Thursday, August 22, 2013

Faith on Campus: Kevin O'Brien, S.J., has a Great Article in the Washington Post

How to keep the faith on campus
By Kevin O’Brien, Published: August 19 at 10:49 am

Prospective students leave the undergraduate admissions building to take a tour of Georgetown University campus in Northwest Washington. There are 235 Catholic universities in the United States, including Georgetown.Nikki Kahn / The Washington Post
A few years ago, as we prepared to welcome our first-year students to Georgetown, the earth quaked, a novel seismic experience for most of us on the East coast. This minor earthquake became a vivid metaphor for me as I encountered one student after another who seemed to be on shifting ground when it came to their faith conviction. So much was new and overwhelming; they were both exhilarated and downright scared.
Those going off to college this time of year are in the midst of the most significant transition of their lives. Academically, these high school graduates will learn to think more deeply, read more broadly, and write more cogently. Socially, relationships will shift as distance tests high school friendships and families adjust to a new way of being together. Emotionally, they will likely experience a mix of feelings about their new life. Often overlooked in the transition to college are the spiritual and religious dimensions of the change.
For the young, religious identification can be fluid. As with other parts of their lives, they test their faith commitments. According to a survey published in October 2012 by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, nearly one-third of Americans under the age of 30 define their religious preference as “none,” which is a significant increase from five years ago.  The “nones” encompass a variety of people. Most are “spiritual but not religious,” believing in God but not wanting to be tied down by any one religious profession or practice. A small number are atheists or agnostics.
While more young people are choosing not to affiliate with a religious community, over two-thirds of young adults identify as Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Mormon, or another religious denomination.  In contrast to Western Europe, the United States remains a very religious country.  Like an ethnic, racial, and gender identity, young adults can grow into their religious identity during the college years as they meet new people, encounter a range of ideas inside and outside of class, and experience the nitty, gritty reality of life away from the often safe confines of home and high school. Growing pains can mark this religious “coming of age.”
In these shaky times, holding on to one’s religious tradition can be very helpful. A living tradition offers comfort, encouragement and the wisdom of others who have gone through the ups and downs of human living and found God in the mix of it all.  But we must not hold on to that tradition too tightly because religion deals with a Holy Mystery that eludes any one formulation, image, or practice. Sometimes we have to let go of a familiar, tried-and-true way of praying or believing in order to embrace another way of relating to God that better suits us as we get older.
This in-between time, so often associated with the college years, can be awkward and unsettling. But it can also be a moment of grace if we do not rush it. We have to let ourselves feel incomplete, even empty sometimes, so that we can be filled in unimaginable new ways. This spiritual longing – like homesickness for our loved ones at home – means that in our emptiness, we still love God deeply.
Doubts are natural. Jacob wrestled with his angel. Thomas did not believe the good news of the resurrection. Even Jesus hesitated in the garden and questioned on the cross.  To doubt does not mean to lack faith. To the contrary, doubt can be a sign that one’s faith is very much alive. We care enough about our relationship with God to wrestle with the Divine. Questions are a way of keeping the conversation going. Apathy is more indicative of a crisis of faith, and easily leads to a very uninteresting, stagnant faith.  Better to rant and rave at God than give God the silent treatment.
What students learn or read in class, or pick up from others, can stoke many good questions. This is usually a good sign that young people are growing into an adult faith and using the minds God gave them. A thinking faith is a vibrant, interesting faith, and thus one that will last a lifetime. In such moments, talking to an older mentor can be helpful so that questioning does not only disassemble and deconstruct, leaving nothing behind, but instead leads to building up and emboldening.
In short, young adults transitioning to college need to be gentle with themselves and others.  Parents do well to model that patience. The devout high school son may come home at Thanksgiving and announce his love for Nietzsche and his conviction that he is now an atheist. The once church-going daughter may return home a “seeker,” having experienced a variety of religious communities with her new friends. I recall that during my freshmen year at Georgetown, after taking the first required theology course, I fell into a deep spiritual funk, which felt very uncomfortable in my Irish Catholic skin. In the class, I addressed unsettling and age-old questions about the existence of God and the problem of evil. I got through it after a few months, with a stronger, more grounded, more deeply personal faith – and a life-long desire to learn more.
I’m a Jesuit priest now, working and teaching back at Georgetown, ready to greet another group of 18-year-olds.  I hope that there will be no earthquakes this time around. But surely I will find more than a few who are on shifting spiritual ground. I will try to be like those good people who, when I was 18, were so faithful to me, and who thus showed me what God’s faithfulness looked like. I will listen first and offer some counsel, careful not to too quickly relieve them of the necessary task of struggling through the questions on their own. And I will point them to one of our religious communities on campus made up of equally excited, confused, uncertain, and hopeful young adults. Across their differences, they find consolation in walking the journey of faith together, each leaning on the other and open to a mystery still unfolding in their remarkable lives.
Kevin O’Brien, S.J., is a Jesuit priest and Vice President for Mission and Ministry at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Young Adult Catholics and The Mass

Great article describing where young adults are today in terms of their experience of liturgy.  From The National Catholic Reporter

Sunday, August 18, 2013

St. Alberto Hurtado, S.J., Chilean prophet of Social Justice

Great Article on Alberto Hurtado, S.J. from the English Jesuits' "Thinking Faith" website

Thursday, August 15, 2013

University of Scranton Sits High in Best Value Rankings.


