Saturday, February 28, 2009

An initial reflection on Social Justice

Having been through 8 years of Jesuit schooling, one of the ideals that Jesuit education promotes is the commitment to service and social justice. When I was at Jesuit High School in Sacramento, a class on social justice was a requirement my junior year.  I still look back on that class as the class which first introduced me to the stark inequality that is present in our world.  I remember being angry in the class--angry that so much of the world suffered.  It only made sense to me that the basic necessities that are fulfilled in my life should be fulfilled for everybody. 

Yet, how much of the world is starving? How many have no access to clean water? How much of the world is homeless? How many children die from very treatable diseases? 

In this season of Lent, Isaiah in the first reading from this past Friday declares: 

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own. 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn"

We are exhorted not only to be conscientious to the suffering of our brothers and sisters, we are asked to truly help them out of their suffering.  

But, boy, are we failures at this.
How often has your heart gone out to someone in need but didn't know how to help her/him? When did you offer help to a homeless, only to realize that they scapegoated you and spent your money on booze and drugs? Why, then, would you want to help any of them? Do we give up because of that one experience? 
I think most of the ways that we know how to help out individually are through charities. We aren't too bad at short-term solutions, and short-term solutions are a necessity for the survival of many, but we must work hard on the long-term solutions by effecting systematic change.  

In General Congregation 34 (I think it was 1995), the Jesuits at the time it was written listed some urgent situations:
  • The marginalization of Africa in the "new world order" renders an entire continent paradigmatic of all the marginalized of the world.  Thirty of the world's poorest countries are African.  Two thirds of the world's refugees are African.  Slavery, colonial and neocolonial subjugation, internal problems of ethnic rivalry and corruption have all created an "ocean of misfortunes" there...The Society must do everything possible to stand by them  
  • Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world, isolated and relegated to marginal social roles, see their identity, cultural legacy, and natural world threatened. Other social groups--an example would be the Dalits, considered "untouchables" in some parts of South Asia--suffer severe social discrimination in civil and even ecclesial society.  The GC calls on the whole Society to renew its long-standing commitment of such peoples.  
  • In many parts of the world, even in the most developed countries, economic and social forces are excluding millions of people from the benefits of society. The long-term unemployed, young people without any possibility of employment, exploited and abandoned children of the streets, the aged who live alone without social protection, ex-convicts, victims of drug abuse and those afflicted with AIDS--all these are condemned to lives of dire poverty, social marginalization and precarious cultural existence.  They require of us the attention which our biblical tradition demands for "the orphans, widows, and strangers in your midst."
  • There are over forty-five million refugees and displaced persons in today's world, 80 percent of whom are women and children.  Often lodged in the poorest of countries, they face growing impoverishment, loss of a sense of life and culture, with consequent hopelessness and despair...the general congregation appeals to all provinces to support the Jesuit Refugee Service in every way possible.  And we call on the international Society to join efforts with other international institutions and organizations to combat the injustices which uproot peoples from their land and families.  

For Jesuits, the GC calls us in this way:
"In each of our different apostolates, we must create communities of solidarity in seeking justice.  Working together with our colleagues, every Jesuit in his ministry can and should promote justice in one or more of the following way: (a) direct service and accompaniment of the poor, (b) developing awareness of the demands of justice joined to the social responsibility to achieve it, (c) participating in social mobilization for the creation of a more just social order.  
Now, I have written a very cursory reflection on these issues. I do not feel I am offering solutions to the problems--probably I am oversimplifying them.  At minimum, we need to be sensitive and empathetic to the suffering of our world. Ideally, we strive to affect positive change in our world.  

Of course, the question is--what exactly are we trying to change and how are we going to go about making things better? 

I hope to provide more reflections on social justice, and perhaps making it a theme for this upcoming week. And, please, offer your own reflections as I go through them. Probably a lot of you are more educated than I am on these issues.   

"Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more." [Luke 12:48]

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lenten Reflections as a Novice

About two years ago this day, I was on experiment in Pendleton, OR, shadowing the Jesuit there who worked at the Umatilla Reservation at St. Andrew's Mission, Fr. Mike Fitzpatrick. While I was there, one of the tasks I had was to preach at Mass every so often. So, two years ago, I had an opportunity to give an Ash Wednesday reflection for mass.  It was also that day that I received my driver's license for the first time. Since I've never like driving, it's fitting that it happened during the season of Lent.  

It's always interesting to revisit one's own work after being removed from it. I don't think I would offer the same exact reflection as I am today. But, if you are interested to see the musings of when I was a first year Jesuit novice, here it is: 

"Today, we gather together in communion with people from all over the world as we embark on this most Holy time, the season of Lent. It is a truly a graced time for us, a wonderful season of renewing and returning our hearts back to our God. 

Now, let’s be honest for a moment. I know there are many of us out there in which our first reaction to entering this season is…well let’s just say it doesn’t rank as one of our most favorite seasons. “Ugh…it’s that time of the year again.” We have Thanksgiving and the turkey, we have Christmas and all the presents that we receive, we have Valentine’s day and all the candy hearts. And then there’s Lent and all the…um, ashes, that we receive. I mean come on, you can’t even eat ashes! Well, I guess you can, but I wouldn’t particularly recommend it. 

