Friday, July 31, 2009

Feast of St. Ignatius

A very happy and blessed Feast of St. Ignatius to all of you, especially to my Jesuit brethren out there. May the spirit of Ignatius continue to confirm you in your vocation, to inspire you in your life and your work, and to walk with you in finding God in all things.

Probably every Jesuit blogger and his mom will write something, if they haven't already, about today's feast day, so I might as well join in on the fun!

In his homily today, Fr. Pat Lee, the provincial of the Oregon Province and one of the Jesuits I have most come to admire, referred to Ignatius as a pilgrim, as a friend, and as a mystic. Ignatius often referred to himself as the pilgrim--he saw his life as an ever-present journey in search of God, God who gave him a heart of fire, God who gave him ultimate meaning in his life. Every moment, every breath was an encounter with Divine Mystery. He had tremendous faith that God was always present--it was just a matter of having the right way of looking, of disposing himself to always place himself within God's embrace. This pilgrimage, in a sense, was an essential part of Ignatius' mysticism. Ignatius' monastery was the world, and he sought to find God every step that he took. Jesuits are to thrust themselves into the heart of society, to carry Christ deep within their hearts wherever they go, especially in those places of great hurt and despair. Especially there, we have the ability to bring hope to the world.

Ignatius grew in great friendship with his Jesuit brothers, but arguably one of his closest, and earliest, companions on this pilgrimage was St. Francis Xavier. If you read some of the letters that Ignatius writes to Xavier while Xavier is away on mission, you can sense a deep fraternal love that they have for one another. As friends in the Lord, they were able to be very open and honest with each other, to share about how God was moving in their lives, probably to also express their regrets, concerns, or struggles that they were facing throughout the day. In the example of Ignatius, I think all Jesuits are called to develop these deep, personal relationships with one another. Not necessarily that we need to do this with every single person we meet, but, particularly as celibate men, we need good, healthy relationships where we can share in the same way that Ignatius and Francis shared with one another.

Finally, we are not called Ignatians, but Jesuits. Of course, throughout history, that term has received a lot of criticism and has been quite the pejorative, but Ignatius wanted it this way because he felt it so important that Jesuits place their focus on Christ, not on himself. Our Jesuit way of proceeding, our formation throughout all of our lives, is to create ourselves more and more into His image, to love the world as He did, with meekness, gentleness, and humility.

Well, many Jesuits from around the province will be heading out to Hayden Lake to spend St. Ignatius day together, and I will be heading out there shortly as well. Again, a very blessed St. Ignatius day to you all. May our founder continue to strengthen us on our journey, to direct us into greater imitation and service for our world. AMDG

Monday, July 27, 2009

With A Mustard Seed

I was struck today when I was listening to the Gospel today by the recurring theme of God doing great things with what initially looks small and insignificant. I thought I would just excerpt a little bit from today's gospel and share it with you today. May the mustard seeds in your own life grow strong and bear you great fruit, bringing you a taste of heaven.

Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds.
“The Kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed
that a person took and sowed in a field.
It is the smallest of all the seeds,
yet when full-grown it is the largest of plants.
It becomes a large bush,
and the birds of the sky come and dwell in its branches."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

John 6:1-15

Today's gospel reading comes from John 6:1-15 where we hear the famous passage in which Jesus miraculously feeds the mouths of 5000.

As I was praying over today's readings, I could not help but contemplate about the boy with the five loaves and two fish. I imagine the reaction of the apostles looking out at this vast crowd, thinking to themselves how impossible it would be to feed them. The boy does not think in this way, however. What matters to the child is that he wants to be of help to Jesus. He doesn't have much, but he offers what he has.

In this small, giving gesture, Christ is able to do great things.

I think sometimes we get discouraged in perceiving how we are able to serve the community and the world. As adults, we look out over the world and become overwhelmed at how much work needs to be done. Like the apostles, we see impossibility. In the hearts of children, however, there is an innocent and generous spirit that doesn't see the impossibility--they just merely want to help out. Of course, not all children are like this, but you may have met a number like the ones I am describing.

We may think the things we do to be small potatoes. God, however, can do a lot with small potatoes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

At the Mount

Many moons ago, the Jesuits here in the Oregon Province used to do their philosophy at what is commonly called “The Mount,” or Mt. St. Michaels. A number of our older men had lived there and certainly have their fair share of stories of the place (and some are quite content never to go back). Although we sold the land some time ago, we still own the cemetery there. Fr. John, whom I recently wrote about a couple of weeks ago, was the latest one to be buried at the Mount.

Two Scholastics, two of our older Jesuits (one of them is the oldest Jesuit in our province at 97 yrs. old and going strong), and I took a little afternoon trip out there. For the younger generation, it was a trip back to our historical roots. For the older, it was a trip down memory lane. The site is actually a historic landmark in Spokane, and the picture comes from this website.

