Saturday, May 30, 2009

30-day retreat e-mail reflection: Week I

Week I: Meditation on Sin

Now, I would have to hands down say that this week was the most difficult week
for me. This was the week where I had to deal with myself. If any of you are
like me, there's something about this word "sin" that totally turns me off.
Imbedded in this week were meditations on Satan, hell, my sin, and the sin of
Adam and Eve.

My spiritual director, Paul, had an extremely difficult
time when he did the exercises with the Adam and Eve story, and I did too. "You
mean to tell me that because of this one sin, we had to put up with all this

I was reading a book during the retreat in which I came
across a passage about this. Forgive its possible offensive language, but it has
a point. It read something like this: "We forgave the Jews for killing Jesus.
Yet we can't forgive Eve for eating an apple??"

Food for thought.

In my prayer, for me, Adam and Eve's sin wasn't the eating of the apple.
It was the hiding, being ashamed of themselves before God, who sees them anyway
because of this knowledge attained. I was relating to them by thinking about how
often I "hide" and feel ashamed in God's presence.

Anyway, I really
really struggled in this week. Here's some inner dialogue that took place within
me during one prayer period, which I'm kind of portraying in dramatic fashion. I
don't know if it's all that dramatic though because my emotions were as intense
as what is going on here. This was probably about the fourth or fifth day into
the retreat. The language maybe isn't exactly what I was thinking, but it gets
the point across.

"What the hell is sin?"
"Why am I even meditating
on this?"
"Argghhh!!! I hate this week!"
"God, You are soooo selfish!!"

I was really angry and confused. I remember talking about it with Paul
and I just remember him laughing about it. I was laughing about it too when I
was thinking back to it, but at the time I was really serious.

As I look
back, it was very necessary for me to struggle, to wrestle like that; kind of
like Jacob in the book of Genesis who wrestles with "God" (kind of ambiguous)
but in so doing, he is renamed Israel which roughly translates I think into "one
who wrestles with God." In the struggle, I began to delve more deeply into the
areas of my faith that I had questions about, that I needed to wrestle with. In
the end, strengthening my relationship with God and being thankful that God
allowed me to struggle with him.

The hardest part for me of this week
was to name "my sin." Paul kept harping me about it. I created the best laundry
list I could...well, I do that, and I do that, and I do that. And, in talking
about it, I still hadn't found "it." This caused me great frustration and
wondered whether there was even an "it" at all.

In writing this, I
realize how difficult it is to truly explain without going into massive detail
about how I worked my way into finding "it." It took me about 8 days. It was
triggered in one of my sessions with Paul when he said, "Ryan, you beat yourself
up too much."

His saying that to me really caught me off guard. I
brought it to prayer for a day and meditated on this, because he struck a chord
with me. As I began reflecting on it, I couldn't believe how true his statement

"Man, I'm not praying very well."
"I wish I looked better."
"I could be a better brother to my brother novices."
"I don't sing very
"I'm not fit to be a Jesuit."
"I don't know how to meditate on
this Week. It must be me."

Why do I do this?? This came to my "core sin"
-- perfection. It's not that having high standards for what I do is not
necessarily a bad thing. It's the way I react when these standards are not met,
and I often fall short of my own expectations. Coupled with my standards with
perfection was the inclination to inwardly beat myself up. I had just named two
nasty demons that reside within me. I would say that these demons have been the
source of what I call my inner hell.

In my sociology classes at Seattle
U, we often talked about built-in inequalities in our society. How, inherent in
a Capitalistic society, for example, is the drive to make money at the expense
of others. Arguably a demon/sin built into the system. I began turning my
sociology eye inward, and couldn't believe what I saw. Built in to me, this
demon of perfection was fed at an early age, fostered by parents who only wanted
the best for their children, which in turn fed the demon which kept telling me
that I wasn't good enough. Growing up, that was a source of intense resentment
and anger. This is my history, a story that I will always have with me. This sin
business also gave me a different lens of what I had learned through my classes.