And what do we get when we receive these ashes? We get to fast. We get to give up meat on Fridays. We get to watch family and friends dangle that piece of chocolate in front of your face that you promised you would give up for the next 40 days. And we get to remind ourselves that strangling them is not part of the spirit of the season. Some presents, huh? 

I wonder, after all of that, if you would believe me when I say that Lent has become one of my most favorite seasons of the year. In a culture in which our seasons are more and more marked by what I receive, this Lenten season challenges and invites us to ask the question: “What can I give?” “What can I offer?” It challenges us to move off of ourselves and return to the One most important in our lives. It’s a very counter-cultural season, and it’s a season we need to embrace. 

It’s not about the meat or that chocolate that we give up. And, as we hear in today’s Gospel, it’s not about giving up things so that you can brag what a devout, Holy Catholic you are. It’s not about us and our own selfish desires. 

Rather, the Gospel challenges us to remove the attention off of ourselves and to turn it back to God. How easy it is for us to do things for our own self-glorification, even if we started doing them with the best of intentions. This temptation can especially be destructive for those in positions of power. We start by wanting to do good, but it has the potential to turn into something where we do it only to receive praise and glory. As a priest-in-training, I am very aware of this temptation, and I pray that what I do may always be for the purpose of bringing all of us closer to God and not to feed my pride. 

And ultimately, that is what this Lenten season is about. It is about growing and deepening our relationship with God. It’s about saying: “I would be willing to sacrifice this part of myself because of my love for you.” It’s about having faith that in the dying to ourselves, we will enter into a fuller, richer life with God. 

Lent, one of my most favorite seasons of the year. It really is a retreat experience that the entire church is called to participate in. 

So, as we enter into this most Holy season and receive our ashes, let us pray that we may strive to participate fully in this retreat, to return our hearts back to God. And let us pray that we may strive to remove that attention from ourselves and set our sights on Christ, who himself sacrificed so much for us. Blessings upon all of you during this season of Lent." 

Monday, February 23, 2009

Philosophical Reflections: God and Light

At Yosemite National Park 4-5 years ago

Before I begin, I've been thinking, once again, about my blog. Just looking back through my earlier posts, I always seem to jump from one place to another. I might have a serious discussion about alcoholism, and then later follow up with a silly post/video. Unless I have a weekly theme, like the iconography of St. Ignatius, you never know what I'll be posting about.  Frankly, I never know what I'll be posting about.  In some ways, I could see how people would lose patience with my style because I don't really have a set style.  Or, you may say my style is ADD--it probably is. My interests are vast and diverse, and I try to incorporate my faith and Jesuit spirituality in all of them. I just get really excited about different things, and desire to share them.  It is, in a sense, a blogging with the spirit. So, I hope my blog thus far has not been too jarring for you.  

Anyway, since I am studying to obtain a Master's in Philosophical Resources (just the fancy way of saying the Jesuit degree for philosophy here at Fordham), I will probably be posting every now and then on some philosophical issues.  Today, in our Augustine class, there is one idea that stuck out to me--our discussion of the sun and relating that to God.  

For those of you familiar with the philosophy of Plato, you probably have encountered one of his most famous passages--the allegory of the cave. In this story, Plato depicts a group of people shackled their whole lives in a cave, and all that they see are shadows created from the light of a fire behind them. To them, these shadows are all that they know, since they have not seen anything else.  One day, however, a man is able to break free and emerge out of the cave. Never having seen the sun, he finds the light so bright that it is blinding to him. Soon, however, his eyes are able to adjust, and he is able to see the world anew for the first time in this light.  

Plato, however, is not necessarily talking about physical sight. Immediately following this passage is a discussion of education and knowledge. This allegory, then, is an image that illustrates the "sight" of our mind, of how we may know more rightly and truly.  

Augustine takes this image of the sun in one of his earlier works, the Soliloquies.  He writes: 
"Now listen while I teach you something concerning God from the analogy of sensible things, so far as the present time demands. God, of course, belongs to the realm of intelligible things, and so do these mathematical symbols, though there is a great difference. Similarly the earth and light are visible, but the earth cannot be seen unless it is illumined.  Anyone who knows the mathematical symbols admits that they are true without the shadow of a doubt. But he must also believe that they cannot be known unless they are illumined by something else corresponding to the sun.  About this corporeal sun notice three things. It exists. It shines. It illumines. So in knowing the hidden God you must observe three things. He exists. He is known. He causes other things to be known."
A number of years ago, I went to Yosemite National Park with my family in CA. The picture that I attached shows that it is a nice, sunny day, and you can see the beauty of creation behind. Clearly, those who wish to experience nature in its glory goes during the day. Without the light of the sun, all that you see behind me would be black, especially in more ancient days when we did not have light technology.  Yes, we need eyes in order to see. But, eyes in themselves are not sufficient for sight. Without light, all is dark.  

Augustine, then, uses that image of the sun to speak about how we see with our mind. For Augustine, we could not have clear vision without the power of God at work. Left to our own devices, our minds are caught up in the shadows of the world. In order to free ourselves from these shackles, three things are necessary: faith, hope, and love--"without these three no soul is healed so that it may see, that is, know God." 

Ideally, for Christians, we seek to see the world as God sees it. One may call a "seeing for the first time" a conversion experience, as Ignatius had while recovering from his critical wound at Pamplona. Many of us may have had those experiences where you have an "a ha!" moment.  You see something new that you never saw before in something quite old.  

That moment is real beauty.  That moment is a grace of God.  

