship dilemma — whether between parents and their children, spouses in a marriage, or an actor playing a role.

“It’s not ‘you make that decision’ and that’s it,” Driver said. “It’s not as easy as that.”

As in one’s relationship with God, Driver emphasized the importance of faith in one’s relationships with others, especially when it comes to honoring a commitment in times of trial.

“It’s filled with doubt, and second-guessing yourself, and insecurity, and misery. It doesn’t always have to be that, but it often is — it’s never just as simple as ‘you’ve made the decision’ and everything can rest easy on that.”

Driver said he turned to a familiar Catholic saint as he sought to make his character, Jesuit Father Garrpe, relatable to people outside of a religious context. “In our getting ready for it, I based him on St. Peter, because I thought that that image made sense to me as someone who is very committed but can’t help but question and doubt every step of the way,” Driver said.

This image of faith tested by doubt helped Driver find the center of his Jesuit character, who struggles to honor his faith commitments even when persecution shakes the certainty of his beliefs.

“That kind of faith, in a way to me above anything, again outside of a religious context, makes sense,” Driver said. “It’s eventually more healthy to think of approaching everything not with this idea that you know the right answer or that you’re completely convinced that you know what you’re saying is right.”

At the Castro Theatre screening, Driver was joined in the panel conversation by costar Andrew Garfield and director Martin Scorsese, among others.

Scorsese, continuing the theme of his recent video interview with America’s James Martin, S.J., talked about his Catholic faith, his time in a preparatory seminary, and how he in some ways “never left” the seminary even after he was kicked out — or, as he put it jokingly, was “invited to leave” — since he later channeled that same passion into cinema.


Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

Categories: Things Jesuit

They’re Mocking Me, Aren’t They?

Wed, 01/11/2017 - 02:03

Do they even hear me? Do they even see me? Am I making a difference?
Am I just another piece of furniture in the monotony of their ‘school life’?

The only thing more mysterious than what’s going on inside a high schooler’s mind is deciphering their attempts to communicate it. The same student can claim me as their favorite teacher in one instant while completely ignoring me in the next.

My insecurities as a high school teacher are only compounded by the fact that I can’t read my students, no matter how hard I try – How am I doing? gets me nowhere.


The fall semester always ends with a bang out here in Lakota country. Amid the end-of-semester glee, falling snow and freezing temperatures, a giant swath of schools from the Dakotas to Nebraska get together for the Lakota Nation Invitational, LNI, hallowed be its name. LNI is not just one tournament but many- though basketball is at its center, the competition is fierce and brilliant in wrestling, business plans, Lakota language, cheerleading, a poetry slam, a traditional dance pow-wow and more. For many, it’s the highlight of the year – a five-day, winter wonderland showcase of talent, culture and community. I’ve been lucky enough to be the Red Cloud boys basketball team’s official driver two years and counting. And this year was particularly delightful.

Day one. Arrive. Easy first-round win. Warm the bus. Dinner. The boys running up and down the hotel hallway, thrilled. (And just being high school boys.)

Day two. Big victory in the second round – I go out to warm up the bus. Once all the boys are seated and counted, the coach gives me the directions: “Taco Bell on East North.” I pull out of the parking lot to the unexpected soundtrack of-


The players sing at the top of their lungs. The coaches can’t help but laugh, but I know they’re looking at me.


The last time I heard the “Cȟékiya yo…” was last week at our all-school Lakota-Catholic Mass – I was the cantor, and not a very good one at that.

At Red Cloud, we use Mass parts that were written to mirror traditional Lakota prayer songs for the sweatlodge ceremony. “Cȟékiya yo” roughly means “Pray to him,” and it is a way for our mostly non-Catholic student body to be able to more easily pray along with the Mass. Alongside the traditional drum group playing at the beginning and end, the ritual burning of sage, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” in Lakota, these adaptations are invitations to see Catholicism and Lakota spirituality not as enemies but as partners in dialogue and prayer.

But even with 225 students in the church at the Mass, the 15 boys on that smelly bus easily eclipsed last week’s singing with force, vigor and exuberance rarely heard outside of the locker room. Bravo.


To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to respond -but I didn’t have to: one of the students stood up and announced in his best choir director voice: “Very good. Then, do that two more times. Now, the last time:


Uproarious applause. Bravo. They repeated the refrain three times and then finished with the “Amen.” Beautiful. Just like I had it printed in the worship aides.

Tentative silence on the bus, all looking up at me: I’m not sure how to respond.


“They’re mocking me, aren’t they?” I could’ve asked any one of the coaches. They would have shrugged their shoulders and smiled with that knowing smile. But I didn’t need to ask.

The students do hear me. They do see me. What looks like mockery is high school for We hear you. We see you. And maybe even Thank you.

So I laugh and shake my head, feigning the simple amusement of an unphased veteran teacher…

But I wonder if they see through my ruse. I wonder if they saw in the bus’ rear view mirror when I wiped my eyes clear of a few tears, a mix of many emotions. Embarrassment, maybe. Hilarity, certainly. Gratitude, especially, deep gratitude. I know you’ll never sing like that at Mass, but that’s okay – we’ll work on that another day. This is enough. Thank you.


The cover photo was originally posted through the author’s Instagram profile – @ggundlachsj –  follow him if you like!

Categories: Things Jesuit

Should we care what Meryl Streep has to say?

Tue, 01/10/2017 - 02:00
Embed from Getty Images


Once, sequestered in a Toyota Camry for a long road trip, a few young Jesuits playfully developed a list of people, places, and things universally adored by men in the Society. Inspired by the popular blog Stuff White People Like, entries for the Jesuit version were discussed and vetted.

Topping the list of “Stuff Jesuits Like” was none other than Meryl Streep.

Sunday’s Golden Globes Award Ceremony is not likely to remembered for who won or lost. Instead, it will be remembered for this speech from Streep, who won the Cecil B. DeMille lifetime achievement award:1

The reaction to this speech was swift and powerful. Responses ranged from the adoring:

find someone who looks at you the way literally everyone looks at meryl streep

— keely flaherty (@flahertykeely) January 9, 2017

To the scathing:

Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood, doesn’t know me but attacked last night at the Golden Globes. She is a…..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2017

Hillary flunky who lost big. For the 100th time, I never “mocked” a disabled reporter (would never do that) but simply showed him…….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2017

“groveling” when he totally changed a 16 year old story that he had written in order to make me look bad. Just more very dishonest media!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 9, 2017

Regardless of whether you love Streep’s speech or find it emblematic of everything that’s wrong with Hollywood, the question remains: should you even care what Meryl Streep thinks about politics?

There are certainly reasons to think not. Streep has a Masters in Fine Arts, not Political Science. She is a consensus choice for best American female actor of all time, not a publicly elected official.  She is a Hollywood star, not a D.C. expert.

Plus, Streep’s life is nothing like yours. She is a member of the “1 percent.” The fruit of your daily labor goes largely unnoticed. Streep’s is celebrated at a black tie event in front of Hollywood stars. How can she possibly understand the concerns that are relevant to your life?

Still, there is one good reason to listen to Streep. Meryl used her platform and voice2 to express a deep concern for the vulnerable–in this case, a disabled person.  She brought the voice of someone without the “privilege, power, and capacity to fight back” to a captive audience of 20 million.  Before rolling our eyes at Streep’s as the rantings of another Hollywood elite, we should first applaud her willingness to bring the evening’s conversation, however briefly, to someone on the margins.

Instead of calling out those celebrities who speak up against injustice, we should be critical of those who stay silent.3 More importantly, we should examine our own power and privilege and ask how we are using it on behalf of those who have none. We may not have the resources or platform of a Meryl Streep, but we are not powerless, either.  We can keep the worries of the voiceless in mind and amplify them if we get a chance.4

The point is not whether Meryl Streep was right or wrong, whether her speech was beautiful or incoherent. In a night filled with self-concerned blather (look at her dress!?!? Who is his new squeeze!?!?!)5, a small bit of concern for the other broke through. And that is worth recognizing.  And even imitating.

Categories: Things Jesuit

National Migration Week

Mon, 01/09/2017 - 02:14

As the Obama presidency ends and the Trump presidency begins, few issues stand as more urgent than immigration. The issue is at once huge – involving millions of people around the world – and very small, concerning individual persons, families and communities.

The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) has declared this week “National Migration Week,” in the hopes of shining a light on the issue and offering moral guidance. The word “migration” is understood here broadly to include migrants, immigrants, displaced persons and refugees, the latter of which our own Joe Simmons wrote about recently.

But the most contentious issue in the near future will be immigration. We can expect the USCCB to take a strong stance on behalf of the immigrant during the Trump administration, as reflected by the election of Archbishop Gomez in Los Angeles as vice president of the USCCB. But he is not the only vocal supporter of migrants. Bishop Flores of Brownsville has spoken passionately on the subject, comparing the deportation of immigrants to abortion. There is no question that, for the bishops, immigration is a key “life” issue. The bishops might thus be creating an opportunity to unite U.S. Catholics, so often divided into “pro-life” and “pro-social justice” camps, on one issue. 

The theme of this year’s Migration Week is most appropriate: “Creating a Culture of Encounter.” For meaningful reform to come about in the U.S., we will have to reconcile people with vastly different visions of immigration.

The country remains deeply divided on this issue, in part because of tendencies to reject the moral seriousness of the “other side.” Those who emphasize the rule of law and the needs of native citizens, for instance, are often demonized as selfish and heartless, when so often they only want to provide for their loved ones. Those who emphasize the love of neighbor and the right to migrate and work are frequently dismissed as soft-hearted America-haters, when they only want to provide for people in need. The very phrase “immigration reform” has become a weasel word.

