Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A (Somewhat Lengthy) Update on Life

Well, I went to bed intending to get a good night's rest. I know, however, that if I wake up in the middle of the night, around the hours or 3-4, I'll have a hard time getting back to bed. So, I thought I'd just write a post in the meantime--I've been wanting to write an update about how things are going on my end anyway.

One might notice over the past few months that I have not been as active with my blog posts as I was earlier this year. When I first began the blog, I told my formation assistant that I wanted to try out a blog, just to see how it would go. But, I wanted a certain detachment from it--a certain freedom, you might say. It would be a place for me to write when I felt moved, not a place where I felt obligated to produce. I think it has been this semester where I have truly felt for the first time that freedom with my blog.

So, where to begin...

This semester, I mentioned when the school year started that I have three classes: History of Christianity, Classical Modern Philosophy, and Kierkegaard. I'll offer briefly just a little blurb on each class:

Hist. of Christianity: Last week, one of the class members began one of his remarks by declaring that he didn't want to throw napalm on the discussion. Of course, when you hear that, it means napalm is going to be thrown into the discussion. You never know what new and exciting things will come out of your classmates' mouths each week
Classical Modern: This has been my first experience of having classes run through the internet. Unfortunately, that is because our professor has to be close to her dad during this time of his life. Now, although I have more than a year of philosophy left to study, I will come out and declare now that this period of philosophy is definitively my least favorite. Just a heads-up reader--you are a mode.
Kierkegaard: Love it! Professor is well-known for being a hard grader, though, but I don't mind. Am I here for a grade, or am I here to learn??

Overall, I think the studies aspect to my life is going quite well in the sense that I been fairly good at keeping pace with the workload. It's about that time of the year, however, when the stress begins to pack-on, so I'm bracing myself for the work I need to put in during this next month or so.

I have continued my apostolate from last year which has been to teach catechism at the local parish to 7th graders. I joked with my class that I have had them for over a year, but I still don't really understand them. Last year was a constant juggle of figuring out what works and what doesn't. Finally, I think I have been able to get a grasp on my kids and have found a flow and rhythm to the class that works.

I start off the class with a few minutes of silence--both because they need the silence as much as anyone, and it's also a time for me to get settled and prepare myself internally for what I am about to do. Then, I give a little blurb for the upcoming Sunday Gospel reading. My students complain that they don't understand the priest when he preaches, so I try to make it more accessible to them (who knows if I succeed at that!). Then, I have thought it important to engage my class with reading comprehension exercises. I'm sure any help they can get in their education will be a boon for them in the long run. This semester, I have been wanting my class to get to know the lives of the Saints and the way they strove, each in their particular way, to serve God and the world. So, I bring into class a reading excerpt for my students to read and have them answer a number of questions based on the reading. I have been quite surprised how well this has worked not only in terms of their learning but also in terms of my sanity. Their behavior has been at an all-time high when I am not just lecturing at them for an hour but actually require them to take the learning into their own hands. Finally, I try to do something creative with them at the end. Last time, I had them write AIM chats to God (inspired by the colloquies of the Spiritual Exercises), which were quite the hit. I think I will continue with these.

Besides CCD, I am now a leader of a CLC group (Christian Life Community). CLC are small groups of about 7-8 people that meet on a weekly basis to deepen and share our faith with one another. When I was at Seattle U, I was a part of a CLC group my freshman year and tried leading one the following year. In my time at SU, though, CLC's had a difficult time thriving, and my group eventually dissolved. At Fordham, however, CLC's seem to be a growing ministry, and I have certainly experienced that with my own group. My group is mostly comprised of freshmen, and it has been a gift for me to journey with them and to help develop their faith lives. It's also been a great way for me to get more involved with the wider Fordham community. Jesuits in the midst of studies can get rather caught up in our bubble of books and papers.

A few weeks ago, I had the great privilege to help lead a silent retreat. Specifically, I had the unique opportunity to "direct" a retreatant. I put that in quotes, because I believe very much in Ignatius' wisdom that God is the primary director in this setting--the director serves only as a means to help the retreatant discern the movements of her/his prayer. I must say that, although this was my first time, I felt right at home with this type of ministry. It was a joy and a blessing to share this rather intimate time they were having with God and to see how it was inspiring them to live their lives. I was also humbled by how open they were with me--I got a glimpse of what it might be like to hear one's confession. I found myself often throwing out the phrase that has been thrown out to me so often in direction: be gentle with yourself. I think spiritual direction is something I would LOVE to do as a Jesuit.

My other "apostolate" has actually been with one of my Ciszek brothers. Every week, I have been giving him piano lessons. It was one of those things where he asked me to teach him, and I was more than happy to help him with this. Of course, I told him there is a price to pay for such a request: bruised hands, harsh whip-lashing, and naturally some bitter tears. He keeps coming back, so I figure he's a glutton for pain.

Generally, things here at Ciszek-land are going quite well. I must say that I have felt rather at home here this past semester, which has been a gift for me to feel. I get along with them quite well and haven't felt the need to punch anyone in the face. In the face (it's all in the delivery). Anyway, one of the things that I have found myself being particularly grateful for are our community masses. There is an energy and prayerfulness to our Masses that I have found quite edifying. It has been a source of much life for me here. A few of the many other things that I have felt lifegiving include my morning crossfit group, Wednesday glee club, and a number of intimate fraternal conversations that I have had.

Although I have certainly had my moments of struggle, I would wholeheartedly say that I have felt God very present in my life. I look back on this semester thus far with much thanksgiving and praise for God's work.

Well, I hope this post finds you all well. Many prayers and blessings!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Feast of All Saints and Blessed of the Society of Jesus

I had the privilege today to offer at Mass in the community a reflection on today's very special Jesuit feast day--the Feast of All Saints and Blessed of the Society of Jesus.

Whenever I prepare things like this, I do not typically like to waste words. In my writing, I tend to be quite meticulous in the way I convey my ideas. It is not just a matter of content for me--I hold the expression of that content to be just as important as the idea itself. How ideas are expressed in verbal speech, however, can come across quite differently than the way they come across in writing. Rather than simply reading what I have prepared, I have been challenging myself to be more spontaneous--to be able to speak from the heart at the present moment and not play it too safe simply by reading words.

So, the way I have been preparing for these moments is to actually write out the reflection. But, as soon as I get up in front of the audience, I set it mostly aside and look at it only for key points that I wanted to make. The downside is that I can sometimes stumble in my words and forget some of what I wanted to say, but the reward is that the reflection can become more organic and have a more natural feel to it.

So, I would like to share my reflection today. This is not completely how it came across at Mass today, but this is how I prepared it in writing (although I have made some revisions and additions for this blog post). I addressed this primarily with a Jesuit audience in mind.

Happy Feast day!

