Monday, March 30, 2009

On Seeing

I've been thinking lately about the faculty of seeing. Ask the question 'what do you see', and you may be surprised at the variety of viewpoints. I'm sure many of you have seen this image before.

Some may see a decrepit, elderly woman with a long face who forlornly looks down in sadness. That long chin, at another glance, becomes the neck of a beautiful woman, the pimple that of a simple nose. Eyes have turned into ears. What do you see? If you say an elderly woman, you are right. If you say a beautiful young woman, you are also right. All, of course, depending on your perspective.

Our perceptions, our lenses through which we see the world, shape how we live and interact in this life. If you primarily see people as Democrats or Republicans, liberal or conservative, then obviously that is the primary way in which you will interact with others. And, that is the primary way in which you will probably judge others. You may see the world with utter paranoia, believing that everyone is out to get you. You may be right. Hence, you will probably be looking at everyone around you with extreme, excessive, even obsessive, suspicion. Perhaps you see everything with great joy. You are not afraid to give a big hello to everyone you see, to have a heart-to-heart even with a stranger on the subway--you are always smiling, always bubbly, and always super sweet. And perhaps you are the one to see those people as obnoxiously happy.

When I was at L'Arche in Tacoma, WA, I lived with a core member named Bobby. He was a few years older than I was, but his mind was as developed as that of a year old toddler. Most things we do for ourselves he cannot do. He cannot walk, he cannot bathe on his own, he cannot take care of his own BM's (a euphemistic way of talking about bodily functions in the medical realm), etc. Yet, he is still the happiest person I have ever met in my entire life. He does not see as 'developed' minds see--he does not think, at least I did not witness it, in our same categories. If you were in range, he would literally reach out to you, regardless of who you were. Sometimes I would wonder what it was like to think like Bobby as I observed him laughing for no apparent reason. What's so funny? Well, probably seeing something I wasn't seeing.

Sometimes I read the news and grow in helplessness and despair--news outlets affecting, one may even say monopolizing, how we see. Do you ever wonder how your thinking would be affected if we did not have news? No one to constantly remind us how messed up some things are? Not necessarily a major critique of news in general, but just to point out how much our thinking, our seeing, is tied to the news outlets. And sometimes what they show us is exactly what we need to see. I don't necessarily envy those who must decide what makes the news and what doesn't. There's a lot of power there...

As a Jesuit scholastic, I am in training to look at the world with a particular viewpoint (in many ways, that training never ceases). We seek, as Jesuits, to think how Christ thinks, to see how Christ sees, to place Him at the center of our lives. The question, then, is how we are to know how Christ thinks and how Christ sees. Well, Sacred Scripture is one indicator. For example, in today's famous Gospel passage, Jesus shows great compassion to the woman caught in adultery. The Scribes and the Pharisees see the law which states that they should stone such a woman. Jesus, though, does not see with condemnation but with charity and love. Christ is the way in which I have freely chosen to orient my life--Christ as the lens from which all else emanates. I do not think I will ever clearly see the world as He sees it, but I can strive towards that end.

All of us clearly have particular ways of seeing the world. But, I think it is important to ask ourselves whether our primary ways of seeing are healthy. How do you see your life? How do you see the world? Are there things in your life in which you need to see in a new light? Do your ways of seeing bring harm and destruction to others? To yourself? If so, how do you wish to see differently?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In Search of Intentionality

One of the reasons I began this blog was that I wanted to write whenever I felt inspired. Therefore, I need to write now before I lose it.

I was very recently, as in about 10 minutes ago, praying about intentionality in my life. Honestly, I am pretty terrible about intentionality. Or, I struggle in my own sheer willpower to follow through on things. Lenten resolutions?? They pretty regularly become Lenten failings. Part of it is that I have an addictive personality--although, thankfully, alcohol I don't particularly struggle with. I know my limits and know when to stop.

Let me give you an example. One of the perks of having a Netflix account is that I am now able to stream videos and movies online over the internet. So, recently, I have been watching The Office online. A quirky kind of humor, but one I've really been getting into lately. If you're like me (you're probably not, because I'm pretty crazy, but you just might be), you might watch an episode or two and then tell yourself that the next episode will be the last one you watch. Well, before you know it, you watched another eight episodes, and when you realize that it's 3AM in the morning, curse words just naturally start to flow.

