The National Catholic Review

It's no secret that Father Jim Martin and his many literary efforts (I think he constitutes his own book-of-the-month club at this point) have a lot of fans in both high and low places (like my office) and around the world. But we don't often get evidence as pointed as the accompanying photo, which was forwarded to us yesterday. This neat picture was also accompanied by its own thousand words, so we have the tale of the snapshot and a unique perspective on a brush with greatness from one young Jesuit serving in Russia.

Janez Sever, a Jesuit priest from the Russian Province (doing his final stage of Jesuit training, his "tertianship") celebrated Mass in Moscow for Vice President Joe Biden and his team on Ash Wednesday (Biden was in Russia for meetings on trade and foreign policy with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin). Father Sever was asked to prepare an Ash Wednesday service, after which he offered the vice president a copy of Jim's latest book ("The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything"). Biden said he had already had his own copy.

Here's Father Sever's story:

I felt like Forrest Gump today as I did a quick Ash Wednesday service for VP Joe Biden and about 10 others in the hotel where he is staying. It went very well and I had a short conversation with him afterwards. I gave him Jim Martin's book and he said that he already had a copy and had read some of it. He thought it was really well written—easy and delightful to understand. If anyone has Jim Martin's e-mail, you can pass this photo on to him. It was an interesting experience to say the least.

The very first thing which struck me was that the Vice President’s office had requested an Ash Wednesday service this far in advance. It was a real priority of the Vice President! My initial reaction to the idea of getting to give ashes to the Vice President of the United States was one of excitement of getting a “photo opportunity” with him. Then I went into a phase of beginning to become preoccupied with “doing the right thing.” Finally, I “woke up” and took the question to Jesus in prayer. How does God want me to preach the Gospel to this man? By turning to God, I came to realize and accept that I am not there for myself, but that perhaps I am really “being sent” into this opportunity. This was a mission (kind of like the Blues Brothers who were on a “mission for God”). I wondered, how and what am I called to proclaim to this powerful man in order for him to be able to really make this Lent an effective moment in his life. To make a long story short, I went through two very different homilies before realizing that they were “boring” and “burdensome.” I was “led” to remember my 30 day retreat experience and that I could and am called to share from that experience. Jim Martin’s book inspired me to this because Jim’s style is about making our faith and spirituality “accessible.” Jim does it by sharing his own very concrete and humble personal experiences. And these types of experiences are accessible and very key to each and every human being if they are seeking God no matter who they are. We don’t need big words to express how God desires our cooperation and/or friendship. In fact, the “big words” that we usually hear in some homilies in church really don’t help.

Several times before the service it was made known to me that the service should be “short and sweet…” not to last more than fifteen minutes. It was held in the hotel where the Vice President and his staff are staying. It was 8:45 pm, right after the Vice President returned from his meeting with the Russian President Medvedev. Approximately ten other Catholic staff participated in addition to the Vice President. Several of the staff mentioned their ties to Jesuit Universities. Everyone was very tired at the end of their first day in Moscow.

Overall the service was very “light” and informal (I realize today, the day after, that these were signs of spiritual consolation as Ignatius teaches us). I was struck by several things in this whole experience. One is how the first words out of everyone’s mouth were, “Thank you, Father for taking the time!” I felt how these Catholics were genuinely grateful for this opportunity to be connected with the church at the beginning of Lent. As I look back on the event, I sense how it was a “small island, an oasis” of consolation of sorts. The atmosphere was serious, but “light.” Though everyone had had a full day, this service became a moment of God’s presence, God’s consoling presence.

Now one last thing about this whole meeting… I am a person who feels strongly about the pro-life question. This was the man to talk to about this, but how... By taking this concern of mine (and the church) to prayer and consulting some of my fellow Jesuit brothers I believed that this was not to be just about ashes. However, late at night and in Moscow after a long tough day was probably not the time to preach on this specific issue. However, this is a man who has the power to influence. But this issue needs to be addressed somehow. So, in consulting with our Regional Superior, Tony Corcoran (NOR), we decided to draft a letter expressing our deep respect for the man, for the causes to which he has given his life, and suggesting that he relook at his discernment regarding this question, suggesting that this Lent may be the appropriate season for this.