Sadly, most major political elites in the U.S. have little to gain from bringing about such dialogue, and much to gain from maintaining the status quo. While the GOP has a “Chamber of Commerce” wing that benefits from low-cost labor, the Democratic party has had to contend with labor unions who fear foreign competition for their jobs. And both parties are able to rally their base by blaming the other party for a failure to act on reform.

“Encounter” will be a crucial task for U.S. politics as we struggle to rebuild confidence in our democratic institutions and in one another. But perhaps the immigration reform is the perfect place to begin to learn it. For real lives are at stake in our immigration debates. Behind the massive problems and structures we associate with the word “immigration” are individuals humans whose lives are precious, with stories, faces and names into which we must be drawn into encounter. If we could learn to put those humans at the center of our debates, then perhaps we could learn to treat one another humanely, as well.


Image courtesy FlickrCC user Alex.m.Hayward.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Vatican Reform: 2016

Fri, 01/06/2017 - 02:14

Pope Francis was widely expected to reform the Vatican. Has he?

Yes and no. The change has been more a matter of evolution than revolution, and has only been partial in many areas. Indeed, even the pope seems unhappy with the pace of change. But given his frequent predictions of a short papacy, Francis seems intent on laying the foundations of a reform that will continue for years after him.

Curial reform

When people speak of reform in the Church, they often mean a reform of the Vatican curia. Indeed, Pope Francis has reserved some of the harshest words of his pontificate for his Christmas addresses to the curia. As John Allen notes:

Let’s begin by acknowledging two truths about the Catholic Church.

The first is that everyone loves complaining about the Vatican. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, from the First World or the Third, no matter what kind of Catholic you are, griping about the slowness, arrogance and dysfunction of the bureaucracy in Rome is a favorite indoor sport.

The second truth about Catholicism is that if we didn’t have the Roman Curia, meaning the central administrative bureaucracy of the Vatican, we’d have to invent it.

So how does one reform a set of institutions that are at once deeply problematic and indispensable?

As is so often the case, “reform” has taken the shape of reshuffling and restructuring personnel and institutions. But do the new structures work any more effectively? This is particularly the question with the new Secretariat for the Economy and the two new massive dicasteries for Laity, Family, and Life and Promoting Integral Human Development.1

The new Secretariat for Communications seems bound to be an improvement, although that is partially because policy had to change with personnel: the indefatigable Federico Lombardi, SJ is no longer around to wear five hats at once.

The Secretariat of State remains unwieldy and probably too powerful. People often use the word “bureaucratic” to describe it, but in fact that is what it is not. Where “bureaucracy” refers to a system that organizes personnel and resources in a way to maximize leverage over policy implementation and oversight, the Vatican curia has tended to be a network of overlapping, often redundant offices that fight for turf.

Of great concern, also is the Italian domination of the Vatican curia, something that has been talked about since at least 1970. Many commentators saw the pope’s appointment of the Australian Cardinal George Pell, for instance, as a move to destabilize the Italian power cliques within the Vatican. But non-Italians, strangers to the language, history and culture of the Curia and Rome, have historically not fared well in the Curia, as Pell’s own difficulties suggest.

Allen also raises an unexpected but vital question: when will this reform end?

Yet there’s a real and present danger to a never-ending cycle of reform, one that Pope Francis and his “C9” council of cardinal advisers will probably have to confront head-on in the not-too-distant future, which is demoralization and paralysis within a workforce that doesn’t know when the next shock to the system may arrive.

Curial reform has been a mixed bag, with much yet to be done and many effects only to be known in the future. But we must also wonder what “normalcy” will look like in the Curia when the dust settles.


Financial reform

Here we see some of the brightest hopes for improvement. The Vatican has gained a reputation as central Italy’s premier money-laundering destination, with terrible scandals dragging the Vatican’s name into the mud. Pope Benedict XVI took steps to reverse that situation, a process that has Francis has continued with great energy.

That said, as John Allen notes, the financial reforms have not unrolled as expected.2  Recent reforms, for instance, have shifted financial power from the new Secretariat for the Economy back to the Secretariat for State. While the Secretariat for the Economy was supposed to scale back the powers of the secretary of state, “it’s now clear that the Secretariat of State is the king of the mountain once again in terms of setting policy, while the Secretariat for the Economy has become essentially a resource center and compliance office.”

Whatever has led Pope Francis to reform his reform, it is clear that his original plans for the Curia have been re-shaped in the face of implacable realities.


Ecclesial reform

More subtle have been the pope’s reforms in the relationship between Rome and the local churches. Most dramatically, he has sought to work more closely with the College of Cardinals by regularly convening the “C9”, a kind of executive committee of the Cardinals. He has also sought advice from a disparate array of voices in his choosing of cardinals.

Amoris Laetitia has also turned out to be an important aspect of Francis’ reform. While much of the controversy has concerned the status of moral teachings at stake in the document, no less a part of the dispute has concerned who is authorized to interpret and apply those moral teachings, and the bounds of interpretative possibilities.

Indeed, synodality and collegiality are buzzwords in this pontificate. But the controversy over Amoris Laetitia suggests that thematic reflection on those concepts is necessary.


Those expecting cataclysmic reforms to the Vatican forgot two things: bureaucracies change slowly, and Italian bureaucracies slowest of all. If the president of the United States has little control over his bureaucracy, the pope can perhaps be forgiven for the same.

But perhaps we have also forgotten the very words of the Pope:

This discernment takes time. For example, many think that changes and reforms can take place in a short time. I believe that we always need time to lay the foundations for real, effective change. And this is the time of discernment. Sometimes discernment instead urges us to do precisely what you had at first thought you would do later. And that is what has happened to me in recent months. Discernment is always done in the presence of the Lord, looking at the signs, listening to the things that happen, the feeling of the people, especially the poor.

But I am always wary of decisions made hastily. I am always wary of the first decision, that is, the first thing that comes to my mind if I have to make a decision. This is usually the wrong thing. I have to wait and assess, looking deep into myself, taking the necessary time. The wisdom of discernment redeems the necessary ambiguity of life…

Reform must be slow and intentional, the Pope reminds us. But if there is any truth to the trope that St. John Paul II was primarily outward-looking toward the world and Benedict XVI in-ward looking toward the Church, then there is something admirable if challenging about Pope Francis’ desire to be both outward-focused and concerned about the internal life of the Church.


Image courtesy FlickCC user Fowler Tours.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Home for Christmas: Starting Over

Wed, 01/04/2017 - 02:02

Toys. Everywhere. This year, navigating the living room at my parent’s house during the Christmas holidays was like being a contestant on American Ninja Warrior. At times, I had to take huge leaps to avoid stepping on the latest in baby gadgetry. More than once I misstepped and things came crashing down to the floor, or I did. Other times, I found myself gingerly stepping around the edges of the room, the only free space in the place, trying not to upset what seemed like a living space in delicate balance. I swear that old house is booby-trapped, and most of the chaos is caused by my niece, Alexis, whose baptism I wrote about a year ago.

But Alexis is in her standoffish phase. Literally, she stands off to the side when she enters the house and sees me. Her mouth drops open, eyes go wide as she freezes in the doorway and sizes me up. I wave madly from my seat across the room, but don’t move too fast. I learned quickly: Alexis needs some time to warm up.

While vocal, she’s not using any words just yet, except that she calls everything and everyone, “Momma!” (My sister has stopped responding to the constant barrage). So, we do this little pointing game. Alexis points at me. And I point back.

Who is this one?, she seems to wonder. I don’t recognize you, even if your face is oddly familiar.  As she moves into the overrun living room – her daily play place – the addition of a new person has thrown her off. Still, she points. And I point back. Over and over, hundreds of times. Eventually, all that suspicious pointing tires her out, and Alexis lays down for a much-needed nap.  


I hear a different small voice: “Which one are you?” Ava, a precocious kindergartner, aged 5 (going on 15), has sidled up to me. “Peter or Keith?”

My older brother Peter has a shaved head and the bulk of a man who lifts weights several times a week. He consistently wears jeans and a Mets t-shirt. I, on the other hand, am still holding on to what’s left of my graying hair, and have the noticeable hunch of a man who sits all day reading for class. Peter notes that I am always wearing the ‘Jesuit uniform’, a collared checkered shirt with pressed slacks complete with argyle socks. All of this is to say that Peter and I are not similar-looking. At all. But little Ava can’t tell us apart, so she usually tries to guess. And she’s usually wrong.

But once she knows my name, Ava remembers something. The name clicks a simplistic narrative that she can hold on to: “Keith. You’re in California? Peter is the cop. OK. Got it.” It’s enough for her to trust me. Satisfied, Ava takes me by the hand and drags me to see her opened gifts. And I’m happy to go along, to play with my niece, my newfound friend.


Still sitting across the room, I watch Alexis wake up from her nap. One eye opens. Then two. Her hair is standing on end, full of static-electricity from the fleece blanket she’s been laying on and under. She wipes the sleep from eyes and looks around the familiar room. Catching sight of me, she stops short, eyes narrowing. Who are you? She points again. And I point back. The ritual begins anew.

I am an infrequent visitor to this place, my hometown. In truth, I am more talked about than seen, and so my nieces don’t remember me, or not very well. And that’s OK- it’s part of the life I’ve chosen, to be away. But right now that means I have to start over with them every time I am home.

