Friday, November 26, 2010

Mass Reflection for Daily Mass

Well, I said I'd be away for a bit, but it's been my custom since having my blog to upload my once-a-semester mass reflections that I offer for the community. So, here it is. As always, these reflections are typically aimed at my Jesuit audience, but perhaps you may find some fruit in it. A belated happy thanksgiving to all of you!

During my second year as a novice, I had the opportunity to work at a L’Arche community in Tacoma, WA for about two and a half months or so. We had three core members at the house I was staying at, and one of those core members was named Bobby. I think I’ve probably told some of you about Bobby before.

Bobby was never able to develop in the way most humans do over time. Although he is about two years older than I am, he never was able to mature past the mental stage of infancy. He is unable to talk, and he cannot do most things on his own. As a live-in-assistant, some of my duties included clothing, toileting, washing, and feeding Bobby. Whenever you fed him, you had to put an apron on him because it could get a little messy. In the morning, I would have to gingerly attach him to a machine that lifted him out of his bed and would slowly placed him on to his wheelchair, and he was no small guy. Also, throughout the day, I would have to check to see if he had soiled his diaper and would have to change him on a regular basis. Changing the diaper on a baby is much different than changing the diaper on a grown man.

I imagine that many who come across Bobby are bound to feel sorry for him and the sad state of life he finds himself in. If we placed ourselves in Bobby’s shoes, what kind of life would that be? Knowing that we were that helpless and that we were so entirely dependent on others for our livelihood. Feeling the degeneration of our own human dignity because of our stark infirmity?

Whenever I think about Bobby, though, I do not feel pity or remorse for Bobby. Actually, whenever I think about Bobby, most of the memories that arise in me are memories of laughter and joy. Bobby was always laughing, and I would always think to myself why he was laughing. I would actually sometimes ask him: “Bobby, why are you laughing?” and look at him as if I was expecting an answer. Although he couldn’t communicate verbally to me, I read his laughing as a sign of his happiness and his smiles as his joy. Curiously, I consider Bobby to be one of the happiest people I’ve ever met in my life, and I truly believe that God in his mysterious power, was communicating something quite profound to me and to many others through Bobby.

In today’s gospel, Jesus asks us to consider the fig tree, and that when we notice the buds bursting, that this is a sign of summer. All around us are signs for us to interpret in the same way that Jesus asks us to interpret the sign of the fig tree. Sometimes, those signs are very ordinary. When we see that the fridge has suddenly become filled with Gatorade bottles and coconut juice, that is a sign of that the shoppers have gone shopping. Or, when the bathrooms are restocked with toilet paper, that is a sign that someone has done his manualia. Or when we are able to go to class because our bills are getting paid, that is a sign that Rich has been up to no good. Or, when we saw the amount of food before us during thanksgiving, that is a sign of all who pitched in before hand has taken the time to prepare the food. Contrary to popular belief, though, just because you score low on the karaoke machine is not a sign of the mic’s prejudice. But, I tend to think of these actions as presencing God in the smallest of ways.

Christ uses the fig tree to help us to be attentive of the signs taking place which are expressing how that the kingdom of God is near. But, clearly, unless God was playing a major joke on us, I think it would be difficult to think about the nearness of the kingdom temporally. It’s been almost two thousand years after the fact—where is this kingdom? It certainly doesn’t seem to be near. But, I would like to suggest not the temporal nearness of the kingdom but the physical nearness of the kingdom. For me, Bobby’s life was a sign for me that the kingdom of God is near. When I was in Bobby’s presence, as I mentioned earlier, I truly felt that God was near, and that each smile and laugh that he imparts on others is another brick offered for the kingdom. As we hear in today's responsorial psalm: "Here God lives among His people."

And, I think we are all challenged to be like Bobby in the certain sense. Of course, one of the themes that Joe has been reminding all of us throughout the semester is that we are who we are. I am me, and you are you, and you are not me. I am certainly not Bobby, nor should I be exactly like Bobby. But, during my time with Bobby, I was able to recognize the gifts and talents that he was able to share with the world—gifts and talents that are uniquely Bobby’s. In the same way, we must recognize the gifts, the talents, and the life that we have been given by God and to lay down our own bricks for the kingdom. We must challenge ourselves as Jesuits to make God present to others through the graces that God is pouring out for us on a daily basis. Through our prayer and our examen, we are challenged to notice and to be grateful for the ways in which Jesus seeks to nourish and sustain us and to be attentive to the signs made present to us on a daily basis in our Jesuit vocation. In being attentive to the signs, we ourselves can form ourselves more and more to become signs and witnesses to the kingdom of God. When we do that through the help of our Lord, then we are indeed helping to bring the kingdom of God closer to those around us.—especially to those who feel the kingdom to be tragically distant.

So, for your prayer, as we continue our celebration in which we believe our Lord to be very near to us in the Eucharist, I may suggest that we pray about those people or those experiences in our life that have been signs of the kingdom. Let us pray in thanksgiving to the many people who have touched our lives in this way, for those who have laid down those bricks in our lives. Let us also pray for the continued grace to be witnesses and signs to the kingdom, that our lives and vocations as Jesuits may help others to see and recognize that the Kingdom of God is indeed near.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Retreating from the blog

This post should come as no surprise, as I have barely updated the blog since I arrived back in New York this past August.

I imagine in this last year of studies that I will not be updating the blog very much. As much as I would like to devote more time and energy to it, I find that most of my mental energy is directed towards study and paper writing, leaving little left in my reserve to offer anything of substance at the current moment.

A blogger should have something to say, but unfortunately I currently find myself having little to offer at this current time. Unless a wave of inspiration hits me, I imagine that you probably won't be hearing from me too often for the time being.

Until next time, I am retreating from the blog (which I already have been doing anyway). I have less than a year left to learn from and to listen to those who know much more than I do before I enter into full time ministry. It is primarily a time for me not to teach, but to be taught and to take in from the wisdom of others. The journey over the past two years at Fordham have certainly been tough in a lot of ways, but I believe the academic formation is important in a world that increasingly sees faith and the Church with greater skepticism. Hopefully, by the end, this time of study and reflection will have prepared me to offer words of greater depth and insight.

God Bless. AMDG

Sunday, October 10, 2010

An Update On My Final Year in First Studies

Over the past week or so, I've received a few inquiries about how I'm doing since I haven't updated the blog in over a month. Currently, I am at Boston College for the weekend primarily to support one of my fellow Oregonian brothers--Alejandro Olayo, SJ--who was ordained as a Deacon this past Friday (for those training to become priests, it is customary first to be ordained as Deacons. This is simply a temporary phase for those training to become priests, and these new Jesuit deacons around the US will later become ordained as priests around June or so). One of my favorite moments of ordination is when the bishop tells each ordinand: "Believe what you read. Teach what you believe. Practice what you teach."

Today, I had the pleasure of witnessing Alejandro's first Mass (in Spanish) as a deacon and listening to his beautiful homily. During the ordination and the Mass, I was edified to see how happy he seemed in this new phase of religious life and the energy he brought into his ministry. I remarked to him afterwards: "You're a natural!" Here's a pic following Mass.

Alejandro hosted a nice lunch yesterday, and we had quite the gathering of Oregonians present. Here is another pic! (We had to get at least one pic in to give the impression that we like each other =p Truly, though, it was great to be with them)

Now, because tomorrow is a holiday at Fordham, and Mondays are typically quite a busy day for me, I thought I would finally write an update about how things are going.

