Tuesday, June 30, 2009

A Prayer of St. Theresa of Lisieux

When I took one of the Jesuits to his doctor's appointment today, I encountered a prayer of St. Teresa of Lisieux on the wall of the waiting room that I really liked.

May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that
has been given to you....
May you be content knowing you are a child of God....
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rest in Peace, Fr. John

He departed for a new life at 2:35 AM this morning.

I thought I would upload this pic of him--it captures so much more than I could describe of him.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

At the Bedside of Fr. John

My first conversation with Fr. John Schwarz was a few weeks ago when I began my work at the Jesuit infirmary. The weather was warm, and he wanted to go outside. We talked about all sorts of things: the current Wimbledon tournament, his time as a history professor at Seattle University, where I was from and how I entered the Jesuits, etc. Fr. John was easy to talk to and had a great sense of humor. I could just feel the warmness of his heart and the generosity of his spirit. At that time, I never would have suspected that he would soon be drawing near towards death.

About a week ago, Fr. John was taken to the emergency room, and I ended up spending a few hours with him there, relieving my other Jesuit brother who was intially with him, Cormac. When I had arrived, he seemed to be doing alright and was in relatively good spirits, considering the circumstances. We shared a few laughs, talked some time about spiritual matters, etc. It was late at night, so I would sometimes just watch him fall asleep and notice the rhythm to his breathing and the jagged mountains they made on the computer screen nearby. I took him back to the infirmary later that night, assuming he would get better.

That has not be the case, however. I noticed throughout this week a stark decline in his health and his ability to converse and could not help but juxtapose that past image of Fr. John outside on that warm day to the present image of him before me.

Today, when I visited him, I broke out into tears a few minutes after I had entered his room. I saw him and thought: "oh my God, he's dying..." I did not expect, nor was I prepared, to see him in his fragile state and to witness the people who were at his side, comforting him and praying over him. It hadn't entered my mind that today may be the last day I see him alive. My other Jesuit brother, Jason, and I sat at his side, as a result, for much of today--Jason moreso than me. He had brought in his laptop to offer some comforting music to listen to.

It is an experience to sit with someone for much of the day as they labor to breathe. I couldn't help but wonder what was going on in his mind. Was he afraid? Was he peaceful? What was it like to have scores of people come to your side, offering their words and comfort in their own way? There's a part of me that wondered if he just wanted to hear a good joke.

In many ways, my time with him today was a real gift to me. The staff who care for him are superb, and I have been able to witness the hard work that they put in day in and day out for him. I could see the real love and concern they have for Fr. John, and their openness to delve into the dirtiness of assisted living. I was able to see the number of Jesuits who came to visit him today, to offer him a blessing, to pray words of comfort, to hold his hand and tell him he was loved. In the midst of death, great beauty can spring forth.

Thankfully, Fr. John's family was able to fly up to see him, and they are currently with him, giving me time to decompress from the day, to rest, and to reflect back. I'm not sure if Fr. John will be alive the next time I see him, but please keep him and all of those close to death in your prayers.

May God's light perpetually shine upon him. Amen

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Christ Amidst the Storms

This past Sunday, the Oregon Scholastics here in Spokane had a day of recollection--a time to pray, to share our faith, to discern our inner movements over the past year or so. Fr. Peter Byrne, a spiritual guru in our province, led our prayer and grounded it in that Sunday's Gospel reading--the Apostles and Jesus in a boat amidst the storms.

From Mark 4:35-41 (taken from the New American Bible Translation)
On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them, "let us cross the other side." Leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat just as he was. And other boats were with him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Quiet! Be still!" The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then he asked them, "Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have faith?" They were filled with great awe and said to one another: "Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey.?"
One of the great gems of St. Ignatius found in the Spiritual Exercises is his belief that all people can have direct contact with God, and one of the ways that he has the exercitant experience this grace is through our power of imagination. He asks the one praying the exercises to imagine herself/himself at the scene, to experience the storm, to colloquy with Christ at this time. And, since we all have our own history, our own experiences, the way we may imagine and experience this storm will probably differ from one another.