Today is clearly a very special day for us. It is a time for us to commemorate and celebrate the lives of our brethren who have gone before us. It is also a time for us to recognize how greatly the Church has acknowledged the works that the Society has done over the centuries. For example, just look at the sheer number of Jesuits Blessed and Saints that we have. I was recently looking on the Company Magazine website that has a detailed list of all of the Feast days that we could celebrate liturgically. As I tried to count all of those Feast days, I found myself having to start over a few times because I kept losing count. I think I counted 112...

That's almost a third of the entire year in which we could have a Jesuit Feast Day. I don't know about you, but I find that to be an astonishing number. How lucky we are that we can call all of these men brothers and friends in the Lord!

Of course, there is so much that we could say about these Jesuit brothers of ours. But, I would like to take the opportunity to make a few observations about the life we lead as Jesuits and to connect that with these men who have led extraordinary lives.

First, we are all men who are rooted in prayer and in the Spiritual Exercises. All of us have had that deep experience of God in our lives, in which we believe that God has dealt directly with us (and who subsequently continues to deal directly with us), has allowed us to experience His love and grace in a profoundly intimate way, who has called each of us by name, and who beckons us all to follow Him. The Exercises, passed down to us by our founder, provided us the means by which we were invited to open ourselves completely to God's work in us, to experience the Lord in a way which we have never before experienced.

In having this profound experience of God--as many of our novice brethren are having at this time--we are asked to consider our response to God. How can we but say Yes! to what God is doing in our lives? How can we but proclaim our Magnificat and to live out that Magnificat as best we can?

I think what the Church recognizes in the lives of these Jesuit brothers of ours is the recognition of how they responded with a resounding Yes! by the way in which they subsequently lived their lives. They went out into the world with hearts on fire, inflamed with a love that strove, as much as humanly possible, to imitate Christ, our rock and our foundation. They lived their lives in such a way that they could not imagine doing otherwise.

Even, as we well know, to the point of death.

They recognized that God had given so much to the world--how could they not but offer themselves in the same way. When we hear the words of today's gospel "whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life will preserve it," those words are not meant for us to lament the state of our existence or to fall into deep despair. Rather, I think it is a matter of attachment. For what reason are we to act in this world? If we act out of selfishness, greed, pride, etc., then Christ states simply that we cannot be His disciples. Our lives are not simply for our own glory--they are for the glory of God, the one who seeks to bring the world into radical life. To be a disciple of Christ is not to lead a self-serving life, and our Jesuit brethren had an acute sense of that.

In order to live out our Yes! daily, it is so important for us, then, to be grounded in our prayer, to stay connected to Christ in the way that inflamed us in the Exercises. If we get out of the daily practice of allowing Him to take root in our hearts, then we begin to wither--our passion for this life begins to dry. Rooted in our prayer, we allow God daily to continue to pour life into our vocation.

Second, I am sure there were many Jesuits who were contemporaries of these Holy men and who did not immediately recognize their brethren to be Saints. Who can blame them? It sometimes takes centuries for the Church to canonize a Saint. As I look around this room, however, I cannot help but think that I am living with men who potentially have the ability to do great and amazing things with their lives. Who knows...in a century or two, there might be one among us whom the Church will recognize as a Saint.

I mention this as an invitation for us to see in our fellow brothers what we have the potential to become in our lives, to invite us to see each other in the way that God sees us. That we may encourage each other in our vocations and recognize that we may not immediately see the possibilities in each of our brothers.

Finally, we are called to trust in the work of God. Our lives are quite shrouded in mystery by virtue of our vowed life. We do not know where we may be sent or which peoples we may encounter. Certainly, for those Blessed and Saints sent off into unknown lands, I imagine how important and necessary it was for them to have faith and trust in where God was leading them. If we cannot trust, then we close ourselves off to the working of the Holy Spirit. Possibilities become fears, and fears turn into despair. When we cannot trust, we become blocked in our ability to follow completely where God is leading us. But, as the saying goes: "With God, all things are possible." If we trust, what wonders God can do in our lives.

We are so lucky to have these Jesuit Saints and Blessed who paved the road for us and who teach us how to be friends in the Lord. Let us call upon their intercession at this time. And, as we soon approach the table of our Lord, let us pray the words all of us are familiar with

"Take Lord, receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will. Whatsoever I have or hold, you have given me. I give it all back to you and surrender it, wholly to be governed by your will. Give me only your love and your race, and I am rich enough. And I ask for nothing more."

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Favorite Biblical Passage

While I was sitting in my History of Christianity class today, the professor posed an aside question: "if you found yourself in the South (my professor is a Southerner) and were asked what your favorite bible passage was, how would you respond?"

No passage immediately sprang to mind, which I found curious. Certainly, as someone in religious life, one would of course have a favorite biblical passage! Now, I haven't spent the last few hours trying to figure out my favorite biblical passage. On the contrary, after my initial surprise of the lack of an immediate passage, I gave it no subsequent thought. The passage came to mind, surprisingly, while preparing for my Kierkegaard class tomorrow--well, maybe not so surprisingly since his philosophical writings are overtly religious. But, I didn't go out of my way to find this passage that came to mind. A grace, one might say.

Anyway, I am probably writing this blog post because I haven't finished my homework yet and am looking for an excuse not to finish it. But, once I had thought about it, I believed it worthy of the time spent.

From Philippians 2:5-11
Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also ours in Christ Jesus,
Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God
something to be grasped.
Rather, he emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance,
he humbled himself,
becoming obedient to death,
even death on a cross.
Because of this, God greatly exalted him
and bestowed on him the name
that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
of those in heaven and on earth and under
the earth,
and every tongue confess that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
In theology circles, this passage describes kenosis, that act in which Christ emptied himself by coming into likeness with human beings--God, because of his love, chose to become like us so that we would know Him more fully and be redeemed through his self-emptying. God sleeping in a manger, God riding a donkey, God humiliated and put to death. In so doing, entering into his greatest glory.

This passage was an important passage for me during my 8-day retreat prior to taking vows. I read this in the context of the vow of obedience, contemplating that obedience which Christ had even up til death, an obedience rooted in a love for the world. Why else would Christ do this? At that time, I understood my vows as a call from God as a way of loving the world. Our vows are not ends in themselves, but means by which our way of life strives to manifest Christ's love. They are not meant, ultimately, to be places of burden, but ultimately places of life not only for the Jesuit but especially for the people which we serve.

I have also loved the paradox of how Christ came into our world, described beautifully in this passage. "But, That is not how God is supposed to act!" Yet, God did something so magnificent in the most improbable, most incomprehensible way. Why else would God do it in this way if not for his great love?

When we strive to imitate Christ, we do well to recognize the great humility in which He came into our world. Christ came to serve, not to be served. Through his revealed self, he gave us the means to understand more fully what it means to be human, to become more fully who we are meant to be.

