Monday, September 21, 2009

The Vow Crucifix

Before novices--at least in my province--take First Vows, a multitude of Jesuits gather together the night before Vows for the Vow Crucifix ceremony. The novices take a few days of silence before Vows to ground themselves in prayer and to prepare themselves for the celebration ahead. They also use this time to pray over a number of vow crucifixes that have been gathered over the years and to choose one that speaks to them. Almost all of the crucifixes that the novices consider are ones that used to be owned by Jesuits who have since entered into a new life. These now-deceased Jesuits probably spent much time in prayer and petition with their crucifixes, and we younger Jesuits are gifted with a crucifix imbued with their many years of prayer.

Since coming back to the Bronx, I have been finding my prayer highly enriched by the use of my Vow Crucifix. It was something I hung on my wall last year but never really used for my prayer. Part of my inspiration comes from the Vow Crucifix ceremony that I attended this past August. During the Vow Ceremony, the novice director reveals to the community the Jesuits who used to own these Vow Crucifixes which the novices now choose. The community, upon hearing the name of each Jesuit, is invited to share stories of each one, to remember the lives of these men who have lived before us. I was struck by the remarkable nature of their lives, of their love and devotion to God and to the people whom they served. These are men I would have wanted to meet but only know through stories.

Fragments of these stories have stuck with me. The Jesuit who, deep in prayer, was asked what he was praying about and replied: "I'm praying for all of those people with whom I will ride the Greyhound bus today." I have thought about that sometimes when I ride the bus or the subway. The Jesuit who, while watching Bill O'Reilley (not because he liked him), remarked seemingly out of nowhere in crude, Oregonian fashion: "If this Jesus is real, he's f****** incredible!" The Jesuit who, after listening intently to the spiritual problems of a Scholastic, mentions: "I think you need a peanut butter and jelly sandwich."

I realized during the Ceremony that I had completely forgotten the name of the Jesuit whose crucifix I had inherited. The only thing I remembered was that I certainly wasn't choosing the crucifix simply by the name of the Jesuit. As I thumbed through our book which has the names and dates of all those Jesuits in our province who had passed away, I finally stumbled upon his name: Ralph Sudmeier. Ralph Sudmeier...

I never knew him, but his crucifix is now a huge blessing in my life. I have held it close to my heart, asking for Christ to instill in me his wisdom and his love, to form me into the person He desires me to be. I have reached for it when I have been worn and weary, asking for strength and perseverance. I have gazed upon it with awe and thanksgiving, thankful for all that I have been given.

Perhaps Ralph did the same.

To my brother Jesuits: may your Vow Crucifix be a way in which you draw closer to Christ, growing ever deeper in imitation of his life. And may you be inspired by the prayers of our men who have held these same crosses before you AMDG

Sunday, September 13, 2009

A Jesuit's Room

As Jesuits, we often find ourselves on the move, traveling from one place to the next. A few years here, a few years there. One of the effects of our lifestyle is that we often move into new rooms. One day you're in, and the next day you're out.

Because we are always dealing with transitions, I have found that one of the ways to make myself feel more at home is making my room more my own. I am far from being, however, an interior decorator. Fortunately, we often live in community, and we usually live with brothers who have an eye for such things. It is only this year, however, that I actually started asking guys to help me with my room.

Of course, as vowed religious, there is only so much we can do to make our rooms look nice. At the same time, however, that doesn't mean that our rooms have to look cheap either. You make do with what you have, and you make it work. I have often been surprised to see what people can do with limited resources.

So, with the help of a few brothers, I have been trying to create a space that feels homey, that feels right for me. I wanted a nice and clean look to the room while still looking simple. I must say that the room is turning out to be my most favorite room so far that I have had as a Jesuit. I like the blend of colors and I like the woody feel. On loan to me is the classic IHS symbol painted on a beautiful board by one of our elder Jesuits in the community (I love that piece, but I have to give it up next year). My sheets had holes in them and my comforter looked like 10 Jesuits before me had used it and never washed it, so I bought a nice new bed set on sale. Then, after moving things around and around, I have finally found a set-up that I am extremely happy with.

There really is something about Feng Shui.

I still want to do a few more things with the room, like add a new plant, and maybe make some minor changes, but I think the major work has now been done. It is a place I can find myself easily working, resting, and praying.

