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.