When Jesuits pray the examen, we pray for the grace to see the day as God sees our day.  We strive to ground our understanding and our experiences in the light of Christ. This is difficult to do, especially when you are in the thick of things. This is why Ignatius felt the examen so important for us--so that we may look back on our day, seeing what transpired in a new light.  Ideally, we learn from this and try to integrate these graces for the next day. Yet, in reality, this is a lifelong process for us.  

It makes our life interesting. And, it means we have faith to find new light in all we do every day of our lives.  

I would like to end with a prayer from Fr. Pedro Arrupe
Grant me, O Lord, to see everything now with new eyes,
to discern and test the spirits
that help me read the signs of the times,
to relish the things that are yours, and to communicate
     them to others. 
Give me the clarity of understanding that you gave 

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Today's Gospel: The Paralytic Man

In today's gospel reading (Mark 2:1-12), we hear the account in which four men open a hole in the roof of a home and lower a paralytic man to where Jesus is staying. Jesus, moved by their faith, tells the paralytic that his sins are forgiven.  Some scribes question how anyone except God can forgive sins. Jesus, knowing what is on their minds, poses them the question: which is easier, to say 'your sins are forgiven' or to say, 'rise, pick up your mat and walk'?  

So that the scribes would know his authority, he tells the paralytic: "I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home." The paralytic rises in the sight of everyone, picks up his mat, and goes on his way, astonishing everyone.  They say: "We have never seen anything like this."

Is there anything paralyzing you in your life today that you need to bring to Christ? Who are your friends and family who are willing to poke a hole in the roof for you? Are you willing to do the same? Do you have faith in Christ's healing and freeing power? Are there any sins you have that need reconciling, sins that are stifling your life? 

Saturday, February 21, 2009

3 Questions

On the right of my webpage, you will find a blog entitled Acts: Jesuit Vocations in the Northwest. The page is updated about every week with different reflections. During these updates, a young Jesuit in our province is asked a number of questions for reflection.  

This week, I offer to that blog my own reflections to 3 questions asked of me:
1) Would you describe a particular time when it was a great joy to be a Jesuit?

2) What would you say are your greatest talents, skills, or gifts you enjoy in your life?
(I would have written a little bit about writing, but at the time that I sent in my answers, I hadn't received permission for the blog. I also didn't want to send in a thesis)

3) What are the key needs of the world today and how do you experience that in ministry?

If you are interested in my answers, you may visit our Jesuit Vocations blog. It's about two posts down.  

Friday, February 20, 2009

More information about the Financial Situation

I had mentioned last post that I would shift gears, but I thought it was worthwhile to share the recently updated Oregon Province Website.   

On the left side of the screen, you will find a number of different links with information about the current situation.  There, you will find a press release, a letter from our provincial, Fr. Pat Lee, and a Q&A which answers a number of different questions.  I recommend visiting it if you are interested to learn more.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Please Pray For Us

This is an early morning post for me, since my phone rang at 3am (don't know why, no one left a message) and I haven't been able to go to bed since.  

To hear the phone call itself ring at that time of night is unusual in itself. But, with recent news that we've just received, I found myself lying in bed just thinking about it. The Jesuits of the Oregon Province have officially filed for Chapter 11 reorganization. It's front news on the Seattle Times.  

Ever since I was a first year novice, this financial situation has always been looming over our heads. This news of bankruptcy is not shocking for us since we have been preparing for this reality. But, with the news being official, I find myself early this morning with a heavy heart. 

At this point, I'm at a loss for words. All I can do is pray. 

I do not wish to dwell upon this on my blog, so I will probably shift gears by tomorrow and change the subject. I would like to offer, however, a more in-depth reflection about this, hopefully by the end of next week. I may not, however, if I think it not prudent to post anymore about this for the time being.   

Please pray for all of us during this time.  

"Lord, I pray fervently that you may bring about true healing and reconciliation during this time. For the victims of real abuse, that they may be healed from the wounds of their past and that they may know that our hearts go out to them. I have witnessed a true desire for real healing in this matter and for forgiveness. For my Jesuit companions who have been wrongly accused, that this stigma may not pull them into despair. For the province, that you may lead us during this time of reorganization, that all we do may be rooted and grounded in you. Guide all of our hearts and our minds, that it may be directed by your love and tender mercy."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Yes, I just had a dance party in my room by myself

And I'm not afraid to admit it.  

And yes, I'm a big dork, in many, many ways.  You don't even know. I'm sure that will be apparent the more I post.  

One of the things that we strive as Jesuits to live by is to find God in all things. I went to Mass at Fordham's 9pm mass yesterday and their closing song, "Your Grace is Enough" by Matt Maher, for whatever reason, just really stuck in my head. When I got to my room, I kept singing it in my head for at least a good hour. Then I thought, "I wonder if they have that song on iTunes." They did, and the following video is what transpired when I found it.  

Actually, I've had a lot of prayer periods where I find myself dancing and singing a lot. I just find a lot of life and energy out of it. 

So, yeah, I'm probably making a big fool of myself, and yeah, I'm probably nuts for posting this on youtube. And yeah, I'm sure I'll be hearing about it later. Oh well! I hope you enjoy it.

Shall we dance? 

Great is your faithfulness oh God
You wrestle with the sinner's heart
You lead us by still waters into mercy
And nothing can keep us apart

Pre Chorus:
So remember your people
Remember your children
Remember your promise, oh God

Your grace is enough.
Your grace is enough.
Your grace is enough.
Your grace is enough for me.