And, for that, our response in praise and glory would only be the natural response.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Joy and Consolation

While I was praying before Mass today, I found myself suddenly overcome with a deep sense of peace and joy. There was no particular cause to the incident. I had spent most of the day with a headache trying to sort through the myriad of Spinoza's philosophical proofs and propositions, and I came home from class frustrated by the onerous philosophical study. This joy I therefore experienced came as quite the surprise to me. Ignatius has a term for this spiritual movement: "consolation without preceding cause" (from the Discernment of Spirits for Week II of the Spiritual Exercises). Jesuits believe this to be the work of God within us. It is a grace. It is gift.

I cherish these moments in my Jesuit vocation. As I began to experience this joy, I could not help but respond with a sense of awe and thanksgiving. God was doing something within me that I had not necessarily asked for. In these moments, I find myself in a place of surrender. It is the call to let God in, to get out of the way, and to trust in the work that is taking place.

This is one of the ways in which I understand our 'Suscipe' Prayer: "Take Lord, Receive, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will." In offering these faculties over to God, it removes the focus on self and redirects it towards God's action. Paradoxically, in the surrendering of self, we, in a sense, become more liberated, more free. By allowing God to take root and to take hold, to inspire and to animate, we become more fully who we are meant to be.
We become more human.

I feel blessed to be living religious life. Because of my vows and the life I have chosen to live as a Jesuit, my life must necessarily have God as my center if I am to live this life with passion, integrity, and joy. And, I am called everyday to live into this relationship that I have freely chosen to enter. God knows that I often fail at this. But, I try my best. And sometimes, I become surprised by joy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Vow Crucifix

Before novices--at least in my province--take First Vows, a multitude of Jesuits gather together the night before Vows for the Vow Crucifix ceremony. The novices take a few days of silence before Vows to ground themselves in prayer and to prepare themselves for the celebration ahead. They also use this time to pray over a number of vow crucifixes that have been gathered over the years and to choose one that speaks to them. Almost all of the crucifixes that the novices consider are ones that used to be owned by Jesuits who have since entered into a new life. These now-deceased Jesuits probably spent much time in prayer and petition with their crucifixes, and we younger Jesuits are gifted with a crucifix imbued with their many years of prayer.

Since coming back to the Bronx, I have been finding my prayer highly enriched by the use of my Vow Crucifix. It was something I hung on my wall last year but never really used for my prayer. Part of my inspiration comes from the Vow Crucifix ceremony that I attended this past August. During the Vow Ceremony, the novice director reveals to the community the Jesuits who used to own these Vow Crucifixes which the novices now choose. The community, upon hearing the name of each Jesuit, is invited to share stories of each one, to remember the lives of these men who have lived before us. I was struck by the remarkable nature of their lives, of their love and devotion to God and to the people whom they served. These are men I would have wanted to meet but only know through stories.

Fragments of these stories have stuck with me. The Jesuit who, deep in prayer, was asked what he was praying about and replied: "I'm praying for all of those people with whom I will ride the Greyhound bus today." I have thought about that sometimes when I ride the bus or the subway. The Jesuit who, while watching Bill O'Reilley (not because he liked him), remarked seemingly out of nowhere in crude, Oregonian fashion: "If this Jesus is real, he's f****** incredible!" The Jesuit who, after listening intently to the spiritual problems of a Scholastic, mentions: "I think you need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

I realized during the Ceremony that I had completely forgotten the name of the Jesuit whose crucifix I had inherited. The only thing I remembered was that I certainly wasn't choosing the crucifix simply by the name of the Jesuit. As I thumbed through our book which has the names and dates of all those Jesuits in our province who had passed away, I finally stumbled upon his name: Ralph Sudmeier. Ralph Sudmeier...

I never knew him, but his crucifix is now a huge blessing in my life. I have held it close to my heart, asking for Christ to instill in me his wisdom and his love, to form me into the person He desires me to be. I have reached for it when I have been worn and weary, asking for strength and perseverance. I have gazed upon it with awe and thanksgiving, thankful for all that I have been given.

Perhaps Ralph did the same.

To my brother Jesuits: may your Vow Crucifix be a way in which you draw closer to Christ, growing ever deeper in imitation of his life. And may you be inspired by the prayers of our men who have held these same crosses before you AMDG

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Jesuit's Room

As Jesuits, we often find ourselves on the move, traveling from one place to the next. A few years here, a few years there. One of the effects of our lifestyle is that we often move into new rooms. One day you're in, and the next day you're out.

Because we are always dealing with transitions, I have found that one of the ways to make myself feel more at home is making my room more my own. I am far from being, however, an interior decorator. Fortunately, we often live in community, and we usually live with brothers who have an eye for such things. It is only this year, however, that I actually started asking guys to help me with my room.

Of course, as vowed religious, there is only so much we can do to make our rooms look nice. At the same time, however, that doesn't mean that our rooms have to look cheap either. You make do with what you have, and you make it work. I have often been surprised to see what people can do with limited resources.

So, with the help of a few brothers, I have been trying to create a space that feels homey, that feels right for me. I wanted a nice and clean look to the room while still looking simple. I must say that the room is turning out to be my most favorite room so far that I have had as a Jesuit. I like the blend of colors and I like the woody feel. On loan to me is the classic IHS symbol painted on a beautiful board by one of our elder Jesuits in the community (I love that piece, but I have to give it up next year). My sheets had holes in them and my comforter looked like 10 Jesuits before me had used it and never washed it, so I bought a nice new bed set on sale. Then, after moving things around and around, I have finally found a set-up that I am extremely happy with.

There really is something about Feng Shui.

I still want to do a few more things with the room, like add a new plant, and maybe make some minor changes, but I think the major work has now been done. It is a place I can find myself easily working, resting, and praying.

I started taking these photos after making the room noticeably better, but you get a sense of the progression. Primarily, at the end, I moved the bed under the IHS board and moved my bookshelf towards the windows. Initially, I had the bookshelf right behind me, causing a separation between my work space and the rest of my room. I liked it fine, but I think I like this better.
(bookshelf is right under wooden board)

(bookshelf is moved, lamp is moved, everything else shifted to the right a few feet)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A New Year at Ciszek

Our community this year welcomed 10 new Jesuits into the fold. We are 28 altogether under 1 roof spanning 13 different provinces (my province, for example, consists of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska). 4 comes from outside the United States - 2 from Jamaica, 1 from Indonesia, and 1 from Mozambique. We all have different backgrounds, stories, ideologies, interests, etc. But, what unites us is our faith, our vocation, and our desire to serve and to love in Christ's imitation. We are human beings marked by our failings and weaknesses, but we all believe we have been touched by the grace of God in our lives -- God who calls us into the world as we are, remaking our shortcomings into places of strength and hope.