I seem always to be somehow new to them, and there’s a wonder in that newness that I’ve come to cherish. I don’t really mind the games, or the fact that I have to begin again. Starting over gives me a chance to concretize my patience and my love for these littlest members of my family. Playing their games helps me to fall in love with my nieces all over again, every time meeting them as if for the first time.

Someday they’ll know more than my face, my name, or something simplistic about my life. But for now, it is enough for me to know them and to be with them, pointing and playing amidst the rubble of new toys and discarded wrapping paper. Until next time, girls. I can’t wait to meet you again.


The cover image, by Flickr user frankieleon, can be found here.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Make or Break: Resolutions for a New Year

Mon, 01/02/2017 - 02:00

Even though we are two days into the new year, it’s still not too late to make a New Year’s resolution.

So to help you navigate the challenges of resolutions, our TJP contributors offer their own reflections and some practical advice to make your resolutions in 2017.

Colten Biro, SJ, believes that resolutions reflect our hope…

If you are anything like me, you’ve probably forgotten more resolutions than you remember.

So, why? If I realize that I’m often going to forget or fail… why make resolutions?

My resolutions originate from areas of needed growth in my life: I come up with a goal. I create a plan. I try a change… I make resolutions, because it grounds the start of my year in hope. Even if by March I’ve forgotten what I meant to do, at the turn of the new year I start out hoping and dreaming.

So this year, here are my resolutions:

  1. To explore more—While I am not new to Saint Louis, the list of things I’ve done within the city is embarrassingly short. My goal is to do one “city activity” per month in 2017.
  2. To write more—I’d like to consciously dedicate time to creative writing this year. I’ve always loved writing, so this year I want to make it a habit in my life.

Ken Homan, SJ, reflects upon starting anew after falling short of his resolutions…

I fail. Certainly not at everything, but I pretty regularly fall short. Back in February, I shared why I would stop watching football this year. The sexism, racism, and economic injustice became too much for me to stomach. My resolution was to avoid football. I failed.

Sure, I watched less football this year. Instead of grading near a television, I went to a local coffee shop. Instead of watching TV, I worked on building coffee tables and wine racks. But at the end of long week of teaching, it’s a great feeling to lay in a recliner and watch beautiful passes and stellar runs.

As I reflect back on my stumbling over the last year, I realized I failed because I made it about myself. I was more concerned with how people might judge my failures than how they supported me. I focused on the messages of “Do it for yourself,” but I now think our resolutions are community endeavors. So this year, I’ve made my resolution for others.

My resolution:

  1. I want to teach my students about racial, gender, and economic justice through athletics.

Danny Gustafson, SJ, focuses his resolutions on refreshing and recharging himself…

Being a high school teacher is awesome. It’s also a lot of work. Every day I walk six minutes across campus from my community to school, teach all day, come home, grade, go to Mass, eat dinner, and then plan upcoming lessons. The weekend brings more grading and lesson planning. I’m really enjoying myself, but working in a high school can quickly become all-consuming.

In an attempt to stay committed to teaching without burning myself out, I’m making two resolutions this year.

  1. Get back into a regular running routine. With all the busyness of being a first year teacher, exercise has gone out the window. I know that running improves my focus, energy, mood, and even prayer. I just haven’t done it. In 2017 I’m resolving to carve out time to run at least twice a week.
  2. Get a regular change of scenery. Living so close to work makes for an easy commute, but the world is a lot bigger than the campus where I live. On the occasions this fall when I’ve gotten away for the weekend or even most of a day, I come back refreshed and more appreciative of my usual surroundings. In 2017 I want to continue taking time to step back from my usual routine.

Our TJP contributors offer a few practical pointers for making resolutions in 2017…

  1. Make it Doable—The best resolutions are those which are small steps towards something big rather than impossible leaps. Think of eating an elephant—it occurs bite by bite, not in one single gulp.
  2. Make it Trackable—It can be hard to remember a resolution for an entire year, but it can be nearly impossible to think of the specifics each day. For each day that you complete the resolution, visibly mark it somewhere. It helps track your progress, but it can also act as encouragement.
  3. Make it Worthwhile—Those things which matter to us, truly matter to us, are harder to forget and harder to take lightly. Whether it’s about your health, those around you, or about the world in general… Commitments driven by holy desires are infinitely easier to work towards, than those things which do not carry our personal investment.
  4. Make it a Team Effort—One suggestion to help you stay true to your resolution is to find a partner or friend to help you. That could mean finding someone who cares enough about you to join you in the resolution, or it could mean simply finding a friend to hold you accountable. Either way, the task becomes less of a challenge if you remember that you are not alone. Also, working together on a resolution makes the resolution about more than just you; it makes the task one oriented towards building community.
  5. Make a Bad Habit Stop, by Replacing it—Often resolutions come in the form of negative goals, like stopping one habit or lessening an activity. Quitting a bad habit is tough work, especially if you don’t replace it with a different activity. Replacing a habit may seem like distracting yourself, but is that such a bad idea? If you try to convince yourself NOT to think about eating that dessert, the first thought in your mind is that dessert. If, on the other hand, you move towards a positive replacement, then your focus can be on activity rather than the absence of something. Replacing a habit allows you to direct your energies towards something.
  6. Make Sure to Forgive Yourself—Setbacks can do two possible things to our resolutions: end them or remind us why they matter. If you accidentally forget or fall short of your resolution, rather than simply quit: give it another dedicated try. Forgive yourself and move forward. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but being gentle with oneself is good, solid advice from Ignatius about those times in which we might fail.

So from all of us here at The Jesuit Post,
Good Luck and God bless
with your resolutions and the new year!


Cover image from, found here.

Categories: Things Jesuit

The Best of What I Read in 2016

Fri, 12/30/2016 - 13:35

This may have gotten out of hand. Pocket, which gloriously feeds my addiction to reading articles, recently informed me that I read more than 5 million words on their app in 2016.

As far as addictions go, it could be worse. Sure, I could use more time with real people and fewer words on a glowing device, but we live in a seems-too-good-to-be-true world where great writing is available at our fingertips for free. It’s pretty great.

A few years ago, I started sharing with family and friends a list of my favorite articles from the past year. More recently, I’ve shared my lists with The Jesuit Post in 2015 and 2014.

Here are my faves from 2016 in no particular order:

1) “I Used to Be a Human Being” by Andrew Sullivan

For about 15 years, Andrew Sullivan made my internet addiction look like the minor leagues. He writes:

If the internet killed you, I used to joke, then I would be the first to find out. Years later, the joke was running thin. In the last year of my blogging life, my health began to give out…My dreams were filled with the snippets of code I used each day to update the site. My friendships had atrophied as my time away from the web dwindled. My doctor, dispensing one more course of antibiotics, finally laid it on the line: “Did you really survive HIV to die of the web?”

I want to be a human being, too. Sullivan’s masterful essay helps.

For another captivating essay by Sullivan from 2016, check out “American Has Never Been So Ripe for Tyranny.”

2) “The Binge Breaker” by Bianca Bosker

This story about Tristan Harris complements Sullivan’s piece. Internet addiction – like obesity – is not simply the result of individual weakness. There are larger issues at play, and Harris, who has worked in Silicon Valley for years, is trying to fight the forces keeping us hooked.

3) “My President Was Black” by Ta-Nehisi Coates

I cannot not read what Coates has to say. His work is always enlightening and challenging. He was also on my lists in 2015 and 2014. In this one, he writes:

Only Obama, a black man who emerged from the best of white America, and thus could sincerely trust white America, could be so certain that he could achieve broad national appeal. And yet only a black man with that same biography could underestimate his opposition’s resolve to destroy him.

What O.J. Simpson Means to Me” was another great reflection by Coates this year.

4) “What So Many People Don’t Get About the U.S. Working Class” by Joan C. Williams

This year revealed how I live in a bubble and am woefully ignorant of the experience of many of my fellow citizens. I found this to be one of the most helpful articles for making me a little less dumb.1 Williams writes:

The white working class (WWC) resents professionals but admires the rich…Why the difference? For one thing, most blue-collar workers have little direct contact with the rich outside of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. But professionals order them around every day. The dream is not to become upper-middle-class, with its different food, family, and friendship patterns; the dream is to live in your own class milieu, where you feel comfortable — just with more money.

5) “The American Dream Is Killing Us” by Mark Manson

2016 was a big year for lemonade. While Beyoncé got far more attention, this provocative article uses the analogy of a lemonade stand to discuss how the American Dream hasn’t been too dreamy in recent years. I highly recommend it.

6) “America is obsessed with happiness – and it’s making us miserable” by Ruth Whippman

Whippman, a Brit, gives a pretty devastating critique of the American pursuit of happiness. It’s challenging to my American identity, but it’s hilarious and may actually help my happiness in the long run (which of course I’m interested in, because #merica). Whippman writes:

American problems are routinely rebranded as “opportunities”; hence the filthy bathroom in our local supermarket displays a sign saying, “If this restroom fails to meet your expectations, please inform us of the opportunity,” as if reeking puddles of urine are merely an inspirational occasion for personal growth.

7) “Single by Default” – or “when a vocation is not a vocation” –  by Jessica Keating

For those who feel they have found their vocation – and for those who haven’t – this article by Keating is powerful. She writes:

I am deeply skeptical that unconsecrated single life is a vocation at all, any more than infertility is a vocation, or chronic illness is a vocation. I suspect our inclination to call the unvowed single life a vocation comes from anxiety about putting people into categories, about making the suffering and the scandal of our unfulfilled desires a bit safer, about comforting ourselves with the idea that God will always act according to our will.