When I was growing up, I loved playing video games. Actually, I'm a huge nerd when it comes to them, and I still love playing them. Especially those RPG games where you get to customize your character ad nauseum and try to make them 'uber-l33t' while 'pwning noobs' (if you don't know what that means, you're probably better off). I've been known in college to play games like World of Warcraft until 6AM in the morning. Thankfully, I've subdued that part of me for the most part while being a Jesuit, but I still find ways to get my gaming in once in a while. I love video games--I can't deny that. But, many spiritual directors, and a therapist, have said that it's all about intentionality, of setting limits for myself. Spiritually, a sort of inner mortification needs to take place. If I do not discipline myself in this way, I lose control very quickly. And, almost always, I end up being angry with myself at the end.

Anyway, while I was at prayer, playing the old internal record of needing intentionality in my life, I began thinking about the Ordo. The Ordo plays a central role in the life of the novitiate. The novitiate is probably one of the only times when our lives look like that of a monastic order. For example, as a 1st year novice, a typical Tuesday in my province looked like this:
6:30 AM Rise
7:00 AM Private Prayer
7:45 AM Common Morning Prayer
8:00 AM Breakfast
9:00 AM Class
11:00 AM Mass
11:45 AM Examen
12:00 PM Lunch
1:00 PM (to 3PM) Work Ordo (essentially manual work like scrubbing toilets)
5:15 PM Afternoon Meditation (Private)
6:00 PM Dinner
7:30 PM Spiritual Reading
9:00 PM Examen
9:15 PM Evening Prayer (Common)
Now, I know a number of Jesuits hate the Ordo, or maybe I should say really struggle with it. With my kind of personality, however, I deeply appreciated the strict structure of the novitiate timetable. I could be intentional without having to think about it. It was freeing for me on many different levels.

Of course, we don't live this way all of our lives--we have to integrate the graces of that structure into our lives. For me, it probably means setting personal goals not unlike that of the novitiate. I don't need to be as detailed, but I can't lose out on the essentials either--a personal struggle when I don't have set goals in mind. Setting a clear time of getting into bed, of praying throughout the day, of giving time to study, of spending time in community, etc. Perhaps I use my morning prayer to plot my day.

Now, it's just a matter of putting words into practice. Let's see! It's not like I haven't told this to myself before. But, whenever I seek and ask for God's help and guidance in this, I am much more disposed to follow through. It's just a matter of regularly asking for that grace, of letting go that I can do this by myself.

Friday, March 20, 2009

On Prayer: Prayer Journaling

First off, my apologies for the technical difficulties. I hope it works this time.  

Now, I thought I would change it up a little bit and do my first ever video-blog--the main reason being that I have a bit of show-and-tell to do for this next one.  

As a perfectionist, there were a number of things on the video that I wanted to do-over. But, then again, I'd probably be here forever, since I ended up sharing for over 10 minutes. Unfortunately, the 'delete' button doesn't work so well with video editing as it does with writing. I notice I ramble at times and say things that I already have said, so watching myself has given me an opportunity to reflect on how I can better transmit my thoughts. Many people are terrified of seeing themselves on screen or even listening to their own voice, but I've had plenty of practice as a singer.  And, I took a Hopkins poetry class where my professor required us to record ourselves reciting one of his poems, so it's not new to me.  So, here I am, unscripted, unedited, and uncensored!

(Well, actually, it now is edited.  I didn't make another video but just ended up trimming the one I made. So, unfortunately, you won't get to see talk about my last batch of pan de ube--a Filipino pastry.  That also accounts for the abrupt jumps in the video...I'm no tech expert on these things but I tried to make it flow as best as I could) 

(*If you are reading this through facebook, as I have my blog automatically update to my profile, you'll have to access the video directly through my website. Youtube video doesn't stream through my imported notes) 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

On Prayer: New Ways

The prayer techniques that I have written about so far this week have been ones used for centuries. Yet, with the continuing advancement of technology, specifically the internet and personal music players, new ways of prayer are opening up before us.  

One of the ways that has been promoted are guided meditations through podcasts. The British Jesuits, for example, run an excellent website that you may have heard of, Especially for younger people in which we have pretty much grown up being technologically savvy, I think it is important to explore these new ways. I use this podcast quite frequently, as it offers a guided reflection on one of the readings of the day. It is probably one of the best online resources I know. You can easily subscribe to the podcast through applications like iTunes.  

The Irish Jesuits also run a good website called Sacred Space.  Some may be turned off by praying in front of your computer, but it may be helpful to you.  If you are to pray with your computer, I think this is as good as any.  There's even a new website that helps you to pray your examen online if that suits your style (which just came online the same day I posted about the examen). 

Of course, there are the iPods that are becoming increasingly prolific. Pretty much everyday now, I see someone with the market iPod headphones on (see picture). 