Except for our two eldest brothers (who are most excellent formators, by the way), all of us have been asked to dedicate a majority of our time here towards our studies in philosophy -- called, in Formation, First Studies. One of our documents on formation describes philosophy as: "one of the principal means by which the Society forms men, who have reflected on the essential questions which challenge man, who have formed the habit of critical and positive reflection on these question and upon the answers given to them formerly or given today, and who have some understanding of the history of ideas and can relate these things to present cultures." As Jesuits, we have the phrase "Finding God in All Things," and at this time of our formation, we are challenged to seek God in our studies. Hopefully, through these studies and through critically engaging the type of questions that philosophy asks, we become better Jesuits formed to see the world in a different way than when we first began First Studies.

I am taking three courses this Fall - Kierkegaard, History of Christianity I, and Classical Modern (studying philosophers somewhat around the time of Descartes and Hume). Practically 2/3 of our community is in that History class, which should make an interesting dynamic in the classroom. I'm actually looking forward to this semester and think it will be good times all around (crosses fingers). As last school year, I sometimes bring what I have been studying into my blog, so don't be surprised if I use my blog to process what I have been learning.

As a side note, I've decided to be a little more judicious with my writing for the time being. That means I would like to write with some sense of regularity, but probably not the 4-5 times a week like I had been doing at one point in time. I'm aiming for once a week, maybe twice. However, I have been known to do "theme weeks," and if I'm feeling it, I'll throw those in every so often. I have had one request by one of my fellow Jesuit brothers which might show up soon.

By the way, if you couldn't tell, I'm the brown one in the middle =p There's also one who had the audacity to be in the picture even though he would be away at England for the year! We talked about the possibility of photoshopping, so you may see a revised picture in the future (see 2nd row, far right in bright yellow). Shame. /end tongue-in-cheek

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A little update

I have thought about my blog quite a bit over this past month. It might seem otherwise, since I have not posted in almost a month. Honestly, I pretty much lost my desire to write. There were a number of times where I would bring up the blog, sit in front of the posting window, write a sentence or two, and then think to myself: "nope, not feeling it." I think this time is different.

To say the least, the past few weeks have been quite eventful for me. Three men in my province took their First Vows this year, and I had the privilege (and the stress) of organizing the music this year. You can see some of the pictures on the province website here--one includes the choir and myself. It's in my nature to be a constant worrier of things, and I definitely did a lot of worrying about the music. Part of it is because I wanted to help make the experience for the men a special one. So, being the perfectionist, I naturally worried about every detail. I wouldn't necessarily recommend my craziness to everyone. As someone who often imagines the worst, it usually is my experience that the "worst" never comes into realization. Of course, it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful ceremony, and it was a touching experience to witness my brothers publicly profess their love and faith before their family--their blood family but also their Jesuit family--and before God. I think what particularly touched me this year was the moment when the provincial professed his fraternal love and support for the men--his own vow to them.

I returned to the Bronx about two weeks ago to meet the new men here at Ciszek. Based on my initial impressions, I am very excited about our community this year. When I played for our first mass in the house, I was honestly a little giddy because of the new voices I was hearing this year. Truly, any choir director would die to have us =) These are also very good men with good hearts, and so I am very much looking forward to this new year here at Ciszek. A picture of the new community is soon to come (I can't access my g-mail currently, which has the pic...grrrr)

Well, there are other things I would like to write about, but I think I will save them for future posts, or I will be late to mass. During this new school year, your prayers for our community are very much welcomed and appreciated!

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Reflecting on Spokane

Greetings from the Oregon Coast! I am currently on vacation, having spent my last week in Seattle. Currently, I will spend some time at Nestucca before heading to Portland for First Vows.

I thought I would write a short post, processing my time that I spent in Spokane.

People have asked me quite frequently lately how it was working in the infirmary and at Bea House. Typically, I have told them: "well...it wasn't the most exciting and glamorous work that I have experienced in my life, but I am glad that I did it." I feel that I was certainly blessed to be able to spend my summer with the older men in our province. For us younger guys in formation, we have pretty little contact with the men there. Yet, there is a lifetime of experience and wisdom that these men have had in their Jesuit life, and we can learn quite a bit by being in their presence.

I very much enjoyed the walks that I was able to have with one particular Jesuit. Whenever I would make a comment about nature around us, he would often exclaim: "Wow, it's so beautiful!" or "Isn't that marvelous?" or "How magnificent!" He saw great beauty in the world around him, and he wasn't afraid to exclaim his amazement. He is someone I very much admired, and I hope I can see the world like him as I grow older.

I very much enjoyed taking a number of Jesuits on their appointments. Car rides and time in the waiting room were often fertile ground for good discussion, from recent movies we have watched to living life as a Jesuit. Of course, they had many stories to share, and I very much loved to hear about their life. They have lived full lives as Jesuits and experienced all the bumps and bruises involved with that journey. Yet, I believe that they all experienced God's love and grace throughout that time, so I was grateful to learn through the example of their lives.

I also enjoyed witnessing the way that these Jesuits interact with one another as well. Some of them have known each other from 50+ years. Like any family, being around your brothers for a length of time can be quite grating. Yet, I had a deep sense that they cared for one another deep down. As men, sometimes they are not the most open about their feelings. But, I could sense the affection they have for each other. It is their faith that brings all of them together.

Our lay companions who help to take care of our brethren are wonderful people who truly and deeply care about our men. They are probably not the most paid health-care staff, and they could probably find better income somewhere else. But, they really do love our men, and I think we are extremely fortunate to have a health staff who greatly improves the quality of life for them. I think they do acknowledge the unique opportunity to take care of these Jesuits, for it is quite a rare experience to be able to serve them--it is quite unlike anywhere else. They were also extremely warm to me, and I appreciated their welcome.

And, I feel like this experience put my own vocation into perspective. I will not stay young forever, but that does not mean that I have to grow old quickly either. My life is a gift, and I am called to cherish the moments I have as they come, for they will not always be around. I am given so much, and I am impelled to live a life of gratitude, for what we take for granted may some day be taken away from us. Live in the present moment, for in the present is God most present to us.

Although my time in Spokane was not initially what I had planned for my summer, I am most grateful that I had the opportunity. I give thanks for my brothers and lay companions in Spokane and offer them a warm prayer for all they have given me.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Feast of St. Ignatius

A very happy and blessed Feast of St. Ignatius to all of you, especially to my Jesuit brethren out there. May the spirit of Ignatius continue to confirm you in your vocation, to inspire you in your life and your work, and to walk with you in finding God in all things.

Probably every Jesuit blogger and his mom will write something, if they haven't already, about today's feast day, so I might as well join in on the fun!

In his homily today, Fr. Pat Lee, the provincial of the Oregon Province and one of the Jesuits I have most come to admire, referred to Ignatius as a pilgrim, as a friend, and as a mystic. Ignatius often referred to himself as the pilgrim--he saw his life as an ever-present journey in search of God, God who gave him a heart of fire, God who gave him ultimate meaning in his life. Every moment, every breath was an encounter with Divine Mystery. He had tremendous faith that God was always present--it was just a matter of having the right way of looking, of disposing himself to always place himself within God's embrace. This pilgrimage, in a sense, was an essential part of Ignatius' mysticism. Ignatius' monastery was the world, and he sought to find God every step that he took. Jesuits are to thrust themselves into the heart of society, to carry Christ deep within their hearts wherever they go, especially in those places of great hurt and despair. Especially there, we have the ability to bring hope to the world.