8) “Why Do We Work So Hard?” by Ryan Avent

Avent describes how jobs have become “prisons from which we don’t want to escape” for many professionals. It’s a fascinating look at the role of work today.

9) “Why the Post Office Makes America Great” by Zeynep Tufekci

There was much talk about America’s greatness – or lack thereof – in 2016. This was my favorite essay about it. The author, originally from Turkey, describes how she told her friends from home that U.S. mail gets picked up from your house for free six days a week. She writes:

They shook their heads in disbelief, wondering how easily I had been recruited as a C.I.A. agent, saying implausibly flattering things about my new country. The United States in the world’s imagination is a place of risk taking and ruthless competition, not one of reliable public services.

10) “How to Fix Politics” by David Brooks

My yearly tradition of putting together a list of my favorite articles was partially inspired by David Brooks’s annual Sidney Awards. This year, the presidential election occupied far more of my mental bandwidth than is healthy. I found this column refreshing. Brooks writes, “If we’re going to salvage our politics, we probably have to shrink politics.”


What about you? What have you read this year that has expanded your mind and heart? Leave your suggestions in the comments below. And happy reading in 2017!

Categories: Things Jesuit

Can Anyone Beat the Crimson Tide?

Fri, 12/30/2016 - 02:00

The third annual College Football Playoff begins tomorrow. The rest of the college football world is previewing the semifinal matchups and predicting final scores. These previews and predictions, however, are ignoring the elephant 1 in the room: is there even the slightest chance that anyone can defeat Alabama, the undefeated defending champs?

An Alabama loss would be a massive upset. We’re talking David and Goliath territory. We all know about Goliath. But what about the three would-be Davids: the Washington Huskies, the Clemson Tigers, and the Ohio State Buckeyes? Do any of these underdogs have what is takes to defeat the giant? To find out, let’s start with a description of Goliath to determine if there are any vulnerabilities.

Breaking Down the Crimson Tide

Like the 10th century BCE Philistine, Alabama is massive and menacing. Magnificent in size, speed, and athleticism. The top ranked defense in the country. The best Football Power Index (FPI) rating. The best defensive efficiency of any team in the last ten years!

The Tide create turnovers with a relentless pass rush, a stifling run defense, and big hands in the defensive backfield just waiting to snatch the ball away. Offensively, they feature receivers with blazing speed, menacing lineman who open up gaping holes, and a steadily improving quarterback who can run the distance of the field in a heartbeat.

An impressive resume, no doubt. But every team has its flaws, however minor. Alabama’s defensive secondary is vulnerable to big passing plays when the opponent has the time to throw deep 2. Furthermore, while their young quarterback, Jalen Hurts, is talented, his passing efficiency drops like a rock when he is pressured, which makes turnovers a real possibility.

Which team has the best chance to exploit these minor vulnerabilities? Let’s count them down, from least likely to most likely:

3. Washington Huskies

Record: 12-1

Best win: at Utah, 31-24

Only loss: vs. USC, 26-13 (a team many considered to be the best 3 loss team)

Up first for Alabama is Washington, the Pac-12 champs. Second in offensive efficiency and fourth in the FPI, they have tenacious speed and athleticism at the skill positions on offense, and a defense that can close quickly on the opposition. The Huskies are the Usain Bolt of this year’s playoff: every time a Husky gets the ball in the open field, hold your breath, because something big could happen.

With a premium on speed in today’s college game, you’d think Washington might have a shot. But each of ‘Bama’s starters is every bit as fast and athletic as their Husky counterparts. Not to mention twice their size. The Tide offense has worn down opposing defenses in the second half all season. In order for the Huskies to pull off the improbable, they would need to find a way to rack up 400+ yards passing. That’s a lot to ask, especially when Coach Nick Saban has had a month to prepare.

Chances of defeating Goliath: 25%

2. Clemson Tigers

Record: 12-1

Best wins: at Florida St, 37-34; vs. Louisville, 42-36

Only loss: vs Pittsburgh, 43-42

These ACC Champion Tigers are strong, quick, and nimble. They had a memorable clash with Bama in last year’s title game that left them licking their wounds. Now they are back with a vengeance. Their defensive front has the power to consistently pressure the quarterback. Their offense has the hops and explosiveness at receiver to put their paws on passes from their veteran quarterback. Above all, they play well in big games.

But in the end, Alabama has the depth and versatility to match whatever the Tigers dare to attempt. The Tigers defense won’t be able to last four quarters against the Tide’s offensive dynamos.

Chances of defeating Goliath: 35%

1. Ohio State Buckeyes

Record: 11-1

Best win: vs. Michigan, 30-27

Only loss: at Penn State, 24-21

I admit, I’m biased. Born and raised in Columbus, I have been schooled in the classroom of Buckeye football. If anyone believes in the Buckeyes’ chances to pull off the improbable, it would be someone like me.

This team is young but it is brave. After losing 12 players to the NFL Draft, including five first rounders, some have argued that Ohio State lost the most impressive draft class in modern NFL history. Undeterred by preseason predictions of mediocrity, the Buckeyes were second in the nation in defensive efficiency and FPI 3. This defense creates turnovers with regularity (19 interceptions), and excels at turning these miscues into points, with a school record seven defensive touchdowns.

So what is holding back even the biggest Buckeye optimists like yours truly from predicting a reprisal of Ohio State’s 2015 upset of Alabama? Quarterback consistency. J.T. Barrett has been inaccurate at times and hesitant to risk trying to make the big play. To win the big one, J.T. will need to take some shots deep downfield to stretch Bama’s vaunted defense and open up more ways to score. The Buckeyes must score in all four quarters if they are to slay the giant.

Assuming the Buckeyes defeat Clemson 4, they will need a near-perfect performance from the volatile quarterback. Could it happen? Absolutely. Will it happen? The odds are slightly against it.

Chances of defeating Goliath: 40%

Categories: Things Jesuit

Top 10 Joyful Sports Moments of 2016

Thu, 12/29/2016 - 02:40

Let’s be honest: 2016 has been tough. Refugees, war, political uncertainty. Ugh.

But before we dismiss the year entirely (as John Oliver did 1), let’s savor some joy. Despite the challenges of the year, I submit that 2016 was the best sports year ever.

That’s right: ever.

Seriously, think about it. From compelling storylines to memorable moments, from huge comebacks to major upsets, this year in sports had everything a sports fan could ask for 2.

So as we count down to 2017, here are the videos that capture the Top 10 most joyful moments of this extraordinary sports year.

10. Alabama converts a gutsy onside kick in the fourth quarter to take Clemson by surprise in the NCAA Football Championship.

Could an upstart Clemson knockoff powerhouse Alabama? While this didn’t become a Cinderella story, the national championship game was wildly entertaining. Alabama only secured their 45-40 victory when they recovered an onside kick from Clemson with 12 seconds left.

But Alabama’s onside kick early in the fourth quarter was probably the biggest moment, or at least the most surprising, and it turned the tide of the game.

9. Sidney Crosby scores an overtime winner in the NHL Eastern Conference Finals to help lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup.

From his youth, the hockey spotlight has always been on Sidney Crosby. This year, he helped cement his legacy as one of the greatest with a second Stanley Cup when his Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games.

Despite all his prior success, Crosby hadn’t scored an overtime winner in the playoffs, until this shot tied up the series with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals, and helped send the Penguins on their way to win the Cup.

8. Portugal wins the UEFA Euro 2016 Finals on penalty kicks with Cristiano Ronaldo injured on the sideline.

For all his personal accolades, Cristiano Ronaldo had never been able to bring success to his national team. This year, he finally helped lead Portugal to the UEFA Euro 2016 Finals against France, only to exit from injury in the first half (in tears no less!).

With Ronaldo sidelined, his Portugal teammates rose to the occasion and won the championship on penalty kicks.

8. Steph Curry drills a long-range 3-pointer in overtime to lead Golden State past Oklahoma City on the way to an NBA-record 73 regular season wins.

Instead of a championship hangover after winning in 2014-15, the Warriors started off the season 24-0 on the way to surpassing the Chicago Bulls (and a certain Michael Jordan, remember him?) for the best regular season in NBA history as they finished 73-9.

No game was more exciting and no finish more dramatic than this Steph Curry shot, when he pulled up from just inside of half court to hit the game-winning shot against Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

6. Von Miller strips the ball from Cam Newton to help the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl in Peyton Manning’s final game.

The real storyline here is how Peyton Manning won his second Super Bowl in his final NFL game: one last mark in the career of one of the greatest QBs of NFL history.

But the majority of the credit for the Broncos Super Bowl run undoubtedly belongs to their dominant defense.

Von Miller’s strip sack turned touchdown against Cam Newton set the early tone, and the Broncos rode to a Super Bowl victory.

5. Jamie Vardy scores from long distance on a perfectly timed ball while helped Leicester City win the British Premier League.

If this was a list of biggest sports upsets of the year, this would HAVE to be number one. Leicester City overcame ridiculous 5,000-1 betting odds to win the biggest soccer league in the world. This team had barely avoided relegation the year before! And this isn’t like a Cinderella team getting hot in a tournament and making a run: this is a championship title that goes to the best team over the course of the whole season. It’s unprecedented.

Like the team, the star player of Leicester City, Jamie Vardy, has his own rags-to-riches story. So among the many dramatic moments this past season, an emblematic highlight is Vardy’s remarkable goal against Liverpool.