Now, you probably have your own opinion about them, but I personally have used my iPod quite a bit not only for my own personal prayer but also for communal prayer. Of course, in order to pray with your iPod, you should actually have songs on it that are conducive to your prayer. I have my own prayer playlists that I use.  

I'm sure there is plenty more out there. The web is full of good (and not-so-good) material out there. If your lives are as deeply entrenched in technology as my life is, then I think it's good to have technological outlets for prayer as well.  

This is the age we are entering. Clearly, I do not think the "old ways" of praying are obsolete.  If anything, I find them more relevant than ever. Yet, new ways are emerging that I think can only enrich us. Let us be open to these new movements.  

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Prayer: Composition of Place

This next method of prayer, Composition of Place, is of great importance when praying the Spiritual Exercises. It is also known as Ignatian Contemplation or Application of the Senses.  

In Luke 18:16, Jesus says: "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." 

In order to use this method of prayer that Ignatius holds in high esteem, your prayer in many ways must become like that of a child. I say that because, to pray using Composition of Place, you have to use your imagination and have faith that God is working through that mental capacity that we have. This faculty we lose as we enter adulthood, but Ignatius is asking us to reclaim it. 

Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, makes four points about Contemplation of Place. He writes:
"The First Point. By the sight of my imagination I will see the persons, by meditating and contemplating in detail all the circumstances around them, and by drawing some profit from the sight.  

The Second Point.  By my hearing I will listen to what they are saying or might be saying; and then, reflecting on myself, I will draw some profit from this.  

The Third Point.  I will smell the fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness and charm of the Divinity, of the soul, of its virtues, and of everything there, appropriately for each of the persons who is being contemplated.  Then I will reflect upon myself and draw profit from this.  

The Fourth Point.  Using the sense of touch, I will, so to speak, embrace and kiss the places where the persons walk or sit. I shall always endeavor to draw some profit from this."
Using this method of prayer, we are placing ourselves in the scene. We are not just thinking about the scene.  We imagine what we see, what we smell, what we hear, what we can touch, etc. For those in philosophic studies, it is a rather strange mix of the faculty of the mind mixed with the faculty of the senses. Typically, these two powers are separated, but in this form of prayer, they are combined.  We are being invited to experience scripture on a whole new level.  

Personally, I find the rosary to be a wonderful avenue for composition of place in that the Mysteries provide important scenes to contemplate.  Scenes such as the Annunciation, the scourging of Jesus, or the Resurrected Jesus appearing before the Apostles, lend themselves well to Composition of Place.  

Let me use the scene of the woman caught in adultery as a way to guide you through suggested steps for prayer.  As always, pray as the Spirit moves--allow God to lead and direct your prayer. And, I attribute these insights to my fellow brother Jesuits in the novitiate who taught me these methods.  

1) Place yourself in the presence of God, creating an inner silence within yourself.  
2) Ask God to lead you in prayer, to open your heart and mind to His gifts.  
3) Slowly read the selected passage (in this case, John 8:1-11).  Notice the details of the passage--the place, the characters, what is being said, etc.
4) Now, set the scene. Imagine the place--what does it look like? Who is there? Observe what is going on. 
5) What do you hear? What are the people saying? How are they saying it?
6) Allow the use of the other senses now. In this scene, you probably won't use smell or taste--but maybe you will. You may want to feel a stone at the scene--feel its weight and that temptation to throw it.  
7) Enter into the scene. How do you react to the scribes and pharisees?  To the woman? To Jesus? Perhaps you can identify more with one of those characters. Perhaps you place yourself as one of the scribes or the woman.  
8) Speak to Jesus about your experience.  How you felt, what struck you, how you were challenged, etc. Or, perhaps you do not say anything at all but to allow the fruits of the scene to penetrate you.  
9) End with a prayer of thanksgiving.  

A final note: composition of place is a wonderful tool to use when praying your examen, particularly during the review phase. I find composing the scenes of the day to be a powerful way to reflect and pray on the past moments. Seeing the people in your mind, hearing what they said, imagining how you responded, etc.  Try it, you'll like it =)

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

On Prayer: Lectio Divina

First off, Happy St. Patrick's Day! One of the priests here at Ciszek Hall, Fr. Rich Zanoni, shared this prayer of St. Patrick during his homily today that I really liked.  

Now, one of the methods of prayer that I learned in the novitiate is called Lectio Divina. It is the art of praying with sacred writing. Typically, Sacred Scripture holds the primacy of Lectio Divina, but other forms of spiritual writing may be used as well. Many religious use the breviary in this way.   