Ignatius grew in great friendship with his Jesuit brothers, but arguably one of his closest, and earliest, companions on this pilgrimage was St. Francis Xavier. If you read some of the letters that Ignatius writes to Xavier while Xavier is away on mission, you can sense a deep fraternal love that they have for one another. As friends in the Lord, they were able to be very open and honest with each other, to share about how God was moving in their lives, probably to also express their regrets, concerns, or struggles that they were facing throughout the day. In the example of Ignatius, I think all Jesuits are called to develop these deep, personal relationships with one another. Not necessarily that we need to do this with every single person we meet, but, particularly as celibate men, we need good, healthy relationships where we can share in the same way that Ignatius and Francis shared with one another.

Finally, we are not called Ignatians, but Jesuits. Of course, throughout history, that term has received a lot of criticism and has been quite the pejorative, but Ignatius wanted it this way because he felt it so important that Jesuits place their focus on Christ, not on himself. Our Jesuit way of proceeding, our formation throughout all of our lives, is to create ourselves more and more into His image, to love the world as He did, with meekness, gentleness, and humility.

Well, many Jesuits from around the province will be heading out to Hayden Lake to spend St. Ignatius day together, and I will be heading out there shortly as well. Again, a very blessed St. Ignatius day to you all. May our founder continue to strengthen us on our journey, to direct us into greater imitation and service for our world. AMDG

Monday, July 27, 2009

With A Mustard Seed

I was struck today when I was listening to the Gospel today by the recurring theme of God doing great things with what initially looks small and insignificant. I thought I would just excerpt a little bit from today's gospel and share it with you today. May the mustard seeds in your own life grow strong and bear you great fruit, bringing you a taste of heaven.

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

John 6:1-15

Today's gospel reading comes from John 6:1-15 where we hear the famous passage in which Jesus miraculously feeds the mouths of 5000.

As I was praying over today's readings, I could not help but contemplate about the boy with the five loaves and two fish. I imagine the reaction of the apostles looking out at this vast crowd, thinking to themselves how impossible it would be to feed them. The boy does not think in this way, however. What matters to the child is that he wants to be of help to Jesus. He doesn't have much, but he offers what he has.

In this small, giving gesture, Christ is able to do great things.

I think sometimes we get discouraged in perceiving how we are able to serve the community and the world. As adults, we look out over the world and become overwhelmed at how much work needs to be done. Like the apostles, we see impossibility. In the hearts of children, however, there is an innocent and generous spirit that doesn't see the impossibility--they just merely want to help out. Of course, not all children are like this, but you may have met a number like the ones I am describing.

We may think the things we do to be small potatoes. God, however, can do a lot with small potatoes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

At the Mount

Many moons ago, the Jesuits here in the Oregon Province used to do their philosophy at what is commonly called “The Mount,” or Mt. St. Michaels. A number of our older men had lived there and certainly have their fair share of stories of the place (and some are quite content never to go back). Although we sold the land some time ago, we still own the cemetery there. Fr. John, whom I recently wrote about a couple of weeks ago, was the latest one to be buried at the Mount.

Two Scholastics, two of our older Jesuits (one of them is the oldest Jesuit in our province at 97 yrs. old and going strong), and I took a little afternoon trip out there. For the younger generation, it was a trip back to our historical roots. For the older, it was a trip down memory lane. The site is actually a historic landmark in Spokane, and the picture comes from this website.

The Oregon Province seems to have historically sold off our land to interesting groups of people. Our former novitiate in Sheridan, OR is currently owned by the Scientologists. The Mount is currently owned by a group of nuns and priests who have separated themselves from the rest of the Roman Catholic world. Or, as they see it, they have retained the true Catholic faith that became heretical after Vatican II (in my opinion, they don’t consider Church history dating past the 19th century, but one could probably write books about this schism. As such, I won't elaborate). As a result, they do not recognize any popes from Vatican II onward. A few years ago, a number of those nuns decided to leave the Mount and rejoin the post-Vatican II Church. Fr. Bob Spitzer, the outgoing president of Gonzaga University, played an instrumental role in their return.

Despite this schism, many Jesuits still find themselves welcome to take a tour of the place. We had a very pleasant tour by one of the staff members there, and the people there were very kind and hospitable to us. They also give a pretty good history of the mount on their website here.

I would wager that many Catholics in my generation have no clue what Vatican II is and don't realize that the current form of Mass celebrated all over the world has only been around for about 40-50 yrs. Or the controversies surrounding it. When you consider how long we've been doing this, it hasn't been that long.

As one of the Scholastics shared with me, part of what Vatican II tried to accomplish was to recapture the spirit of the early church (this is why religious orders were asked to consider their original charism, to go back to the spirit of their roots, and why the Jesuit order went through a major shift during this time). The response of the people at the Mount, then, is a little ironic to me.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: First Studies

Jesuits have a lengthy formation process in which the road to ordination takes approximately 11 years, although sometimes it depends on a Jesuit's situation. The steps to ordination are: the novitiate (2 yrs), first studies(2-3 yrs), regency (a time a full-time work, usually at a high school; 2-3 yrs), and theology (3-4 yrs). As I just finished my first year of studies, you can see that I have quite a long ways to go. But, for me, the journey is just as important as the destination--the time is meant to form us into becoming our best selves for the Church and for our world. I'm young, so I still need a lot of forming =) You don't even know

Well, most have the pictures I took this year in New York are touristy pictures that I think I have shared in the past. But, I have a picture of the scholastic community: Ciszek. Ciszek is where I started blogging, so I thought I'd throw in a blogging picture of me holding a book on Augustine. Also, one of my favorite places to go in the Bronx is the Botanical gardens, so I threw in some photos that I took while there. As you might tell, I love nature shots.

I hope you've enjoyed the pictures this week. It was fun for me!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: First Vows

After two years in the novitiate, novices take first vows where we become more fully incorporated into the Jesuit Order. Typically, this takes place around the Feast of the Assumption--approximately a month from now. This was a very joyous time for me, and I'm sure it will be so for many of the upcoming novices taking vows around the country.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: Colombia

The Oregon Province has a twinning relationship with the country of Colombia. Many novices/scholastics traveled there last year to study Spanish and to be immersed in a different culture and environment. Currently, there are 3 Colombian Jesuits here in Spokane studying English. We recently went to watch the movie Transformers, which they, understandably, felt was pretty incomprehensible.

We were in Colombia when the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt took place. Here, the Colombians took to the streets against FARC, one of the primary groups responsible for kidnappings.