Meditating on this showed me, though, that I cannot ignore this, as if
it doesn't exist. I would imagine that for all of us, unnamed demons reside in
us who have been with us ever since our childhood. They are sins in the sense
that they are extreme burdens for us that prevent us from being free. The naming
of it, though, has proven to be one of the most profoundly liberating
experiences I have ever had in my life. In the course of the remaining weeks and
even today, I have been able to recognize these behaviors in me that are so
prevalent. The challenge in the naming it is how to deal with it. For me, it is
a matter of faith and surrender. Sins that I daily need to offer to God, whom I
believe is only more than willing to take these burdens off of me. That is God's
unconditional love given to me. A grace daily received. Also, the naming of it
has been profound in my being able to reconcile myself with my family.

In talking to some of my brothers, their "core sins" are different than
mine; Ignatius' own "core sin" I learned today was vainglory. But I think it
says something to our authenticity of experience. If we deal authentically with
ourselves before God, we will authentically begin the healing process. The
silence was fertile ground to achieve this, which is why I believe having some
semblance of silence in our lives is so necessary.
(to be continued)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

30-day retreat e-mail reflection: Introduction

(this is the beginning of an e-mail that I wrote following my 30-day retreat)

First, let me say that when people first heard that I was going into this retreat, one of the immediate responses was: "Oh my God. Thirty days???!!! I don't know if I can even do one day." Keeping in mindespecially two of my brothers, I would have to say that if they can do it, anyone can. Hahaha

But, on a more serious note, there truly is something that frightens people in having to be silent for this long. In my own experience, it meant that I actually had to seriously spend time with myself, deal with myself, and just be with myself. I had to listen to myself. To listen to my surroundings. To quiet down, to slow down. If you can thus imagine the personal empowerment that happens in doing so, you will understand how, on some level, this retreat changed my life. Not drastically in that I had a complete conversion experience but rather that I have been given, gifted, graced with new lenses, new ways of looking both at myself as well as the world that I never had before. More importantly for me, new ways in seeing how God works in my life.

Just an aside. Ignatius believed that it is possible for everyone to have direct experiences with God. This caused him to be heavily scrutinized by the Church leaders at his time. Was seen as almost heretical, being in line with people like the alumbrados. I think that was like a mystic sect or something. Perhaps a link on the right will appear about them if you use Gmail. Anyway, on a number of occasions, he was brought under questioning by the Spanish Inquisition, and it's quite a wonder how he stood his ground against their accusations upon him, but he believed he was in the right. He never wavered against them but probably grew strength from it as a result from gaining positive sentences from them.

I write that aside because I truly believe I was having direct experiences with God in this past month. And that belief probably makes me appear foolish or crazy. But, I stand my ground. Some may say: "it was just your imagination." Maybe so. But I believe, in my case, God worked strongly with my imagination. In fact, the imagination is an essential part of Ignatius' exercises. A faculty we grow up having as kids but is stifled as we grow older. As I've been with the Jesuits, I have been reclaiming that aspect of myself that was lost many years ago; it has been profoundly liberating.

I've given some thought as to how much information I should actually be sharing. Listening to my heart, though, I think it's important for me to be as open as I need to be in my experience since I think that maybe something may be gained from your reading it. Who knows? Maybe not. Wishful thinking

So now, a little explanation about the Exercises and what my day
looked like.

My days

I was required to pray four hours a day, or pray four times a day an hour each, sometimes five if I did the midnight meditations. I stopped doing those because they took a toll on me and would have affected the other four prayer periods. Besides that, I had my daily meetings with my spiritual director, Paul Fitterer, in the morning for 45 minutes, the normal meal periods, and then Mass daily at 5:00 PM. So, in the meantime...let's just say I got a lot of exercise in and a lot of reading, with a few days here and there where I would take the bus to downtown. For someone who rarely exercises (ask my family and former roommates, there's something striking about being able to jog on the treadmill 2 to 2 and a half miles almost everyday towards the end of the retreat.

