Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A (Somewhat Lengthy) Update on Life

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

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

So, where to begin...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Feast of All Saints and Blessed of the Society of Jesus

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

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

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

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

Happy Feast day!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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