Typically, I find philosophy studies to be quite exhausting mentally, but I find it even more so in my final year here. Unfortunately, my capacity to invest more time mentally into the blog has been quite diminished. I think part of it is due to the fact that I have practically been in school since I was 4 years old, and almost all of my life has been spent in the classroom. I also find myself quite ready to move onto a new stage of formation in which I am no longer a student but rather one who is ready to integrate all of that learning into full-time work. Yearning for the future, however, is not so helpful in approaching the present situation, so I find myself praying for the ability to fully engage myself in this final year without checking-out too soon.

On that note, I recently met with my new superior for Formation, Fr. Jerry Cobb, and it seems most likely that I will be going to teach at one of our high schools in the Northwest next year (we have four schools in the Oregon Province: Jesuit High in Portland, OR, Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, WA, Seattle Prep, and Gonzaga Prep in Spokane, WA). I very much enjoyed working at Gonzaga Prep for a few months as a novice, so I very much look forward to this new opportunity.

So, I am taking four classes this semester: Natural Law Ethics, Integration Seminar, Introduction to Old Testament, and Philosophy of Religion. I actually don't need to take philosophy of religion, but prior Scholastics of Ciszek Hall have recommended the course. Plus, I figured that it would be useful to wrestle more with the question of religion and how we think about religion. Although I have found some of the readings and discussion helpful, I have not found myself really in love with any of my classes at the current moment. Curiously, during this past week, I found myself beginning to appreciate and actually liking the topic of metaphysics. I must be going crazy =p I think, however, there is something to be said for humans to ask those philosophical questions about the origins of the universe and why things are the way they are. I believe these sorts of questions and the way we answer them do very much affect the way we perceive and interact with the world around us--that is, if we even give pause to consider such questions. Of course, the Catholic response to these questions centers on our belief in God who created the world and sustains its existence, and such a belief is harmonious with our natural powers of reason and not contrary to faith (see JPII's encyclical, Fides Et Ratio)

Studies aside, I have also begun a new apostolate this year. In my previous two years, I worked as a catechist at the local parish here in the Bronx, St. Martin of Tours, and prepared 6th/7th graders for the Sacrament of Confirmation. I wanted to tap into my musical side this year, so my apostolate now is to provide music for the 9:30AM Sunday mass at the parish. The pastor really wants to promote this Mass more, and one of the ways to encourage such participation is to enhance the music at the liturgy. Two other Jesuit brothers of mine are helping me at this particular Mass, and in our debut performance, we had quite a number of parishioners truly thanking us for providing this ministry. I'm quite aware that it's not good to form something, only to leave it after a year. I'm hoping that once I leave, I will have been able to set something up that can be sustained in the future. Prayers are appreciated in this regard.

In addition to the music, I continue to help lead a CLC group on campus, which I began last year. It is always great to come together with the group to dedicate a moment of our week for prayer and reflection.

In all, I have found things to be rather busy and stressful this year. In the midst of the busyness, I recognize my need to make moments in the day that I dedicate for silence and prayer. One of my Jesuit brothers recently talked about his prayer as a contemplative in the world, and that he strives to make his life and his work a prayer in itself. As Jesuits, I think that is the proper attitude for how we approach our life and ministry. On the other hand, I recognize in myself a personal need to carve out actual moments in my day in which I temporarily retreat from the world in private prayer. As always, there's room for improvement on my part =p

Finally, I thought I would provide a new picture of the Ciszek Hall community this year, which was taken about a month and a half ago, lol. I believe, in total, that we are 26 Scholastics and 3 priests. This year, we have 6 new first year men as well as a new superior, Fr. Joe Sands. Our bright and smiling faces expresses how excited we are to study philosophy and to share this mission with one another =) These are my Jesuit brothers whom I share this vocation with, and together we strive as vowed religious to root our lives centrally in Christ--Christ who is our light and our life. One of the first things that Joe asked of all of us in the first weeks was to support each other by praying for one another, and I would like to end this by offering my prayers of thanksgiving for my fellow Jesuit brothers at Ciszek Hall, that God may continue to pour forth the Holy Spirit to inspire their work, and that they may be given the graces they need at this time to become formed more and more as religious who will spend their lives laboring in the vineyard of our Lord. AMDG

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

When Jesuits Leave

The bonds that Jesuits form with one another are special relationships in which our shared life connects us to each other in a very unique way. We live together, labor together, and pray together. We are men rooted in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in which our intimate experiences of Christ unite our hearts and minds together with the Lord. We share a life that appears quite foolish to the outside world yet makes sense to us as Jesuits only in light of our lives of faith.

When Jesuits decide to leave the Society, as a result, it can be an extremely jarring moment for us when we hear the news. This past year, we saw many men in our company who chose to leave their lives as Jesuits. We ask the question ‘why?’ and wonder what events transpired that led to such a decision. There is that feeling that a member of our spiritual family who has been with us for so much time has decided to leave us. These departures inevitably challenge the vocations of us who continue on with this life as we ask ourselves why we stay. This vocational challenge, however, is not necessarily a bad thing.

About a month ago, while I was taking my day off from my work in LA, I was relaxing at our LA villa house near Redondo Beach when I received a phone call. I was excited to see that it was from John and very much looked forward to sharing our summer experiences and how it was going so far. John first asked about how my summer was, and I shared a little bit about what I was doing at Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries. After I was done sharing, John went on to remark: “So Ryan, I’ve made my decision…”

I knew exactly what John meant when he said that, but I didn’t expect this phone call would be “that” time.

I remember feeling devastated back in January when John mentioned to me that he was thinking about leaving the Society. During my time at Ciszek Hall, he became one of my best friends in the house, and last year we became next door neighbors. John was one of the type of friends you would have who often poked fun at you, but deep down you knew he really valued and respected you (although he would never admit that easily). Not only could we have fun and joke with one another, but we could also vigorously argue about philosophical/theological viewpoints and eventually also discuss highly personal things. When he told me that his leaving was a possibility, I remember feeling myself enter a place of deep desolation and the need to talk to my superior and spiritual director about it. In those talks, I recognized a desire to want what was best for John—even if that meant that he would leave. I often prayed for Christ to lead him in his discernment and to follow where God was leading him at this time of his life.

Over the next few months, we would have a few conversations where I would ask him how things were going with the discernment. Sometimes, he didn’t want to talk about it, but I respected that. I only wanted him to talk to me about if he felt free to have the conversation and wanted to discuss it. In those conversations, it was apparent that John’s leaving was a possibility, but not necessarily a certainty. John spent quite a bit of time thinking about this because it was not clear to him during the semester what he would do.

So when John remarked that he made the decision, I became very aware that his subsequent words would be big ones for him to share with me. I did not have a clear sense in me what he had decided, so I awaited anxiously to hear what he would say. Finally, he said: “I’ve decided to leave the Society…”

Upon my arrival back to the Bronx, I have recognized a real sense of loss within me. When I walked past his door, I was deeply reminded about those words he shared with me a month ago. But, on the other hand, I carry with me a lot of gratitude for the friendship and brotherhood we developed over the past two years at Ciszek. I also carry with me a sense of peace, because I believe in this specific situation that John would not have left unless he felt that God was calling him into a different place. John was open with his superior, his spiritual director, and his formation assistant for quite some time, and so I trusted his discernment and those who were leading him at this time in his life.