Just a note about Paul. There's something wonderful when I think about how great it was that Paul, who is in his seventies, still is filled with energy to guide four of us in these exercises. A work that gives him, in his age, renewed life and strength. And this is new work for him, since he is as new to the novitiate as we first year novices are.

Anyway, being in silence isn't a matter of cloistering yourself; rather, it is a mode of being. So, I could be somewhere like the mall yet still retain my being of silence. But, for the most part, I spent my time in the novitiate.

What I was doing during those prayer periods were the Spiritual Exercises, the fountain of Jesuit formation. During this past month, writing in my journals was my primary form of praying. This becomes most apparent because I filled a journal and a half worth of my prayer experiences. So, I think I may have prayed approximately 175-200 pages worth in this past month. Took a toll on the $50 dollars I receive every month ( I decided to buy the fancy journals just for this month, knowing this would be a special time for me). But, for me, it was worth the price.

The Spiritual Exercises

Let me begin by saying that if you understand what is going on in the Spiritual Exercises, you will understand, at least in my perspective, what makes the largest Catholic order of men tick -- what inspires us to be "Contemplatives in Action."

I'll try my best to explain them. But please know that this is my perception of the Exercises, and I know that my other novice brothers had different experiences of them.

The Exercises are broken up
into Four Weeks.
Week I: Meditation on Sin
Week II: Meditation on
the Life of Christ
Week III: Meditation on the Death of Christ
Week IV:
Meditation on the Resurrection of Christ

There is a reason the name of the Jesuits is "The Society of Jesus." Our lives are grounded in our understanding and relationship with Jesus. If you are able to understand how we understand Jesus and His role in our lives, you will grasp the essence of the Jesuit (of course, this is an ideal for us, to follow in the path of Jesus, but we fail countless times. But that, in part, is the beauty of

(to be continued)

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Annual 8 day retreat

I will be entering into my 8-day silent retreat today, which I am very much looking forward to. In the meantime, however, I have prepared a number of posts that will automatically be posted throughout the next week or so.

While I was in the novitiate, I was quite the prolific mass e-mail writer, and I would often e-mail lengthy e-mails about my time in the Jesuits. I wrote a very lengthy post after coming out of my 30-day retreat, and I thought I would share that with you.

So, what you will be reading in the next week is something I wrote in my first few months in the novitiate.

My prayers for all of you as I enter this time of reflection and of deepening my relationship with God.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ignatian Spirituality and Right Vision

At the beginning of his book, Fr. Fleming writes:

It's often said, "I'll believe it when I see it." but Ignatius Loyola reverses the saying: "When I believe it, I'll see it."

He begins with this quote because he asserts that "Ignatius thought that the right vision lies at the heart of our relationship with God." As religious who espouse the ideal of seeing God in all things, Jesuits and those involved in Ignatian Spirituality must necessarily believe that God can be found in all things if they are to see God in all things.

I think there is something to be said about "self-fulfilling prophecies." For example, if I sit at table and immediately judge that the next 30 minutes will be excruciating pain with the person I am sitting with, then that outcome is probably more likely to pan out. But, as people made in the image of God, I think we are called to see each other in the way that God sees us. Despite our sins and our failings, we continue to be loved unconditionally, no exceptions. I don't think we could ever love on the level that God loves, but we can certainly image that love of God towards one another.

Ignatian Spirituality is a calling into deeper and greater life, and Jesuits believe that greater life to be found in God. We seek to marvel at the work of God around us, in us. Where were those moments of great joy in our day? Where can God be a source of healing and reconciliation in our lives? We recognize the work of God as True gift in our lives--what were those moments in our day that were gifts to us? Do we believe God to be found in those gifts? Can we see God as a result of that faith?

A healthy spiritual life is a healthy way of seeing the world, of seeing one another, of seeing ourselves. Oftentimes, however, our way of seeing is very unhealthy. Distorted vision can lead to very unhealthy practices, leading to metaphorical and even literal death. Ignatian spirituality seeks to get us in the practice of seeing in a healthy way through the grace of God. Through prayer and the examen, we seek to instill habits that bring us life.

