Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A New Vision

I began my blogging experiment a few months ago, desiring to express and share myself through this medium. I didn't really know what I wanted of my blog; I just knew that I wanted to write and to share my faith with others.

In some ways, I liked the title "....." There was a sort of mystery to it. For me, it was an openness to where God was leading me. To write when I was inspired.

Yet, I have felt an inner stirring to bring focus to my blog. To truly find my voice--to write in a way that is most authentic for me. What do I hope of this blog? Where do I want it to go?

Throughout this entire semester, one of the themes that has continuously come back to me is the theme of my journey toward God, that inward pilgrimage throughout my life that led me into my vocation with the Jesuits. I love God deeply, though admittedly unperfectly, and have faith that God supremely and profoundly loves me at a level beyond all understanding. God, through Jesus Christ, who, in his divine nature, came down to be as one among us, died a humiliating death, and as a result brought to the world a new and profound hope, a wholly different and radical promise of life, that has never before existed. It is that love which grounds me, that impels me forward to live this life of mine.

Sometimes, when I visit a number of blogs on the web, I leave feeling more depressed. It's a constant stream of criticism, of tearing down the other without care.

This is why I wish my blog to be inspiring--I do not intend this blog to be a polemical blog, although there is certainly a place for them. But, that is not my way. Through my writing, I want to increase that faith, hope, and love that I have of God and to share it with all of you. I want to continuously affirm God's presence among us, to find those moments where I cannot help pray in thanksgiving for what I have been given. To rejoice in all the Lord has done for us. To profoundly say yes to this graced life, to the gifts that God gives all of us.

This is what I desire, and I feel this is what God desires of me at this time.

So, I am changing the title of the site. Join me as I embark on this new chapter of my blog into God's embrace.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Summer Plans

Because of the current financial situation, an all-call has been made requesting that all scholastics should expect to come back to the Northwest to work in-province for the summer. I think I would have naturally wanted to come back to province anyway, so I am happy to be heading back to the Northwest in a month's time.

I find myself quite excited for this upcoming summer. First, I will be heading into Spokane primarily for our annual 8 day silent retreat followed by province days, in which many of the Jesuits in the province will gather together. Most exciting at the end of province days are Ordinations, in which six of our men will be ordained. Six! I think it's wonderful to have that many guys ordained this year.

Following ordinations, I will be heading back to Portland to stay for a few weeks at the novitiate. The province wants a few guys to work the grounds for the summer, so I am happy to do that kind of work. I grew up doing a lot of yard work (mostly because my dad told me to), but I find that I rather enjoy it. There's nothing like nice, straight lines on a lawn (yeah, I'm a nerd). And, God forbid that I HAVE to be outside during nice sunny weather. Not one of the perks to the academic life.

Some of the other guys, for example, will stay in Spokane, where much help is needed in our infirmary, Bea House. The cost of taking care of our elder Jesuits can be quite high, so this help that the scholastics will be providing this summer will be a large help, and I'm sure our elder Jesuits will find it a great blessing to have a number of our younger guys to interact with. Some of the scholastics will become certified nurse's aids in the process.

The Jesuits at Bea House are always grateful for your prayers, especially for their wellbeing and health.

Following my stay in Portland, I will be heading into Seattle to help a fellow Jesuit regent, Glen Butterworth, with his fledgling program, 4-weeks a Jesuit, which you can learn about here. This is an opportunity for young men, from recent high school grads up to college grads, interested in the Society to explore what it means to be a Jesuit. I am very excited about this opportunity and hope the program will be a successful one.

Following my stint, I will be heading out to villa for about a week or two. This is a time not only to meet up with fellow Jesuits, but also a much needed time for rest and rejuvenation. Here's are pictures of our villa at Nestucca. It has a VERY Northwest feel to it.

After that, it is back to Portland to celebrate the First Vows of our second year novices, which I am also very much looking forward to. And, after that, the cycle of year starts up once again.

I think it's going to be a good summer.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Practice of Listening

To listen, to truly hear what others have to say, involves a certain level of dying to yourself.