This form of prayer, as the name implies, involves the practice of reading.  Typically, when we read, we do so in order to gather information. Or, we may read for pleasure, immersing ourselves in a captivating story. 

Praying using the method of Lectio Divina, however, requires a mental shift in how we read. We are not reading merely to obtain information, to analyze the text as a scholar. Nor is Lectio Divina merely casual reading. Lectio Divina is meant to be prayed in a relaxed, rather slow manner.  We approach the text as if God is speaking directly to us. It is not merely reading the text; we must also inwardly listen. We should seek an inner disposition of silence which is necessary for Lectio Divina to be an effective prayer.  

Let us take, for example, Psalm 42.  The first line goes: "As the deer longs for streams of water,/ so my soul longs for you, O God." 

Personally, I could spend a good 5-10 minutes on that one line alone, if not longer. Perhaps that is the only line I use for prayer.  I may sit with that image of longing, that God provides the water that nourishes my soul. I dispose myself to experience that nourishment, that grace of God, at work within me. Perhaps I repeat the line to myself like a mantra, allowing the meaning of the line to sink deeper and deeper into me.  I may have an inner conversation with God about some inner struggle, and this line may be what brings me comfort. 

One could approach and be touched by this text in many different ways and yet would only have tasted a small bit of its richness.  The text embodies the great Mystery of God's Word, that mystery which we can never fully grasp. I may return to this line tomorrow, next year, ten years from now, and the meaning I gleam from it today may be totally different in the future. 

As I have mentioned before, prayer should change us for the better.  The examen, in its practice, grounds us with greater thanksgiving, propelling us forward through the sacred review of the day. Lectio Divina should also create positive change within us, transforming us to be better children of God and better brothers and sisters for one another. We cultivate our growing relationship with God and rejoice in His presence.  

Allow me, then, to offer you some steps to pray using the Lectio Divina, yet inviting you, as always, to make the practice your own.  

1) Quiet yourself down, placing yourself in God's presence. Foster an inner disposition of silence and of listening.  
2) Pray for God's guidance, that God may help you to pray faithfully at this time, that you may be open to His word, to His grace at work.  
3) Turn to the text.  Move through it slowly and allow the words to sink deep into you. Stop when a phrase catches you and stick with it as long as it is fruitful. It may be that you repeat the phrase as a mantra, or that the words form a scene in your mind, or you may use it to have a conversation with God.  Pray as the Spirit inspires you.  
4) When you are finished, end in a prayer of thanksgiving. 


Monday, March 16, 2009

On Prayer: The Examen

I noticed before I started writing this post that, over at the Loyola Press blog that I have linked on the right side of my site, Fr. Paul Campbell SJ already had written a short post on the examen. But, that just means that two people will be promoting the examen today. 

As Fr. Campbell points out, Ignatius felt the practice of the examen to be of great importance in the lives of the Jesuits. The examen provides us the way to take a step back from the business of our everyday lives, to recollect all that has happened, to see our day with the help of God.  Indeed, if we were to lose all forms of prayer except one, the Examen was to be the prayer that we kept. In a way, the examen is a small retreat in the literal sense of the word. The examen is a time to withdraw so that we may re-enter the world more grounded and more mindful of God's presence in our lives than we were before the prayer time.  

Last Thursday, I gave a short presentation and guided meditation over at Fordham, so I thought I would share some preliminary points about prayer before I walk you through the steps of the examen itself.  

1) Coming as you are.  God knows all that is going on in our lives--we do not need to pretend with God.  We seek to be our true selves, coming as we are to God in prayer. I do not believe God would want otherwise.  
2) Place. It is important to cultivate an environment that best fosters our prayer life. Personally, I know I have a hard time praying in my room, so I try to utilize the chapel spaces here in the house. However, that's one of the perks of religious life that most people do not have. Maybe there is a special place in your home that you find helpful to pray. Maybe it means going for a walk or using a candle. You know yourself best--find what works best for you.  
3) Taking your time. Especially in our culture that values efficiency of time, I think the temptation in prayer is to rush through it.  The examen should not be rushed. Going over your day takes some time and effort, but that time is well worth the investment.  
4) Flexibility. The rubrics of the Examen are there to help you, but don't feel constrained by them. Make the examen your own. Perhaps you would like to pray through writing, music, or images.   

Here, then, are the general steps of praying the examen as I know and pray them (I try to, anyway). These are not universal steps in the sense that every Jesuit does it this exact same way, but the core essence of the prayer is here. In the novitiate, we were given around 15 minutes to do our examens.  But, you just roll with the Spirit in terms of time, and sometimes the length of time you spend on any one step will vary from day to day. 