National and State Rankings List University of Scranton for Value of Education

August 06. 2013 6:23PM


Two just-published rankings recognized The University of Scranton among America’s and Pennsylvania’s best values in higher education based on student outcomes.

Forbes magazine’s online listing of “America’s Best Colleges” ranked the University No. 290 among only 650 universities in the nation selected based on data about “output” — or “return on investment.” The ranking, compiled for Forbes by The Center for College Affordability and Productivity, is based on a dozen factors that seek to evaluate schools’ effectiveness in five general areas: post-graduate success; student satisfaction; student debt; four-year graduation rate; and competitive awards won by students, such as prestigious scholarships and fellowships like the Rhodes, Marshall and Fulbright.

The University also ranked No. 27 among just 81 colleges in Pennsylvania recognized in a new listing by as providing the greatest lifetime return on investment. According to AC Online, graduates of the schools selected enjoy the largest earnings gap between non-degree holders over 30 years, and earn more on average than graduates from other Pennsylvania schools. AC Online analyzed 402 colleges in Pennsylvania for its selection of “High ROI Colleges,” which published on July 29.

The Forbes ranking became public July 25. This is the sixth year Forbes ranked the University among “America’s Best Colleges.” Forbes does not categorize schools by size or institution type in its overall ranking, but does provide separate rankings of public and private colleges and geographic regions. Scranton ranked No. 205 in Forbes list of the “Best Private Colleges in America,” and No. 109 among the “Best Colleges in the Northeast.”

As of publication of this release, Forbes incorrectly lists the University’s acceptance rate. The University’s actual acceptance rate for 2012 is 68.8 percent.

Jesuit Pat Gilger's Essay "The Long Black Line"


I've been occupied with other projects so haven't been blogging much this summer.  I got to some other writing projects.

And I was privileged to work for  St Anthony's Parish in Cody WY and spend the past four Sundays in Yellowstone National Park as Catholic Chaplain.  Three Masses a weekend (400 miles to get to them).  Tough job, but someone has to do it!

Loved this article by Paddy Gilger, S.J.
The Long Black Line: What I learned from three good men