Verse 2:
Great is your love and justice God.
You use the weak to lead the strong.
You lead us in the song of your salvation
And all your people sing along.

Pre Chorus:
So remember your people.
Remember your children.
Remember your promise, oh God.

Chorus x3

Chorus 2:
Your Grace is enough
Heaven reaching down to us
Your Grace is enough for me

God, I see your grace is enough
I'm covered in your love
Your grace is enough for me

Saturday, February 14, 2009

All in Good Fun: My Tin Whistle has more buttons than your Tin Whistle

A little change of pace from this week's postings. (Note: post/video is not meant to be taken seriously) 

So earlier this week, one of the Jesuits in the community decided to write a post on his blog and titled it "Smackdown!" Just because I'm new to the community, he thinks he can push me around, intimidate me, and then has the audacity to depict himself as the innocent one in this relationship! 

Everyone knows that I am truly the gentle and innocent one here. 

I will not sit back, however, and let such defamatory remarks go by without response--especially those about stick dances and cabbage patch dolls. So I say, Hear ye, hear ye, Duns, I havt come to rub salt on thy most vulnerable wound--your beloved tin whistle.
Now, some of you may know that this other unnamed Jesuit, also known as non-Filipino Ryan, has a series of youtube videos in which he seeks to educate the wider audience on the art of tin whistle. Just go to site and type in the words "Ryan Duns Tin Whistle" and you shall witness him in all his glory. Here is a link to one of his videos. He even teaches a course on it at Fordham. Scary, I know. But, do not be fooled by his appearance. He may seem sweet. He may look holy. Don't be fooled. It's only been a short time, but HE is the one trying to run ME out of the blogging world with his threat of "rallying the troops".  

So, after encountering a few of his videos, I thought I would make my own tin whistle video. Not only have I invaded your blogging space, I have now invaded your youtube space!! Muahahahaha!!! You cannot get rid of me that easily, sir.  

And, what warms my heart the most is to know that God is on my side. Praise Jesus!

(Actually, you may see me do more videos since, unfortunately, it seems like Ryan and I have similar interests--specifically writing and music. I don't think I'll do many videos like the one I just recorded. I don't do tin whistle, and I probably won't do much with my clarinet, but I might be inspired to record some songs now and then on the piano. Just an idea that's been floating in my head)

Friday, February 13, 2009

St. Ignatius and Contemporary Iconography: Ignatius in Rome

Panel 5 of 5: Ignatius in Rome

During my past few posts, I had been quoting the prayer cards that I have of the icons at St. Ignatius Chapel at Seattle University.  Although there were a number of differences between the ones at SU and the ones in the novitiate, the essence of the art is the same.  However, this 5th icon is strikingly dissimilar to the one at SU, and I felt that the quote that described SU's icon does not really capture what is going on in this new icon.  

On the icon at SU, Ignatius is shown writing the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus. He sits alone in his room in contemplative thought, amidst books and letters.  An image of the Virgin Mary is in the background, with only 2 other people walking down an alleyway. Certainly, to write a robust document like the Constitutions, Ignatius would have needed that quiet solitude.  

Yet, as we see here in the icon at the Oregon novitiate, Bittau's depiction of Ignatius is completely different. Instead of being withdrawn in Rome, Ignatius is flooded by people reaching out to him. He is in priestly garb, preaching to the people and administering to them while the light of Christ overlooks all. His arms not only are in a giving posture to the people but also are open to receiving the graces of God poured down, inviting the people to do the same.  

Indeed, Ignatius was quite active in the works he began in Rome, and I think Bittau is right to highlight that in this icon. For example, he aided the people in the winter of 1538 during a harsh famine, helped those who were poor, sick, and crippled, established a work "The House of St. Martha" to help prostitutes and "The Association of Downtrodden Young Women" for those in danger.  

Throughout the 5 icons, Bittau gives equal weight not only to Ignatius' life of prayer following his conversion, but also his life of ministry.  It is this fusion that gives Jesuits our charism. 

Well, this ends my week-long glimpse at the life of St. Ignatius through the iconography of Dora Bittau.  I have found my own prayer life enriched in being able to look again upon these icons and to contemplate the life that he led. And, as with any art, you may see things that I did not catch, or you may even find something in the future that had not caught your eye in the past. Definitely, there are much more to these icons that I have written about. I hope this week at least has given you a glimpse into the life of a man that inspires so many works today. And, perhaps, it has offered you a way in which you can pray with art. 

"O Spirit of God, we ask you to help orient
all our actions by your inspirations,
carry them on by your gracious assistance,
that every prayer and work of ours
may always begin from you
and through you be happily ended."

Thursday, February 12, 2009

St. Ignatius and Contemporary Iconography: Confirmed in Mission at La Storta

Panel 4 of 5: Confirmed in Mission at La Storta
"Ignatius' desire and prayer that he and his companions serve Christ's mission is confirmed when God places him with Jesus carrying his cross"

The following quote is all we get from Ignatius himself about this vision:

"One day, a few miles before reaching Rome, he was at prayer in a church and experienced such a change in his soul and saw so clearly that God the Father placed him with Christ his Son that he would not dare doubt it--that God the Father had placed him with his Son."