1) Placing myself in God's Presence
2) Gratitude
3) Petition
4) Review
5) Forgiveness
6) Looking Forward

For me, the examen is all about God's work. I find my examen prayers to be fully alive when I give up control of the prayer time and allow God to guide me through my day. The prayer is about God's initiative, of God leading us to those places and moments in the day in which we need to review. It is about what God has given, God's love, and God's grace.  Step one, then, is to remind ourselves of our faith in God's presence in the here and now. God is with us and desires to move into greater relationship with us. It is not just us talking at God as an abstract concept.  It is God leading us in prayer. 

Gratitude. As you may know, the greek meaning of the word Eucharist means thanksgiving. For Catholics, thanksgiving to God is the root of our prayer--it is our centering attitude towards the celebration of Mass. Many scholastics in my province go out to Hayden Lake for our annual 8 day retreat.  I remember looking out at the beauty of creation during one of those days, the richness of all of God's work, and thinking how one could not stop and be thankful for that bounty. God, indeed, has given us so much.  The root of all relationship, I think, is gratitude. Without gratitude and thanksgiving, our relationships lose their depth, they become shallow. Disposing ourselves with gratitude, then, allows us to enter more fully into the examen, as it encourages us to look through our day with that lens.  Oftentimes, we experience our day without gratitude, which makes the examen so important.  

Petition. As I have mentioned earlier, I believe the examen should be all about God's work. For me, then, this petition phase is to ask God to help me pray the examen, to ask God to lead me in prayer, to bring me to those moments of the day that I need to examine further.  And, I ask for an open heart and open mind, that I be receptive to the work that God will do. You may have your own types of petitions as you enter the review phase.  

Review. This step will probably take a majority of the time. Where is God leading us? What parts of the day is God calling us to see? Perhaps He will show us a moment of great joy. Or perhaps God will bring us to a moment of hurt. We consider those experiences, remembering how we responded, how we felt. It is seeing these experiences anew, seeing it as God sees it.  In this step, we have a conversation with God about these experiences--what we did well, where we can grow, where we need to be challenged. We converse and comment with God as a commentator would during scenes of a movie.  

Forgiveness and Reconciliation. Sometimes it is important for us to express regret and sorrow for our failings throughout the day.  None of us are perfect, and we often do and say things that we regret later on. How could we have responded better? Where do we need reconciliation in our lives? We are sinners, but sinners loved by Christ. God, in His great mercy, continues to beckon to us over and over and over again--God never gives up on us.  

Looking towards the future. Having reviewed the day, we are more disposed to re-enter the world with thankful hearts. We consider all that has happened in the examen period, seeking God's help to be made anew. Hopefully, our examens change us for the better, seeking to continue doing those good things that we have been doing already and to improve in those areas in need of improvement. 

I really do promote praying the examen, and I hope that it may be an avenue to promote your own relationship with God especially during this season of Lent.  

If you are interested in reading more about the Examen, I would recommend the book The Examen Prayer: Ignatian Wisdom for Our Lives Today, by Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV.  He uses not only personal stories to illustrate the steps of the Examen but also takes from the St. Ignatius' own writings, giving you a glimpse of how Ignatius examined his own day.  

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Looking Ahead: A weeklong reflection on prayer

During the season of Lent, the Church asks us to keep especially in our minds 3 things: Almsgiving, Fasting, and Prayer. You can say that my reflections on Social Justice were reflections on a type of almsgiving--of promoting the giving and the service of others.  

I don't think I will have a weeklong reflection on fasting, but I would certainly like to take this upcoming week to reflect on prayer (I have the time--Spring break baby!). Specifically, I will talk about different ways of praying, methods that I have learned since I was a novice. This will probably be one of my more longer running reflections, as I will probably have more than 5 days worth of material.  So, you might see 7-8 consecutive reflections on prayer.  Maybe even more! 

Ideally, Jesuits are men of prayer--our entire lives flow from our relationship with Christ. I say that as someone who, by no means, is an all-star at prayer and slips in its practice from time to time. For me, I find prayer to be like exercise--sometimes it takes a lot of willpower just to begin, dragging my feet along the way, but I know it is time well spent. As exercise is health for the body, so is prayer health for the spirit. 

So, this week will be as much to share my reflections on prayer as it also will be to inspire my own prayer life through its writing. I invite you to join me this week, and I hope that your own prayer life may be inspired through it as well.   