(There's an old Jesuit community here right next to presidential palace. We had a good view)

(Bogota in the background)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: The Experiments

In the novitiate, novices are sent out on a number of experiments. These photos were taken in: Pendleton, OR, where I helped out at the mission church there; in Tacoma, WA, where I had my L'Arche experience; and Spokane, WA, where I helped the choir director.

(I took a picture while at the pulpit!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: The Novitiate

Here are some pictures of the novitiate and surrounding area in Portland. The curia is right next door, and they say if you want the latest gossip in the province, you go to the novitiate =p

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures

Over the course of this week, I'd like to share with you some photos that captures different aspects of my Jesuit life thus far. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I won't elaborate too much--only to offer a caption or two.

I took these photos recently at our villa in Hayden Lake, ID. Here, the beauty of nature spurs many a retreatant's dialogue with God. The 3rd photo is a mother bird and her two chicks, nestled at one of the corner windows, that I often looked at and pondered during my last 8-day retreat a little over a month ago.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wrestling with God

Today's 1st reading from Genesis 33:23-33 has been a source of great spiritual fruit for me whenever I have come across it in my Jesuit life. It speaks to me, as there is something very human about the way Jacob wrestles with God. It is a common experience for us to struggle with God. Yet, it is in that wrestling that Jacob becomes transformed, symbolized by his name being changed to Israel.

"Because I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." (According to the footnotes in my bible, it was an ancient notion that a person died upon seeing God).

The first painting that I found online comes from the artist Gustave Dore. What strikes me about this painting is the lack of effort that the angel seems to be exerting as opposed to Jacob. Jacob here seems intent on his struggle until he receives the blessing he so desires. I do not get a sense from the bible passage that Jacob seeks to overthrow God. He knows that God's power is greater than his own. Despite grave injury, however, Jacob perseveres with God--not to win, but rather to seek God's favor and grace. And, ultimately, God provides that which Jacob seeks, and he becomes a new man.

There's much about prayer life to be learned here.

The second painting is from Rembrandt, and he is depicting the point in which the angel strikes him at the hip. Jacob, however, does not seem to be in pain, nor does there seem to be any malice on the part of the angel. It seems to me that it's rather like what a doctor must do for her/his patient--sometimes, there must be short term pain in order for long term healing. Also, although Rembrandt seems to be painting the strike at the hip, the image looks completely different if you were not aware of the biblical passage. The angel, seen in another way, offers support and an embrace to an exhausted Jacob weary after the struggle.

What do you see? How do you relate to the struggle of Jacob?

Monday, July 6, 2009

On Freedom

Probably one of the more helpful things about being a philosophy student is that I can look at the image above and ask myself: what does that really mean? Is that a lived reality in the US? You might find those questions silly--I don't. We throw around these terms a lot, especially in the political realm, but I do not think there is one shared understanding of what they truly mean--or even how we go about achieving these goals.

The US was founded on these principles, and it is our duty as US citizens to at least give these principles some critical thought--and I don't mean that in the negative sense.

What does it mean to be free? Is freedom merely the choice of choosing one brand of cereal among five? Even then, you don't have complete choice in the matter, since it's the companies that set the choices before you. Is freedom the ability to say whatever you want? Clearly, we can't just say anything.

Now, I'm not providing answers, but it's important to see that these principles that the country fights for are highly complex with a lot of nuance.

Personally, one of the helpful ways that I have come to see and experience freedom comes from my Jesuit training. One of the most important questions that is asked of us to consider is to reflect on those places in our lives in which we are most unfree. Many of us enter the novitiate with a lot of personal baggage, and we are asked to sort through that. Some of what we carry with us in our hearts is very life-giving, and it is important to be grateful for those memories. Other baggage, however, has shaped us into who we are today--and not necessarily in the best way possible. That may be memories of physical abuse, addiction, abandonment, etc. These moments of great hurt, through God's grace, can be moments of joyous light and reconciliation, but too often they continue to weigh us down in anger and despair. If we are not able to deal with the baggage in a healthy way, it can consume us for the rest of our lives. In a sense, we become people of unfreedom.

St. Ignatius knew this, and the Spiritual Exercises was one of his ways of forming people to lead more free lives. It's about having rightly-ordered desires that give life, not bring death. We are asked to have faith that God can heal us of these infirmities, that God can lead us into fuller and richer lives. If we grant permission, God will carry our burdens in the same way that Christ carried the cross. But, if we cling on tight, we will never be able to let go.

God wants us to be free people. Let us rejoice in that, and let us allow God to lead us into such a life.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Learning from the Pros

I was watching the tennis match between Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva today and could not help but be in awe at the high level of play between these two highly talented athletes. Although it was a semi-final match, it seemed like a championship game in which both players were a point away from winning. The game ended at 6-7, 7-5, and 8-6. Contrast that to the other semi-final game, in which the other Williams sister, Venus, whooped the top-seeded player, Dinara Safina, 6-1, 6-0.

I used to watch tennis growing up in which the top stars in the game were Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf, and Monica Seles. I found great joy in listening to the grunts of the women and found a number of occasions to mimic, or maybe to mock, their sound. Seles was special--she had a double grunt. Although I lost interest in pro tennis later on, part of that has been rekindled during my year at Ciszek hall--a number of the guys watched tennis, and I found myself again enjoying the matches. Here I am during the beginning of my first year at Ciszek at the US Open.

When you watch two highly talented individuals play tennis at the top of their game, it's like watching poetry in motion. There are just moments during the game when your jaw cannot help but drop--all you can say is "wow..." You are glued at those times when the crowd gasps in nervous anticipation as the players continue to scramble for the ball while hitting out-of-this-world shots. These players are passionate individuals who have worked extremely hard to get to where they are today, and the fruits of their labor often result in great beauty.

In many ways, I find great inspiration in watching a well-played sports game. You can tell that a number of these players excel for a sheer love of what they do and a will to be at the top of their game.

I think God wants all of us to always be on our A-game, to give it 110%. Our A-game, however, is not meant for our own self-glorification. True pros not only make themselves better but inspire those around them to be better as well. And, they often acknowledge and offer gratitude to the people in their lives who have helped them and shaped them into the individuals they are today--without them, they would be nothing.

When Fr. Kolvenbach says: "We should recall that mediocrity has no place in Ignatius' world view", I think that is meant as an exhortation to be people on fire, to live with passion, to excel in our lives in things both great and small. That doesn't mean that all of us need to get 4.0's or get the MVP award. But, it does require sweat, and it most certainly involves a special kind of love.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Prayer of St. Theresa of Lisieux

When I took one of the Jesuits to his doctor's appointment today, I encountered a prayer of St. Teresa of Lisieux on the wall of the waiting room that I really liked.

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that
has been given to you....
May you be content knowing you are a child of God....
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rest in Peace, Fr. John

He departed for a new life at 2:35 AM this morning.