The Oregon Province seems to have historically sold off our land to interesting groups of people. Our former novitiate in Sheridan, OR is currently owned by the Scientologists. The Mount is currently owned by a group of nuns and priests who have separated themselves from the rest of the Roman Catholic world. Or, as they see it, they have retained the true Catholic faith that became heretical after Vatican II (in my opinion, they don’t consider Church history dating past the 19th century, but one could probably write books about this schism. As such, I won't elaborate). As a result, they do not recognize any popes from Vatican II onward. A few years ago, a number of those nuns decided to leave the Mount and rejoin the post-Vatican II Church. Fr. Bob Spitzer, the outgoing president of Gonzaga University, played an instrumental role in their return.

Despite this schism, many Jesuits still find themselves welcome to take a tour of the place. We had a very pleasant tour by one of the staff members there, and the people there were very kind and hospitable to us. They also give a pretty good history of the mount on their website here.

I would wager that many Catholics in my generation have no clue what Vatican II is and don't realize that the current form of Mass celebrated all over the world has only been around for about 40-50 yrs. Or the controversies surrounding it. When you consider how long we've been doing this, it hasn't been that long.

As one of the Scholastics shared with me, part of what Vatican II tried to accomplish was to recapture the spirit of the early church (this is why religious orders were asked to consider their original charism, to go back to the spirit of their roots, and why the Jesuit order went through a major shift during this time). The response of the people at the Mount, then, is a little ironic to me.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: First Studies

Jesuits have a lengthy formation process in which the road to ordination takes approximately 11 years, although sometimes it depends on a Jesuit's situation. The steps to ordination are: the novitiate (2 yrs), first studies(2-3 yrs), regency (a time a full-time work, usually at a high school; 2-3 yrs), and theology (3-4 yrs). As I just finished my first year of studies, you can see that I have quite a long ways to go. But, for me, the journey is just as important as the destination--the time is meant to form us into becoming our best selves for the Church and for our world. I'm young, so I still need a lot of forming =) You don't even know

Well, most have the pictures I took this year in New York are touristy pictures that I think I have shared in the past. But, I have a picture of the scholastic community: Ciszek. Ciszek is where I started blogging, so I thought I'd throw in a blogging picture of me holding a book on Augustine. Also, one of my favorite places to go in the Bronx is the Botanical gardens, so I threw in some photos that I took while there. As you might tell, I love nature shots.

I hope you've enjoyed the pictures this week. It was fun for me!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: First Vows

After two years in the novitiate, novices take first vows where we become more fully incorporated into the Jesuit Order. Typically, this takes place around the Feast of the Assumption--approximately a month from now. This was a very joyous time for me, and I'm sure it will be so for many of the upcoming novices taking vows around the country.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: Colombia

The Oregon Province has a twinning relationship with the country of Colombia. Many novices/scholastics traveled there last year to study Spanish and to be immersed in a different culture and environment. Currently, there are 3 Colombian Jesuits here in Spokane studying English. We recently went to watch the movie Transformers, which they, understandably, felt was pretty incomprehensible.

We were in Colombia when the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt took place. Here, the Colombians took to the streets against FARC, one of the primary groups responsible for kidnappings.

(There's an old Jesuit community here right next to presidential palace. We had a good view)

(Bogota in the background)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: The Experiments

In the novitiate, novices are sent out on a number of experiments. These photos were taken in: Pendleton, OR, where I helped out at the mission church there; in Tacoma, WA, where I had my L'Arche experience; and Spokane, WA, where I helped the choir director.

(I took a picture while at the pulpit!)

Monday, July 13, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures: The Novitiate

Here are some pictures of the novitiate and surrounding area in Portland. The curia is right next door, and they say if you want the latest gossip in the province, you go to the novitiate =p

Sunday, July 12, 2009

My Jesuit Life in Pictures

Over the course of this week, I'd like to share with you some photos that captures different aspects of my Jesuit life thus far. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I won't elaborate too much--only to offer a caption or two.

I took these photos recently at our villa in Hayden Lake, ID. Here, the beauty of nature spurs many a retreatant's dialogue with God. The 3rd photo is a mother bird and her two chicks, nestled at one of the corner windows, that I often looked at and pondered during my last 8-day retreat a little over a month ago.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wrestling with God

Today's 1st reading from Genesis 33:23-33 has been a source of great spiritual fruit for me whenever I have come across it in my Jesuit life. It speaks to me, as there is something very human about the way Jacob wrestles with God. It is a common experience for us to struggle with God. Yet, it is in that wrestling that Jacob becomes transformed, symbolized by his name being changed to Israel.

"Because I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." (According to the footnotes in my bible, it was an ancient notion that a person died upon seeing God).

The first painting that I found online comes from the artist Gustave Dore. What strikes me about this painting is the lack of effort that the angel seems to be exerting as opposed to Jacob. Jacob here seems intent on his struggle until he receives the blessing he so desires. I do not get a sense from the bible passage that Jacob seeks to overthrow God. He knows that God's power is greater than his own. Despite grave injury, however, Jacob perseveres with God--not to win, but rather to seek God's favor and grace. And, ultimately, God provides that which Jacob seeks, and he becomes a new man.

