It is hard today to appreciate the significance of the St. Louis Jesuits.
In the sacristy after Mass, a woman told me that she was very disturbed by something I had said during my brief homily.
Today my rituals are more private, pensive and mournful: a small Mass in community where, as we do on most days, we pray for all today’s war dead; a mournful remembrance of the service personnel killed in Iraq, whose photos I survey each month in The New York Times, and the scores of faceless Iraqi civilians daily slaughtered by terrorist insurgents; and finally reading war poetry, for a poem captures better than news reports the ambiguity, the pain and, most of all, the evil of war.
This year I settled on W. H. Auden’s Shield of Achilles, a favorite I read often in times like these, of low-intensity, low-profile warfare. Published in 1955, the poem draws on a passage of Homer’s Iliad, where the lame blacksmith god Hephaestus, at the request of Thetis, Achilles’ mother, fashions a magnificent shield for the hero celebrating scenes of Greek pastoral and civic life. As if to contrast the heroic ideal with the modern reality, Auden alternates short, lyric depictions of the Homeric shield with elegiac descriptions of modern war.
The second modern stanza is typical:
Out of the air a voice without a face