Although men enter and leave the society for various reasons, I think John’s time in the Jesuits served as a special time for his own development and growth as a person. I had the opportunity to speak on John's behalf about two weeks ago, since he asked if I could be one of his references for a full-time youth minister position he is seeking. I remarked to the pastor that John's time with the Jesuits and being formed by Ignatian Spirituality was a major asset to this position that makes him quite unique among the pool of applicants. Although his decision to leave is difficult, I pray that John is able to flourish in this time of major transition and that he may always know and experience the love of God who constantly pours forth his grace.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Summer Reflections: R&R and Personal Highlights of Province Days

Following my time in LA, the past two weeks or so have primarily been a time of R&R for me. I spent some time in Sacramento to be with the family, see some friends in Seattle, and also to indulge my own introvertedness by taking some personal time here and there to be by myself.

I am reminded during these past two weeks how blessed I am to have people in my life who are so generous to me. My siblings remark how my grandma pities my being "poor" ("he always wears the same clothes") and tells them to give me money. I chuckle to myself about that thought, since I am well taken care of and believe that oftentimes less is more (I read a bumper sticker in NY that read: "the more you know, the less you need"). I don't need a lot of things in my life to be happy--my happiness is not rooted in material wealth. I make sure, though, that I have the things I need to function. At the same time, I'm not going to say no to going out to yogurt or getting an Asian massage =)

The past few days or so I have been in Spokane. Because we didn't have ordinations this year, the Oregon province centered our province days around the First Vows of the novices. It is highly unusual to have the Vows in Spokane, as we usually have them in Portland where our novitiate is located. Spokane has the main perk of having Gonzaga University where many of our Jesuits in the province reside. Also, our retired men usually cannot come to the First Vows due to health reasons, so having them in Spokane allowed them to have the rare opportunity to participate in the festivities.

These events continue to remind me how much I love and admire my brother Jesuits here in the Northwest. I personally continue to find great consolation when we come together and to see so many of the men I am not able to see throughout the course of the year due to being on the East Coast.

A few moments were especially moving for me this year. First, I found our Vow Crucifix ceremony quite moving. It is the custom of the Vow men to choose from a number of crosses that were owned by previous Jesuits who have passed away over the years. During the ceremony, Jesuits are invited to share stories about the Jesuit who previously owned that cross. This year, however, one of the men chose a cross that came from an unknown Jesuit. What I found particularly moving was that we were invited to share stories about Jesuits who often go unnoticed and hidden--those men whom we often fail to recognize. Yet, often their work is a symbol of the hidden work of God in our lives. They labor without even a nod or a thank you, yet they continue to work out of a sense of love and service.

This theme carried into the following day where we were invited to share in small groups after a formal talk (our lay colleagues also participated) about three themes: the hidden work of God in our lives, our experiences of suffering, and finally our experiences of resurrection. David Murphy, a lay companion who works as the house manager of the Jesuit Community at Seattle University, talked about his own hidden work in the community. He first remarked how ironic it was that in a room full of intelligent Jesuits that he would be asked to speak. Yet, he did a magnificent job talking about his day-to-day work such as dealing with plumbing, mechanical problems, and the car issues that are bound to come up in a Jesuit community. He talked about his own romantic notions of what it would be like to work for a group of Jesuits, only to realize in his work how human the Jesuits actually are (as if we would be anything besides human. Sometimes it's good to remind people about that). Yet, once he got past that illusion and saw us in our fraility, he also talked about the great beauty of our lives. He talked about being moved by Ignatian Spirituality and how doing the Retreat in Everyday Life has been so important in his life. He was able to see in our humanness and weakness how God somehow finds a way to work even with us! My sense is that he loved his job and the men that he serves.

Gloria Rothrock, from Africa, talked about her battle with cancer and yet shared how blessed she feels in her life. In the midst of her own suffering, she still is able to find God active in her life blessing her with many gifts. It is quite amazing when you encounter people who have such faith and hope in their lives despite great trials.

Lorenzo Herman, a fellow Scholastic studying at St. Louis University, spoke about research he did about his family lineage in which he uncovered that he had English blood in him--blood of a slave owner who had two sets of kids, kids with his actual wife and kids with one of the slave women. Lorenzo is a by-product of his many-greats grandmother who was enslaved by a man with the last name Harvard. Yet, he spoke about how if that had never happened, he would not be here today. Perhaps one way to put it is "finding grace in the midst of shittyness." Jesuits speak about finding God in all things, and that includes finding God in the most difficult times. Such is our vocation. In the Oregon province, we are certainly called into that sentiment in the midst of our bankruptcy.

Pat Twohy, a Jesuit in our province who has worked with Native Americans for many years, read a letter he wrote to Father General who posed the question to the province: "why are you still working with them?" His letter was remarkable and moving as he described the history of the Jesuits with the Native peoples in the Northwest (we were actually invited by them) and the great pain and suffering he has witnessed in his ministry. Pat remarked that we stay with the Native people at this time not because we are not done with them, but because they are not yet done with us. In his eyes, he felt the province had a great deal to learn from them about how to carry pain and suffering as they have carried it for many generations. So many of them in our apostolates, despite what is happening in the province, support us in our work and continue to stand with us in this difficult time.

Finally, witnessing the Vows of Perry Petrich and Sean Towey, two grads from Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma, was quite moving. I had a great seat since I was conducting the Jesuit choir for the first time (I "conducted" last year from the piano, but actually conducting where you wave your hands and hope people follow is quite a different experience. I've always imagined an experience where I would tear up while conducting a choir and genuinely had that first-time experience). We are lucky to have these two young men enter more fully into the Society who beautifully professed their Vows before friends and family.

Well, I am now back in Seattle and will be returning back to the Bronx later this week. I look forward to to this upcoming school year with a lot of gratitude, strengthened by the many graces and consolations that I have received this past summer. AMDG

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Summer Reflections: Looking back at my time in LA

Sometimes I watch shows like "America's Got Talent." My little sister earlier today was watching "So You Think You Can Dance" and I was watching a bit of it with her (and making fun of her about it too). I find myself quite inspired by the way these contestants pour out their heart and soul into their work, and you can tell the ones who truly love what they are doing.

This past summer has been filled with experiences in which I have often thought to myself: "I truly love this Jesuit life that I lead." My vocation as a Jesuit is something I have poured my heart and soul into, and I have experienced things I would never had an opportunity to otherwise. Sure, it has had its fill of challenges, but I truly cannot imagine myself at this moment doing anything else. After being in the Society for almost four years now, I am beginning to notice how my Jesuit Spirituality is beginning to shape more and more how I view and experience the world. I find myself finding Christ more and more in the everyday--that Jesuit motto of "Finding God in All Things." It is like a language where, initially, you are spending quite a bit of time just trying to understand the grammar. But, you come to a point when learning a language where you are no longer trying to figure out how to say things. The words just come to you naturally. I find myself beginning to see things as a Jesuit more and more naturally.

One of my desires in my Jesuit life is to work in an educational setting. I think probably high school, but I am not completely opposed to the University setting. Although, my time at Dolores Mission has shown me that I would love to be a pastor as well (if I can avoid the administrative duties). For myself, I have sought to challenge myself in my Jesuit life and to insert myself in places that are not the most comfortable for me with the opinion that the more types of experiences I have, the better I will be able to serve in the future.