I imagine that many people would probably experience a lot of anger and resentment towards God for putting them through stormy situations. I experience it a little differently. I have certainly navigated my fair share of stormy weather during my life journey, but when I look back, I never feel that I was ever alone in the boat. I believe that Christ was always there to lend a hand, to offer words of comfort, to lead certain people into my life, sometimes even to throw me a lifeline when I needed it--even if I didn't recognize His presence at the time. It's not a "I'll believe it when I see it" moment, it's a "I'll see it when I believe it" experience that I cannot describe any other way. The light of Christ pierces even the deepest darkness, calms our raging winds.

At the end of the storm, sometimes you'll encounter a rainbow if you look in the right spot.

In terms of the Oregon Province, one of the ways in which we situate our experience of bankruptcy is through this gospel passage. It's a stormy time for us collectively, but I have personally witnessed a strength of faith and hope in the Jesuits here. We believe Christ is always with us and will lead us through this uncertain future of ours, whatever that may look like. Our material goods may get taken, but we have greater treasure that can never be taken away. And, it is these gifts that we have faith will sustain us. AMDG

Sunday, June 21, 2009

A Sunday Stream of Thought

If you are like me, your mind jumps a lot--a thought leads to another thought. Something I see or read jogs a memory, which in turn reminds me of something else. It's become something of an art form in the literary world.

I was reading the newspaper this morning about the Iranian conflict. Really, I don't know what to think or how to think about the whole matter. Part of me is heartened to see a people who seek change through peaceful protest. Part of me wonders, however, if the elections really were authentic. Can we ever really know in a democratic election whether every single vote was counted correctly? But, what do I know? Seriously. All I can tell is that people are angry and people want to see something different, and some are dying as a result of letting their voices be heard. What can I do, thousands of miles away from that different world tucked away in a tiny pocket of the US, but pray...pray for peace, to ask God to bring about in our hearts seeds of love and compassion towards all of our brothers and sisters? For an end to violence, for an increase in wisdom--that good may come from all of this.

I am just one man, concerned about his neighbors on the other side of the world.

As I continued reading, I came across an article about gang violence on Long Island. An innocent 15-year-old stabbed to death, for no other reason than that he may have been thought to be a member of a rival gang. A family shattered, a best friend wondering why. He was 8 years younger than me.

Even within the same country, the same city, so many of us are worlds apart.

That thought reminded me of my visit back home during Christmas. I went with my family to visit my Auntie's grave. The cemetery was strikingly radiant and festive during at that time, with nativity sets, bright flowers, candy cane decorations, strewn across the entire place. A can of Budweiser sat at the head of one the graves. I was reminded of this time because I was struck by the birth dates of some of these tomes--they were born around the same time as me. Most of them had Latino last names, and I could only help but wonder...

The article later talked about the importance of education, which somehow reminded me of the holiday that we celebrate today. My parents worked extremely hard for my siblings growing up, wanting the best for their children and striving to put all 5 of us through Catholic education. When I was younger, I carried the real burden of success, and I honestly hated them for placing it upon me. As I've grown older, however, I recognize and see the great, although imperfect, love that my parents had for us, of working their tails off so that we could have a better future. And, indeed, all of us are doing quite well and flourishing, and I know that would not have been possible without their sacrifice. So, I am very grateful for my parents, and I thought I would recognize them both since I didn't write anything for Mother's Day.

Well, that's most of what has been percolating in my mind this morning. A pretty normal day.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Today is one of my most favorite feast days in Catholic worship--the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

In the novitiate, one of my novice brothers shared a deep prayer experience he had of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. He recalled during one of his prayer moments that he had such an intimate experience of Christ that it was as if he could feel Christ's heart beat against his. At one point, it was as if their hearts were in sync--his heart joined in union with that of Jesus.

To this day, I continue to be moved by that faith sharing, and it has influenced my prayer on a number of different occasions. Indeed, I have made my own brother's prayer experience my own prayer, and the rewards I have reaped from such prayer have been very great for me. It is that warmness and intimacy of Christ that I so identify with, that connection that I believe He desires of all of us.

