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!


Gannet Girl said...

Ryan, this is a terrific update. I think you are going to make a wonderful spiritual director. Believe it or not, ever since you wrote such a beautiful note to me after my son died, I have been very interested in your progress. Good luck with your last month of the semester!

Ryan Rallanka, SJ said...

Thanks so much for your encouragement! Your message also reminds me of a conversation I recently had in which she told me that she appreciated some advice I had given her a few months ago--although I did not remember saying so. You never know when you might say something that touches others. Thank you for sharing that with me.

Denise said...

It's good to read the update on your life, especially as you come into a feeling of freedom in blogging. What prompted me to comment was your notes on working with 7th graders. I like the idea of the AIM chats to God! And you're right that silence is a good element to add to any lesson.