This summer, I spent quite some time with the homeless at Dolores Mission and ex-gang members at Homeboys--a segment of the population I have had little interaction with. I didn't want to read about them simply in books--I wanted to get to know them and to build some relationships. In listening to their struggles, their fears, and their hopes, I realized how my life is quite removed from theirs. For example, I don't know what it's like to become homeless because I couldn't pay my medical bills. Yet, anyone in ministerial work must learn how to place themselves in the other's shoes and understand where s/he is coming from in order to communicate more effectively with them. And sometimes, it's not what you say to people--sometimes it is just enough just to be in their company. When you feel yourself oppressed, unloved, and forgotten, sometimes all you need is someone who shows up and believes in you despite what you have been hearing for a majority of your life--someone to become like Christ to you. One homie who graduated from the school at Homeboy's remarked to his teacher: "thank you for believing in me when no one else did. You are the reason I graduated."

Being now at home in Sacramento to visit my family, I am reminded that one of the things I learned from my dad growing up is that when you are generous to others, others will be generous to you. I did my best being generous to this summer experience and to the people I became involved with. In turn, I felt so many people were generous to me. This weekend was filled with beautiful prayers and well-wishes from so many different people. At the 6pm mass this past Sunday, for example, I was invited towards the front of the Church where I was surrounded by quite a number of the GHP men. Their blessing was immensely moving and an experience I will remember for quite some time.

I find myself immensely grateful at this moment in my life, and I truly believe that Christ has been with me and continues to walk with me through all of these experiences. For that, I am truly blessed, and I cannot help but want to continue pouring my heart and soul into this life I lead.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

In Gratitude for the Women at Dolores Mission

(Pictures are from a leadership meeting from today)

Every Tuesday, I have the opportunity to attend CEB meetings. These meetings are like CLC meetings--they come together once a week to pray, to reflect on the upcoming Gospel reading for Sunday, and simply to spend time with one another and to enjoy each other's company. Here at Dolores Mission, these CEB groups are almost entirely composed of women--women who play a very active role in the life of the Church. Last Tuesday, we reflected on the passage from Luke about Mary and Martha, and I used that time to acknowledge the role that the women played at Dolores Mission.

I remarked: "As I reflect on this Gospel passage, I am reminded how important women are in the life of the Church. Of course, we already know that, but I think it is important for us to acknowledge and to highlight from time to time the vital role of women in our community. During this past month or so, it has become very clear to me that this Parish would not be able to operate without women. You are the ones who come to these CEB meetings. You are the ones who come to Daily Mass. You are the ones who have important leadership roles here at Dolores Mission. You are the ones who march for peace in the community and who lobby for justice with our local government officials. Without you, this parish would truly die. I want to take this time to thank all of you for the very important work that you do. Thank you so much for your inspiration and your ability to breathe life into the different ministries of the parish."

It is no secret that the number of priests in the U.S. is diminishing. We are not getting enough vocations to replace the many priests who are approaching retirement. Parish priests will begin to feel themselves overextended and will simply not have the energy to do all of the things they are asked to do. Some parishes are already hiring "Parish Life Directors" who essentially run the parish excluding Sacramental ministry. This is a big help to priests who were never trained anyway to run the business-side of parish life. Most of these Parish Life Directors will probably be women.

In the Gospels, the women are marked by their strong faith in Christ, and I have certainly witnessed the strong faith of the women here at Dolores Mission. I am very grateful for the positive role that women have played in my life, and I know that the future of the Church will very much be shaped by their work and contribution.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Praying with a Grieving Family

I was recently asked due to some circumstances to lead the Rite of Christian Burial/Commital for baby Abraham. It was my first time ever to lead a service of this kind, and it was an especially delicate situation since these young parents who were given great joy in conceiving him were quickly moved into great pain upon his death. Most of the priests here in the house were away at this time, and so Fr. Scott asked the parents if they wouldn't mind having a Scholastic lead them in prayer. He explained that it would not be a Mass, but--if they were okay with it--I would lead them in prayer during this time and perform all the actions that a priest would do excluding the Eucharist. They agreed, and so I was given the unique opportunity at this stage of my formation to walk with these two young parents in their moment of grief.

It's been a few months since I have last worn my clerics, but this time felt very special to me. I brought with me an alb, holy water, and incense, and I have never before felt as priestly as I did today. I was given a taste of what the future holds in store for me should I hopefully make it to ordination. It felt very natural and right to me--a huge gift for me. Today truly was a special day in my journey as a Jesuit.

I had been wrestling the past few days about what I would say during my reflection. What words could I provide that would give them comfort and peace during this time? As I prayed, I began to realize that I would not be the one giving words of comfort. Ultimately, I believed that God would be the One who would carry them during this time, and I would simply be an instrument that provided them the opportunity to have faith in His work during this difficult time.

We prayed the rosary at the beginning, and during this time the casket was open. I saw this precious little child before my eyes and was moved with profound sadness. Not long ago, this child had been in his mother's womb. Now he was eternally sleeping in this little casket.

During my reflection following the reading of the Gospel, I first shared with the parents that I could only imagine what they were going through at this time. It is only natural to feel intense pain and grief at this time--a pain I do not pretend to understand. The pain and grief is very real, and we are fooling ourselves if we think that we are not hurting at this time. They loved him dearly--how could they not feel pain? I gave them permission to cry and to feel that hurt that they currently feel.

In my prayer, four images came to me that I shared with the family. The first image I offered was the image of Mary, in which it is written in Scripture that her heart would be pierced with many swords. This is a striking image of the type of pain a mother feels when losing her beloved. I shared with them that Our Mother knows as well as anyone the pain of losing a child, and I invited them to ask Mary to teach them how to carry their suffering at this time.

In the first reading taken from the prophet Isaiah, we heard how God would wipe away all of our tears. This was another image I offered to these young parents--that God will comfort them in their sorrow and will wipe away their tears of grief--both external and internal. God wants to help us carry our load if we allow Him to.

We heard from psalm 23, and I offered to them the image of Christ as our shepherd who leads us through the valley of death into the springs of new life. I invited them to have faith in Christ who would shepherd them in their difficult time if they placed their trust in Him. I also invited them to have faith that He was leading Abraham into new and resurrected life, for this is our faith, and this is very much what we believe as Catholics.

Finally, we listened to the Gospel of John, in which Christ tells his disciples not to be troubled, but to have faith in God and faith in Him. For He will prepare a place for them and will always be with them. In this final image, I again invited the parents to trust that God has prepared a place for Abraham, a place in which he has entered into new life. Again, this is our faith, and more, now than ever, I invited them to trust in the work of Christ who has prepared a place for all of us.

Throughout my Jesuit life thus far, I have always relied on pre-typed words to aide me when offering reflections during Mass. Yet, Fr. Scott said that the less I relied on typed notes, the more I would be able to relate to the family. I trusted that insight and prayed that God would speak through me--an insight strengthened by today's daily Gospel reading, where Christ shares that in our hour of need, the Spirit of God will speak through us if we open ourselves to it. Today was the first time ever that I have given a reflection without typed notes, and it was a consoling experience of allowing the Holy Spirit to work through me.

At the cemetery, I had a moving experience in which I invited whoever wished to take the holy water I had brought and to bless Abraham's grave. Some of the little children came up and blessed the ground, and I found myself immensely moved by this gesture.

By the end, I had the sense that although the family was still hurting, they were immensely grateful for this opportunity to bring their grief and sorrow before our God and to enter into greater faith.

I find myself at this moment so very grateful for this opportunity, and I very much find myself as a result strengthened in my own vocation. At this time, I pray for all families who have lost loved ones, especially those who have lost children. May God wipe away their tears, and may they have faith that God has prepared a place for their departed children at His side.