I thought I would upload this pic of him--it captures so much more than I could describe of him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

At the Bedside of Fr. John

My first conversation with Fr. John Schwarz was a few weeks ago when I began my work at the Jesuit infirmary. The weather was warm, and he wanted to go outside. We talked about all sorts of things: the current Wimbledon tournament, his time as a history professor at Seattle University, where I was from and how I entered the Jesuits, etc. Fr. John was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor. I could just feel the warmness of his heart and the generosity of his spirit. At that time, I never would have suspected that he would soon be drawing near towards death.

About a week ago, Fr. John was taken to the emergency room, and I ended up spending a few hours with him there, relieving my other Jesuit brother who was intially with him, Cormac. When I had arrived, he seemed to be doing alright and was in relatively good spirits, considering the circumstances. We shared a few laughs, talked some time about spiritual matters, etc. It was late at night, so I would sometimes just watch him fall asleep and notice the rhythm to his breathing and the jagged mountains they made on the computer screen nearby. I took him back to the infirmary later that night, assuming he would get better.

That has not be the case, however. I noticed throughout this week a stark decline in his health and his ability to converse and could not help but juxtapose that past image of Fr. John outside on that warm day to the present image of him before me.

Today, when I visited him, I broke out into tears a few minutes after I had entered his room. I saw him and thought: "oh my God, he's dying..." I did not expect, nor was I prepared, to see him in his fragile state and to witness the people who were at his side, comforting him and praying over him. It hadn't entered my mind that today may be the last day I see him alive. My other Jesuit brother, Jason, and I sat at his side, as a result, for much of today--Jason moreso than me. He had brought in his laptop to offer some comforting music to listen to.

It is an experience to sit with someone for much of the day as they labor to breathe. I couldn't help but wonder what was going on in his mind. Was he afraid? Was he peaceful? What was it like to have scores of people come to your side, offering their words and comfort in their own way? There's a part of me that wondered if he just wanted to hear a good joke.

In many ways, my time with him today was a real gift to me. The staff who care for him are superb, and I have been able to witness the hard work that they put in day in and day out for him. I could see the real love and concern they have for Fr. John, and their openness to delve into the dirtiness of assisted living. I was able to see the number of Jesuits who came to visit him today, to offer him a blessing, to pray words of comfort, to hold his hand and tell him he was loved. In the midst of death, great beauty can spring forth.

Thankfully, Fr. John's family was able to fly up to see him, and they are currently with him, giving me time to decompress from the day, to rest, and to reflect back. I'm not sure if Fr. John will be alive the next time I see him, but please keep him and all of those close to death in your prayers.

May God's light perpetually shine upon him. Amen

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Christ Amidst the Storms

This past Sunday, the Oregon Scholastics here in Spokane had a day of recollection--a time to pray, to share our faith, to discern our inner movements over the past year or so. Fr. Peter Byrne, a spiritual guru in our province, led our prayer and grounded it in that Sunday's Gospel reading--the Apostles and Jesus in a boat amidst the storms.

From Mark 4:35-41 (taken from the New American Bible Translation)
On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, "let us cross the other side." Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" They were filled with great awe and said to one another: "Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey.?"
One of the great gems of St. Ignatius found in the Spiritual Exercises is his belief that all people can have direct contact with God, and one of the ways that he has the exercitant experience this grace is through our power of imagination. He asks the one praying the exercises to imagine herself/himself at the scene, to experience the storm, to colloquy with Christ at this time. And, since we all have our own history, our own experiences, the way we may imagine and experience this storm will probably differ from one another.

I imagine that many people would probably experience a lot of anger and resentment towards God for putting them through stormy situations. I experience it a little differently. I have certainly navigated my fair share of stormy weather during my life journey, but when I look back, I never feel that I was ever alone in the boat. I believe that Christ was always there to lend a hand, to offer words of comfort, to lead certain people into my life, sometimes even to throw me a lifeline when I needed it--even if I didn't recognize His presence at the time. It's not a "I'll believe it when I see it" moment, it's a "I'll see it when I believe it" experience that I cannot describe any other way. The light of Christ pierces even the deepest darkness, calms our raging winds.

At the end of the storm, sometimes you'll encounter a rainbow if you look in the right spot.

In terms of the Oregon Province, one of the ways in which we situate our experience of bankruptcy is through this gospel passage. It's a stormy time for us collectively, but I have personally witnessed a strength of faith and hope in the Jesuits here. We believe Christ is always with us and will lead us through this uncertain future of ours, whatever that may look like. Our material goods may get taken, but we have greater treasure that can never be taken away. And, it is these gifts that we have faith will sustain us. AMDG

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Sunday Stream of Thought

If you are like me, your mind jumps a lot--a thought leads to another thought. Something I see or read jogs a memory, which in turn reminds me of something else. It's become something of an art form in the literary world.

I was reading the newspaper this morning about the Iranian conflict. Really, I don't know what to think or how to think about the whole matter. Part of me is heartened to see a people who seek change through peaceful protest. Part of me wonders, however, if the elections really were authentic. Can we ever really know in a democratic election whether every single vote was counted correctly? But, what do I know? Seriously. All I can tell is that people are angry and people want to see something different, and some are dying as a result of letting their voices be heard. What can I do, thousands of miles away from that different world tucked away in a tiny pocket of the US, but pray...pray for peace, to ask God to bring about in our hearts seeds of love and compassion towards all of our brothers and sisters? For an end to violence, for an increase in wisdom--that good may come from all of this.

I am just one man, concerned about his neighbors on the other side of the world.

As I continued reading, I came across an article about gang violence on Long Island. An innocent 15-year-old stabbed to death, for no other reason than that he may have been thought to be a member of a rival gang. A family shattered, a best friend wondering why. He was 8 years younger than me.

Even within the same country, the same city, so many of us are worlds apart.

That thought reminded me of my visit back home during Christmas. I went with my family to visit my Auntie's grave. The cemetery was strikingly radiant and festive during at that time, with nativity sets, bright flowers, candy cane decorations, strewn across the entire place. A can of Budweiser sat at the head of one the graves. I was reminded of this time because I was struck by the birth dates of some of these tomes--they were born around the same time as me. Most of them had Latino last names, and I could only help but wonder...

The article later talked about the importance of education, which somehow reminded me of the holiday that we celebrate today. My parents worked extremely hard for my siblings growing up, wanting the best for their children and striving to put all 5 of us through Catholic education. When I was younger, I carried the real burden of success, and I honestly hated them for placing it upon me. As I've grown older, however, I recognize and see the great, although imperfect, love that my parents had for us, of working their tails off so that we could have a better future. And, indeed, all of us are doing quite well and flourishing, and I know that would not have been possible without their sacrifice. So, I am very grateful for my parents, and I thought I would recognize them both since I didn't write anything for Mother's Day.

