"Truth needs to be sought, found and expressed within the 'economy' of charity...
charity in its turn needs to be understood, confirmed and practised in the light of truth." - B16

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Calling All People to Life

By John D. O’Brien, S.J. 

Photo: John O'Brien, S.J.

Coming so soon from watching one of the most moving and remarkable films I’ve ever seen, I was inspired when I received a song by Canadian songwriter and musician Erin Leahy that explored similar themes. Leahy’s “Calling All People to Life”, like the movie Gravity, dwells upon the idea of the inherent fragility and value of human life, pivots upon the power of prayer, alludes to the fundamental choice between life and death, and has great exultant motifs of baptism and rebirth. Already getting radio-play, this new song from the Juno-award winning artist captures several basic themes from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I invite readers to listen to the song for themselves, which is posted here with her permission:

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Retreat in Vancouver: the cast

There was a great turn-out and wonderful response to the Ignatian Discernment retreat on Jan 26 at St. Mark's Parish/College in Vancouver, B.C. A snapshot of Jesuits in action.

With, Fr. Mbugua "the growler" William, S.J.

Fr. John "I clench my fists when I'm angry" McCarthy, S.J.

Fr. Elton "the discernment origamist" Fernandes, S.J.,

Um, me, "boxing fanatic" O'Brien,

Kevin "the hitman" Eng, esquire,

And a group of more than fifty young adults from twenty parishes in nine Greater Vancouver cities...

Thanks are due to St. Mark's College for being our host, the college council of the Knights of Columbus for providing lunch, and Fr. Rob Allore, S.J., pastor St. Mark's Parish for the use of the Church for Adoration and Mass...

A.M.G.D. That's what this was all about.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Ignatian Young Adults Retreat in Vancouver

If anyone knows young adults in the Vancouver area looking for something like this right now... forward it to them -- and have them email me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Some Christmas Poems I Like

This first one is poignant because of what must be happening with holy family at the time the maid is recalling... more than thirty years after Bethlehem:

The Maid-Servant At The Inn

"It's queer," she said; "I see the light

As plain as I beheld it then,

All silver-like and calm and bright-
We've not had stars like that again!

"And she was such a gentle thing
To birth a baby in the cold.

The barn was dark and frightening-

This new one's better than the old.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Remembering a Children's Icon

In the wake of the senseless killing of the twenty children and their six teachers in Newton, Connecticut last week, there is some traction in the on-line world remembering the nation's unofficial children's pastor, the late Fred Rogers of the multi-decade television show, Mister Roger's Neighbourhood. Sometimes the object of jokes and parody, the fact remains that he was something of an icon of children's education and entertainment. His show lasted more than thirty years (1968-2001), and his gentle and patient persona affirmed and influenced generations of children.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Doings at the Country's End

Given this moment in the semester, a relative breather between mid-terms and finals, I have a miscellany of news and updates that I thought worth conveying to faithful readers, eminently loyal despite the lengthy delays between postings these days.

Regency life has so far been a great blessing, although mostly yet more growth in learning to manage time and rely on the strength that only prayer can give. Constant need to relearn that left to my own devices and strengths, I quickly fade into weakness and powerlessness, while at the same time, learning how even the smallest recourse to the Lord in prayer repays in dividends. This is, of course, a gift, if only I can remember it long enough!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Goulding on New Evangelization

The transcript of the October 23 Vatican Radio interview with my thesis advisor, Dr. Gill Goulding, who is a perita or advisor at the Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization.

Photo: news.va

Among the participants at the 13th ordinary assembly of the Synod of Bishops for the new evangelization are various experts who assist the bishops in their deliberations. One of them is Sr. Gill Goulding, a professor of theology at Regis College, University of Toronto. She spoke to Charles Collins about the new evangelization.

It's an extraordinary opportunity and I feel very honoured, very humbled, very thrilled to be here. And to have a sense of just listening across the wealth of interventions, gives you a real sense of the universal Church in a way that I didn't have previously. I had more of a theoretical sense of that. For my own Congregation, since it's a international congregation, yes, I do have a sense of internationality. But here you do have a far broader sense of the reality of the Church on the ground, in every continent and across so many different countries. And that, in it's own way, is very inspiring because the issues people raise can be very different -- some are in common -- but there's a sense that everyone is hearing, and therefore the recommendations that will come from this and go to the Holy Father -- and the Holy Father is there at many sessions -- are clearly well-reflected upon by the group, and there's a sense that you do feel that you've heard both the joys and the sorrows, as Vatican II, Gaudium et Spes, used to say, of the various situations in various parts of the world. And I think that in itself is an extraordinary experience and something that's really irreplaceable in any other scenario.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

2013 World Comm Day Message: social networks

The theme for the 2013 World Communications Day message was revealed at a press conference Tuesday:

"Social Networks: portals of truth and faith; new spaces for evangelization." 

While the message itself is always published on the Memorial of St. Francis de Sales, patron of writers (January 24), the theme is released on the feast of archangels (Oct. 2) the fall before, and sets the stage for reflection and teaching to begin. The announcement of this theme of digital media continues a thread that began with 2009's "New Technologies, New Relationships" and which continued with subsequent annual messages. WCD was the sole annual celebration called for by Vatican II, and began in 1967.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Refusing to Vote?