Let us pray for the grace of seeing the world in the way God sees, that our eyes can more readily recognize God's gifts throughout our life. And, let us pray that new ways of seeing may form us into the people that God desires us to be.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Book Review: What is Ignatian Spirituality? by Fr. David L. Fleming, SJ

A thing that I have come to notice about the books from Loyola Press, at least the books that I have received from them, is that they avoid trying to be too "heady". These books, then, seem to be written for those who are interested in the spiritual life but are not looking for something overly intellectual. Fr. Fleming's book certainly falls into this mode. In his introduction, he writes:

I try to answer the question 'What is Ignatian spirituality?' not by systematic analysis but by describing the ideas and attitudes that make this spirituality distinctive. Ignatian spirituality is not captured in a rule or set of practices or a certain method of praying or devotional observances. It is a spiritual 'way of proceeding' that offers a vision of life, an understanding of God, a reflective approach to living, a contemplative form of praying, a reverential attitude to our world, and an expectation fo finding God daily.
For those who are seeking to gain a greater understanding of Ignatian spirituality, I think Fr. Fleming's book provides some valuable insights into the Ignatian way of proceeding. When he is asking 'what is Ignatian spirituality?', I think he is also exploring what it means to be a Jesuit. Those who desire to understand Jesuits better can find a lot of good information here.

As I was reading this book, it struck me that it is impossible, at least for me, to get through this book in one sitting. It would be like eating your food all at once without really enjoying each bite. This happens to me a lot when I engage in spiritual reading. I feel like I need to digest each point, to allow the insights to sit and marinate for a while. Certainly, I feel like this is the case with Fr. Fleming's book. I could get a general sense of what Fr. Fleming is doing in this book in one sitting, since you could probably read this quickly in about an hour or two. But to do that, I think, would be missing the point of the book. He writes more for the heart than for the mind, a point he makes about the Ignatian way of proceeding--all that we do should be a response of the heart. I think someone who hopes to get the most out of the book can only do so by a prayerful reading of it, not of an academic reading of it.

Thus, over the next few days, I hope to prayerfully explore some of these points that he makes, so the upcoming posts are not a strict review of his book. Rather, it will be more an engagement with his book, since I think the question of Ignatian spirituality is a big one if you are interested in the question of what it means to be a Jesuit. You are welcome to join me as I explore a few of these insights.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Book Review: The Catechist's Toolbox

Well, here's the first installment of a number of book reviews that I will be doing this summer for Loyola Press. Our first book is The Catechist's Toolbox: How to Thrive as a Religious Education Teacher, by Joe Paprocki.

Having taught CCD to 6th graders this year, I can honestly say that being a religious education teacher is difficult work. At least in my experience, there is no formal training for Catechists. Those who are new to the experience tend to learn how to do it on the fly. How to prepare lesson plans, how to present the material to a specific age group, how to manage a classroom, etc. are all details that we have to consider. And, since CCD is not a graded class, the Catechist must necessarily keep the material fresh and interesting, especially for the younger generation.

The cover image on Paprocki's book is an apt one. Paprocki uses carpentry images throughout his entire book as an analogy for teaching CCD. For example, sockets come in different sizes, and you need to use the right-sized wrench. In the same way, he says that one should consider the age group when coming up with a lesson plan. It wouldn't be a good fit to teach high schoolers like they were in 2nd grade.

Paprocki's book approaches the teaching of CCD in this manner. It is a very readable book and offers some good practical advice. I also very much enjoyed the various anecdotes sprinkled throughout.

The book is primarily geared towards new catechists/teachers, so more seasoned teachers may not find the book as helpful. Still, I would say that even these teachers can learn a thing or two here. What I found helpful about the book is that it gave me a number of points to consider when approaching CCD, to assess what I can do differently in my teaching. I felt, in my first year of teaching CCD, that I constantly had to re-evaluate and re-assess how my classes went and to think about how I can improve. Paprocki's book certainly offered some practical tools that I felt were helpful for me.