4. Neymar kicks the winning penalty to give Brazil the Olympic gold medal in men’s soccer.

2016 gave us the Rio Olympics, which included so many compelling storylines and remarkable finishes that it could make its own list. Simone Biles lived up to the hype and dominated women’s gymnastics, winning four individual gold medals, one bronze, and the team gold. Katie Ledecky set two world records in the pool on her way to four golds and one silver.

Plus we saw legends achieve a greatness that might never be topped. Usain Bolt remarkably won gold in the 100m, 200m, and 4x100m for the third consecutive Olympics. And Michael Phelps became the most decorated Olympian of all time by reaching 28 total medals, a stunning 23 of which are gold.

But even among all of those, if you have to choose ONE moment from the Rio Olympics, it has to be Brazil’s own Neymar kicking the winning penalty to give the hosts their first-ever gold medal in men’s soccer, and bringing redemption just one year after a humiliating 7-1 loss to Germany in the World Cup semifinals.

3. Villanova’s Kris Jenkins hits a buzzer beat to win the NCAA Basketball Championship

For as long as NCAA basketball exists, expect to see this shot over and over again (think: Grant Hill to Christian Laettner). The championship game between Villanova and North Carolina was thrilling, with heroics on both sides, including a ridiculous 3-pointer by UNC’s Marcus Paige to tie the game with 4.7 seconds left.

But that left just enough time to pull off this miraculous, buzzer-beating, Championship-winning play. A trailing Kris Jenkins took the pass from Ryan Arcidiacono and drilled the winner that even made Charles Barkley go nuts.

2. LeBron James chases down Andre Iguodala to block his layup as the Cleveland Cavaliers overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals.

From the moment they landed the number one pick in 2003, Clevelanders dreamed that LeBron James would end their championship drought. After seven frustrating seasons, he made the decision to leave his native-Ohio behind for Miami where he won two titles. Returning to Cleveland brought a renewed hope to the city, and LeBron finally delivered.

The record-setting Golden State Warriors (see above) jumped out to a 3-1 series lead and looked to be cruising to a second straight title against the Cavs. But this just set the stage for history. The Cavs became the first team to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals and ended Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.

In the decisive Game 7, Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving nailed a clutch three to put Cleveland ahead late in a back and forth game. But the play everyone will remember is known simply as “The Block.

1. Chicago Cubs make the final out to overcome a 3-1 deficit and a blown Game 7 lead to win the World Series.

You knew this was coming, didn’t you? We don’t have to elaborate much: 108-year drought, curse of the Billy Goat, Bartman.

Generations of Cubs fans had lived and died without seeing their beloved team so much as reach the World Series, much less win it. The outlook turned bleak this year when the Cleveland Indians and their dominant pitching surged to a 3-1 series lead. But the Cubs fought back and even jumped out front early in Game 7.

Still, they had to make it a little more difficult and a little more dramatic. The Cubs coughed up their lead late in the game, and Cleveland tied it to send the game into extra innings. Using a brief rain delay to re-group (thanks, God?), the Cubs put up two huge runs in the 10th inning, and barely held on for an 8-7 victory.

For the sake of all Cubs fans out there, let’s hope you don’t have to wait 108 more years to see this: the final out in a World Series victory.


Thank you, 2016, for all the joyful sports moments! Let’s see what 2017 has in store. Have your own sports memories that didn’t make the list? Feel free to share in the comments!

Categories: Things Jesuit

Called Out of Consumption

Wed, 12/28/2016 - 02:03

It’s hard to imagine what people did on trains and buses before the advent of smartphones. I’m sure my parents or some old-timey Chicagoans could tell me, but knowing what the past looked like on public transportation probably won’t change anything about how most people ride today. Heads are bowed down, thumbs or forefingers flicking wildly at tiny glowing screens, eyes transfixed on an endless stream of social media or Candy Crush. I try not to fall into that way of isolationism, but when there are Instagram photos to double-tap, I’m just like everyone else.

It was a Wednesday at 7:05 AM, and as usual, I was riding the 157 bus to work. It’s usually a quiet ride. I sit in the back and try not to do much more than ponder. Coffee in hand, the waking city wakes me. On this particular day, however, the bus was inexplicably packed. ‘Twas not a seat to be sat in.

I stood next to a young man wearing gym clothes. We were jammed together, both gripping tightly to the flexible plastic handles above us as the bus bumped along. Ear-budded, and he held his phone out, transfixed to it like a moth to flame. His phone had the biggest screen I’d ever seen – nearly impossible not to look at. On the screen, a seemingly endless stream of short videos showed men punching each other in the face.

Like a Wall Street stock ticker, the videos moved quickly and without pause. I saw violent knockouts in professional rings but also darker, more dangerous images – men in alleys and basements swinging wildly, bloodthirsty crowds pressing in. Fight clubs, gang initiations, house parties gone wrong – he consumed these videos without emotion and without acknowledgement that I was so close. Something told me this was his practice for much of the day – to watch faces get smashed over and over and over. I wondered when he got comfortable with that kind of violence.

The automated voice chimed out, “LaSalle – transfer to blue line subway at LaSalle,” and he just slightly looked up, a hibernating bear waking from deep slumber. He disembarked and shuffled off into the city, head down again, phone tightly clutched.


For a variety of reasons, I didn’t consume alcohol until I was 21. Mostly, I think I was scared. But once I hit that brilliant age, all fear left me and I made up for lost time.

My fraternity brothers taught me how to drink – fast and reckless, chugging, bonging, shotgunning and shooting until that magical blackout bliss took over and we laughed at breakfast the following day, trying to remember what happened.

The first time I got good and drunk, I spun through an intoxicated haze, marvelling at the newness and novelty of it all. Eventually, the feeling became commonplace. The routine became a part of my life. Get drunk, get home, order a Gargantuan from Jimmy John’s, drink three or four massive glasses of water, take two ibuprofen, and flop into bed. Several nights a week for a few years, I would repeat.

Eventually, the routine caused problems. On occasion, I would show up to work with glassy eyes and a slight headache. I sometimes spent more money than I had as a low-paid graduate student-turned-educator. I didn’t have time to do things I loved which required a clearer mind – writing, reading, talking on the phone with friends after a long day.

Years later, I prioritize things differently, and I realize the missed opportunities from my past – unblurred memories of snowy nights stuck in my apartment with a few friends, deepened intimacy developed through conversations not shrouded in a blissful haze. Now, there’s a subtle invitation to quit drinking altogether. While it’s hard to think that I’d never give myself to a nice beer or nip of whisky from time to time, I want my consumption to change; there are clarion moments when the fog lifts and I know deep within the need to dramatically reimagine my life.


I do become blind to lovely things. There was a time when I wanted to take a photo of every Lake Michigan sunrise I saw, but now, I hardly notice them. I spend my late evenings lying in bed, phone screen lit until I finally nod off halfway and put it down. I don’t see people sleeping on the streets in the same way I used to, and I don’t chat with folks on the bus much.

But, those images of violence on the guy’s phone alarmed me, and I wanted to remind him: they’re hurting each other. I’m somehow now called away from the numbness once caused by my own consumption. I want to feel fully again, even if the feeling isn’t agreeable to me.  Even though it’s slipping from the front of my mind, I don’t want to forget the pain and fear of the recent election, or the fact that Chicago is still rife with violence, or that Berlin will never be the same, or that Aleppo exists.

Around this time each year, many make resolutions. I won’t promise myself more gym time or letter-writing, less caffeine or salt & vinegar potato chips. I simply want to consume more carefully, to look up, and when I feel numbed by my own consumption, respond to the invitation and answer the call back to life.


The cover image, from, can be found here.

Categories: Things Jesuit

It’s still Christmas. Are you still feeling it?

Mon, 12/26/2016 - 02:14

Today is Christmas. No, really it is. Still. Christmas is actually a liturgical season lasting from December 25 to January 9, the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Today discarded trees will line the streets and many will pack away their Christmas decorations. Why the rush? For a celebration we anticipate for a month (or more), why don’t we make it last as long as it could?

Perhaps the over-anticipation is to blame. When Christmas begins in popular culture right after Thanksgiving, we can become sick of both Christmas music and Christmas spirit by the time December 26 rolls around. But even those of us who keep Advent alive and who try our best to avoid listening to Christmas music until the 25th can have trouble keeping the celebration going once the initial excitement has worn off.

There maybe another, more telling reason that Christmas struggles to make it beyond a day. In the days/weeks/months of anticipation, Christmas can occupy our imaginations in an idealized form: opening the perfect gift or giving a great surprise gift; getting along with family; eating splendid food; or having a prayerful experience of midnight Mass. These idealized machinations more often than not fail to materialize. Our actual experience of Christmas is usually less than perfect. Maybe that is why we seek to quickly move on. The actual experience of the holiday doesn’t live up to the anticipation so we might be disappointed with ourselves or our loved ones. That would explain why the holiday-creep only seems to move in one direction and Christmas-themed commercials don’t start pushing into Valentine’s Day season.

In my romanticized vision of the past, people were able to feast joyfully for all the days of Christmas, but it is more realistic that by day 2 it started to feel more ordinary. In this way, I think giving us a season of Christmas rather than just a day is wise on the Church’s part. It may be easy to find God in the time spent with family or friends on Christmas Day because there is a spirit of joy in the air, but we are called to find God just as much when that spirit has dissipated.