However, other Jesuit documentation gives greater detail around this experience. Ignatius is said to have been praying frequently to Mary for this grace to place him with his son, and his prayers were answered at La Storta.  An early companion and future General, Diego Lainez writes that Ignatius told him "that it seemed to him that God the Father had impressed on his heart the following words: 'I shall be propitious to you in Rome'...then at another time it seemed to him that he saw Christ carrying a cross on his shoulder and the Eternal Father nearby who said to Christ: 'I want you to take this man for you servant.' Upon receiving this vision, Ignatius felt inspired to name the new order he would found using the name of Jesus--the Company of Jesus, or the Society of Jesus.  Most religious orders are named after their founder, but Ignatius wanted the emphasis to be squarely placed on Christ.  

Like the 2nd icon, Bittau again obscures the vision in a radiant white light. This is actually a departure from the icons at Seattle U that she made before, in which Ignatius' visions are clearly shown.  In this way, it honors the mystery of Ignatius' vision.  Yet, you can still make out the cross of Christ in the light.  

You can see Rome in the background, showing the close proximity of this experience to his mission.  On the side is the chapel of La Storta.  

What is fascinating in this icon is that Bittau again chooses to fuse modern day images with the experience of Ignatius.  Stark images of torture and naked bodies lie amidst the vision. She wanted to highlight that Jesuits, who are called to be in the world, are necessarily called to be in the midst of suffering.  Indeed, many Jesuits have lost their lives in the Society's long history.  

When I look at this icon, I am reminded about Fr. Pedro Arrupe's witness of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and his service to the Japanese people who suffered its effects--a true example of a Jesuit in the midst of real suffering.  Trained as a medical doctor, Fr. Arrupe did his best to save as many lives as he could. I have much to say about that topic, but I think I will save my reflection of Arrupe at Hiroshima for another day.  

Ideally, as Jesuits, we do what we do because we are rooted and grounded in Christ--that profound love and affection inspires and sustains our life and our ministry. It is that orientation that orders our thoughts and actions. Some of us even lose our lives because of that love.  

It is that love that brought Ignatius to Rome. 

What/who are you in love with? What sets you on fire?

"Nothing is more practical
than finding God, that is,
than falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way. 
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything. 
It will decide 
what will get you out of bed
in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you
with joy and gratitude. 
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything."
~Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

St. Ignatius and Contemporary Iconography: Educated and Blessed with Companions at the University of Paris

Panel 3 of 5: Educated at the University of Paris
"Ignatius pursues an education so he can help others and serve God."

Ignatius had a deep desire to aid souls.  Yet, he realized that in order to be effective in his ministry, he had to obtain a good education.  Thus, he traveled to Paris in pursuit of higher learning (even studying with children to strengthen his lack of fundamentals). It is during this time that Ignatius meets the "first companions", the ones who will later join him in establishing the Jesuit Order--Blessed Peter Faber and St. Francis Xavier.   

It is clear that Ignatius' desire for learning inspired the role that Jesuits would play in educating others. Bittau acknowledges this relationship with the past by melding Ignatius and companions with present day students in their graduation garbs.  Most of the students are directed towards Ignatius, but notice that Ignatius is pointing directly upwards towards the "IHS".  We look to Ignatius who inspired Jesuit education, but Ignatius points at his own inspiration--Christ.  

Many who attend Jesuit institutions, particularly Jesuit high schools, would be familiar with the phrase "AMDG" - for the greater glory of God. Ignatius believed that through this education that he would obtain, he would have greater ability to magnify God's work here on earth.  

I think it's quite a conscientious move on Bittau's part to depict the students in their graduation robes.  Not only does it represent success in obtaining one's education, it also points towards the future. It marks the transitional phase in which we enter into the world, bringing our newly formed gifts and talents to others.  

Specifically as a Jesuit in formation in the phase of first studies, I find that reflecting on this icon puts my philosophical studies in a bit of perspective. This time of studies is meant to make me a better Jesuit down the line. It is not education for education's sake and for one's personal benefit--it is education for ministry. 

How has your own education shaped and formed you? Have you been able to bring those unique gifts and talents into ministry? For those Jesuit educated, how has Jesuit education influenced the way you see the world today?

"The contemporary mission of the Society of Jesus is the service of faith and the promotion of that justice of the Gospel that is the embodiment of God's love and saving mercy."
             ~General Congregation

"We should recall that mediocrity has no place in Ignatius' world view; he demands leaders in service to others in building the Kingdom of God in the market place of business and ideas, of service, of law and justice, of economics, theology, and all areas of human life.  He urges us to work for the greater glory of God because the world desperately needs men and women of competence and conscience who generously give of themselves for others."
             ~Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J. (former General of the Society of Jesus)

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

St. Ignatius and Contemporary Iconography: Transformed at River Cardoner

Panel 2 of 5: Transformed at the Cardoner
"The pilgrim to Jerusalem pauses in Manresa and spends a year of purification and enlightenment, culminating in a transforming illumination by the River Cardoner"

When I look at this icon, I see St. Ignatius retreating from the world.  It represents a "desert" experience, of needing to take a few moments away from the business of everyday life in order to reflect and examine his life.  In the background, we see in the distance that is in Ignatius' view.  He is outside the city, yet can still see it.  

This experience probably inspired parts of his work with the Spiritual Exercises, the main retreat experience that binds all Jesuits together.  