Tools, however, are only as helpful as the one who knows how to use them. Every catechist is different, so some tools that may be helpful for some may be completely unhelpful to another. In order to be a successful teacher in general, though, you must necessarily have a level of self-knowledge, to weigh in one's gifts/talents and one's weaknesses. Without that knowledge, you might end up using a square wrench for a round socket without realizing it.

So, I think it is safe to say that some may find this book really helpful and some not so helpful. By no means is it a strictly academic work that provides an in-depth analysis in pedagogy. If you are a young CCD teacher looking for some tips, I think this would be a very helpful resource for you.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Heading out West

I thought I would write a short, last post before I headed out of the Bronx and back out west. It's also the last time I get to write in my current room, so I thought I'd take my parting photo before I move into a new room.

In Jesuit life, you necessarily deal with constant transitions. It's always been one of the harder things for me personally to deal with, because I don't like saying good-bye to people. Part of that probably comes from my mom, since she always cries whenever I leave for the airport terminal. It's her way of saying that she'll miss me and loves me.

But, we pray for each other and wish each other well on the journey ahead, trusting in God's presence in all of our lives. We disperse likes the disciples after Pentecost, seeking to bring God's inspiration and love to the different peoples we minister to. It's a comforting thought for me.

Well, I'm sure you will be hearing from me not soon after I arrive in Spokane. For all who are traveling and moving forward to new phases in their lives, my warm prayers for you as you embark on this new journey. May God's light shine upon you all the days of your life.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Back from a little break

It wasn't my intention to stop writing on the blog for this long, but the end of the school year took quite a toll on me. So, I took a break since I was just mentally exhausted from the constant writing I have been doing.

First, an update on my summer plans. A few weeks ago, I had shared that I would be going to Seattle to work on the 4-weeks-a-Jesuit program that would be starting this year. Unfortunately, the program fell through, and so I have been recently reassigned to work at the Jesuit infirmary in Spokane, WA. Of course, I was very much looking forward to spending time in Seattle, and I would be lying if I said I wasn't disappointed to be reassigned. After praying over this new development, however, I feel much more at peace with this decision. I felt that God was telling me that my elder brothers in the infirmary had need of my presence, that I had something to offer them--and, that I had much to learn from them. Being open to the experience, and trusting in God's continued presence and work in my life. So far, in my young Jesuit life, I have found the vow of obedience to be one that has brought me a lot of life, as it has opened me up to possibilities that I would not have envisioned for myself. Indeed, those places which I have been sent have been extremely positive experiences, and I have been able to find great joy. So, I trust that my time in Spokane at the infirmary will be a time of much enrichment and growth for me, and I know that the Jesuits there will be appreciative of my presence.

Now, some upcoming attractions for my blog during the summer:
1) A few months ago, Loyola Press was gracious enough to send me a stack of books for free for my own spiritual reading. I promised to offer reviews of these books, and I intend to follow through on that.
2) Music videos. Well, if I can find a good, quiet place with a piano in it.
3) I love Star Trek, and I love Battlestar Galactica. I might write a few posts about this at some point. Yes, I'm a huge nerd
4) More dance videos...maybe. Last time I posted one, I made the NJN, of which I was not particularly aspiring to be showcased.
5) Finding things to write about that inspire me

Friday, May 8, 2009

Quotes: Love

Each time anyone comes into contact with us,
they must become different and better people
because of having met us.
We must radiate God's love.
We must know that we have been created for greater things,
not just to be a number in the world,
not just to go for diplomas and degrees,
this work and that work.
We have been created in order to love and to be loved.
Love does not just gives.

~Mother Teresa

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Quotes: Humor

If there's one thing I know it's God does love a good joke.

~Hugh Eliot

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Quotes: Silence Speaks

Silence speaks, the contemplatives say. But really, I think, silence sorts. An ordering instinct sends people into the hush where the voice can be heard. This is the sorting intelligence of poetry, marked by the unbroken certainty of rhythm, perfect pitch, the placing of things in right order as in metrical form. Not rigid categories, but the recognition of a shape always there but ordinarily obscured by -- what? By noise, which is ourselves trying to do the sorting in an order that may be a heroic effort but is bound to be a fantasy.