I say that because I can be a pretty awful listener and am always seeking to be better.

It's not that I have no interest in what the other person is saying. It's that listening necessarily entails, at least for me, a certain amount of energy devoted to the other person--an energy that sometimes I don't have. Or an energy I don't wish to give.

It involves being present to the other person. Not present to the past or to the future, but the here and now. Sometimes, it's hard to be in the here and now when a lot of things are on your mind.

And, as a huge introvert, I easily get caught up in my own thoughts. In focusing on what is going on within me, I can have a hard time paying attention to what is going on in other people's lives.

True listening, then, is an act of charity, an act of love. When you listen, truly listen, you give yourself over completely to the other person. You attempt to see as the other person sees, to understand as s/he understands, to put yourself in their shoes. You open yourself to share their joy, their happiness, their struggles, their sorrows.

The art of listening, of course, is crucial to the health of any person in a committed relationship. A marriage cannot be sustained without the ability to listen to your spouse. In the same way, listening is an essential component for those in religious life. As God listens to our prayers, so we are called to listen to our brothers and sisters, to those whom we have dedicated our lives to.

But, we are also human, and sometimes we have a hard time listening.

There is something to be said, then, of listening within the spiritual life, in a life of prayer. Just as it is difficult to hear what the other is saying, so is it difficult for us to truly listen to what God is trying to tell us.

Sometimes, we are not attentive to what God is trying to share. Other times, we become hostile to His words, even if they are the exact words we need to hear. We are all loved by God, but sometimes that love manifests itself as a sort of "tough love." It challenges us to look at where we are straying, what we need to be doing different.

"If today you hear His voice, harden not your hearts."

God does not give up on us, though. God's Eternal Word continues to speak to us, dwells deep within us, continually beckoning to be heard. That love, that everlasting gift, is intimately shared with us and takes root if we are receptive to it and allow it to be planted in our hearts.

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

Let us pray, then, that we may form hearts and minds that seek to listen and hear in the way of Christ. Let us pray for that openness to one another, that we may listen not with judging ears, but ones of charity and understanding. And, let us pray that we may always be receptive and open to God's word, having faith that it brings great light and life to ourselves and to our world.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Incredible Nature of Christianity

"It is incredible that Christ rose in the flesh and with His flesh ascended into heaven. It is incredible that the world believed so incredible a thing. And it is incredible that a few obscure men, of no standing and no education, should have been able so effectively to persuade the whole world, including the learned"
~St. Augustine, The City of God (XXII.5)

It is, when you stop and think about it, quite incredible.

How are we to account for the spread of Christianity if Christianity, as some may argue, is merely one really persuasive story that millions have been duped into believing? Especially, why would the early Christians face persecution and death for the faith, if it was all just a lie? Why would countless others have even believed the message of the early Christians, which was clearly far-fetched? Wouldn't it have been better to have crafted a leader who was not born in the trough of animal food, did not ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, who did not die a humiliating death on the cross? Or that the roots of the faith sprang up in the well-to-do, real learned people of the times and not those who fled in fear at times of trouble?

Just some food for thought.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Reflection on Peter: A Call as You Are

One of my most favorite people in the bible (apart from Jesus, of course) are the apostles, especially Peter. There's something about who they are I am drawn to. I think it is because the apostles are characterized as flawed individuals, people who I think I would be able to relate to.

To think, of all of the people Jesus could have called to be his disciples, of those whom he chose to build the early Church, he called people who do not seem, at first glance, to be especially extraordinary. I mean, come on, fishermen? (Not that I have anything against fishermen).

Throughout the Gospels, Peter is depicted as one who lacks faith, someone who likes to speak before he thinks. He is firm in what he says, yet has a difficult time following up on his promises. The sinking in the water, the thrice denial of knowing Jesus...he's one of those whom you may say: "well, his heart is in the right place..."