Well, that's most of what has been percolating in my mind this morning. A pretty normal day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today is one of my most favorite feast days in Catholic worship--the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In the novitiate, one of my novice brothers shared a deep prayer experience he had of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He recalled during one of his prayer moments that he had such an intimate experience of Christ that it was as if he could feel Christ's heart beat against his. At one point, it was as if their hearts were in sync--his heart joined in union with that of Jesus.

To this day, I continue to be moved by that faith sharing, and it has influenced my prayer on a number of different occasions. Indeed, I have made my own brother's prayer experience my own prayer, and the rewards I have reaped from such prayer have been very great for me. It is that warmness and intimacy of Christ that I so identify with, that connection that I believe He desires of all of us.

At Ciszek Hall, my first homily in the community was about the Sacred Heart, not because it was the feast day, but because we were celebrating St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (who shares a feast day with St. Hedwig), remembered for her strong devotion to the Sacred Heart. She actually had a Jesuit confessor, St. Claude de la Colombiere. One of the Jesuits from Bea house that presided today shared about her life--people thought she was delusional during that time, but it was Colombiere who was one of the first to affirm her prayer experiences. St. Margaret Mary is one whom we can find great inspiration in truly understanding this feast day.

May today's feast day bring you closer to that warmth and love which Christ offers to all of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peering into My Future through My Elder Jesuit Brothers

Over the past two weeks, I have been spending a bit of time with the Jesuits in our infirmary here in Spokane, WA. Most have more than triple my own life experience. All of them, having ministered to others for so much of their Jesuit life, now rely on the help of others to fulfill their own basic needs.

One day, if I make it to that point, I too will need others' hands to be my own, to do the things I will not be able to do myself.

It is a humbling experience to be in the presence of these men. As people who greatly value our own independence, our encounter with those who have lost these facilities gives us pause to reflect on our own life, our own humanity, our own mortality.

They, too, were young once.

A few days ago, I accompanied one of the Jesuits to his eye appointment. The doctor had put yellow dye in his eye for whatever reason--I'm not a doctor, hell if I know why. When he came out, I thought it was one of the coolest things I had seen. It was like he had some inherent mutant powers that were just beginning to manifest in his old age. Storm's eyes become cloudy just before lightning strikes--I teased what supernatural occurrence might come our way. Well, later that day, I went out for a walk with him and asked him about the appointment. By that time, however, he had forgotten that he had gone to the eye doctor and asked me multiple times what day it was. He could tell me stories about events 30-40 years ago with amazing clarity, but the recent past becomes all but forgotten. He was a military chaplain who, in his career, received (if I can remember correctly) four purple hearts. I brought him around GU campus--to reflect at the statue of Ignatius at Cardoner, to contemplate the influence of Fr. DeSmet as one of the first people to venture out to the Northwest, to marvel at the simple beauties of nature on campus, finding God in the midst of it all. As we neared the end of our walk, I told him: "well, you can't help now but cherish the present moment. I'll remember it for the both of us--at least to the best of my ability!" It's a young memory, so it'll probably keep better.

All of these men have served in tremendous ways, and I don't think I will ever truly know what their life was like before my first encounter with them--who they have touched, what they have built in their lifetime. Yet, towards the end of their life, the elderly among us all too often become the forgotten. As the young go out to build memories, I think the old yearn to share their own--for those who will listen. But, I think they also enjoy hearing our stories as well--I think sometimes it makes them feel young again to see the life and energy of budding youth.

I've imagined myself if/when I reach old age--it's difficult not to when you become involved in the infirmary. What will sustain me? Where will I find life? I imagine that it is at this time, more than ever, that we find ourselves turning to our faith, relying in God. I can't help but think about Pedro Arrupe and his famous words after experiencing a debilitating stroke--words that continue to be incredibly moving and powerful for me. I will let his words end my post today:

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.

But now there is a difference;
the initiative is entirely with God.

It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
to know and feel myself so totally in God's hands.

-- Pedro Arrupe SJ,

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Book Reviews for Loyola Press

During my 8 day retreat, I was able to read two other books from Loyola Press of which I would like to offer my own thoughts. The first book is entitled An Ignatian Spirituality Reader: Contemporary Writings on St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Spiritual Exercises, Discernment, and More by George Traub, SJ and A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God's Amazing Embrace by William Barry, SJ.

I think both books have some great material in them, and I would give both of them two thumbs up.

Traub's book is actually a collection of essays on the following topics: the life of St. Ignatius, finding God in all things, prayer, the Spiritual Exercises, and Discernment. Here, Traub offers to us well-written essays from a variety of authors on these specific topics. Furthermore, at the end of each section, he offers other recommended readings in case the reader is interested in continuing her/his exploration on a specific topic. The essays that Traub offers us, then, are not meant to be the definitive word on these topics.

Personally, I loved this book. I felt that many of these essays articulate Ignatian Spirituality very well. During my retreat, I definitely felt that my reading of these essays enriched my understanding of it. Also, since Traub offers us more than one essay per topic, I was not getting just one perspective. I appreciated, therefore, the variety of viewpoints on Ignatian Spirituality--viewpoints which, although different, were not contrary to one another. For anyone who is interested in learning about or enriching their understanding of Ignatian Spirituality, I highly recommend this book. It is an excellent resource in so many different ways.

Out of all of the Loyola Press books that I have read, this one is probably the most academic in nature. Yet, it is also very personable at the same time.

There's is actually a companion volume to this reader, entitled A Jesuit Education Reader. I would imagine that this book would be of great interest to teachers and educators in our Jesuit institutions.

Now, on to Barry's book, which I also enjoyed very much. In his introduction, Barry writes: "What I hope you will find in this book is an invitation to engage in a relationship of friendship with God and in a dialogue with me. In the book, I do not provide answers so much as make suggestions and ask you to either try a suggested approach or reflect on your own experience in light of my suggestions. I hope that this will help you become a friend of God; the book will not attain my purpose if all you get out of it are ideas" (xviii). Barry writes in a way that is meant to engage you. Littered throughout his book are probing questions and exercises that he asks you to consider. If the reader does not feel moved to reflect and engage these, the book will likely lose much of its flavor.

Much of the book is meant to explore the question: what does God want in creating us? Barry answers this question with the title of his book. He writes: "My stand is that what God wants is friendship." Because of my experience both as a student in Jesuit institutions as well as being a Jesuit myself, this understanding of God that Barry proposes is very much in line with my own belief in God. In my own prayer, I have experienced God as One who is very personable with me, who loves me deeply, and who desires to grow in relationship withe me (I'm sure Aquinas would have his own views on this matter). Thus, what Barry does is this book is not radically new for me.

Barry, however, seems to write this book more specifically for those who have a difficult time relating to God in this fashion (everyone has a history). Barry is aware of the complexities involved in his view that God wants friendship with us and is not afraid to engage these complexities. I applaud him for his courage to tackle some of these difficult questions, and I think many will be quite moved by some of his responses.

For those who are seeking to have friendship with God, or even for those who think friendship is not possible, I highly recommend this book. Just be prepared to engage it!