Monday, March 9, 2009

RIP Ciszek Fish

Last week, we went through this whole process of naming our newest community member to Ciszek Hall.  There were 3 options: Walter, Reggie, and .... some other name that clearly was forgettable. Walter because that is the first name through which Ciszek Hall is named, Walter Ciszek SJ.  Reggie because, as it was explained to me, that is the abbreviated name of the papal bull through which the Society was founded - Regimini Militantis Ecclesiae. So, in non-Jesuit fashion, we put the naming of our newest community member to a vote.  

And, the community decided that the fish's name was...Quang.  This, friends, is the power of the write-in vote.  Apparently, he was a Jesuit who lived in the community last year, so I've never met him. But, he's probably one of the most referenced Jesuit in this house as well. 

Well, I was looking in the fishbowl today because I actually had not yet looked at the fish myself and puzzled why I didn't not see a fish. The rector, seeing my astonished look, simply said to me: "He died."

Oh, newest community member that I never met, I'm sure you were a great addition to the community. Lots of laughs.  Lots of tears. You will be sorely missed. May you now be swimming in the waters of eternal life.  

So, perhaps you will be hearing about a new community member in the future. I, personally, like Reggie.  

Friday, March 6, 2009

Reflections on Social Justice p.5 - A New Earth

We are all confronted with the question--what is the meaning of life? What do I want to do with my life?  

I think all of us have a vocation, and I am not necessarily talking only about religious vocations. We are called to manifest the gifts and talents given to us, to be humans fully alive. As St. Irenaeus shares, it is when we are fully alive that the glory of God radiates forth unto this world.  

In the Our Father, we pray 'on Earth as it is in Heaven.' Perhaps we can say that, to be in heaven, is to become fully alive. It is that end, that telos, to reach the pinnacle of our human existence.  The road of our history aims towards this end, with the light of Christ as the beacon for humanity.  To be as it is in Heaven would be to have the entire world fully alive.  

Yet, a new Earth does not just happen. It requires hard work. It requires sacrifice. It demands our whole being.  

It also demands that we get over ourselves.  

We are beings who, by nature, rely on one another. Our lives are inextricably linked. Just think of all those who have formed you in your life, whether for ill or for good. Your parents. Your kindergarten teacher. The mailman who delivers your mail. The farmers who help to produce your food and the ones who bring that food to your communities. Those who pick up your garbage. All those who came before them, spanning all the way back to the beginning of humanity. And, for those who believe, the One who made it all possible to begin with.  

Part of how we live our lives depends on whether we believe that our lives have purpose, or if we believe that we are just mere accidents of nature. I, personally, would not feel impelled to do anything with my life if I did not believe in a Purpose behind it all.  

I joined the Jesuits because I felt called to serve our world in this particular way. That somehow, through my life, I would help to bring heaven here on earth, even if the movement towards that goal moved only slightly. Although miniscule, that still makes us closer than before.  

Add up all of our minuscules, and perhaps mountains will be moved.  

You have your own vocation which is different from mine. You have your own gifts and talents that I do not have. But, I do not think we are meant to live our lives merely for ourselves. In reality, we cannot do it by ourselves. If that was God's intention, He would have created for us isolated, self-sustaining islands in which we would never have to look each other in the face. 

The kingdom of God here on Earth is a collective effort, and all of us are involved. We do not necessarily have to like one another, but we are all called to love one another. There is a difference. That love spurs us to service, to help our brothers and sisters become more fully alive on this earth.  

What are your own gifts and talents? How are you called to serve? How will we bring increased life to our world? 

In this Lenten season, let us pray that our lives become lives of almsgiving through the love and service that we offer to one another in this world. Let us not tear each other down, but to lift each other up. And let us believe and have faith that this is all possible with the grace of God in our midst.  

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reflections on Social Justice p.4 - Inspired to Service

Before I begin, I would like to say that I don't intend this post to be a laundry list of service activities that I have done in the past years. Rather, I believe that my faith, in which I am called to find God and Christ in all people, especially those who suffer, impels me to service. That is a primary reason why I pursued becoming a Jesuit in the first place. 

During Monday's gospel reading, we heard:
'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?' He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'  
Of course, I think most of us have good intentions in our hearts, but we do not necessarily know how to go about making change in the world. Let's not fool ourselves, this calling by Christ is not an easy one.  

I think a lot of my time at Seattle University was spent asking myself what was the best way to serve. 