At Ciszek Hall, my first homily in the community was about the Sacred Heart, not because it was the feast day, but because we were celebrating St. Margaret Mary Alacoque (who shares a feast day with St. Hedwig), remembered for her strong devotion to the Sacred Heart. She actually had a Jesuit confessor, St. Claude de la Colombiere. One of the Jesuits from Bea house that presided today shared about her life--people thought she was delusional during that time, but it was Colombiere who was one of the first to affirm her prayer experiences. St. Margaret Mary is one whom we can find great inspiration in truly understanding this feast day.

May today's feast day bring you closer to that warmth and love which Christ offers to all of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peering into My Future through My Elder Jesuit Brothers

Over the past two weeks, I have been spending a bit of time with the Jesuits in our infirmary here in Spokane, WA. Most have more than triple my own life experience. All of them, having ministered to others for so much of their Jesuit life, now rely on the help of others to fulfill their own basic needs.

One day, if I make it to that point, I too will need others' hands to be my own, to do the things I will not be able to do myself.

It is a humbling experience to be in the presence of these men. As people who greatly value our own independence, our encounter with those who have lost these facilities gives us pause to reflect on our own life, our own humanity, our own mortality.

They, too, were young once.

A few days ago, I accompanied one of the Jesuits to his eye appointment. The doctor had put yellow dye in his eye for whatever reason--I'm not a doctor, hell if I know why. When he came out, I thought it was one of the coolest things I had seen. It was like he had some inherent mutant powers that were just beginning to manifest in his old age. Storm's eyes become cloudy just before lightning strikes--I teased what supernatural occurrence might come our way. Well, later that day, I went out for a walk with him and asked him about the appointment. By that time, however, he had forgotten that he had gone to the eye doctor and asked me multiple times what day it was. He could tell me stories about events 30-40 years ago with amazing clarity, but the recent past becomes all but forgotten. He was a military chaplain who, in his career, received (if I can remember correctly) four purple hearts. I brought him around GU campus--to reflect at the statue of Ignatius at Cardoner, to contemplate the influence of Fr. DeSmet as one of the first people to venture out to the Northwest, to marvel at the simple beauties of nature on campus, finding God in the midst of it all. As we neared the end of our walk, I told him: "well, you can't help now but cherish the present moment. I'll remember it for the both of us--at least to the best of my ability!" It's a young memory, so it'll probably keep better.

All of these men have served in tremendous ways, and I don't think I will ever truly know what their life was like before my first encounter with them--who they have touched, what they have built in their lifetime. Yet, towards the end of their life, the elderly among us all too often become the forgotten. As the young go out to build memories, I think the old yearn to share their own--for those who will listen. But, I think they also enjoy hearing our stories as well--I think sometimes it makes them feel young again to see the life and energy of budding youth.

I've imagined myself if/when I reach old age--it's difficult not to when you become involved in the infirmary. What will sustain me? Where will I find life? I imagine that it is at this time, more than ever, that we find ourselves turning to our faith, relying in God. I can't help but think about Pedro Arrupe and his famous words after experiencing a debilitating stroke--words that continue to be incredibly moving and powerful for me. I will let his words end my post today:

More than ever I find myself in the hands of God.
This is what I have wanted all my life from my youth.

But now there is a difference;
the initiative is entirely with God.

It is indeed a profound spiritual experience
to know and feel myself so totally in God's hands.

-- Pedro Arrupe SJ,

Monday, June 15, 2009

More Book Reviews for Loyola Press

During my 8 day retreat, I was able to read two other books from Loyola Press of which I would like to offer my own thoughts. The first book is entitled An Ignatian Spirituality Reader: Contemporary Writings on St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Spiritual Exercises, Discernment, and More by George Traub, SJ and A Friendship Like No Other: Experiencing God's Amazing Embrace by William Barry, SJ.

I think both books have some great material in them, and I would give both of them two thumbs up.

Traub's book is actually a collection of essays on the following topics: the life of St. Ignatius, finding God in all things, prayer, the Spiritual Exercises, and Discernment. Here, Traub offers to us well-written essays from a variety of authors on these specific topics. Furthermore, at the end of each section, he offers other recommended readings in case the reader is interested in continuing her/his exploration on a specific topic. The essays that Traub offers us, then, are not meant to be the definitive word on these topics.