The Easter season for Catholics is the primary time in which we listen to the Acts of the Apostles during Mass, and the Peter that is depicted in the gospels is starkly different from the Peter in Acts. Peter is seen as more confident, more wise. Peter, knows, however that the strength of his authority does not come from his own self, but through the grace of God. For example, in Acts 3, Peter is able to cure a crippled beggar, not of his own accord, but through the invocation of Christ's name. The emphasis is always on Jesus, never on Peter.

I do not necessarily think that Peter's personality radically changed. I think the Peter of Acts is, at his essence, the same Peter we read about in the Gospels. The difference, I think, is that Peter truly believes his life has been infused, inspired, and impelled by the Holy Spirit, that God will work through him if he only has faith. He is able to do things in a new way because he sees the world in a whole new way. He is the same Peter, yet able to do new things he was not able to before.

When I think about my Jesuit brothers, I sometimes think about them like the Apostles, like Peter. We are sinners, we have our own flaws and weaknesses. We are not, just because we have entered religious life, radically different men then before we entered. But, it is that faith in God, that belief that Christ can work in us and through us if we just believe, that helps us to do things we may not have felt possible otherwise. We are ourselves, yet can go beyond ourselves, through the Holy Spirit.

But, we often fail, and many times our faith may waver. Yet, Christ is our center, Christ is our foundation. We must necessarily rely on the help of Jesus to live this life faithfully. Everyday, we seek for Christ to grow His roots deeper into us, to more firmly ground us. Christ, who brings light to our darkness. Christ, who breathes new life into us, making us fully alive.

If we are grounded, if we are faithful, then the power, the example of our lives through Christ is immense. Ideally, through our lives, we are able to inspire others likewise, to build the kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven. Day by day, brick by brick.

And so, in this Easter season, let us rejoice and be glad in all that God has done for us and is doing for us. Let us have faith that God can work in us and through us, just as we are, that through Christ, we are able to realize and magnify the fullness of our humanity. That, in the dying to ourselves, we may come into fuller and richer life for the great glory of God. Amen! Alleluia!

Reverting the Changes

Well, I've changed the formatting back, since I didn't like the changes (although did some minor tweaks on some of the fonts). Also, I don't think I will use my blog as a prayer space like I did last post, as I found it restricted my personal prayer, and I wasn't necessarily able to be free to pray as I would otherwise. But, sometimes the best way to learn is to try something before you realize it doesn't work for you.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Some experimentation and some prayer

I decided to slightly format the blog a little bit, just to see if I like it. I might change it back if it doesn't grow on me.

Anyway, throughout the next week and a half or so, I'm going to try something different with my blog by actually using my blog as one of my prayer periods this upcoming week (I'll at least try to anyway). Specifically, then, my postings will be prayer writings, just to see what comes of it.

Lord, I call to mind at this moment that you are with me, looking upon me with tender love and mercy. I place myself in your presence, breathing in your Holy Spirit, the gift of life that is my inspiration.

Lead me, guide me this day, and always, that all that I do, all that I speak, all that I think and feel, my entire being, may be directed and formed by you.

I seek this day to cultivate the fields of my soul. In this Easter season, please spread your seeds of life into my being and nourish them with your everlasting water. You are my shepherd, my farmer, in whom I trust to create in me the life I am meant to live. Help me to be mindful of this inner field, to always create good and fertile soil for your work. Help me to be conscientious of the ways in which I poison and destroy the foundation for your work in me.

Lord, young chicks sing their song of joy this day outside my window. Trees are beginning to spread their wings in full bloom. Great and beautiful are your works. Awesome and wonderful are your creations. I rejoice and give thanks for all that you have given me and our world.

Yet, so many in our world are suffering, are filled with hate. Many are downtrodden and struggle to live this day. Please form hearts within us that seek to give care to one another, that we may look upon one another as you look upon us. Create in us hearts of mercy, hearts of love, impel us to greater service for our fellow brothers and sisters.

Lord, I seek to be at my best for your people, to imitate through your example, poor that I am. But, as you called your disciples as they are, so also you call me as I am. Help me to cultivate my gifts and talents, yet also help me to rely on you and others in my own weakness, that my weakness may be your strength.