Silence, that inspired dealer, takes the day's deck, the life, all in a crazy heap, lays it out, and plays its flawless hand of solitaire, every card in place. Scoops them up, and does it all over again.

~Patricia Hampl

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

A Week of Quotes

Since I am in the midst of finals and papers, I do not have much time this week to write particularly long and thoughtful blog posts. However, I thought I would share a number of quotes this week just to give you some food for thought. I'm one who loves quotes and enjoy the little seeds of wisdom embedded within the words.

Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

~J.K. Rowling

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Grace of Vulnerability

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about a time of darkness that I was experiencing and how that has manifested itself in my past. Fortunately, I know enough about myself to realize that I need to seek someone to talk to. If I don't, it eats away at me internally. I become angry and begin to think that nobody cares about me, that nobody notices what I am going through. At its worst, I enter into utter helplessness and despair--not only do I feel that I have no control of my life, but I think about ways to flee from it. The pains of life become too difficult, and I want to put an end to it.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7)
In these cases, I know I have to ask for help.

During my second year of the novitiate, I helped out with a high school retreat, and one of the things that I was struck by was the utter helplessness that many teenagers feel these days. So many are on anti-depressants. So many have thought about suicide. So many have no hope. These teenagers only want to feel accepted, to feel loved--often times, they don't feel that. The world sucks, why bother...

Having been down that road, I can easily empathize with those who feel no hope, no reason to live. But, to hear their pain, to see them lose themselves in a flood of tears as they describe their situation, is also very difficult for me. It reminds me too much of that internal pain I experienced, of those memories that I still carry deep within me.

Yet, in the moment of those tears, of finally being able to give voice to what has been pent up for years and years--they begin that long journey towards what they seek for so desperately in their life. They enter into that pilgrimage towards inner peace, to begin the slow work of inner healing. Only in truly opening themselves up, of having the courage to be vulnerable, are they, are we, able to let go of old wounds, or at least lessen the power in which those past experiences have gripped us with, have imprisoned us in helplessness.

A few weeks ago, I received an e-mail in response to my earlier post. It was that of a mother moved, and concerned, about my words. An anonymous reader that feared the catastrophic damage that I would inflict upon my loved ones if something terrible ever pushed me over the edge. A heart that has endured the most difficult task of making sense of something that seems so utterly senseless--the death of her own son by suicide.

I would never presume, nor could I presently fathom, the deep pain that she has felt.

As a result, I was subsequently touched that she, although we have never met, would be so open and share with me this very difficult experience. In my act of vulnerability, she felt herself invited to be vulnerable with me. Her words were truly gift to me--an act, an image, of God's love extended toward me.

My initial road to healing, indeed, came at a point in my life in which I genuinely felt that I was free enough to be vulnerable, that others gave me attentive ears and truly listened to my pain. I experienced the warm comfort of my peers, the genuine embraces that stemmed from a true understanding of where I was coming from. At this moment of vulnerability, I can honestly say that I experienced and believed, for the first time in my life, the real presence of God at work around me.

We live in a culture, however, in which it is difficult to be vulnerable. Vulnerability and emotions are a sign of weakness. No wonder, then, that so many do not know how to seek help when it is truly needed. "'Be a man; suck it up." How many stories have we heard this past year of fathers taking the lives of their entire family? People do not do this unless they honestly believe this is the only option available.

It is NEVER, EVER, the only option available. Under no circumstances, whatsoever. NEVER, NEVER, EVER, EVER. It is utterly tragic that human beings can come to this point in their lives to believe this to be the only way.

My experience of a deeply and profoundly loving God stems from that experience of in which I saw a glimpse of what true love-in-action looks like, and how God's love is infinitely more awesome than that pretty awesome experience I had. And, I believe we are meant to be those instruments through which God's glory and infinite love becomes manifest here on earth. We need each other; we need each to be that image of God's love.

So that those who are utterly hopeless may experience the miracle of finding hope. And that no other mother has to pick up the pieces of a life tragically taken away from her. AMDG.