This retreat experience is important for the Jesuit life and indeed shapes who we are and how we interact with the world.  We are called always to step back and to reflect, to remove ourselves completely from the world for a short time in order to re-enter refreshed and renewed.  

If you look closely, you may see images within the rocks themselves.  In those times of prayerful solitude, we may see things that we would not be able to otherwise.  I mean that in a very positive sense too--not in the sense of "seeing" things because we're going crazy.  Well, we are a little crazy...But, I mean that our ability to discern and to reflect back on experiences becomes heightened in that short detachment from the world.  

Overlooking everything is a white dove, representing the Holy Spirit.  I find that image to be very comforting. 

In Ignatius' spiritual autobiography, he shares specifically about this experience at the river (always referring to himself in the 3rd person as he dictates his story to a brother Jesuit): 

"Once he was going out of devotion to a church situated a little more than a mile from Manresa; I believe it is called St. Paul's and the road goes by the river.  As he went along occupied with his devotions, he sat down for a little while with his face toward the river, which ran down below.  While he was seated there, the eyes of his understanding began to be opened; not that he saw any vision, but he understood and learned many things, both spiritual matters and matters of faith and of scholarship and this with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him" 

I feel that Bittau, the artist, captures this understanding quite well.  She intentionally obscures the image in the river as a ray of light to represent this new understanding of Ignatius.  Yet, you can still faintly make out a silhouette of the Virgin Mary with child. 

Have you ever had a "river" experience in which old things all of a sudden became new, in which you saw things in a new and breathtaking light?

"Take, Lord, Receive
all my liberty,
my memory,
my understanding
and my entire will,
all that I have and possess.
You have given all to me. 
To you, Lord, I return it. 
All is yours. 
Dispose of it wholly
according to your will.
Give me only your love and your grace
That is sufficient for me."
~St. Ignatius

Monday, February 9, 2009

St. Ignatius and Contemporary Iconography: Wounded at Pamplona

This week, I invite you to get to know St. Ignatius through contemporary icons.  At the Chapel of St. Ignatius at Seattle University, many would be familiar with the icons of Ignatius inside. Dora Bittau created 5 important scenes of Ignatius' life.  The Oregon Province Jesuits, however, actually commissioned her to do another set of 5, which was gifted to our novitiate the year I entered.  

Before I took my first vows, I thought it would be good to take pictures of these icons before I left for NY.  These aren't the best quality photos (for example, this one has a little flash on the right side), but I hope you may enjoy them, even finding them as tools for prayer.  To find icons that may move and inspire you.  

Icons aren't necessary art--rather, they are known more as "prayer windows", "meeting places of the divine and the world". The icon is itself a prayer, and its visual nature invites us to approach the mystery of God.  The Orthodox tradition is well known for its use of icons.  

Fr. William Hart McNichols, SJ, writes: 

"Icons change you from within, because they are a prayer.  They will at times create an atmosphere inside you to receive something new from God.  They will plough the field, or get ready the ground, so that you can receive what God is doing next...What you gaze at, you become."

In these Icons which I will be sharing this week, it is clear that Dora is prayerfully interacting with the story of Ignatius through the way she depicts things.  You will see in this first icon, for example, how she fuses the battle of Pamplona with modern images--most strikingly the image of two towers on fire, meant to connect to 9/11. 

This image, the battle of Pamplona, represents the turning point in Ignatius' life.  He was critically wounded from a cannon shot to his leg, leaving him with a limp the rest of his life. While he lay in bed, recovering, he was pretty bored out of his mind and wanted something fun to read, like romantic novels.  However, the house he was staying at had nothing to read except a book on the life of Christ and a book on the saints.  These readings were to profoundly move him that he wished to leave his past life behind of riches, honor, and womanizing, and to follow the path of Christ.  

So, our first icon of this week on the Spiritual Journey of St. Ignatius

Panel 1 of 5: Wounded at Pamplona

"Lord, teach us to be generous,
to us to serve you as you deserve;
To give and not to count the cost;
To fight and not to heed the wounds;
To toil and not to seek for rest;
To labor and not ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do your will."
      ~St. Ignatius

Sunday, February 8, 2009

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time

I'm going to experiment today and see whether I have the ability to pray with my blog for Sunday's readings.  

Today's readings come from Job: 1-4, 6-7   Psalm 147    1 Cor 9: 16-19, 22-23  and Mark 1: 29-39

I invite you to join me this morning as I pray over today's readings

In our first reading today, we hear of Job who is clearly lamenting his lot in life:
"My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle;
they come to an end without hope.
Remember that my life is like the wind;
I shall not see happiness again"

Job's response to catastrophic losses--the loss of his entire family--is heart-wrenching. Job is in the ditch, and he grieves by losing the will to live.  The book of Job is gripping because we read of a man in deep pain.  He has absolutely nothing left except himself. 

It is also gripping because we probably know or have known a few Jobs in our life, especially in this current economy. People are in pain, and life is hard. Those who staff suicidal hotlines, I have read, are overwhelmed by the number of people who have been calling.  

Yet, we also hear in today's Gospel of Mark Jesus who heals the sick and drives out demons.  

When it was evening, after sunset,
they brought to him all who were ill or possessed by demons.
The whole town was gathered at the door.
He cured many who were sick with various diseases,
and he drove out many demons,
not permitting them to speak because they knew him.