As I pray, I know that you smile upon me, inspiring me with your life-giving breath. As I go forward this day, may I always be rooted in grounded in you. May I go forth as the person you created me to be. Amen. AMDG

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

A Pleasant Surprise

I stumbled upon this video clip a few days ago, and every time I have watched it, I get a big smile on my face. You never know what talent lies hidden in the people around you! And...first impressions aren't always the best ones.

Monday, April 13, 2009

In the season of new life at a time of darkness

I'm rather reluctant to write this post because I am conscientious that we have just now entered Easter, a time of new life and joy, and I wonder how transparent I should be on this blog. I want to be real, though, and to affirm the human struggles that even those in religious life face.

Whenever I deeply share my interior movements to others, many are often surprised by the inner struggles that I face. In one respect, I can be quite good at hiding it. I am also deeply introverted, so I do not go out of my way to share what is going on inside of me. It's sometimes a struggle for me when people ask: "how are you doing?" I do not think most people ask that question looking for a fairly deep response, so I just revert to the "I'm doing fine." What should I say? "oh, I'm doing pretty shitty today, how about you?"

That was especially difficult for me yesterday, however, because I was not feeling particularly joy-filled on Easter. I try to put on the face, I try to persuade myself to snap out of it, but I cannot ignore what I deeply feel inside. In the Church season of great joy, I personally found myself in great darkness.

Part of my struggle is that I do not permit myself to feel shitty. "I'm in religious life, I should feel this, I should be this. I'm expected to be this." Yes, those in religious life have the expectation to be holy people, to not be angry, jealous, greedy, etc. etc. We're supposed to have it all together, you know?

When the interior struggles of Mother Teresa came out, it was such a shock to many. I thought it was the best thing in the world, because it affirmed for me that even the holiest of people struggle with darkness. And, it wasn't all that shocking for me.

Last night, I had a heart to heart with Jesus, and I felt that he was inviting me to express my deep pain and struggle. "Be real with me, Ryan, and tell me how you're actually feeling."

I've been pondering this morning what I read in the novitiate of St. John of the Cross in Thomas Green S.J.'s book When the Well Runs Dry. One of the insights that I remember is St. John's belief that in times of great darkness are times when God is most near--we just are not able to perceive it. One of the ways that I witness this is that in my own struggles, I find that my desire to connect with God proportionately grows as the darkness increases. I continue to learn in the spiritual life about attending to my desires, and there is something to be said about increased desires in times of darkness.

From the darkness, I find myself fervently praying for increased life, for increased hope, for increased faith, for increased love. And, I do believe that God hears and responds to these prayers. The writing of this post is a fruit of these prayers.

You might ask how the darkness manifests itself inside of me. The question again for me, then, is how transparent I should be. I think it is worth sharing, though.

My darkness plays out in a number of ways: I shut myself off from others because I do not want to be bothered by them nor do I want to burden them with what I am going through (which isn't the most healthy thing to do because then I just get angry about being lonely), my thoughts and feelings become consumed in overwhelming helplessness, that life is just too difficult, and then, at worst, a desire to take my life in order to get away from the pain it entails.

This darkness has been a recurring thing throughout my entire life, and I imagine I will battle with it for the rest of it. Honestly, though, if I did not believe in God's mercy and power in my life, I do not know if I would still be here.

I shared this with my rector since I knew I needed to talk about this, and I knew I needed help. Thankfully, he forwarded me to a good therapist--a desire of life out of the darkness. I thought I didn't need it after seeing one in the novitiate, but it looks like I still have more work to do. As my novice director likes to say: "It's good stuff."

Just in writing this, I feel myself in a place of great thanksgiving for being able to share this with you, even just to concretize my thoughts. And, I feel the life of Easter coming more into me in the sharing of my struggles.