Friday, June 25, 2010

A Day in the Life: A Photo Tour

I felt inspired recently to document a normal summer day for me here in Los Angeles through photos. Gives you a glimpse into the places where I am spending time. Hope you enjoy!

This is Casa Luis Espinal, the current Jesuit community that I am staying. It is a relatively small community with four other Jesuits currently living here. Two are involved with Dolores Mission and two are involved at Homeboy Industries. I very much have appreciated living in an Apostolic community during this summer thus far.

Around 9am in the morning, I walk for about ten minutes to the nearby metro station at Mariachi Plaza in order to get to Homeboy Industries (I's weird taking public transportation in Los Angeles). I find myself praying quite a bit during my walks. Recently, my morning prayer has been to pray the rosary--perhaps being influenced by the Mexican community's devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe and probably to quench my neurosis of walking in the neighborhood. Personally, I find the rosary roots my prayer in Christ, as each mystery allows me to go back to those powerful images of my silent retreats where I prayed over the Gospel scenes. It also centers my prayers of petitions for the day.

A few stops down from Mariachi Plaza is Chinatown station, the stop to get to Homeboy Industries. I must admit that I was quite surprised to see what Homeboy looked like--it's a lot nicer than I thought. One Jesuit remarked that the location is strategic--it is located in a place where a gang has not claimed territory. I'm sure some people don't like this place in their backyard. However, during my time at Homeboys, I often see many different groups of people being given tours around the place. They come because they often find Homeboys to be an inspiration and an example of how to approach the gang situation. Unfortunately, Homeboy is going through some financial difficulty, so the place is much emptier than before.

I recently watched a documentary: Father G and the Homeboys, which is narrated by Martin Sheen. It's received quite a number of film awards. If interested, you can read about it here.

Here is a view of the main lobby of Homeboys.

Here is Homegirl Cafe. Their tarts are soooo good. I've had lunch here on occasion. Very tasty!

On this floor, they provide different services such as counseling.

Here is one of the Jesuits: Fr. Mark Torres, who works on this floor.

Today, I had the privilege of sitting in on a healing circle with some of the Homies. During this time, I was given a very consoling image of a horse who carries me in my travels and guides me on the way--which I connected to Christ in my life. I was honored to listen to their stories, their struggles, and also their hopes.

In the afternoon, I head out to Dolores Mission to be with the men at GHP (Guadalupe Homeless Project). The walk from the house is another ten minutes or so, and I find myself during this time often praying for peace in the community, in our families, and in the world. As I mentioned in an earlier blog posting, the neighborhood has a sad history of violence. I recently visited a family who was commemorating the death of their daughter/sister caught in the line of fire between rival gangs while riding her bike a number of years ago. Her death, however, spurred community members to speak out against the violence; their street, now, is now more well lit and has speed bumps as deterrents. Dolores Mission has served as a beacon of hope for the community and a place where people come together to help bring change in the neighborhood. This is a picture of the School across from Dolores Mission.

At 5pm, I typically go to the daily mass here at Dolores Mission, which is celebrated in Spanish. I had the terrifying task of reading today (I have a hard time saying Nebuchadnezzer in English let alone Spanish). I think they understood me...

Here is the outside of Dolores Mission. To the right is the place for the GHP men. At night, a number of them sleep in the Church. Usually, I just spend time with the men, getting to know them and such. Jesuits talk about justice for the poor and lifting them out of poverty. I firmly believe that if we are going to help the poor, we need to spend time with them and get to know them. As one of the men told me today, the pain of being homeless is the pain of feeling invisible in society--the pain of feeling that no one cares for them. Yet, I find it quite inspiring that so many of these men talk about their faith in God and that they trust what He is doing in their lives. They tell me that they appreciate someone just taking the time to listen to them and to be with them. They desire to be treated with dignity and respect--as people created in the image of God, they assert that such treatment should not be conditional. When I spend time with them, I don't really consider them as homeless people. Some of them I simply just enjoy spending time with. One of them was joking with me today and asking when I will be pope. I replied: "if that ever happens, then we're in trouble!"

While I was with the GHP men today, I caught a glimpse of a group of teenagers across the street, and one of them was wearing a Jesuit t-shirt. I thought to myself: "Oh, I wonder if they're from Jesuit High in Sacramento." After a few minutes, I decided to go up to the group, and I ended up running into my junior social justice teacher, Mr. Tim Caslin! When I think about what spurred my interest in social justice, I typically think about him--he was the one that first opened up my eyes to the inequalities that exist in our world. He invited me this evening to spend a little time with them and to share about who I am and what I have been doing as a Jesuit. Such a small world! This group from J-high has been doing an immersion experience here in LA as part of their service learning requirement as seniors. It was a great gift for me to spend time with them and to share in some Jesuit High brotherhood.

Today was a little unusual because of my meeting with the Jesuit High guys--I ended up getting home a little before ten o'clock. Usually, I am home by around 8pm or so.

The rest of my time here in Los Angeles primarily will consist in the sorts of things I have just shared with you today. So far, I feel very blessed to be here and to learn from the different sorts of people that I have been encountering. Truly, it has been a gift to me, and I have been learning quite a bit. I have no regrets about being here--I feel that I am exactly where I need to be at this time in my formation, and I believe that God has been with me every step of the way. Such sentiments are worthy of offering praise and thanksgiving.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

We're better than this: The Call for Immigration Reform

The Jesuit provincials of the U.S. have recently written a letter to President Obama and Congress calling for immigration reform. In their opening paragraph they write: "Through our ministries, we witness the tragic consequences of our current immigration system. This is not the America that any of us desire. We can and must do better."

Sometimes, when I read internet comments to news articles relating to immigration reform, I am greatly saddened at the extent of hate and cruelty that I find. I think Americans are better than the type of discourse that colors our commentary on this issue. I understand the anger that some feel against those who enter the country illegally and who do not go through the lawful means of obtaining citizenship. At the same time, I do not believe this gives us the right to treat illegals as if they are less than human. Many go through great lengths to come into this country because they find a lot of hope here in America. They think they will be able to find a better life here in this country and support their family, and they risk a lot in order to do so. This is a compliment to America as a country and what we represent. Americans are a people who I believe are greatly generous to those in need. Although many Americans are currently struggling in the current economic climate, I truly believe that Americans are better than simply demonizing "the other" and spewing out hate.

Indeed, our history is a history of immigrants, of those who fled their own country in order to establish a better life here in the United States. The founding story of America is not much different from the many people who flee their own country to come here today. The first immigrants were "illegals." They did not have papers or wait years before given citizenship. They came into a land that was primarily populated by people who looked unlike them out of necessity.

For all of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim people who live in this country and who look to Abraham as one of our founding fathers of faith, we do well to remember that Abraham himself was an alien in a strange land. Abraham knew what it was like to be a stranger and to venture forth into the unknown. Many Abrahams today are in our midst, and they simply seek a better life. Could we not, at least, treat them with respect instead of trash to be thrown away? People of faith believe that we are made in the image of God. God does not see us as Americans or Mexicans or illegals. God sees us as His own children whom He loves very much. I do not believe God sees the divisions; let us try to imitate His sight.

Our current immigration system rips families apart, encourages people to live in fear, and destroys lives. America is better than that. We have been a country that illustrates itself as a beacon of hope and of freedom. Let us live up to that image and not paint ourselves as a people of hatred and resentment.

Am I being too idealistic? Is my picture of America wrong?