Jesus comes to the people and cares for them. He desires us to have life, and that he will help us with our own demons.  He doesn't offer us financial stability. He offers the world his love.  

Demons can come in many forms. For Job, it is utter hopelessness--that all meaning to life has been lost. There's alcoholism. Gambling. Drugs. Jealousy and Anger. Etc. and Etc. I think all of us have demons inside of us that we struggle with.  

For those who are in recovery, the road to healing involves a certain awareness of powerlessness. "I am powerless over my drinking." "I am powerless over these thoughts of hopelessness." These demons grip us and overwhelm us.  The acknowledgement of powerlessness is important, because then we are more free to accept help.  

I know my own demons--at least some of them anyway.  I can, at least partially, relate to Job's suffering. But, I have been blessed in those moments of utter despair with people who showed me great love and kindness. I found God working in my fellow human beings.  

Sometimes, I pray: "Jesus, I need help.  Help me. Jesus, I need help. Help me." 

Lord, in your great kindness and mercy, free us from anything that keeps us from living our lives to its fullest. Many people are crying out for help. May you give us the strength to lift up one another.  

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Of Mice & Jesuits

I was doing a little reading of Augustine's Confessions today when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a little black thing scurry underneath a sofa that a fellow Jesuit was sitting at.  I thought maybe that I was imagining things, so I didn't think anything of it--that is, until a few minutes later when I saw a furry little head pop out from underneath and start sniffing his shoe. 

At this point, I say: "Uhm, Jason, I think there's a mouse right under you."
He replies: "You're kidding, right?" 

He promptly stands up from the sofa and proceeds towards its back, where he gets on his knees in order to validate the existence of this unwanted visitor.  Seeing it, he says: "S***, you're right."

And thus began a fun-filled day of mice obsessions. Not exactly how I envisioned my day of rest and relaxation.  

Using newly gained philosophical powers, I asked myself: "From whence did this mouse come from? Is it mouse per se or mouse per accidens? How can they be so cute yet such disgusting creatures? What is their telos? Most importantly, how are we to get rid of this thing?" Turns out, we'd be seeing more than one.  

I thought about bringing in a crucifix, but my instincts told me that probably wouldn't work.  

While Jason went out to get mousetraps, he asked me and another Jesuit brother, John, to babysit the mouse, to make sure that it stayed underneath the sofa.  Our babysitting turned out to be all for naught, as it was able to evade our evil intentions, at least for the time being. For some reason, during that babysitting session, I couldn't help but think of a youtube video I had watched a while back.  

We were able to set the traps, but they didn't seem to be fooled so easily. Luckily, some Jesuit back-up came later in the day, and they would later make another makeshift trap, as we felt the two we had were insufficient.  It was quite an amazing sight to see this trap made of spare parts. It consisted in a small trash bucket filled with a little water with a ginger ale soda can lathered in organic peanut butter, which seemed to have been sitting in the fridge for one too many days, suspended on a single line of steel wiring. To boot, a makeshift ramp made of an old cardboard beer box and a small piece of wood was constructed to lead the mice to their dinner, and consequently to their end.   

Luckily, one of the store-bought traps caught one of them. We await, however, to see whether the time and effort of the makeshift trap was all in vain. 

How many Jesuits does it take to catch a mouse?

Friday, February 6, 2009

Getting away

Sometimes it's good to get away.  No, I don't mean running away, but of the sort that says: "I need somewhere fresh to go and be renewed." 

So, I am currently in Seabright, NJ, getting away just for a little bit with a few of my other Jesuit bros.  The Bronx will be there in the meantime. Hopefully I will return refreshed and rejuvenated, having read a few things and written some on the side.  

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Oh no he di'int! (disclaimer: this is meant to be fun and should be read with a grain of salt)

So I was minding my own business this morning with a nice bowl of granola, chuckling to myself as I read the comics, when an unnamed Jesuit who will not be named (his name is Ryan) totally ruined my inner sanctum of peace and tranquility as he spewed out hate against stick dancing and little lambs.  And I was like--"oh no, you di'int just go there!" 

So, this unnamed Jesuit happens to also be in the blogging world, and he's been around for quite some time (years, I might add, because he's kind of old). For some reason, since day one, this unnamed Jesuit found it necessary to call me names, even to identify me in the negative as "non-Irish Ryan." OK, just because my name happens to be Irish doesn't mean that I'm Irish, which doesn't mean, therefore, that you can identify me as non-Irish just because I'm non-Irish.  

Now, I'll take a verbal beating now and then because I will gladly carry that cross for the Lord. But, when you involve the sticks and the lambs, that is just going too far. So, I threw off the gloves and said: "what, you wanna start somethin? 'Cause, believe me, you don't wanna start somethin!"  And he's like: "bring it, foo!" and I was like: "ooh, it's already been broughten!" 

OK, so it wasn't exactly "broughten" at that point in time, but that's beside the point, because it's being "broughten" right here, right now.  It's only been a week, and already someone has felt it necessary to wage a "blog war" with me.  That's right, a "blog war." 

You think your hateful comments can get me down? Think again! In the words of Mandy Moore, "I'm filled with the love of Jesus!" I will be your worst nightmare. First, I will call upon the intercession of Our Blessed Mother to convert that dark heart of yours, followed by a novena that beseeches for your own perpetual poverty, chastity, and obedience. And then, when I pray my examen, I will look back at all of those times that you looked down upon me with disgust and ask the Lord to forgive you.  That's right, forgiveness! Hurts, doesn't it? And that's only the beginning, my friend. You don't know what you've awoken today. 