Personally, I loved this book. I felt that many of these essays articulate Ignatian Spirituality very well. During my retreat, I definitely felt that my reading of these essays enriched my understanding of it. Also, since Traub offers us more than one essay per topic, I was not getting just one perspective. I appreciated, therefore, the variety of viewpoints on Ignatian Spirituality--viewpoints which, although different, were not contrary to one another. For anyone who is interested in learning about or enriching their understanding of Ignatian Spirituality, I highly recommend this book. It is an excellent resource in so many different ways.

Out of all of the Loyola Press books that I have read, this one is probably the most academic in nature. Yet, it is also very personable at the same time.

There's is actually a companion volume to this reader, entitled A Jesuit Education Reader. I would imagine that this book would be of great interest to teachers and educators in our Jesuit institutions.

Now, on to Barry's book, which I also enjoyed very much. In his introduction, Barry writes: "What I hope you will find in this book is an invitation to engage in a relationship of friendship with God and in a dialogue with me. In the book, I do not provide answers so much as make suggestions and ask you to either try a suggested approach or reflect on your own experience in light of my suggestions. I hope that this will help you become a friend of God; the book will not attain my purpose if all you get out of it are ideas" (xviii). Barry writes in a way that is meant to engage you. Littered throughout his book are probing questions and exercises that he asks you to consider. If the reader does not feel moved to reflect and engage these, the book will likely lose much of its flavor.

Much of the book is meant to explore the question: what does God want in creating us? Barry answers this question with the title of his book. He writes: "My stand is that what God wants is friendship." Because of my experience both as a student in Jesuit institutions as well as being a Jesuit myself, this understanding of God that Barry proposes is very much in line with my own belief in God. In my own prayer, I have experienced God as One who is very personable with me, who loves me deeply, and who desires to grow in relationship withe me (I'm sure Aquinas would have his own views on this matter). Thus, what Barry does is this book is not radically new for me.

Barry, however, seems to write this book more specifically for those who have a difficult time relating to God in this fashion (everyone has a history). Barry is aware of the complexities involved in his view that God wants friendship with us and is not afraid to engage these complexities. I applaud him for his courage to tackle some of these difficult questions, and I think many will be quite moved by some of his responses.

For those who are seeking to have friendship with God, or even for those who think friendship is not possible, I highly recommend this book. Just be prepared to engage it!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Prayer Songs Series - 'Like a Child' and 'My Redeemer Lives'

I thought I would upload the last of my two videos at once, since I would like to do other things this week. So, today's songs are "Like a Child" (which comes from Psalm 131) and "My Redeemer Lives" (this version is not the traditional one).

I wanted to do more fast and upbeat songs, but it's very difficult for me to play and sing at the same time to begin with, so I can only do simple songs.

Happy Corpus Christi!

Like A Child Rests in its mother's arms, so will I rest in you (x2)

(Vs 1) My God, I am not proud,
I do not look for things to great.

(Vs 2) My God, I trust in you
You care for me, You give me peace.

(Vs. 3) O Israel, trust in God
Now and always, trust in God!

I know that my redeemer lives
the One who calls me home
I long to see God face to face
to see with mine own eyes (to ref)

(Ref) I know that my redeemer lives
that I shall rise again (x2)

I know that I will see one day
the goodness of the Lord
When God will wipe away our tears
and death will be no more (to ref)

The last day I shall rise again
shall be remade like God
My home shall be by God's own side
the dying, rising Lord! (to ref)

Friday, June 12, 2009

Prayer Songs Series - "Salve Regina"

A Jesuit favorite. I actually first learned this song in my Liturgy Workshop class in high school.

Salve, Regina, mater misericordiae:
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus, exsules, filii Hevae.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes
in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo, Advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos
ad nos converte.
Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
nobis, post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens: O pia: O dulcis
Virgo Maria.

(*eng translation)
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,
to thee do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley, of tears.
Turn, then, most gracious advocate,
thine eyes of mercy toward us;
and after this our exile show unto us the
blessed fruit of thy womb Jesus;
O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Prayer Songs Series - "Humbly Lord, We Worship You"

Yesterday, I decided to try-out recording a few songs, so I'll be uploading them here over the next few days. I don't consider myself an all-star at piano/singing by any means, but I thought I would share with you nevertheless a way that I enjoy to pray.