In any case, I think many would be in agreement that America is very much in need of immigration reform. I recommend reading the provincials' letter, which you can find here. They put forward some principles that will improve our current system.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Summer Reflections: Initial Thoughts and The Challenge of Forgiveness

Before I came onto the site to write a post this morning, I noticed that blogger had some new features to toy around with. I don't think I've ever radically changed the layout of my page before, but I figured it was about time to give the blog a different look. Since my primary mission at this time in formation involves books, I thought the current background was quite apropos to the work I do. I rather like the new look.

Anyway, after being here in LA a week, I am beginning to have the feeling that this experience is exactly what I needed at this time in my formation. Although the time thus far has not been without its challenges and difficulties, I have found myself mostly in consolation. Most of the difficulties center around my own introversion and going into a new place and meeting a gazillion new people (but that's the Jesuit life!) Furthermore, I am far from being fluent in Spanish, so it is not like I can easily strike up a conversation with a number of the new people I meet here at Dolores Mission which serves primarily a Spanish-speaking population. Yet, I have found my first week to be primarily one to be very lifegiving, and that gives me a lot of hope and excitement for the rest of the summer. Despite the difficulties and suffering that the people face, I find them to be a people of great faith dedicated in the fight for peace in their communities and homes. The history surrounding this area is extremely violent, but as one ex gang-member shared with me at Homeboy industries, he believed the way to peace was to help lift the poor out of its poverty. Homeboy's motto is: "Nothing stops a bullet like a job." Youth here who find no hope in their lives will turn to gangs.

I had the privilege last Tuesday of attending a Liturgy Planning meeting with the Parish staff. During part of their meeting, they reflect on the Gospel reading for the upcoming Sunday (which happens to be today). In the Gospel, we hear that famous passage of the woman who washes the feet of Christ with her tears. As I listened to the Gospel, I shared with them that I was reminded of a scene in The Mission with Robert DeNiro, who plays a ex-slave trader who had killed his brother in a fit of rage. He is plagued by his past and cannot let go of the shame and guilt that he feels. In this scene, he is brought face-to-face with the people that he helped enslaved, and they have every right to pay him back with his own death. You can watch what happens here:

For me, this scene provides a strong image for how sin and forgiveness works in our lives. We often carry a lot of shame and guilt in our lives for some of the things that we have done. The Pharisees chastise Jesus for allowing the woman to come so close to him. Jesus knows what she has done, but he cannot help but look upon her with great love and mercy. He does not define her by her sins, because her sins do not define her. Rather, I believe that Christ sees only a person made in God's image, for this is what primarily defines her. I believe that Christ sees only that goodness within her that she cannot see herself. This so profoundly moves the woman that she cannot help but offer her tears of gratitude and thanksgiving. The forgiveness of Christ cuts her load that she was unable to let go of herself.

Well, the pastor here, Fr. Scott Santarosa, liked hearing about that so much that he has decided today to show as part of the homily this clip to the congregation during all of the Masses and ending with a moment of reconciliation in the community. As you can imagine, I was quite taken aback by this, since I didn't expect my sharing to amount to this sort of action. But, I am grateful that it will provide a moment of reconciliation for the people.

Like the woman, I think all of us are in need of forgiveness and healing in our lives, and we are lucky to have Christ whose gaze is the epitome of love, that love that we are all called to imitate in our lives.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

To Dolores MIssion for the Summer

The past few days, I have been spending time here in Spokane preparing for my upcoming summer. As I have mentioned earlier, I will be going to Dolores Mission Church in LA. I came across its website, which you can find here.

I must admit that I find myself a little nervous about going. There were a number of reasons that I wanted to go: to practice some Spanish, to be in contact with poorer populations and to learn from them, etc. I wanted something that would push me and stretch me beyond my comfort zones, and I think this experience will certainly do that. Despite my nervousness, I have been given thus far in my Jesuit vocation the grace of of being able to see Christ in all of my experiments, and I believe Christ is very much at work in the place I will be going. I seek always to place my trust in God and to be open to God's movements in my life.

During my silent retreat, I was reading two very different books. One was Kierkegaard's Works of Love. Probably a little heady for some, and not too philosophical enough for others. For a thinking person of faith, it is right up my alley. The other was Fr. Greg Boyle's recent book Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. His book has a number of real stories that are both profoundly moving and challenging to read. Really, though, the primary content of these books are the same--God's incredible love for us and the challenge of accepting that love and imitating it despite our human weakness and frailty.

I mention especially Fr. Boyle's book because I will be spending some time as well at Homeboy Industries--a ministry targeted at ex-gang members. If you are interested in learning more, you should pick up his book.

So, I leave for my home state tomorrow morning. I ask for your prayers as I embark on my summer. God bless

Thursday, June 3, 2010

At Mt. St. Michael

During my eight-day silent retreat, I had the privilege of visiting Mount St. Michael, the place in Spokane, WA where many of the Jesuits in the Oregon province have been buried. Since my work in the infirmary last year, three Jesuits have passed away whose graves I was able to visit. Another one will be buried there tomorrow--Fr. Alex Mcdonald.

Hayden Lake this year was unusually wet. We had only two full days of sun--the first day we arrived and the final day of the retreat. My visit to the Mount came on an especially rainy Memorial day. Curiously, though, a window of sun came through right at the time of my visit. Shortly after leaving the Mount, it proceeded to rain quite heavily again. I took it as a sign that God was blessing the visit.

My visit to the Mount was an immensely consoling experience. I recently tried to construct a poem about it, but I don't find myself to be much of a poet. I think I'll just convey a sense of what I experienced.

While I was praying, I got a keen sense that what I was experiencing was something quite profound--an experience that defies the simple perception of things. I wasn't simply seeing the graves of the men or noticing all of the white stones in front of me. Of course I was seeing that. But I was seeing so much more as well.

A cemetery usually reminds one of death. I had the opposite experience. I paradoxically experienced a lot of hope and life in my visit. I saw in my memory the smile of a man who took delight in sharing his love for tennis. I experienced around me the beauty of the earth, the warmth of the sun, and the song of young birds. I meditated on the lives of these men who each had their own flaws and weaknesses, yet they heard the call of God and lived as best they could to offer their lives in service. I was in the company of Jesuits who sought to ground their gaze upon Christ--the One who looks out over the world with great love and compassion and the One whom they sought to imitate as best as they could. I had a felt sense that I was on Holy Ground and had a transcendent experience of joining in song with them the "Salve Regina." The Mount overlooks the city of Spokane, and I experienced these men looking out over the world with a desire to bring that light and life of Christ out to those who thirst.

Call me crazy, but here, I did not find the dead. I found the living who have risen in Christ and inspired me in my own vocation. Words do not do justice to what I experienced (which is true for most of my silent retreat where God abundantly showered me with grace and consolation). I believe such an experience would not have been possible for me without the richness of my prayer during my silent retreat in which many of the Gospel scenes came to life to me in a way I had not experienced before. It was a retreat laden with images rich in affect, and that carried over into my experience at the Mount.

I encountered a stone with a poem written by John Masterson. I thought I would end with his words.

While others find this place
deserted, it will be
ever pulsing with life
for me.

For over simple stones
On this wind caressed height
A host of vibrant men
stand bright.

Their eyes and words more clear
Than any I now know
In all the crowded town

I see the living here,
Though spirits may have fled,
And moving numbly there,
the dead.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A little update

After a long and exhausting semester of academic study at Fordham, I am now back in the Northwest for a little bit--specially in Spokane at Gonzaga University. I will be going out later today to Hayden Lake, ID as I did last year to make my eight day silent retreat, which I am very much looking forward to. My brain feels like it has not stopped working this past month, so the time in silence will be quite welcome. Any of your prayers would be greatly appreciated.