Gerard Manley Hopkins S.J. has the wonderful line in his poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland":
"Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east."
May God easter in us during this new season, especially at those moments of our darkness, and that Christ may be that inner light bringing us to new life.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Wishing all of you a Blessed Easter! May this season bring you much joy and new life.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Holy Saturday: The Day After

I've been meaning to write during this Holy Week, but I have found myself extremely busy this past week. On this Holy Saturday, however, I would like to offer my own prayerful reflection of the fruits of this day.

I was looking through my diary at a time I was in 30 days of silence. Monday, Nov. 27, 2006 @ 3:33 PM. I began the entry: To Jesus.

I had written a eulogy.

Our own feelings and emotions immediately following the death of a loved one is often jarring, excruciating, heart-wrenching. Tears flow in disbelief, our sense of time and reality distorts as we tell ourselves that it's all a dream, that it's not real.

The day after, when you wake up from the weariness of the prior day's intensity, a somewhat eerie silence greets you in the morning. You realize that yesterday did indeed happen, but rest has calmed, at least a little, what you were experiencing. At least, that is the way I have experienced death.

On this Holy Saturday, I wonder how the disciples felt after experiencing the death of Jesus. Their despair. Their hopelessness. What Mary felt in losing her son. The questions of why. And, I wonder how they felt the day after.

As I read my eulogy that I wrote over two years ago, I realize that it was my own way of trying to make sense of what had happened. I was affirming the impact He had on my life, as I wrote: "You changed my life...In the midst of my deep hurt, you came to me. You listened to me. You allowed me to cry. You hugged me and comforted me. For the first time in my life, I realized what it truly meant to love myself, to be loved."

And then, feeling the pain of pondering how He who changed my life was ridiculed, scorned, mocked, tortured, crucified, and put to death.

Of course, for Christians, we celebrate and have faith in Christ's death and resurrection of around 2000 years ago, so it can be difficult to truly enter into this Holy Saturday, of experiencing the-day-after feeling. This is what we are commemorating, however.

Have you had those day-after feelings? What was that like for you? I invite you to bring such memories to your prayer on this Holy Saturday, to put yourselves in the shoes of the disciples, of Mary, and all those who directly witnessed the cross of our Lord.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Vowed Life

Before I begin, many of you figured out that yesterday's post occurred on April 1st. So, no, I have not left the Society nor do I plan on leaving anytime soon. My apologies if I worried you.

It was an interesting experience, however, writing that post since I necessarily asked the questions: Why am I a Jesuit? Why do I stay a Jesuit? How would I answer these questions if I were to leave?

The proclamation of my vows last August of poverty, chastity, and obedience were not done in a lukewarm fashion. I would not proclaim these vows if I did not believe what I was saying. I could not, in good conscience, take lightly the words: "I promise that I will enter this same Society to spend my life in it forever." I meant what I said, believing that God will bestow on me the grace to fulfill this. It also meant a lot to me to do this in front of my friends and family. I was publicly committing myself for the long term to the Society.

I think, however, it is a rather common experience to question one's vocation. While I was in the novitiate, I certainly had many days in which I wanted to leave. And, honestly, there are some days even after vowed life in which I have questioned why I am with the Jesuits. My struggles, however, are not unlike married couples. Is it not uncommon for those married to ask whether they made the right choice? Is it not a temptation for them to break their vowed promises?

Thankfully, I gave this question of whether the Jesuits were the right choice for me a lot of thought before I committed myself to them (that can happen to you when you have days of silence just to sit and reflect). One of the tools of discernment that we learn in the novitiate is to be mindful of our own consolations and desolations. A piece of advice that is one of the best I've ever been given for the spiritual life is: "Never make a decision in a state of desolation." Those moments that I have wanted to leave are moments when I have been in deep desolation. But, when I am in deep consolation, I feel incredibly blessed and thankful for this vowed life that I lead. Which movements should I trust? Trust the consolation, that sense of rightness in my life. Those moments when I say: "Yea, this feels right."