Sing along =p Today's song is "Humbly Lord, We Worship You"

Humbly Lord, we worship You
Our Eternal King
You who died to give us life
Hear us as we sing (to ref.)

(Refrain) Jesus, God and Lord of all
Come to us, we pray
Thus united in Your love
May we live this day

Jesus, Lord, we offer you
every act this day.
May we live our love for You
and your will obey (to ref.)

Lord, forgive us all our faults
Others we forgive
May we strive with all our souls
Christian lives to live (to ref.)

May we love You in each soul,
and each soul in You.
One in our eternal goal
One in all we do (to refrain).

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast) as a Prayer Moment

During the end of my 8 day silent retreat, I was listening to the song "Rooftops (A Liberation Broadcast)" by Lostprophets introduced to me by one of my Jesuit brothers at Ciszek (we used it to work out). It became one of my favorite songs to play on Guitar Hero when I was home for Christmas. Anyway, I almost never listen to secular songs for prayer, so it was one of those 'being-led-by-the-spirit' moments. I had also never listened to the words of that song until that time, since I usually pay more attention to the music rather than the lyrics.

As I listened to it, I thought about where I was. Hayden Lake is an immensely beautiful place. Sometimes the lake sparkles, depending on the time of day and the location of the sun. The day is filled with birdsong and the serenity of the countless trees. I was so thankful for what I had been given, of all that God has done for me in my life. In the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises, Ignatius writes: "Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God." Being at Hayden Lake and witnessing the immense beauty of creation, it's difficult for me to respond other than in praise and reverence of God's work (as a first year novice, this passage initially gave me scruples). I imagined myself, standing on a roof, looking back over my life and God's work in it, looking out upon the beauty of a sunset, so touched and moved by how much I have been blessed that I could not help but scream a firm and resounding "Yes!!!!"

In the silence of my heart, I filled with awe and thanksgiving to God's mysterious ways.

It was a huge surprise, then, to go on Youtube and watch the music video of this song, which you can watch here (unfortunately, I can't embed the video here, probably for copyright reasons) The way I interpreted the song when I listened to it is in stark contrast to the way the producers of this video interpreted it. Whereas I saw awe and wonder, the producers saw anger and angst.

Well, I like my interpretation better. And, despite what the band may have intended, this is how I experienced the song, and I am grateful for the God-moment that I received.

Here's a Guitar Hero version of the song, though, that I found:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

I changed it, again

Well, the recent title to my blog didn't stay very long.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, but I began to dislike the title more and more. Not that I have anything against being in God's embrace, but I don't feel like it fully captured what I had been doing with my blog and what I want to be doing. And, I wanted the word 'Jesuit' to be in the title, for different reasons.

During my 8 day retreat, one of the title's that I came up with was "In All Things." I was actually quite excited about this new title, because it captured more the spirit of the blog. Unfortunately, it's hard to be original these days, and that title, much to my chagrin, was taken by one of America magazine's blogs.

So, I sat here, wondering how I could rename this blog, and I started reading Gerard Manley Hopkins "As Kingfishers Catch Fire", one of my most favorite poems of his. His poem serves as the inspiration for this new title, since he writes about each thing in nature doing what they are meant to do, and ultimately speaks of Christ's nature.

Really, what I want to do in this blog is to be myself, not someone that I think others think I should be. To be that human being that God means me to be. That, for me, is to live the call that God has given me, and that calling happens to be with the Jesuits.

It's not the catchiest title, and it's not the most creative thing I've ever come up with. But, then again, I could sit here forever and never be satisfied with the titles I come up with, so I think this will do.

Well, I'm hoping this title has more sticking power. I have a better feeling about it, but no promises! It's my blog, and I do what I want to (with God's inspiration, of course!)

Friday, June 5, 2009

30 day retreat e-mail reflection: Week 4

Week IV

Alright! Almost there! I'm giving myself a self pep talk.

This resurrection week was very interesting for me. It was actually a difficult week for me, because I was really beginning to yearn to come out of silence. I was watching the calendar closely and the time. Just wanting it all to end. Running up the walls, so to speak. Yet, I knew that I needed to spend the time, and when I did, I always felt grateful of having spent it.

