Friday, January 23, 2009

Dreaming of Leuven

The summer of 2001, Fr. Kevin Codd, the president rector of the American College in Louvain, personally visited me in my home town. My bishop had alerted Father that he had a seminarian who was eligible, via the DeRance scholarship, to complete his philosophy training in the small medieval town of Leuven, BE.

I was initially leery. At that time, I was locked into a combative, politicized, teeth-grinding Catholic conservativism. I even told this devoted man of God that I feared his seminary was "very liberal". I even used those words. I was not set at ease when Fr. Codd was joined by an alumnus, a local priest, dressed in Bermuda shorts and telling me, "The worst explanation you can give someone for a Catholic doctrine is 'Because the Pope said so'." I fawningly adored the Pope, which did not bode well for my reception of said advice.

In spite of my fears, Fr. Codd persuaded me that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was not, however, impressed with his dewey eyed, sing-song sentimentalism about the town of Leuven. At that time, I would have studied philosophy in a Wal-Mart broom closet if I was assured that it would be faithful to the Magisterium. I could not fathom that a town's history or beauty was relevant to the quality of my education. Yes, yes, it's very pretty, but what will I be taught?

It took a couple of years, but Leuven broke the hardness of my heart. I never lost my loyalty to Rome--and still haven't--but my loyalty became wiser (a process that remains ongoing). Before, I scoffed at Fr. Codd's cooing about Leuven, and at the lavish praise by Bishop Fulton Sheen of the same. Now, as I think back, I cannot help but to sing the same song.

Lately I've had a recurring dream. In the dream, I am back in Leuven, not a seminarian anymore, but living there as a student of the University. On a whim, in the early evening, I go to the American College. Through the large chapel doors (that are rarely opened), I hear the voice of Fr. Wallace Platt giving an impassioned moral exhortation. I do not enter the chapel, but wait. When the Mass is over and I know that the community is having dinner, I open the front door and peek in. There are the tables, and sitting at them are all of my old formators--Fr. Kevin, Fr. Wally, Fr. Denis Robinson, Fr. Aurelius Boberek, and everyone. The students faces were all new (my dreams mix fantasy and reality), but the priests were happy to see me and welcomed me to a table. I did not eat--I did not presume the right. But I talked and laughed and joked and philosophized.

Sometimes when I have the dream, the students are my old confreres. Sometimes I stay the night--in a bare, unfurnished, musty-smelling room. I am always a guest, never a resident. Sometimes the dream takes me to the cobblestoned streets of Leuven, to cafes and pubs, familiar and unfamiliar. Sometimes my family is there and I am joyfully showing them everything there is to see. It is always early evening, after a rainstorm, with the sun poking out from behind still-present rainclouds, and the smell of rain still in the air. I always walk up or down Naamsestraat, my home street.


Matt of CG said...

A very vivid piece of introspection this is Jeff. For as much as I crave the notion of subconsciously immersing myself in the wonder that was Sylmar, I can never seem to do it. The closest I come is walking into a chapel, seeing the tabernacle, and then having my overwhelmingly nostalgic insistance jar me to consciousness. "Awe Lord, I wanted to pray to You in my dream." I say to myself. This instance, sadly, has not occured again.

I'm going to assume that back in the days of Leuven, your daily rythym was yours to set without having to compensate for too many extrinsic variables or constraints. And if you're still a teacher, I would make the further assumption that you miss terribly the sense of independence you once had. The latter assumption being justified by the "recurring" nature of such a spirtually fulfilling and yet socially begnin dream.

"Don't we all know what we really want, and that this deep desire is God's Spirit groaning within us?"

Brother Thomas was right. You have your validation.

Go Back.

But there is no need for me to remind you that adults don't listen to us talking about Jesus any better than the teenagers.

The only expectation I would have if I were you is that I would have a greater chance of receiving the Holy Eucharist more often than I do now. Oh yeah, the train rides are probably pretty cool and the beer must be amazing. Don't forget to slam a pint for me, amigo!

Anonymous said...

God knows your myopic views on religion are way beyond acceptable. Look around, the world is much bigger than the seminary walls. Get a life!!!