It is also much easier to anticipate or reminisce than it is to dwell in the present. My mind today might wander between memories of yesterday to thoughts of New Years but the present occupies a privileged place in each of our realities. So my challenge for you is to live today like it’s still Christmas. If not as raucous as the 25th, this may be your opportunity to spend some quiet time alone or with a particular loved one. But don’t forget to keep the joyful spirit alive! Perhaps you might dwell more deeply on the mystery of Christmas: that God took on human flesh in the form of a child for our sake. Continue to play your favorite Christmas songs! Or at least don’t put your tree out on the curb today.


Image courtesy FlickrCC user The U.S. National Archives.

Categories: Things Jesuit

The Making of “Silence,” part II

Fri, 12/23/2016 - 02:00

James Martin, SJ, editor at large of America Media and author of many books, including Jesus: A Pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything served as a consultant to Martin Scorsese’s new film “Silence.”  In this interview, he speaks in depth with two TJP writers, Brian Strassburger and Dan Dixon, about the process of helping Mr. Scorsese and the actors create a beautiful new film about the Jesuits.

Today we are sharing the second half of the interview. If you missed Part I, click here.

Brian Strassburger (BS) and Dan Dixon (DD): The wait is finally over- “Silence” comes out today, in limited release. Tell us why you would recommend seeing the film.

James Martin (JM): First of all, it’s a magnificent movie.  That is, simply as a film, it’s artfully told, perfectly paced, and superbly acted.  I’m no film scholar, but I found it visually beautiful–often overwhelming so.  The scene of the crucifixion in the ocean is just astounding.  Second, it raises essential questions about faith, specifically, how does one discern the right thing to do?  Third, it recounts an important chapter of church history—the story of the Jesuit Martyrs and the Japanese church, which I think is not well known by the general public or even many Catholics.  

The questions that the film raises are also ones of real spirituality, not fake spirituality.  So many so-called religious films portray spirituality as follows: Something bad happens, and all you need to do is pray, or find God, and everything is solved. But real spirituality says that even with your belief in God, something bad might happen to you. Then what do you do?  To me, “Silence” may have a hard time finding an audience among any moviegoers used to fake spirituality, or “cheap grace” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer called it.  “Silence” is about real grace.  And that’s sometimes not so easy to accept. On film or in real life.

BS/DD: What elements of Ignatian spirituality are most evident in the film?

JM: Most of all the relationship of the main character, Father Rodrigues, with Jesus. This is paramount.  The central theme of the film is Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe trying to discern what Jesus would have them do in such a confusing situation. That’s why that line where Rodrigues says, “We asked for this mission” is critical. I felt the line meant not only the mission to find Father Ferreira, their mentor, but the mission that comes with the Spiritual Exercises. Specificaly, where the Jesuit asks to be placed with Christ.  That is, “I asked for this in the Exercises.  I asked to be placed with your Son.” That’s the larger mission that they asked for.

But the spirit of the Exercises suffuses the entire film.  Rodrigues is fascinated by the person of Jesus, and consistently speaks to him in prayer, “as one friend speaks to another,” as the Exercises say. And Garupe tries to discern the right path for himself and for the Japanese Christians, and then is willing to die for them, as Christ died for humanity. Even Ferreira seems to struggle with his relationship with God, though less overtly.  

And one of the most moving lines for me, is a quote that I suggested from the Exercises, from the Colloquy with Christ on the Cross, “What have I done for Christ?  What am I doing for Christ? And what ought I do for Christ?”  I suggested to Marty and Jay 1 that this is precisely what a Jesuit would be thinking in a situation like this.  And it really moved me to hear Andrew 2 say it.  Andrew had prayed about it, as all retreatants do, when he made the Exercises, and then said it onscreen, and now people who may know nothing about the Jesuits can ask themselves that life-altering question.

BS/DD: You mentioned the experience of leading Garfield (a non-Christian) through the Exercises. He has spoken publicly about how he has developed a personal relationship with Jesus as result of that experience. Can you elaborate on the how he came to be interested in making the Exercises?

JM: Without breaking any confidences, I can say this: Andrew was intent on learning everything he could about the Jesuits.  So, after a few conversations he asked, naturally, about the Spiritual Exercises.  Anyone who reads anything about the Jesuits will eventually be curious about the Exercises.  But I balked, since he hadn’t had much experience with what you’d call formal prayer. It’s like asking someone to do a marathon when they’re still just sprinting.

So instead I asked him to start doing the daily examen.  He did, to great effect.  He continued to ask about the Exercises, and I continued to put him off, and then I figured that I could at least give him a few introductory meditations from the First Week.  I did, and suddenly we were in the Exercises.  And it took me aback. I really had to pray about it and talk to my own spiritual director, but it seemed obvious that—despite my doubts—God was intent on drawing him into the Exercises.  It was pretty amazing, frankly.

We did the 19th Annotation retreat over the course of several months.  Usually we met every week at America House, but occasionally it was over Skype if one of us was traveling.  At one point Andrew and Adam had to go to Portugal for some research.  Andrew was just about to enter the Third Week, which focuses on the Passion and Death of Christ,  and we both realized that taking a pause in the Exercises would not be a good idea- especially at this point. So I arranged for him to spend time at St. Beuno’s, a Jesuit retreat house in Wales.  So, he did the Third Week over the course of one week, much as you would do it in a Thirty-Day retreat, with several meditations a day, and we Skyped every night.  For his part, Adam also made a five-day retreat at St. Beuno’s. After that, Andrew and I returned to the normal week-to-week pattern of the 19th  Annotation.

Believe it or not, Andrew completed the Exercises the day before he was to leave for Taiwan.  I felt that it would be a good idea to mark the end of the process, and wanted him to feel the support of the Society, so I asked John Cecero, SJ, my Provincial, if I could somehow “mission” him to do the part.  I didn’t even know if you could do something like that, frankly, but I figured it would really mean something to Andrew, so why not ask?  He said yes, so I told Andrew that the Provincial was missioning him to do this, which he was, and I gave him a little cross that my novice director had given me for my Long Experiment.  It was pretty moving for both of us.

BS/DD: Is this your first experience leading a non-Christian through the Exercises? How is it similar and how is it different than leading a Christian through the Exercises? What do you think it is about the Exercises that can hold appeal and make an impact even in the life of a non-believer?

JM: Yes, it was my first experience of that sort. Frankly, if you had asked me before this experience if a non-Christian without much experience in formal prayer could do the Exercises, I would say, “Absolutely not.”  But, again without any breaking of confidences, what happened, which surprised me, is that God very quickly drew this young man into the Exercises and invited him into a sincere relationship with Jesus.  There were differences in terms of directing a more traditional retreatant, of course, particularly in terms of familiarity with certain Gospel passages.  But the Exercises are a work of genius. They work.

Of course, the person needs to be open to the reality of Jesus, fully human and divine, but all God needs, I discovered, is openness.

Andrew did the Exercises as fully and generously as anyone I’ve ever directed.  As any Jesuit.  By the end, he knew as much about Jesuit spirituality as anyone who had completed the Exercises–as much as any first-year Jesuit novice 3.  In fact, he could then read the script with new eyes, and say, “Oh a Jesuit wouldn’t say this, would he?”  Before they all left the States, in fact, Marty said to me, “I’m sorry you won’t be coming to Taiwan.  We’ll miss not having an expert in Jesuit spirituality.”  And I said, “You will have one: Andrew.  He’s just finished the Exercises.”

BS/DD: The story grapples with challenging topics of faith, including martyrdom and apostasy. How will a movie-goer feel after walking out of the film?

JM: That depends on where the moviegoer is with his or her spiritual life.  Nonbelievers may find this movie difficult, if not downright confusing, though I think that they will be able to enter into Father Rodrigues’ dilemma.  On the other hand, they might think “Why are they even there?” Or “Why doesn’t he just apostatize right away?”  So the nonbeliever might walk out of the film saying, “I don’t get it.”

But the believer, especially the Christian and the Catholic, will be profoundly affected.  It’s one of the greatest movies on the Christian faith ever made.  I think the viewer will feel the need to ponder it, discuss it, and pray about it afterwards. It will stay with you, believe me.

BS/DD: My Jesuit classmate intentionally avoided this book during his novitiate because of its dark nature and heavy themes. Does the movie leave you in despair? Or can the viewer find hope and encouragement in their faith?

[WARNING: Spoiler alerts ahead. Skip to the next question if you want to avoid these.]

L-R: Andrew Garfield plays Father Rodrigues and Shinya Tsukamoto plays Mokichi in the film SILENCE by Paramount Pictures, SharpSword Films, and AI Films


JM: I confess that I found the novel very dark.  And I’ve always felt that the ending was maddeningly vague.  Without giving away the ending, though, the movie is much less dark.  Scorsese has said that Shusako Endo intended Rodrigues to have held onto the faith, and the screenwriters have come up with a magnificent ending that symbolizes that beautifully. Maybe this is heretical to literary types, but I think the film is better than the book.  Clearer. In the end the film is about how people fulfilled their vows to God.  And really, in terms of Rodrigues, it is about how one Jesuit held onto his faith in the midst of unbelievable pressure.

Interestingly, it raises a specific question about what St. Ignatius called the “Third Degree of Humility.”  Can you do something that will earn you contempt if it is the right thing to do?  If Jesus asks you to do it?  At the film’s climax, Father Rodrigues finds himself called to do something that all of Christian Europe, perhaps even his Jesuit superiors, would find contemptible. Even sinful. But because Jesus asks him to do it, because it is what it means to stand with Jesus, the Jesus he met in the Exercises, he does it.  It’s an extremely subtle depiction of the Third Degree of Humility, it seems to me. And, by the way, Andrew grasped that immediately, after being introduced to the Third Degree of Humility.