On the wall of my room, just below the windowsill and above my dusty homemade altar, I have Scotch-taped three memorial cards. These cards are not rare in Jesuit life. A few weeks after a brother Jesuit dies, I find in my mailbox one of these roughly 3- by 5-inch cards. On the front is a photograph of the man, usually in black-and-white, with his name printed at the bottom. On the back is a prayer—sometimes a passage from the Bible but often the “Suscipe” of St. Ignatius—that attempts to summarize the guiding spirit of the man’s life.
When I entered the Society of Jesus 10 years ago as a bright-eyed 21-year-old, a brother novice and I used to joke that instead of prayers we wanted our memorial cards to have statistics on the back: Father So-and-So performed 1,033 baptisms, had an 83 percent good-homily average and was a three-time campus ministry all-star. In those first few years of learning to live with an “S.J.” behind my name, each time I pulled one of these cards from my mailbox I felt a little like a kid opening a pack of baseball cards. But now these are cards from a team I belong to.
Whether lamented or celebrated, it is well established that the formerly tight bonds of U.S. Catholic culture are unwinding quickly. Like many others, I often describe my family as “nominal Catholics.” On Sundays when I was young, my parents took my two younger sisters and me to Mass, and that was about it. We were and still are a tightly knit, loving family, but we did not talk “Catholic talk” at home or pray the rosary and the like.
I had never considered being a Jesuit before I showed up at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb., and met some men who made me think, there is something living here that I have never seen before. Those three cards are taped to my wall because I learned to pray the rosary not from my family but in a parking lot in college. I learned the Hail Mary from my best friend (also a young Jesuit), who wrote it on a Post-It note and slipped it into my jacket pocket. The cards are there because I grew to love these men as they gave me roots in the Jesuit family. I loved their stories of that family, stories of playing baseball in cassocks in summertime and storied complaints about being sequestered in the countryside for studies. I learned to love them not for any great homily stats they might have put up but for welcoming me in.
One of the cards is of Bill Pauly, S.J., who would interrupt my slow nights of studying by knocking on my door to ask if he could sit down and read me a poem by Mary Oliver. Another is of Jim Egan, S.J., who could hold all your hurts in his spindly hands. The last is of John Lynch, S.J., who told me when we first met that he knew my Uncle Mark, who had gone to Creighton too; it was the first time I had heard that anyone in my family knew Jesuits. Each of these three Jesuits, their careworn faces still breathing out from their death cards, has sparked in me something I did not know was there, something that said: this is how I want to live.
Three Cards
I met Father John on a paddleboat in the summer of 2005. I had been a Jesuit for a few years by then, and we talked in good Wisconsin Jesuit style, with a beer in one hand and cheese in the other, while the boat paddled on. That day and afterward I found him to be a quiet man, one of those good listeners who waited just a little too long between phrases in a conversation, so that I never quite knew whether it was time for me to reply or not. He never minded if I interrupted. When he died in April 2011, I wrote to my uncle to let him know.
“Thank you,” Uncle Mark responded, “John was a good friend and mentor to me during my years at Creighton. He used to let me study in the back of St. John’s Church where it was quiet. He’d bring me snacks to keep me going.” As I read my uncle’s note I could see John in my mind, smiling, apple in hand, making his way to the student hunched over his books in the rear pews. I felt stabbed by the scene. “I have never forgotten what John did for me,” my uncle concluded, “and I’ve always felt that I still serve as a man for others.” Apparently my life has roots of which I was unaware, growing in surprising places.
Father Jim Egan was a solemn scarecrow of a man. I met him one summer when I was taking care of the old Jesuit vacation house we still use in the middle of Nowhere, Wis. It was an easy job most of the time, just going for doughnuts and the paper early in the morning and making sure there were two new movies to watch every night. So Jim and I had time to sit and talk. Or really, Jim had time to listen, and I had time to speak to him from my heart. His body looked old then, and tired. But when we spoke, it was as if some invisible chasm opened up below his chest and above his stomach to reveal a safe space. It was like being swallowed up by somebody who knew how to hold pain, how to let hurt bring him closer to God.
Jim was beginning the end of his life that summer. I found out later that he had returned home from Uganda for treatment of the cancer that would kill him in the fall of 2008. At 63, Jim had moved to Uganda and learned a new language so he could work with the young African Jesuits studying there. I also learned how much he loved Uganda and how hard it was for him to leave, but he never dwelt on the difficulties that summer. That summer he was all ears, all soft, safe heart. I am grateful to him, and I hope I can do the same sometime.
Father Bill Pauly’s is the only card on my wall printed in color, an exception that seems fitting given the vibrancy of his life. Bill was boisterous, funny and deeply vulnerable, with a humility that came from suffering. His energetic face turned red when he laughed. These were all great qualities for life on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where he served the Lakota Sioux people as a priest for nearly 20 years. It was a shock for the community to learn, just after Thanksgiving in 2006, that he had died of a sudden heart attack at 59. Hundreds of Lakota people turned out for the two-night wake and the funeral Mass held on the reservation. Years before, he had been honored with the Lakota name Wacin Yanpi, “Depends on Him.” It was a perfect name for Bill, a name that said everything about how the people felt about him—how he would always be there for them and how he depended on Jesus in everything.
One evening during philosophy studies, I sat at my computer, working on some obscure paper with my shoulders tensed up, when Bill knocked on my door. Pushing his bald head through the doorway he asked, “Can I read you a poem?” He sat down and read his current favorite, Mary Oliver’s “The Summer’s Day.”
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is” he intoned. “I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down/ into the grass.” His voice trembled just a touch, and his eyes held the memory of the South Dakota grasslands as he asked Ms. Oliver’s lovely question: “Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?” That moment was over too soon. As I went to bed that night I asked myself: Who is this man who stopped by my room just to read poetry? How can I become someone who does things like that?
Ministry Loves Company
On Oct. 22, 2011, seven young Jesuits were ordained to the diaconate in Oakland’s Cathedral of Light. They lay prostrate on the floor as the choir and congregation sang the familiar Litany of the Saints, calling down upon them the blessing of the whole holy community of the church, living and dead. “St. Ignatius,” we begged, “pray for us. St. Thérèse, St. Augustine, all you holy men and women, pray for us.” Through some mysterious plan, the long black line of the Society of Jesus continues in these men, in these brothers of mine and in the lay men and women who walk before and beside us.
Ministry—whether one is ordained or not—is a challenge in the confusing, fractured world that faces us today. It is a different world from the one in which Jim and Bill and John sought God. In this world it is hard to know which ministry stats I would even think to put on the back of my own memorial card.
But I can say that the great joys of my Jesuit life come in those unearned but long-prepared-for moments when people give me the sudden gift of helping them to let God come close. The long preparation I have needed in order to fill such a fragile role has been much helped by the particular men whose careworn faces I have taped to the wall of my room, men who ushered me into this family’s tradition in their own quiet, whimsical, poetic ways. Also sustaining me are my newly ordained brothers, committed to our fallible, tissue-paper-thin church and to Jesus. They carry me along with them in my weaker moments, buoy me up with their own quiet, whimsical, poetic lives.
They rose up, those new deacons, from the cathedral floor when the litany ended. They were consecrated, vested and sent forth into our fragile, confusing world to proclaim Jesus, the Word of God. They, like each of us, were sent into a world that, when you try to love it, leaves stretch marks on the heart. Neither they nor we go forth alone.
John, Bill, Jim, pray for us.
Patrick Gilger, S.J., is in his second year of theology studies at the Jesuit School of Theology, Santa Clara University in California.