With the U.S. presidential election fast approaching, and many voters unimpressed with both candidates and their parties, a legitimate question is being posed: can one abstain from voting in an election for reasons of conscience? What does the Bark of Peter have to say on this?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Old Missions of San Antonio

On the recent retreat tour of the U.S. South, I went to visit the old missions of San Antonio. I had heard of their famous cousins on the West Coast, the missions of California, but was not aware of the southern Texas line. They were quite stunning in their age and beauty. Moreover they represented the missionary spirit of the men who built them. They were mainly founded by Franciscans in the early 1700s, and are remarkably preserved today.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Hearts on Fire: the Interview

Fr. Phil nailed the interview on the EWTN Live last week. They say the network reaches 110 million households. Probably a million people watched their flagship show. But this knowledge did not enervate our fearless leader, who spoke very eloquently about Hearts on Fire.

Thursday, July 26, 2012


We rushed from Tampa to Irondale (Birmingham), Alabama for the EWTN Live interview, that it took us a little longer to get our pictures organized. But this retreat (July 20-21) went very well. We were blessed to have David Paternostro, SJ, a New Orleans Province scholastic currently working at Jesuit High in Tampa, help us out. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

EWTN Live & Humanae Vitae posts

I'm writing from Birmingham, Alabama, where the Hearts on Fire mission band has docked after a long drive today from Tampa, and where we are enjoying the hospitality of Fr. Mitch Pacwa, the host of EWTN Live! and fellow Jesuit. Tomorrow night, Fr. Phil Hurley, S.J., our intrepid leader, will appear on the show and talk about what we do. The rest of us will be there too, probably waving from the stands!

To tune in online at 8 PM (Wed, July 25), visit: http://www.ewtn.com/multimedia/live.asp

This day is also the 44th anniversary of Pope Paul VI's encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. The editors of the Jesuit blog Ibo et Non Redibo (of which I am one) decided a while back to do a series of reflections on the teaching, which have been posted at the site over the past week. My own humble contribution is on the meaning of "ends", which seemed to me the crux of the issue. I hope it is intelligible. You can read it here, along with the others.

Finally, since we're in the South, here's a song by the Quebec band "The Lost Fingers", their jazz cover of Alannah Miles' "Black Velvet":

Good night and God bless!

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

New Orleans

I've been mulling over whether to say this, but I think I will. Once we arrived in Louisiana, all the characters from the southern writers I've read left the confines of my imagination and appeared in real life, the cuisine magically became distinctly delicious, and we entered another time.

Our first stop was the St. Charles College novitiate and retreat centre in Grand Coteau, where spanish moss hangs from oak trees, the cicadas buzz incessantly in the humid heat, and where the birth dates in the cemetery begin in the 1700s.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Corpus Christi, TX

Fr. Jay Hooks, S.J. celebrates the Vigil Mass at the retreat

The Hearts on Fire mission band has had a busy two weeks, journeying to Corpus Christi, Texas on the Gulf Coast. The team stayed at the campus of the SOLT community, which operates a retreat centre there, alongside their novitiate and the shrine of Our Lady of Corpus Christi

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Hearts on Fire - San Antonio

The Hearts on Fire Team in San Antonio, Texas

First of all, San Antonio is a great, if underrated city. Seventh largest in the United States, and second biggest in Texas, yet often overshadowed by its younger brothers Dallas and Houston with all their corporate behemoths and professional sports teams (S.A. only has one: the NBA's Spurs). But S.A. has more history, and Texans will forgive me, more charm. Home to a huge Latino population, the oldest cathedral in the U.S., and a series of historic missions, the city was very receptive to us both as visitors and retreat-givers.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CERC & thesis passed!

The website called Catholic Education Resource Center is an excellent source of articles on topics of all kind, from abortion to world religions. Calling it a website seems to shortchange the quality of editorial effort that goes into producing and organizing CERC's content. It's more a refined aggregator of articles, columns and editorials of note from around the world. The chief editor, Mr. Fraser Field, has a discerning eye and is very selective of what pieces make it to his roster.

Notwithstanding the high bar, CERC was kind enough to include a little piece of mine called "The Recovery of Focal Practices", in which I discuss the theories of Albert Borgmann on how to discern and live with our new technologies and devices. It's a theme I treat in my master's thesis, "The Recovery of Silence", which was recently accepted and passed by the readers at the Toronto School of Theology -- deo gratias!

You can also download the audio .mp3 of the article by right-clicking on the link called "listen" at the article page which is here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Hearts on Fire in Dallas

The first Hearts on Fire retreat was last weekend. It's taken me this long to blog about it, since we needed some time to rest and get photos back, and basically let the experience settle in. Dallas has proved to be a hospitable first stop, from the Jesuit communities at Jesuit Prep High School and Montserrat Retreat Centre at Lake Dallas where we stayed, various families, and the parishioners at St. Ann's Parish which hosted our retreat.

St. Ann's is the fifth largest parish in the United States, with 30,000 members. It is a campus. The parish complex literally includes a former strip mall with clock-tower and parking lot, a massive gold-domed church, a plaza with fountain, and halls and auditoria galore. The church employs four full-time youth ministers. I had never seen a Catholic mega-church before, but this was it!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

For Greater Glory

Taking advantage of my American sojourn, I went see the film For Greater Glory in the cinema, as it looks like it will not be playing in Canada, and its U.S. run is winding up. I'm glad I did. The film is emotionally moving and engaging notwithstanding its 2.5 hour length. It chronicles the Cristero War in Mexico (1926-29), which took place when the government of Plutarco Calles began enforcing the anticlerical laws of Mexico's 1917 constitution. Religious observance was essentially outlawed, foreign priests were expelled and many clergy murdered and altars smashed. Eventually, the people organized themselves into an armed resistance.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Ten Secular Songs with Religious Themes

While preparing songs for our retreats and coffee house ministries this summer, I have come across many by secular artists -- that is, musicians who don't self-categorize as belonging to genres of religious music -- which were nonetheless powerfully spiritual. This is my top ten list from past and present.