In the [adapted] words of Hulk Hogan, "Whatcha gonna do when the Holy Spirit runs wild on you?" (manly grunt) 

[For those who are concerned, I'm not really starting a blog war and the unnamed blogger named Ryan and I get along just fine]

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Like a Child

"People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them, and when the disciples saw this, they rebuked them.  Jesus, however, called the children to himself and said, "Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it" (Luke 18:15-17)

Every Wednesday, I teach CCD to 6th graders--discussing God, faith, Jesus, etc.  One of my hopes is helping them to find bible passages on their own. I recently gave them a test, in which I selected random passages throughout the bible that they had to find. One of the passages that I came across while looking through the bible was the above passage. This passage has been on my mind off and on during the past week or so.  

What does it mean to accept the kingdom of God like a child? 

I was looking at old photos of myself in contemplating this passage, imagining myself as I was so many years ago. The person I see in the photos is still the same me, but I am so different at the same time. Gone are the days where I can tenderly hold a cabbage-patch doll or dress up as a sheep and be thought of as cute (well, I dunno, maybe not. I can think of stranger things). 

That wide-eyed smile which took up all of my energy to muster for the camera--I stare at that picture and find myself baffled. There is sheer contentment to hold my baby sister. I smile for the sheer joy of smiling.  There is no pretext, no ulterior motive. I'm happy, take my picture!

That inner radiance, that pure innocence, wears out in the process of growing up. The reality of life hits home. That young face becomes marred by pimples and excessive scratching. It has felt too often the touch of fresh tears. It has witnessed the trials of the adult world and grew ill at its sight.  

I visited the Philippines a few years ago and saw children 5, 6, 7 years old, scratching on doors begging for money. I wonder if they'll even have a memory upon entering adult age of what it meant to be a child. 

I am very different from that age, but I am still the same. 

I asked my CCD kids to imagine what it would be like to be in heaven. 
"There won't be killin' and stuff like that, ya know?"
"There'll be angels and friends and lots of Chinese food--my grandpa"
"We'll be in the clouds and we'll fly around and won't have to think about nothin'."
"I think heaven is where we all love one another, where there's no hate, we just get along like God wants us to."

I think as we grow older, our ability to dream big, to imagine possibilities beyond rational thought, diminishes. We become more "realistic", more stoic in affect. We are afraid to hope, because we have felt too often the pain of disappointment.  

I dream of a world free of hate and violence.  I dream of a people full of life, who smile because it feels great to smile.  A world where we are not afraid to love one another as God loves us. A world free from oppression and hunger. A world in which everyone can feel safe.  

Is that too much of a childhood fantasy? Is that too much to ask? 

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

On Blogging: A Reflection a Few Days In

Just within the past week of beginning my blog, I've already been starting to have internal questions about it.  I have found myself obsessing about whether people actually read my blog, if they find it relevant, how many people actually visit the site, etc. What am I doing? Why am I doing this?  What is its purpose? It's a normal train of thought that goes on within me about many things.  

I found in the first few postings that I've had a real sense of joy of being able to express myself.  That I was doing something meaningful, and that I had something to say.  But recently, I've begun to ask--was it really all that meaningful? Did I really have anything new to say?  I mean, it's all been said before anyway, and probably by much smarter and more creative people.  What, then, is the point of blogging?  Why did I even ask permission to begin with?

I know, it hasn't even been a week yet, and off I go again on this sort of thinking.  

Those who somewhat know me are shocked to learn that I indulge in such mental morbidity, as I'm often perceived by some to be quite optimistic and positive which borders, or just plainly is, naivete.  For others who've seen that side of me, they ask: "why do you keep doing this to yourself?" I think specifically about past spiritual directors.  

In Jesuit lingo, we would say that this sort of indulgence is exactly where the dark spirit wants to keep us.  Indeed, it's so easy for me to get trapped, and sometimes I need a good slap in the face to awaken me to the self-destructiveness that is going on.  This is why my Jesuit spirituality is so important to me.  Without the tools of discernment that I have gained, I would be locked in a mental struggle for days, weeks, or even longer. 

It has been my faith that anchors me amidst the all-too-common days of habitual pessimism.  

When looked at through a different lens, I feel much consolation about what I am doing with my blog, to give of myself in my own, unique way. To write not only because I find life in doing so, but also because perhaps even one person will take away something from it.  Even if there was no one who read this blog except that one person, I feel it would be worth my time and effort to continue doing what I'm doing even just for that one.  

In the meantime, I will do my best to write on a fairly regular basis, for it makes no sense to "market" this blog if I don't have anything to really offer.  What I have to offer is myself, and I would like to share that with you.  

I truly would value any feedback, constructive criticism, how to improve the site, etc.  I'm slowly learning my way around this technological world of blogging, but I have so much still to learn.  

Still, for data gathering purposes, it is good to ask the question: is anyone reading? 

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Two Filipino Stick Dances

(First: Hurray, Nadal!  2nd: Boo, Steelers!)

This first dance is called tinikling.  

Next is called sinkil

I would describe these dances better, but really, I don't have much knowledge about them except that I've seen them often performed at Filipino Festivals.  If you are more interested, I'm sure you can find stuff on wikipedia or something.