After the eight day retreat, I will be spending a few days in Spokane before I fly out to Los Angeles for the summer. As I mentioned some time ago, I will be spending time at Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries--simply to witness the work that is going on over there while also having some time to practice Spanish. Like any new experience, I feel a little nervous and apprehensive about it, but I trust, like in the past, that God will be very much present and active in my life during this summer.

Once I am out of retreat, I hope to update my blog a little more often than I have been this semester. Since I devoted all of my creative writing energies to my papers, I felt that I had no energy left to offer to the blog. Hopefully my battery will be recharged so that I can write again outside outside of the academic setting. But, I feel very pleased with my work this semester and hopefully I can share some of what I have learned.

As I mentioned in my last post, I hope to write something about religious vocation in the current climate. Also, I just watched the series finale of LOST yesterday and feel compelled to write something about this as well. I personally found it to be very consoling and an occasion that enriched my own faith--but more on that at a later date.

So, I hope to come back writing within the next week and a half or so once I return from the silence.

Until then, I leave you with a music video done at Ciszek Hall this past semester. I'm sure a number of you have come across it, but if not, here it is. The one playing the piano at the beginning is Mikey Wood, my piano student and also the one who made this excellent video.

Enjoy the Jesuit nerdiness =p

Monday, May 3, 2010

Another Jesuit Blog Advertisement

I recently received an e-mail asking to promote a website sponsored by the Jesuit Community at Regis College in Toronto. Check it out!

The Jesuit community at Regis College ( in Toronto, Canada, has launched a prayer website The website has been developed to encourage people to pray online, an avenue for shared prayer across the world . People can submit their prayer requests online (, prayers are kept confidential and the Regis College community and the Regis Jesuits include all petitions received in their weekly Wednesday community mass at the college on campus.

Also, we have designed a special prayer e-card that can be personalized and sent to Mom with prayers for Mother's Day.

The Regis community also keeps a blog, if you'd like to subscribe or add to your blogroll.

On an unrelated note, the recent news with the Catholic Church has been on my mind quite a bit lately. I have some thoughts to share on this matter, but I will probably set this aside until my work load diminishes somewhat amidst this busy academic part of the year.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mass Reflection

Ever since I began my blog, I have been in the habit of posting my once-a-semester Mass reflections. I primarily write these with my Jesuit brothers in mind as they are my immediate audience, but perhaps you may find something of value here. God bless.


Today, we hear in the famous Gospel passage that God so loved the world that he sent his only Begotten Son, that through Christ, God was able to communicate and continues still to communicate that wondrous love he has for all of us. For you Greek scholars, the word used here is ‘agape,’ a love which is quite different from ‘eros’ or ‘filia’. ‘Eros’ is an erotic love, a love that you fall into almost as a result of an arrow from cupid. ‘Filia’ is a kind of friendship and relationship that two people have exclusively for one another. The love of God is ‘agape’ because His love is like the sun whose light radiates on both saint and sinner alike. It is radically unconditional and self-emptying, and although much of the world may turn away from His rays, it does not negate how the Son continues to shine forth upon us.

I think it is fitting during this Easter season that we contemplate the ‘agape’ of God, and indeed this is an important reflection for us as men rooted in the Spiritual Exercises. In the fourth week, we are challenged and called into that important contemplation to attain love, which I believe is more specifically a contemplation to attain ‘agape.’ In one of my favorite lines of Hopkins poetry, he writes: “Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east.” During this joyous season, God easters forth his ‘agape’ to us all. We are called to be disciples of Christ, to let our light shine forth unto the world in His imitation.

For the remainder of this time, I would invite you to pray with me briefly as I touch on the points Ignatius has us contemplate in the fourth week. Let us place ourselves in the presence of the angels and saints, that stirred to profound gratitude for the love God has given to us, we may become better able to love and serve Christ and the world.

Two preliminary notes: first, love ought to manifest itself more by deeds than by words. Second, love consists in a mutual communication. God is the lover, and we, the world, are the beloved.

First point: Let us consider how much God has given us. All of us here are very talented individuals each with our particular God-given gifts. What are those unique and important gifts in your life? What gifts do we take for granted? Which gifts need to be cherished? How can I best use my gifts and offer them up for the greater glory of God?

Second point: Let us consider how God dwells in the world and gives all things their existence, their life, sensation, and intelligence. Without God, we would literally be nothing. We are all temples of the living God, created in the likeness and image of his Divine Majesty. Can we see ourselves as God’s temple? Are we able to see how God dwells in each other? Can we find God dwelling here in the Bronx, hard as that may seem?

Third point: Let us consider how God continues to labor in the world. God is active in the world and in our lives. God is not simply a concept to be grasped, but is that mysterium tremendum et fascinans who dares to be in active relationship with all of us. How is God currently active in our lives? Can we see how God is laboring in our world and in creation?

Fourth point: Let us consider how all good things come to us like the rays from the sun. God is the light of the world; whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.

In all of these points, we reflect upon ourselves and consider how we cannot help but respond to this ‘agape’ of God for all of us. What have we done for Christ? What are we doing for Christ? What will we do for Christ?

We conclude as one making an offering with deep affection:

“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 grace
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.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

An assortment of things

First off, I would like to extend to all of you a very belated Easter. It is a beautiful time of the year in which we are called into new life and to rejoice in the resurrection of our Lord.

I personally have found myself quite busy since the beginning of Holy Week, singing in the Fordham Choir and helping out with the festivities here at Ciszek. I feel in some ways that I have been going non-stop ever since with plenty of things such as paper writing, cooking, preparing for our recent Minor Ministries Mass, etc. Papers are also looming ahead, so as you can imagine, it is that crazy time of the year for us students.

My postings, as a result, will probably be a little more infrequent in these upcoming two months (but who knows, maybe I will write more frequently =p). However, it looks like my summer will be spent in LA, where I would like to spend time with Dolores Mission and Homeboy Industries. I am sure I will have plenty to write about during my time there.

I find my disposition in prayer these days simply to stop what I am doing, take a few moments to breathe, to place myself in the presence of God, and to pray in gratitude for my blessings.

I would also like to write a little bit about my April 1st post, since I have received mixed responses from it. Clearly, my April 1st posts these past two years have been resounding successes...maybe third time's a charm?

Primarily, I would like to apologize for any harm that may have been caused to those who took it quite seriously (and subsequently, I have taken it down as a result). It certainly was not my intention for the post to be a serious rant against my fellow brethren, and I realize that the post could be quite damaging. I was writing in a quite hyperbolic way and blowing small issues that a community may talk about completely out of proportion. It certainly could have been read that I had a major axe to grind.

Like any place, a little conflict is inevitable in religious community, but I believe it is also important to have a sense of humor about these things. Personally, I count my blessings if the biggest conflict in my life is wondering why someone hasn't restocked the bathroom with toilet paper. Clearly, many people around the world deal with much more serious problems in their lives on a daily basis. Again, though, I apologize for any misunderstanding and harm that may have been caused.

In the end, we are called to be like Christ to one another as best we can in our communities and in our homes. I believe the home to be the primary place where love must be cultivated and practiced if it is to be shared with the wider community. Indeed, as Jesuits, we have been in recent conversation about community as mission, but in the wider context, we can also speak about the home as mission.