I started taking these photos after making the room noticeably better, but you get a sense of the progression. Primarily, at the end, I moved the bed under the IHS board and moved my bookshelf towards the windows. Initially, I had the bookshelf right behind me, causing a separation between my work space and the rest of my room. I liked it fine, but I think I like this better.
(bookshelf is right under wooden board)

(bookshelf is moved, lamp is moved, everything else shifted to the right a few feet)

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A New Year at Ciszek

Our community this year welcomed 10 new Jesuits into the fold. We are 28 altogether under 1 roof spanning 13 different provinces (my province, for example, consists of Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana, and Alaska). 4 comes from outside the United States - 2 from Jamaica, 1 from Indonesia, and 1 from Mozambique. We all have different backgrounds, stories, ideologies, interests, etc. But, what unites us is our faith, our vocation, and our desire to serve and to love in Christ's imitation. We are human beings marked by our failings and weaknesses, but we all believe we have been touched by the grace of God in our lives -- God who calls us into the world as we are, remaking our shortcomings into places of strength and hope.

Except for our two eldest brothers (who are most excellent formators, by the way), all of us have been asked to dedicate a majority of our time here towards our studies in philosophy -- called, in Formation, First Studies. One of our documents on formation describes philosophy as: "one of the principal means by which the Society forms men, who have reflected on the essential questions which challenge man, who have formed the habit of critical and positive reflection on these question and upon the answers given to them formerly or given today, and who have some understanding of the history of ideas and can relate these things to present cultures." As Jesuits, we have the phrase "Finding God in All Things," and at this time of our formation, we are challenged to seek God in our studies. Hopefully, through these studies and through critically engaging the type of questions that philosophy asks, we become better Jesuits formed to see the world in a different way than when we first began First Studies.

I am taking three courses this Fall - Kierkegaard, History of Christianity I, and Classical Modern (studying philosophers somewhat around the time of Descartes and Hume). Practically 2/3 of our community is in that History class, which should make an interesting dynamic in the classroom. I'm actually looking forward to this semester and think it will be good times all around (crosses fingers). As last school year, I sometimes bring what I have been studying into my blog, so don't be surprised if I use my blog to process what I have been learning.

As a side note, I've decided to be a little more judicious with my writing for the time being. That means I would like to write with some sense of regularity, but probably not the 4-5 times a week like I had been doing at one point in time. I'm aiming for once a week, maybe twice. However, I have been known to do "theme weeks," and if I'm feeling it, I'll throw those in every so often. I have had one request by one of my fellow Jesuit brothers which might show up soon.

By the way, if you couldn't tell, I'm the brown one in the middle =p There's also one who had the audacity to be in the picture even though he would be away at England for the year! We talked about the possibility of photoshopping, so you may see a revised picture in the future (see 2nd row, far right in bright yellow). Shame. /end tongue-in-cheek

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A little update

I have thought about my blog quite a bit over this past month. It might seem otherwise, since I have not posted in almost a month. Honestly, I pretty much lost my desire to write. There were a number of times where I would bring up the blog, sit in front of the posting window, write a sentence or two, and then think to myself: "nope, not feeling it." I think this time is different.

To say the least, the past few weeks have been quite eventful for me. Three men in my province took their First Vows this year, and I had the privilege (and the stress) of organizing the music this year. You can see some of the pictures on the province website here--one includes the choir and myself. It's in my nature to be a constant worrier of things, and I definitely did a lot of worrying about the music. Part of it is because I wanted to help make the experience for the men a special one. So, being the perfectionist, I naturally worried about every detail. I wouldn't necessarily recommend my craziness to everyone. As someone who often imagines the worst, it usually is my experience that the "worst" never comes into realization. Of course, it turned out to be an absolutely beautiful ceremony, and it was a touching experience to witness my brothers publicly profess their love and faith before their family--their blood family but also their Jesuit family--and before God. I think what particularly touched me this year was the moment when the provincial professed his fraternal love and support for the men--his own vow to them.

I returned to the Bronx about two weeks ago to meet the new men here at Ciszek. Based on my initial impressions, I am very excited about our community this year. When I played for our first mass in the house, I was honestly a little giddy because of the new voices I was hearing this year. Truly, any choir director would die to have us =) These are also very good men with good hearts, and so I am very much looking forward to this new year here at Ciszek. A picture of the new community is soon to come (I can't access my g-mail currently, which has the pic...grrrr)

Well, there are other things I would like to write about, but I think I will save them for future posts, or I will be late to mass. During this new school year, your prayers for our community are very much welcomed and appreciated!