I decided, after consulting with my novice director, to buy a ring for vows. Some people ask me about it, since it can be a little misleading. I wanted something tangible, however, something to remind me of what I was committing myself to. When I look at the ring, when I fiddle with it, it gives me a physical reminder of this life that I lead. It helps to keep me honest.

For some, they realize that the Jesuit life does not feel right for them, and so they leave. Ideally, it is because they have found what really brings them life and joy. Hopefully, that happens more in the novitiate and not afterwards, but it is not uncommon for guys to leave after taking vows, as it is sadly not uncommon for people to divorce after marriage. We're not known, as human beings, to always choose based on the best reasons.

I feel, though, that I chose this life, flawed that I may be, with great joy and happiness. And, I have faith that God will grant me the strength and the grace to lead it as best as I can.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

It's Been Fun

A lot has happened over the past 2 and a half years. I've learned so much about myself and about my faith. But, I'm at a point now where I feel I need to move on with my life. So, after some deep reflection, I've decided that I will be leaving the Society of Jesus.

Let me make this clear that this is no fault of the Society. I still have a deep respect and love for their work, their ministry, and their lives. The Society and I have had a steady relationship, but as with couples, you necessarily come to a point where you seriously consider where this relationship is taking you. Is this life right for me? Do I want to spend the rest of my life with the Society? Am I really in love with the Society?

The answer, for me, is no. And, really, this is a difficult realization for me to come to. Of course, I have to ask myself: what have I been doing over these past 2 years? Have I just been wasting my time? What now?

Actually, I am very grateful for all that the Jesuits have given to me. I move on from here a better person than when I entered. And, I think we will still be friends. It's not like we are leaving with bad blood between us, but I think this move is best for both parties concerned.

I'm actually getting a little teary-eyed as I write this and think about all of the memories that I have. The fraternal community life, the heart-to-heart faith sharings, the opportunities to do and to experience things that I never would have otherwise, our daily routine of prayer and reflection (especially the 30 day silent retreat), my own personal development in mental, physical, and spiritual health, and the ever growing and deepening relationship I have fostered with God and Christ that will sustain me for the rest of my life--all of this and so much more that I am so incredibly thankful for.

I am so richly blessed, but the time to move on is now. I look forward to the rest of my life with great hope and anticipation, having faith that the Society will continue to grow and develop in my absence.

So, I'm sure you are asking: what now? Well, I have decided to stay here in New York and finish my degree in philosophy. As you can tell with my past posts, this year of studies has had quite an impact in the way I think and see the world. It has encouraged me to develop my critical thinking skills, to ask questions that I never would have asked otherwise. Thus, it would only be most prudent and beneficial for me to finish up what I started here at Fordham, so I will still be around. After that, I hope to place myself on the job market, specifically looking for a job in education. I feel particularly drawn to high school work and would love to teach at a Jesuit school, knowing that I learn just as much from the students themselves as they learn from me. I may also like to develop my musical skills, perhaps looking to get a degree in music and working in the choral sphere. Or, I might find a job as a writer, whatever that may look like. In truth, I don't know what the future holds for me. But, if my Jesuit life has taught me anything, that is to trust in God's work in all of it. The Lord, indeed, is my shepherd.

On the upside, I will continue to blog, so you will be able to follow along on my post-Jesuit journey. Of course, it will be kind of strange for the site to continue having the sj in the site address, so my blog will have to move in the future. I have put the future address under the labels for this post (I highly encourage you to read the label).

Sigh...well, in the words of Jim Carrey: "I hate good-byes." I give a special thanks to my brother Jesuits who have walked with me, listened to me, prayed with me, even embracing me when I needed comfort, throughout my time as a Jesuit. Indeed, I will never forget you and all you have done for me. I know we will keep in touch.

So, to my brother Jesuits: God bless you and your lives. Stay close to Christ, and He will be there to lead you and guide you as He has done over the past 500 years. I leave you with a tender prayer:
May the road rise to meet you,
May the wind be always at your back,
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
May the rains fall soft upon your fields,
And, until we meet again,
May God hold you in the hollow of His hand.