Again, I wish you all a blessed Easter season! I leave you with a link to Holy Week at Seattle University which brought me many good memories.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday Music For Reflection

First, I hope those who read my post noticed what day it was yesterday. I was just having a little fun with the blog.

On a more somber note, Christians everywhere today remember in our hearts the kenotic act of Christ crucified on the cross--an act that still very much speaks to us in the present, an act that continues to reveal the capacities for hatred and violence that resides within the hearts of all humankind. And yet, on the cross, Christ's arms are paradoxically nailed in its most outstreched position, a position through which He is to communicate that unconditional, radical love for humanity despite our sinfulness.

I thought I would share today a favorite choral song of mine that I have sung in the past: Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti. May it aide you in your contemplation on this Holy Day

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beset by Weakness

"For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin...He is able to deal patiently with the ignorant and erring, for he himself is beset by weakness."

Before I entered the Jesuits, my spiritual director gave me an article entitled "Because beset by weakness..." by Fr. Michael Buckley, SJ. I think many of my Jesuit brothers are probably acquainted with this beautiful reflection which I link here for your reference. In this article, he advocates the position that all those who desire to enter the priesthood must be beset by weakness--a man open and capable to the experience of suffering and utter helplessness--one completely touched by the frailty of human nature, and thus one who can be in touch by the weakness and frailty of others. If he does not understand that pain himself, how can he ever serve and minister to those who grapple with pain all their lives?

My spiritual director probably gave me this article since the tapes that ran in my head (and still do, although I now have a greater awareness of how the dark spirit works in this regard) often said things like: "I'm not good enough"; "I'm not strong enough"; "I don't pray enough;" etc. etc. In giving me this article, what my spiritual director was really trying to tell me was that those sources of weakness that I saw in myself are exactly the places in which God paradoxically brings out great strength. My own experience of suffering and weakness can help me to connect to those who have experienced similarly. This is probably what Anthony de Mello meant when he said: "Be grateful for your sins. They are carriers of grace."

I find for myself that the people that I tend to gravitate towards and highly respect are those people whom I sense have an understanding of this weakness in their own lives. They are not perfect people by any means, but I also wouldn't have it any other way. A number of recovering alcoholics that I have met exemplify this weakness par excellence. I am fascinated by their experience of hitting rock bottom, of losing complete control of their lives, and the realization--really the conversion moment--that they will not be able to correct the course in their lives until they have the courage to tell themselves that they need help, help that they cannot give themselves. When you meet someone who has been sober for something like 25-30+ years...those kinds of people you cannot help but admire and respect. And indeed, you find those types in the Society.

I especially admire those who carry their weakness with great humility.

The one beset by weakness I believe is ultimately one who is able to truly embrace the world despite its many flaws. The one beset by weakness does not scoff at the world or constantly pick at the splinters in his neighbors' eyes. In the end, he can love the world many deem unlovable.

It is perhaps fitting as we enter Holy Week to contemplate the weakness experienced by Christ during his journey to the cross. The sort of weakness he must have felt when the people condemned him to die, or the weakness he felt as he looked into the eyes of those who drove the nails through his flesh. Yet, it is precisely this weakness through which Christ was able to display his great love for the world. His moment of weakness became the source of our greatest hope.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Row towards your life

You are young. So you know everything. You leap

into the boat and begin rowing. But listen to me.

Without fanfare, without embarrassment, without

any doubt, I talk directly to your soul. Listen to me.

Lift the oars from the water, let your arms rest, and

your heart, and heart’s little intelligence, and listen to

me. There is life without love. It is not worth a bent

penny, or a scuffed shoe. It is not worth the body of a

dead dog nine days unburied. When you hear, a mile

away and still out of sight, the churn of the water

as it begins to swirl and roil, fretting around the

sharp rocks – when you hear that unmistakable

pounding – when you feel the mist on your mouth

and sense ahead the embattlement, the long falls

plunging and steaming – then row, row for your life

toward it.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Glimpse Into My Prayer-Relationship

I've been thinking about my relationship to God lately during this season of Lent. What is my relationship like at the current moment? What are the hopes/desires of the relationship? Have I allowed myself to listen and be receptive of God's movements, or am I doing most of the talking in this relationship?

Like anything, it's one of those things where I say: "well, it could be better."

In many ways, I feel that what I often desire in my relationship with God is what I often desire of my closest relationships: intimacy (in the non-sexual sense of the word), authenticity, openness, understanding...a relationship that is stripped of the masks, where I can genuinely share not only life's struggles but also life's joys. A relationship open to growth and to challenges rooted in love. A relationship where I can simply laugh, smile, and be grateful for the time spent together.

Sometimes some of the most profoundest moments of a relationship can be spent in utter silence.

I have found myself particularly grateful for a number of shared moments I have had with some brother Jesuits. Deep, spiritual conversations on the subway, random hallway chatter, esoteric philosophical/theological debates, daily crossfit exercises, shared prayers before the Lord's table, even playful "pwnings." When I look back at these moments in prayer, I cannot help but simply say "thank you" and bow before holiness clothed in ordinariness. For, in those moments, I often find glimpses of the living Christ, glimpses which often go unrecognized until conscientious prayer moments bring them into the light.

If there is one thing I have been recognizing lately, it is that I have been very much learning about my relationship with God because of what I have been learning about my relationship to those around me. Good, healthy relationships take time to develop, and I very much feel that way about my relationship with Christ. It is a relationship I strive to tend to everyday, but of course, some days are better than others. But, God has always been there, always offering His unconditional love whether I take notice or not.

On the flip side, I have also noticed that my relationships with others is greatly improved when my relationship with God is in right order. When I have not been tending to my prayer life, I notice a stark difference in the way I am able to relate to others. Symptoms include irritability, heightened sensitivity, and even a little "bitchiness."

In my experience, a healthy relationship with God leads to a greater ability to do works of love, and works of love are the bricks through which the earth becomes built like heaven.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Charged with the Grandeur of God

In Hopkins arguably most famous poem God's Grandeur (I don't think it's his best one, personally), the opening line reads:

"The world is charged with the grandeur of God."

Curiously, I began to think about this poem while reading from the philosophy of Karl Marx, who holds religion to be the opiate of the masses. Religion as the ideological skin that humanity must shed if it is to realize its true nature both individually and as a society.

Of course, as a Jesuit, I do not agree with such sentiments. Yet, such sentiments arguably arise because religion can become an all-too-comfortable boys club that is no longer able to bear witness to its true spirit. God becomes a means to an end. The message of the Gospels becomes stripped of its vitality in order to further personal, political agendas. Clothed in religious language lie hearts of pride, selfishness, and greed.

Yet, I do believe that the world is charged with the grandeur of God--a world radiating with the light of Christ. The spirit of the Trinity is found in creation, in each and every one of us. God animates and electrifies the life of this world--past, present, and future. And we are charged with the task to bear witness to the spirit of God within us--a task done at its best with alacrity and joy.

I do not believe that humanity attains its true being when it casts off belief in God. On the contrary, I believe we become alienated from our true selves, selves that ultimately only make sense when we are in relationship with God--God who loves us incredibly, radically, unconditionally. When we bear witness to that true love, we should have no need to defend our actions or our faith. Our actions should speak for themselves.

Despite our sinfulness, I believe there is great good found within all of us. I have seen this and experienced this with my own eyes. If we can recognize this good--this divinely-charged life--within our brothers and sisters and draw out that goodness from within humanity, we are well on our way towards the Kingdom of Heaven, where all the world is embraced with Bright Wings.