BS/DD: You have described the film as “like a prayer.” How has the experience of working on this film impacted your own prayer life?

JM: For one thing, it clarified the Third Degree of Humility, as I just mentioned.  And it illustrated the lengths to which the Jesuit missionaries went.  There’s a scene where Father Rodrigues runs up onto the beach.  It’s a long shot, and he’s utterly alone.  And I thought, I can’t believe what the Jesuit martyrs went through.  Ironically, when I saw that scene I thought of the North American Martyrs, who ministered around the same time period in present-day New York and Canada.  I always think of St. Isaac Jogues and his companions in their cassocks trudging through the snow in upstate New York. The faith they had to do this, thousands of miles from all they knew, is just astonishing to me.  

All that I brought to prayer.  And I was edified by Rodrigues, which is so strange to say since he’s a fictional Jesuit.  But my reaction to the film also comes from being inspired by the martyrs, which I have been since I was a novice.

And yes, it did feel like a prayer to me. Like a “composition of place,” as Ignatius would say about imagining yourself in a certain Gospel scene. In this movie, Scorsese has “composed a place” for us, allowing us to enter into the story of the Jesuit missionaries and the Japanese Christians.

BS/DD: After accompanying the cast and crew over the past few years, tell us about your experience of first watching the film.

JM: I’m not embarrassed to say that I wept.  It was overwhelming.  And it took me a while to unpack it all in prayer.   First, it was just a beautiful movie, as I said.  Second, it was the story of the Jesuit martyrs of Japan- my brothers- and that itself was overwhelming.  As I’ve said, I have a great devotion to the Jesuit martyrs from any era.   Third, it was powerful seeing the actors onscreen- especially Andrew, knowing what he had gone through in the Exercises.  Fourth, it was a bit overwhelming to see certain bits of dialogue that I had suggested to the screenwriters.  I had a hard time just taking that in, and I don’t even know if I can describe that emotion.  Finally it’s a story of one person’s faith, and his relationship with Jesus, and the ending shattered me.  

And then maybe there was some relief that the film was as beautiful as it was. I had only a very small part in it, but I really wanted it to be done right, to really be Jesuit, to do the Jesuits justice. I think all the Jesuits who helped out on the film felt the same way. So there was relief and gratitude that it was such a magnificent work of art.  But it was so emotional that I don’t know if I can watch it again. At least not soon. But I hope that everyone else does.

BS/DD: Thank you so much, Jim, for taking time to answer our questions and sharing with us in detail about your experience. It definitely sounds like “Silence” is a can’t-miss movie. We didn’t think it was possible, but you have left us even more excited for its release!

Editor’s Note: Check out “Silence” in limited release on December 23 and expanding in early January 2017. And don’t forget to read Part I of the interview if you missed it.

Categories: Things Jesuit

A Christmas Family

Wed, 12/21/2016 - 01:48

“I want you home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I don’t care about Easter or the 4th of July – just be sure you’re home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, got it?” My mom’s voice was stern, but her eyes filled with tears of worry.

“It depends if I can afford it. I have enough money to last me a few months without work.” It was 2009. The housing market collapsed. Jobs were scarce, and I was 31. I’d lived in Kansas City all my life, but before real obligations of family or career cemented me to the city I loved, I felt like it was time to try something new. I was moving to Chicago.

Of all the apprehensions that could cause a mother unease in that situation, the holidays topped her list.

Mijo, just call. We’ll get you home,” my dad said.

“You’re my baby.” No matter how old I was, my mom always called me her baby. “The holidays are for family. Who would you be with in that new city? No one knows you. Are you sure you want to move?”

“I’m sure. I thought about it and I’m sure. And I’ll call if I can’t get home for Thanksgiving.”

“And Christmas,” my mom quickly interjected.

“And Christmas,” agreed my dad.

“Yes, and Christmas,” I said.

“Don’t lie, boy.” Last year I spent New Year’s Eve with my best friend and we watched movies. But to them, a holiday without family means you’re alone because family is the safeguard. Besides, my parents were more aware of my being an only child than I was. I was quite comfortable doing things by myself – going out to dinner, seeing movies, visiting museums. But, my independence didn’t offer solace for their anxieties. “Don’t lie. We’ll find a way to afford a ticket home – you let us worry about that.”

“Yes, Mom and Dad. I love you too.”


“What are you…doing for Christmas?” I’m hesitant. I never thought I would have to ask this question to my dad.

“My sister called. She invited me over for Christmas Eve dinner.” My dad’s strong baritone voice sounds excited over the phone. He’s never been shy about expressing his emotions, especially the happy ones. “And I think I’m going to my brother’s on Christmas Day.” My heart fills with joy. These invitations are a big deal; my dad and his family are reconciling years of conflict. Ever since my mom died, I’m fearful my dad will spend his holidays alone. “What about you, mijo? I don’t want you to be by yourself on Christmas.”

My first venture to Chicago had more cause for worry, considering I went without a job or knowing a single person, and only had a couple thousand dollars to my name. This time I’m in Chicago with a purpose. I’m a Jesuit. I’m studying philosophy. I know people. And still he worries about me being alone. I can hear my mom saying to me, “unless you’re a parent you’ll never understand why we worry.” I acknowledge this truth in my head and say to him, “We have a slew of events planned. I won’t be alone.”

“You sure? Don’t you lie, boy.”

“I’m not lying. I won’t be alone.”

“As long as you’re sure.”

“I’m sure.”

“But, if you are alone, call. I’ll get you a ticket home.”

“Yes, Dad. I love you too.”


As I write, I’m sitting in front of a Christmas tree. Two days ago, my community decorated it together. At one point, overwhelmed by love, laughter, and smells of cinnamon, eggnog, and pine, I stepped out of the room for a moment to cry. I was taken by the joy and peace I felt. There I was, and here I remain, surrounded by a new kind of family. They’re not blood relatives, but they’re brothers nonetheless. I’m recognizing how new memories are forming with new people. They are slowly filling in the empty spaces my mother’s death left within me.

I’m discovering that family members are those people who can look at you and know what’s going on without having to ask. They know your struggles and they stand firm with you. They know your weaknesses and they strengthen you. They know what annoys you and they accept you. They can hear about your joys and celebrate with you. Family doesn’t give up on you. They know the truth of who you are and why you are. They know how to tell you the truth. I’ve noticed more and more that this is what I desire in life –  people who will buy me a plane ticket so I’m not alone at Christmas.

I wish my mom were here for Christmas, but she’s not. I wish I could be with my dad for Christmas, but I can’t. What I find surprising, though, is how okay I feel. Every now and then I do get teary eyed, longing for those tender memories of cookie baking and tree decorating with my parents. But then I see God’s hand at work: my dad and his family reconciling their past differences by sharing a Christmas meal, an invitation for lunch to exchange presents with some close Jesuit friends, community members checking-in to see if I’m holding up. And I recall the words my mom said that day I told my parents I was moving to Chicago: “The holidays are for family.” Yes, Mom, holidays are for family. And this year I am with them. This year I’m home.


Cover image by the author’s mother, Sandra Botello. May she rest in peace.

Categories: Things Jesuit

The Making of “Silence,” part I

Tue, 12/20/2016 - 02:05

James Martin, SJ, editor at large of America Media and author of many books, including Jesus: A Pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything served as a consultant to Martin Scorsese’s new film “Silence.”  In this interview, he speaks in depth with two TJP writers, Brian Strassburger and Dan Dixon, about the process of helping Mr. Scorsese and the actors create a beautiful new film about the Jesuits.

Today we are sharing the first half of the interview. Check back for Part II on Friday (12/23).

Brian Strassburger (BS) and Dan Dixon (DD): Thanks so much, Jim, for agreeing to take the time to respond to our many questions about “Silence.” We are so pumped for the release this Friday!

James Martin (JM):  Thanks for inviting me to discuss the project.

BS/DD:  We’re interested to know about your involvement in the making of the film. Were you involved with the script at all?

JM: Initially, I was contacted by Martin Scorsese’s office, two years ago, to help with two areas: the writing of the script and the preparation of the actors.  In addition, I ended up putting them in touch with other Jesuits who could help.  So, I was far from the only Jesuit consultant: people like Antoni Ucerler, SJ, Dave Collins, SJ, and Jerry Martinson, SJ from Taiwan all pitched in.  

At the beginning, I worked with Marianne Bower, Mr. Scorsese’s researcher, who had read The Jesuit Guide, and wanted to know as much as she could about Jesuit life.  Then, Marty and Jay Cocks, his co-screenwriter, asked me to help them with the script, which I was happy to do.

The script was already superb, but I thought it needed to be “more Jesuit,” for want of a better phrase.  For example, there was little reference to the Spiritual Exercises, which would certainly have been in the hearts and on the minds of the movie’s protagonists, Father Rodrigues and Garupe. That would have been the lens through which they saw everything.  There was also a bit of confusion on the part of Father Rodrigues early in the narrative about why he would be suffering so much—when he would have asked for this in the Exercises 1.  Also, I suggested a bit more clarity about why the two young Jesuits felt the need to go to Japan to look for Father Ferreira, their mentor- specifically, they would have been concerned that his soul was in danger.  And I suggested more scenes that showed the joy of their ministry.  One of my points was that if the movie simply portrayed scenes of their suffering and persecution, their Jesuit vocation would make little sense to the viewer.

Overall, I tried to make suggestions to help the screenwriters to understand how a Jesuit might think, act, speak and even pray—for example, more free-form prayer rather than formal prayer.  

BS/DD: Did you work with everyone in the cast?