There's much about prayer life to be learned here.

The second painting is from Rembrandt, and he is depicting the point in which the angel strikes him at the hip. Jacob, however, does not seem to be in pain, nor does there seem to be any malice on the part of the angel. It seems to me that it's rather like what a doctor must do for her/his patient--sometimes, there must be short term pain in order for long term healing. Also, although Rembrandt seems to be painting the strike at the hip, the image looks completely different if you were not aware of the biblical passage. The angel, seen in another way, offers support and an embrace to an exhausted Jacob weary after the struggle.

What do you see? How do you relate to the struggle of Jacob?

Monday, July 6, 2009

On Freedom

Probably one of the more helpful things about being a philosophy student is that I can look at the image above and ask myself: what does that really mean? Is that a lived reality in the US? You might find those questions silly--I don't. We throw around these terms a lot, especially in the political realm, but I do not think there is one shared understanding of what they truly mean--or even how we go about achieving these goals.

The US was founded on these principles, and it is our duty as US citizens to at least give these principles some critical thought--and I don't mean that in the negative sense.

What does it mean to be free? Is freedom merely the choice of choosing one brand of cereal among five? Even then, you don't have complete choice in the matter, since it's the companies that set the choices before you. Is freedom the ability to say whatever you want? Clearly, we can't just say anything.

Now, I'm not providing answers, but it's important to see that these principles that the country fights for are highly complex with a lot of nuance.

Personally, one of the helpful ways that I have come to see and experience freedom comes from my Jesuit training. One of the most important questions that is asked of us to consider is to reflect on those places in our lives in which we are most unfree. Many of us enter the novitiate with a lot of personal baggage, and we are asked to sort through that. Some of what we carry with us in our hearts is very life-giving, and it is important to be grateful for those memories. Other baggage, however, has shaped us into who we are today--and not necessarily in the best way possible. That may be memories of physical abuse, addiction, abandonment, etc. These moments of great hurt, through God's grace, can be moments of joyous light and reconciliation, but too often they continue to weigh us down in anger and despair. If we are not able to deal with the baggage in a healthy way, it can consume us for the rest of our lives. In a sense, we become people of unfreedom.

St. Ignatius knew this, and the Spiritual Exercises was one of his ways of forming people to lead more free lives. It's about having rightly-ordered desires that give life, not bring death. We are asked to have faith that God can heal us of these infirmities, that God can lead us into fuller and richer lives. If we grant permission, God will carry our burdens in the same way that Christ carried the cross. But, if we cling on tight, we will never be able to let go.

God wants us to be free people. Let us rejoice in that, and let us allow God to lead us into such a life.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Learning from the Pros

I was watching the tennis match between Serena Williams and Elena Dementieva today and could not help but be in awe at the high level of play between these two highly talented athletes. Although it was a semi-final match, it seemed like a championship game in which both players were a point away from winning. The game ended at 6-7, 7-5, and 8-6. Contrast that to the other semi-final game, in which the other Williams sister, Venus, whooped the top-seeded player, Dinara Safina, 6-1, 6-0.

I used to watch tennis growing up in which the top stars in the game were Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras, Steffi Graf, and Monica Seles. I found great joy in listening to the grunts of the women and found a number of occasions to mimic, or maybe to mock, their sound. Seles was special--she had a double grunt. Although I lost interest in pro tennis later on, part of that has been rekindled during my year at Ciszek hall--a number of the guys watched tennis, and I found myself again enjoying the matches. Here I am during the beginning of my first year at Ciszek at the US Open.

When you watch two highly talented individuals play tennis at the top of their game, it's like watching poetry in motion. There are just moments during the game when your jaw cannot help but drop--all you can say is "wow..." You are glued at those times when the crowd gasps in nervous anticipation as the players continue to scramble for the ball while hitting out-of-this-world shots. These players are passionate individuals who have worked extremely hard to get to where they are today, and the fruits of their labor often result in great beauty.

In many ways, I find great inspiration in watching a well-played sports game. You can tell that a number of these players excel for a sheer love of what they do and a will to be at the top of their game.

I think God wants all of us to always be on our A-game, to give it 110%. Our A-game, however, is not meant for our own self-glorification. True pros not only make themselves better but inspire those around them to be better as well. And, they often acknowledge and offer gratitude to the people in their lives who have helped them and shaped them into the individuals they are today--without them, they would be nothing.

When Fr. Kolvenbach says: "We should recall that mediocrity has no place in Ignatius' world view", I think that is meant as an exhortation to be people on fire, to live with passion, to excel in our lives in things both great and small. That doesn't mean that all of us need to get 4.0's or get the MVP award. But, it does require sweat, and it most certainly involves a special kind of love.