I became involved with Habitat for Humanity, having a wonderful trip to Yakima, WA, my freshman year of college. We truly began from the ground up--we began with a dirt lot and built the foundations from scratch.  That year, we were building for a Latino family.  The mother looked so happy and grateful as she saw our group building her home, and she would come by once and a while to cook us a Mexican meal. Her son of about 6 years old at the time would also come along and play with us. Seeing them gave us greater reason to work hard at this new home that we would provide for them.  

Part of the Habitat program is 'sweat' equity.  Recipients of housing are expected to pay-it-forward not only by providing labor to their own houses but also that of future Habitat owners.  Inherent in Habitat, then, is the expectation that you will serve others because of what you have been given. I think Habitat is a wonderful program to be involved with.  

Since the building of these houses takes time, our group was only able to witness the initial stages of the house.  It was only a year later, when I led the next group back to Yakima, that I able to see the house fully built.  Seeing a newly built house versus the memory in my mind of a dirt lot gave me a lot of hope for the future. 

Sometimes when you serve, though, you do not witness the house come to fruition. You plant your seeds and hope and have faith that they will grow in the future.  

I spent much of the time my junior year of college fundraising for a campus ministry sponsored group called PIE (Philippine Immersion Experience). As the name implies, it was not necessarily that our group was going to the Philippines to serve.  Rather, we went to immerse ourselves in a different environment and culture--to witness life outside of the US, to see for ourselves the realities and conditions that our brothers and sisters live with.  

I saw firsthand children 5-6 years old barefoot begging for spare change. I heard from a group trying to redevelop the forestry of the country that, of the original rainforest of the Philippines, only 5% existed.  I saw worn down, shanty houses that seem like they could fall over if I pushed it with my hand.  In contrast, I also saw malls comparable to our nicest in the US. Those who attended the Jesuit University--Ateneo de Manila, tended to come from the higher classes of society (not that much different here either). A mere wall can divide the very rich and the very poor.  

Yet, I witnessed a lot of hope in that country.  An organization, called Gawad Kalinga, is similar to Habitat for Humanity. Yet, it's mission is broader in scope. I found a video on YouTube that would probably describe it better than I can. 

I had the privilege to advocate for this program my senior year when Seattle University hosted the National Conference for Hunger and Homelessness, the first time that it has ever come to the West Coast. I shared not only the vision of this organization but also my own experiences and reflections of GK (as did my other fellow PIE members). I look fondly at the few days that I stayed with a host family in one of the GK communities in Payatas, which is more known in the Philippines as being a garbage dump site.   

Then, before I entered the Jesuits, I was awarded a fellowship to NY called Humanity in Action. I felt the program would give me a fuller and richer experience of the problems we face.  Originally a program based in Europe, my year was the first year they were doing a program in the US.  We looked at issues of racism, immigration, matters of religion, etc.  What I found most enriching was that it was not just Americans involved in this program.  Fellows from Poland, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Denmark were able to give their outsider perspective on the American experience. I paired with a fellow German to write a paper at the end of our program, which you can find here

Having had these various experiences, I don't feel like I all of a sudden have all of the answers to today's pressing questions. Far from it.  At minimum, I can say that I have at least given some of these questions some critical thought and have had an experience here and there. 

Ultimately, it is my faith that inspires me. This is the lens through which I see the world, not merely as a matter of habit from childhood, but which stems from actual belief after sustained inquiry. Hopefully, after the long training that the Jesuits provide, and with the inspirations of my past, I will be more effective in my ministry and can spur and inspire future leaders for our world.  AMDG

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reflections on Social Justice p.3 - The Personal Touch

Sometimes, the use of numbers and statistics is mind-numbing.  For example, 1.3 billion people worldwide live on less than a dollar a day (from Bread for the World).  In the media, you may hear something like 100 people who died in a bombing in the Middle East.  

Yet, I think people are touched not by numbers and concepts but by personal stories. When we put a human face to the suffering, we are more able to place ourselves in the other's shoes.  Your heart is more likely to go out to the child who lost his parents in a bombing than upon hearing a high number of people who died in an attack.  

Before I entered the Society, one of the Jesuits I had a great deal of admiration for was Fr. Gary Smith. I knew of him through his book Radical Compassion, in which he journals the time he spent with the poor and the homeless on the streets of Portland. What I loved about his writing was that he was real; he told stories as he witnessed them.  

When I was in the midst of my 30 day silent retreat as a first year novice, I remember reading his book again during the 3rd week of the Exercises. There was one particular story I remember reading--it was his story about the Leper. The Leper, in this case, suffered from AIDS. I remember lying in bed in tears as I read through that story again. Gary told and reflected on his experience of walking with this man as his health continued to diminish. Yet, by the end of that story, my tears were genuine--his story touched my heart at the deepest level. In a different world, the story of the leper may have been my own story.  