Ultimately, this week was a reflection of what the resurrected life means for me. What does it mean to go out into the world with this "new life" given to me during the retreat?

I had a hard time at first with prayer. I was imagining the resurrected scenes, but I was mostly watching them like a movie, with funny moments here and there. I wasn't entering into the scenes as I had in the second week. This was kind of an unintended result of my reflections during the third week, since I felt called just to watch those scenes unfold and not to interact too much with them. What I was doing more was watching without reflecting. Paul pointed it out to me like it was almost a game, seeing what would come to my mind. It was a calling back to reflect with the union of mind and heart, and not with just mind alone.

This matter of the heart was an important insight for me. The belief that God is speaking to me in my heart, and that my heart is where God resides. And to follow my heart after the retreat, to follow my instincts. In my prayer, I strove for it never it to be merely a matter of an intellectual exercise, but to infuse my heart into it. That was where the authenticity was; that was where the true me was. It's good to remind myself of that...I've already forgotten it.

Also, the enormous gift I received from this last week was the gift to be thankful. To give thanks for all that was given to me for me was so important. In the act of giving thanks, it daily reminds me not to take for granted what I have but to cherish them. For Jesuits, it is the challenge to "See God in All Things." Indeed, I have much to be thankful for. And, personally, there's just something liberating and freeing about giving thanks, a feeling I have throughout the day that I miss when I haven't spent those few moments to do so.

Closing of E-mail

What a funny subheading. Or, maybe I just think it's funny...

Well, if you have read through all of this, you are definitely a trooper. I hope in this long reflection that you were able to gleam something from it.

I pray that all of you are doing well as we enter these final weeks of the year. Especially for those in school and are in finals, you are in my thoughts.

While we were in this retreat, it became very apparent to us how many people were praying for us. The Jesuits from outside the community who would say Mass for us would say: "the 3rd graders next door are praying for you", "I was in California and they are praying for you," "Our Brother Columbians are praying for you," "The elder community at Regis is praying for you." In all of it, in all of our differences and beliefs, there is something very powerful in being able to transcend our prejudices and misgivings about one another and to just pray for each other, to hold others up in your thoughts, no matter how much you don't like the other. Indeed, some of the most influential and inspiring leaders have attested to the power of prayer.

So, I am so thankful for all of the support that I have been given.

I'll be sure to write when my next big adventure comes! If you have any questions about anything, just shoot me an email! Also, I'd love to hear how you all are doing.

You are all in my prayers,

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

30 day retreat e-mail reflection: Week 3

Week III

Hmm, is anyone still reading this??? I wonder...I guess this is me getting all of this out of me after being in silence. Well, I won't have a month of silence to write about again for quite a long time. The next time Jesuits enter into this month of silence after the novitiate is a few years after they are ordained. Maybe 14-15 years from now??? We'll see

Well, I spent an exhaustive two days just witnessing the Passion and Death of Christ using Ignatius' "contemplation of place," and spent one day ritualizing the death using incense. It was...truly graphic. I saw him scourged, beaten, pounded to the cross, and labor in agony until his last breath. God-Man, tortured and killed. The madness of it all. And, to think about where we continue to do this in our society today. The cross, the instrument of death, for us Christians becomes the instrument for our life due to our belief in the resurrection. The belief that Jesus became more powerful than ever because of his humbleness and submission unto death.

I was reading Gary Smith's book Radical Compassion again at this time. Something very powerful reading this again, both because I now recognize the places that he talks about in his book, but also in the context in which I am reading. Just reflecting on the suffering that continues to take place in our world, and, as I see it, it is as if Jesus continues to suffer along with them. His one story about a "leper," a term he used to describe his story with a man with AIDS, caused me to weep for 20 minutes after my one midnight meditation following Week I.

It planted the seeds for a possible experiment I am discerning about, which is serving in an AIDS hospice. We'll see... (this hasn't happened, 3 years since I posted this)

I find Gary's book so inspiring because he doesn't just theorize and make statistics of these marginalized people that he's encountered. He tells their stories because he's been with them. And they are painful. But, it burns me with desire for service for the least of our brothers and sisters among us, to tend to the deep wounds they have experienced. As I have often found in my service, though, they unexpectedly give me so much in return.