JM: I worked with the English-speaking actors, Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson, in various degrees to help them prepare for their roles. Andrew was the one with whom I worked most closely, leading him through the Spiritual Exercises (the 19th Annotation) over the course of several months, and having conversations outside of spiritual direction about Jesuit life and spirituality.  Also, Adam and Liam were both very interested in finding out more about Jesuit spirituality, though Liam had already worked with Dan Berrigan, SJ during the filming of “The Mission” in the early 1980s.  Plus, one of his sons attends Fordham Prep.

BS/DD: Were you on set during filming?

JM:  No, I wasn’t on set in Taiwan.  As I told them, I have a job at America Media!   Plus, Jerry Martinson, SJ, in Taiwan was extremely helpful to them and put them in touch with plenty of Jesuits during the shoot.  

BS/DD: What was it like working with Martin (Marty) Scorsese?

JM: Honestly, he’s a delight.  In about five minutes I felt comfortable with him.  As I recall, our first meeting was at his house in Midtown Manhattan with his co-screenwriter, and we had a very long talk about the script, which I had read.  Marty is incredibly articulate, widely read and very devout.  You could sit him down in any Jesuit community and he would be more than able to enter the conversation.  He was also extremely open to suggestions and changes, even toward the end of the editing process when you might think that he’d be more “settled.”

[WARNING- Spoiler alerts ahead, skip to the next question if you want to avoid them.]


After the screening of “Silence” at the Pontifical Oriental Institute in Rome, on Nov. 29, Martin Scorsese with James Martin, SJ (center) and Alan Fogarty, SJ (left), president of the Gregorian University Foundation.


At one point, just a few days before the film was finished, he was thinking how the film might end, that is, after the final scene, and I tentatively suggested a note about the Japanese martyrs and then “Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam.” And that’s what they ended up using.  In other words, Marty was extremely down-to-earth, friendly, accessible–and very, very open to suggestions.  I would imagine that’s one thing that makes him so successful a director.

BS/DD:  Can you tell us how the Jesuit screening, the “world premiere” in Rome came to be?

JM: The Scorsese people told me they had been invited to a “Vatican screening” of the film, and, as people now know, an audience with Pope Francis.  And they invited me to come along to Rome for the screening.  Initially I wasn’t sure if I should go all that way, but then I thought that I would ask if they might invite the Jesuit Curia—Father General and his staff.  Then I thought, “Why not have a Jesuit screening?”  

Fortunately, across the hall from me at America House is Alan Fogarty, SJ, the director of the Gregorian Foundation, which raises money for the pontifical universities in Rome.  I don’t know Rome very well, so I asked him where might be a good place for the screening. And he responded, “I have just the place!  The Pontifical Oriental Institute has just renovated an aula and it’s perfect.”  Within about five minutes, he called David Nazar, SJ, the rector, and immediately we had the place and date set.

The Sunday before the screening, we all went to an English-speaking Mass at the Oratory of St. Francis Xavier (the “Caravita” community) next to the Church of St. Ignatius, and then were invited to pranzo at the Gesù community, with something like 80 Jesuits in formation—from 27 countries.  Orlando Torres, SJ, the rector, and Tony Sholander, SJ, the minister, arranged a beautiful meal for us, and it was very moving for me to be able to introduce Marty and his family and colleagues to all these young Jesuits.  I felt like it was kind of a thank you for all he had done for the Society.  After all, from now on, when people think of the Jesuit martyrs of Japan, and the Portuguese missionaries, they will likely think of this movie.  At the end of the meal, the Portuguese Jesuits in the community came up to him, and I said, “These men are from the same Province and are the exact age as Fathers Rodrigues and Garupe.”

Adam Hincks, SJ (center) leads a tour of the Rooms of St. Ignatius Loyola in Rome for Martin Scorsese (left) and his friends on Nov. 27. James Martin, SJ, is seated next to Mr. Scorsese.

Afterward, Adam Hincks, SJ, and Christian Saenz, SJ, who are studying in Rome, and Dave Collins, SJ, who was a delegate at the General Congregation and is now there for an academic sabbatical, gave us a tour of the Rooms of St. Ignatius, the Church of the Gesù and the Church of St. Ignatius.  It was really profound for all of us, certainly for me.  Marty had never been there, and now here he was, after having spent 30 years making a film on the Jesuits, at these holiest of Jesuit sites.  And I was so proud of Adam and Christian, who did an amazing job recounting the history of these sites and the story of St. Ignatius.  Somehow being with these young Jesuits made it all the more powerful for me.

And the screening was amazing.  I was worried that Jesuits in Rome might be too busy (or the technical stuff wouldn’t work) but the Orientale was packed with about 350 Jesuits that afternoon, mainly young guys, from around the world, and the film looked beautiful. During the screening, you could have heard a pin drop.  Marty and his family were there, as was Jay Cocks, and Thelma Schoonmaker, the film’s editor.  Afterwards Marty had a question-and-answer session, and he told me afterwards how impressed he was by the depth of the questions.  One question from Danny Hwang, SJ, the regional assistant for Asia Pacific, impressed Marty so much that he later asked me to track down Danny and ask him for a copy of his comments.

I was so grateful that the Jesuit screening worked out for Marty and his team, and so happy that my brother Jesuits were able to meet him.  It was such a privilege to be able to bring him into the Jesuit community and introduce my brothers to this great friend of the Society.  And to see this film about my brother Jesuits alongside my brother Jesuits was an amazing experience.

BS/DD: Speaking of great films that portray Jesuits, the 1986 film “The Mission” starring Robert De Niro is practically “required-viewing” for Jesuit enthusiasts. How do you think this movie will compare?

JM: I’m biased of course, but I think “Silence” is superior.  I love “The Mission,” but I don’t think it does as good a job of portraying the Jesuits from the inside out. I don’t feel that we get to know the Robert De Niro and Jeremy Irons characters as much as we do Andrew Garfield’s character in “Silence.”  There’s a much, much deeper sense of his relationship to Jesus.  And I do think “Silence” will be required viewing.  In fact, I first saw it with a few colleagues from America, and afterwards one of the Jesuits leaned over and said, “This will be shown in Jesuit schools from now until the end of time.”

Editor’s Note: This concludes Part I of our interview with James Martin, SJ. Be sure to return to the site this Friday (12/23) for Part II, which will go more in depth about what makes “Silence” such a powerful film.

Categories: Things Jesuit

‘Tis a Gift to Be Creative

Mon, 12/19/2016 - 02:14

When I was 8, all I wanted for Christmas were Legos. The popular sets in those days were cities and urban design, which went well with my odd childhood obsession of sewer systems and urban engineering. Three years later, I became captivated by Harry Potter. That year, my parents gave me Hagrid’s Hut and the Hogwarts Castle.

Though my parents may have grown frustrated that all I ever hoped for were Legos, those sets are inevitably what led to the presents they now get for Christmas. Through building those Lego sets, I learned the joy of creativity.

Today, that joy of creativity continues inspiring my gifts. If you’re still looking for a Christmas gift, perhaps look inside yourself. Try creating. Try loving.


When I entered the Jesuits, I chose a life of poverty. My first Christmas as a Jesuit, I felt unsure of what to do about gifts. Some Jesuits told me that they just gave up giving presents. Others bought small gifts cards.

But I was most struck by the approach of one Jesuit: he cooks. It is a simple, delicious, and gracious gift to cook for one’s family. He gave his creativity, a bit of himself.

I started simple and looked to others for advice. Fellow Jesuit Rich Schuckman taught me some tricks. I remembered some basic directions my dad gave me. I began by making picture frames. They were far from professional and certainly not stellar. (In fact, I’d like to have them back. But like a second-grader’s poorly-drawn Santa, mom keeps them!)

Woodworking is the way that I express my creativity, thus becoming my gift of choice. I’ve progressed from sub-par picture frames to wine racks, spice shelves, mini hanging gardens, and coffee tables.

As I’ve practiced, my talents and gifts have become more advanced. Increased skill, however, brought me back to the same problem that people have when buying  presents: focusing on the perfect gift, rather than my love for that person. As I made a table for my sister Mary, I fretted over its excellence. I anxiously called her about what precisely she hoped for. She dismissed my anxiety and said that she would be thrilled by whatever I made.

And she meant it.

Though my projects are more advanced now, they are still imperfect. That’s not only OK, it’s a good thing. I worry that perfect gifts focus on the wrong subjects – myself and my perfection – instead of love and appreciation. Gifts should be about the creative love I can offer and gratitude for relationships I share with family and friends.

I cannot buy family and friends the perfect present, but I can give my creative love.


If you’re still looking for a gift this Christmas, let me pose a challenge to you: be creative.

Here are three suggestions that don’t require years of practice:

  1. Advanced coloring sheets. One of my friends introduced me to these. As she colors them, she considers what she most appreciates about that person. On the back of the sheet, she tells her friends why she loves them and what memories came up while she colored.
  1. Handmade ornaments. These can be easy and always appreciated among the otherwise drab baubles. My favorite technique is using some 1X1” pine and a wood-burning pen. It’s beginner-friendly, I promise! You can get more advanced by using wax paper to transfer color images to the wood.
  1. Mix CDs. This little throwback is one of my favorites. In a time when it is increasingly easy to lock into playlists and headphones, mix CDs help us to share. My soon-to-be-brother-in-law Dan gave each family member CDs last year. For me, it said that Dan really wanted to know and appreciate each of us.


I hope your Christmas is full of great joy, great creativity, and great love.

Categories: Things Jesuit