Last year, Gary came out with a new book: They Come Back Singing- Finding God with the Refugees. His very first paragraph reads:
"This is not a book about Africa. It is about my years in Africa with Sudanese refugees. It is not a sociological study of refugees; it is a portrait of refugee hearts. It is not a book about what I gave to the refugees, but a book about what they gave to me. It is not a theology of mission, but a story of mission."
I do not think we should underscore the importance of story and narrative in addressing the problems of the world. It allows the ability to connect with our brothers and sisters around the world in ways that would not be possible otherwise.  We are then not simply talking about "the homeless" or "the poor".  We are talking about real people with real stories.

All of us have a story. But, we are not simply part of our own story--we partake in each other's stories.

What is your role? How do you hope to shape the story?  

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Reflections on Social Justice p.2 - A Brief Philosophical Reflection

One of the goals of students in philosophy is acquire the ability to think accurately and precisely.  For example, when we speak about 'liberty' and 'freedom', what exactly do we mean? Is freedom merely to choose what brand of cereal you want to eat for breakfast? Does freedom mean to do anything you want to do? Etc.  

As I mentioned on Saturday's post, one of the terms you hear often if you attend Jesuit institutions is 'social justice.'  Sometimes, though, I wonder if we throw out that word without a real, or perhaps a shared, understanding of what exactly we mean by 'social justice.' The word 'justice' carries its own challenges of understanding, and it is typically used more often than not in the context of law.  One who talks of 'justice' may be talking about fairness in actions, another may use it to really mean 'revenge'--the 'eye-for-an-eye' option.  

What, then, do we mean by 'social justice'?  

The all-knowing website, wikipedia, defines it thusly:
"Social justice, sometimes called civil justice, refers to the concept of a society in which justice is achieved in every aspect of society, rather than merely the administration of law.
Look, already, how difficult it is to define.  This website defines the term using 'justice', which brings us back to asking what 'justice' means.  The same site, then, defines justice in this way
"Justice is the concept of moral rightness based on ethicsrationalitylawnatural lawfairness and equity."
Now, look at all of these terms we have just introduced--moral, ethics, rationality, law, natural law, fairness, and equity.  What do these mean???  I'm sure you can see, then, why philosophy can sometimes be quite frustrating. But, that is because philosophy demands being precise--it seeks to attain clarity of thought.  Let us then, not, think it too much trouble to ask the question of what 'social justice' means.  Rather, in asking the question, we may at least get a better understanding of what we mean, at least in Jesuit institutions.  

I think what is inherent in our dialogue of 'social justice' is the understanding that there are stark inequalities that exist in our world.  We do not live in a world in which all share equal benefits. And, human beings must fulfill a number of basic necessities in order to live.   
  1. Access to food and drink
  2. Proper shelter and clothing to shield from the elements
  3. Since we live in a communal society and not in the wilderness, access to work through which our earnings give us the ability to fulfill the first two needs.  
  4. Access to education to properly fulfill all of these
Now, perhaps there are other basic necessities that we have, but the first two, at least it seems to me, are absolutely minimum. I'm sure there are others, such as the need to be safe from harm or the social dimensions to being human. That many people around the world struggle to fulfill these basic requirements is unjust.  Their ability merely to live is highly compromised--human beings are relegated to the status of surviving animals.  

Is this due to laziness? Maybe these human beings just aren't working hard enough? Yet, what do you say to children who, through no fault of their own, are born in these circumstances? How much are we available to supporting all the newborns in this world? 

Now, clearly I do not have the ability to definitively define 'social justice' in one sitting. I'm sure one can write an entire book and then some about it. What I think is important for us to keep in mind, especially at Jesuit institutions, is to know what we mean when we say 'Social Justice'. Let us not use it as some nebulous term. And let us not assume that our audience knows what it means either.  

Monday, March 2, 2009

A Week of Social Justice Pt 1: Jesuit Refugee Service

This week, I hope to post specifically about Social Justice and some of the works that Jesuits are involved with.  

Today, I would like to introduce you to JRS- Jesuit Refugee Service.  I thought I would post two videos of JRS.  The first is a video that talks about how JRS got started. The second video is from the Assistant International Director of JRS and the necessity of reconciliation and forgiveness in the peace process. I have also added the blog of JRS-USA to the site so that you may obtain more information there.  

JRS: The Legacy of Fr. Pedro Arrupe

Reconciliation and Peace