(to be continued)

Monday, June 1, 2009

30 day retreat e-mail reflection: Week 2

Week 2

Man, this e-mail is getting long. A breather maybe? I might as well write a book while I'm at it...

The Life of Christ. This was the longest Week of the retreat, and the most peaceful and joyful one for me. For me, this is where Ignatius' "contemplation of place" really kicks in. The use of the imagination. We are invited by Ignatius to place ourselves in these gospel scenes, from the time the Angel appears to Mary up to the time where Jesus is betrayed. Moreover, it is not just watching a movie. We are invited to bring ourselves into the scene, to authentically interact with it. This is the power of the imagination for Ignatius, and this is why God can "directly deal with his creatures."

So, at every prayer period, I was placing myself at a scene, bringing all of my senses into the imagination, talking with the people involved. Essentially, I experienced the Gospels like this for the rest of the retreat.

Let me tell you that this is utterly exhausting and can be very difficult. Physical exercise is no different, however. I know, since I was experiencing this with all the exercise I was doing this past month. At first, it was so difficult, and I was getting tired of it although I hadn't been doing it very long. But, the more you do it, the more the body adjusts and the easier it comes. The same with prayer and composing myself at these scenes. Ignatius, however, recognized that we can lose heart and not feel like we can do it and give up. For him, this was all the more reason to stay true to the hour of prayer. I definitely had my moments where I just needed to fight internally to keep that hour going. But, in the end, it is worth it.

A few insights I'd like to talk about.

This first one is perhaps theological talk, but, I think for any Christian, I have come to see it as one of the most fundamental beliefs. Jesus as God-Man; or, Jesus as fully divine and fully human.

There's something I think that is lost in the belief if Christians discard the notion that Jesus was both fully divine and fully human, holding one up over the other. For me, there is something utterly profound going on when I think about this story about how God placed Jesus in the womb of an ordinary woman, Mary, (well, not ordinary for Catholics, but at the time) who gave birth in basically a farm surrounded by animals because she was continuously rejected to be brought into any of the inns. How Jesus was placed after birth into a manger. I thought about this word manger, and realized I didn't know what it was. I looked it up in a dictionary: "a bed for the food of the animals." Basically, the birth of Jesus, whom millions of people across the globe have come to believe in, slept in the food of the pigs, as the story goes anyway.

One would think this God-Man would have more higher places he could be.

But, this image of being as the least among us continues for the rest of the gospel stories. He breaks every conceivable taboo that existed in his day.
"Um, why are you talking with that Samaritan woman?"
"How can you sit at the table of a tax collector?"
"He's healing on the Sabbath!!! Heresy!!"
"She's a prostitute for crying out loud!"
"Ahh...look! He walks with those 'unclean' people!"

If Christians believe that Jesus is fully human and fully divine, then how striking it is to reflect on about whom this God-Man associates Himself with. He is a God-Man that uplifts the poor, who shatters the invisible wall of racism, who heals the blind, the stigmatized and much much more. If you can capture the work that Jesus does, you can capture the work that we Jesuits strive to do and where we are called to be. Not to say that we do any of this perfectly, God forbid. And not to say that we only minister to the poor, because we obviously don't. It's difficult to serve the poor if you can't turn the hearts of the rich. But, essentially, the Jesuit Order, an Apostolic Order, seeks to be like Jesus by serving as best we can as Jesus in the world. And, it takes actual discernment about who Jesus actually is before true discernment of service can be done.

It shakes up the system. Jesus shook things up, frankly. This is a difficult call to discern because it makes people angry. Angry enough to plot about his death.

In all of these scenes, I continued to foster my own relationship with Jesus, to grow in love of Him as a child, and to want to follow in his footsteps as a child. A growing desire to do service in the world. That is me, of course, becoming idealistic in my hopes for being able to be of service to others. I think we all need, however, a dose of idealism now and then to burn our hearts anew.

I wanted to end this week about Jesus' entrance into the city where he is crucified. I loved being in this scene just because I was looking at Jesus ride "majestically" on an ass into Jerusalem. Quite the procession of a King.

(to be continued)