Comments

JIM MCCREA | 3/12/2011 - 7:09pm
Color that comment EXTREMELY HEAVY irony with a large dollop of sarcasm re: the wishes of many of the Good Faithful Extremely Narrow-Minded Alleged Catholics who are so very quick to cut off anyone from receiving the Eucharist.
Bill Collier | 3/12/2011 - 2:59pm
Magy-

Though I can't speak definitively for Jim McCrea-only he can do that-his style of posting on this blog (and on another where I've seen his posts) can be fairly described, I think, as heavy on irony. I'll venture that he would be in agreement with the substance of your post. 
Magy Stelling | 3/11/2011 - 9:45pm
Vice-President Joe Biden is not a publicity seeking Catholic.  He is a man who throughout his life has profoundly lived his faith. Asking for an Ash Wednesday service  for himself and other Catholic members of his staff  was a way for him to begin his lent in union with the church. Should he ask  to receive the Eucharist in a private setting I for one will be glad  to know that  our leaders are seeking God's help when meeting with leaders  around the world. So J.McC before you ridicule   an elected offical  for professing his Faith I suggest  you seek to understand   that he wants to receive the ashes and possible the Eucharist for the very same reasons you do.  The photo was for the benefit of the Jesuit not for our Vice President.
Anonymous | 3/11/2011 - 8:33pm
"Every picture tells a story, don't it"?
-Rod Stewart
JIM MCCREA | 3/11/2011 - 7:01pm
The next thing you know Biden will expect to be given Communion, too!  Some people carry things way too far.
Bill Collier | 3/11/2011 - 5:29pm
"So, in consulting with our Regional Superior, Tony Corcoran (NOR), we decided to draft a letter expressing our deep respect for the man, for the causes to which he has given his life, and suggesting that he relook at his discernment regarding this question, suggesting that this Lent may be the appropriate season for this."

Bravo to Fr. Sever. He's right that "this issue needs to be addressed somehow," and I think that the manner in which he and his Regional Superior decided to handle the issue is both pastoral and appropriate. Hopefully, VP Biden will respond to the letter and begin a dialogue with Fr. Sever or another priest.
Anonymous | 3/14/2011 - 11:47am
Jim,

Unfortunately for all of us, politics in the US is polarized by the parties own platforms on the Life issue which is one of those non-negotiables like racism or genocide.

The Catholic Church has always taught abortion to be an intrinsic evil because what else could you call the intentional private killing of a completely defenseless, completely innocent human being who is in no way an unjust aggressor?

It's not miscarriage and it's not double effect. It's the willful, intentional, killing by a private person, of an innocent human being. The economic status, the father's relationship with the mother.... none of that matters to the moral reality: violence is being done by a private person to another who does not deserve to die and is no threat to anyone.

Why is war and pollution, ruthless capitalism and racism wrong, if not because ultimately human beings have intrisic value, starting with the value of their very lives? How can you be 'against war, pollution, hurting the poor and racism'.... but OK, and ho-hum with the public and politically supported industry that exists to kill absolutely innocent human beings?

With "Catholics" in the party like Nancy Pelosi, John Kerry, and Joe Biden, you'd think a Catholic world view of the life issue courageously defended by them would lead to some modification or overhaul of the National Party's platform.... but that's not happened. Instead, while claiming their faith matters for every other area of life, they've all gone on record claiming that in abortion, their faith shall not be 'imposed', that they'd rather keep their jobs and abortion legal than risk their jobs even if their sacramental life was on the line.

And unlike almost any other political question of our times, the parties have come down solidly on opposing sides of this question: The Democratic party has been firmly - as a matter of platform planks - the party in support of abortion and abortion funding, promotion, and regulatory blind-eyes for decades. The GOP has been firmly as a matter of platform planks been the party in support of a human life amendment and at the very least, heavy restrictions on abortion.

Any time a Catholic politician has risen to national prominence since 1973 he's been faced with this decision: do I sign onto the party's agenda or not?

In the Democratic party, the litmus test for national support is to be supportive of abortion 'rights'. To accept, as politically OK, the intrinsic evil of abortion.

Joe Biden has signed off on this as have half the Catholics in DC. 

And that's a scandal. a) because they either don't know why it's wrong - meaning that they're uneducated idiots or b) if they do, they're either OK with it and thus monstrous, or they're not OK with it, but are too gut-less to challenge it. 

John Kerry had no problem invoking his Catholic faith to justify his position on this or that program "for the poor" or protection of the environment...but he suddenly had exclusive cold feet in 'imposing' his faith on others of his party when abortion was the subject.

That strikes alot of us as a mixed up set of values unbecoming of any adult.

So pardon me for not being impressed with Politicians who happen to be Catholic when it suits them but decisively pro-abortion at all times even if it should threaten their sacramental life. 

Abortion is not "just war", it's not an issue like how best to help the poor or how best to provide for the elderly, the sick, etc. You are either ho-hum about an instrinsic evil or not. 

"Yeah, Lord, I believe you're really present in the Eucharist and I want to commune with you, but I also believe my wife and I have the sovereign right to kill our unborn daughter because, well, for no particular reason, just because we want to, and despite what your church has always taught about this, I disagree, so there, but I'm still a good follower of yours because I vote for higher taxes and a bigger soup kitchen."

You can't get a worst sin or atrocity than abortion. No war, no pollution, no racism or harm inflicted on the poor gets to the degree of mallice and cowardice that legalized abortion, fully supported and funded by the Democratic Party has attained.