Friday, January 29, 2010

The Event with the Divine Word

Prayer is an event, a special time that brings us into relationship with God--God whom the faithful believe to be very present to us in the here and now.

When we read the bible, or listen to the Word proclaimed at Mass, I believe it is important how we relate to those words on the page or how we listen to the spoken word. Scripture is not simply an occasion in which we figure out what happened to God's people in the past or read about the historical acts of Christ. Of course, there is significance to such an interpretive reading. Yet, in the reading or in the listening, there is also that greater faith element of believing in the immediacy of God's real presence. In those acts, God is speaking to us.

One of the richest Gospel passages for me was read a few days ago: the parable of the sower. We listen from Mark 4:

"Hear this! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. He added, 'Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.'"

Of course, one way to read this passage is just to skim read it and to glance its meaning. "Okay, plant your seed in fertile ground...duh" You hear it, you've "attained" its meaning, and then you forget about it. In this type of reading, has God's word really taken root?

Those religious who have written about the formal prayer of Lectio Divina understood the significance of prayer as an event. In the slow reading or hearing of a text, they understood prayer to be a means in which God can take root in us, to form us and to shape us, to change us into who we are fully meant to be. We allow God to speak, and we challenge ourselves to actually listen.

In an increasingly technological age of efficiency in which our greatest commodity is our time, the deficiency of our culture is our inability to pause, to be still, and to listen. I say that, because I understand the effects technology has had on my own life--the power of television and computers and iPods, to name a few. It's quite hard nowadays to think of a world without electricity and technology, but those days did indeed exist. I'm sure the experience and relation our ancestors had to time was far different from our experience now. Five minutes can seem like an eternity to us--I'm not sure they would have experienced time like that in the same way.

When I ask my 7th graders to sit silently for a few minutes in prayer, I see how extremely difficult it is for many of them. Yet, after those few moments, I have experienced a greater calm in them than if I did not start off my classes with those moments of silence. If we have not cultivated an inner space of silence in which we can listen to and respond to the Word of God, how can we ever have a real experience of God? How can we ever enter into those relational events with the Divine?

St. Ignatius, with his emphasis on the Spiritual Exercises, understood the importance of the relational event with the Divine in his promotion of using our senses and imagination with respect to the Gospels. For Ignatius, the words become more than simply bearers of meaning. The words become the bearer of God himself, the Word, through which, by faith, we are able to have a real and immediate experience of God. The words open up a world unto God's self, a realm in which His grace radiates forth in the here and the now.

It is perhaps a good question for us to consider our own relationship to Scripture--of how we read and hear the Word of God. What kind of soil are we cultivating through which God desires to take root in us? Where do we need tending? Where are the weeds?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Why Am I a Jesuit?

"It is often said nowadays that the present century thirsts for authenticity. Especially in regard to young people it is said that they have a horror of the artificial or false and that they are searching above all for truth and honesty.
These "signs of the times" should find us vigilant. Either tacitly or aloud-but always forcefully--we are being asked: Do you really believe what you are proclaiming? Do you live what you believe? Do you really preach what you live? The witness of life has become more than ever an essential condition for real effectiveness in preaching."
~Pope Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, S76

I've been thinking about this question of being a Jesuit recently. I find myself wracked with uncertainty and overwhelming weakness, wondering if I have the capacity and the strength to live this life amidst the challenges and the struggles that I inevitably face. Can I give authentic witness to this vocation?

There's a part of me that feels selfish about writing this post as I compare my own struggles with the suffering that the people of Haiti are going through and think to myself: "my struggle is nothing compared to what they are going through. How dare I complain about my own struggles."

On the other hand, I feel my struggles to be quite real, and it would be silly for me to ignore the reality of what is going on inside of me. It is silly anyway--almost bordering on dangerous-- to play the comparison game of who suffers more.

As I was praying earlier, I felt called to write this because I need to write this for myself more than anyone else. In the midst of this time of First Studies, I need to rekindle that fire that led me first into the Society.

Why am I a Jesuit?

I have probably referenced this well-known quote of Fr. Pedro Arrupe before, but I continue to draw inspiration and strength from it:

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything."

I was recently reading the letter that I wrote to my former provincial before I took vows during my 8-day retreat. I remember thinking that I was not going to take vows unless I truly believed in what I was going to profess.

My introductory paragraph read:

"Dear Fr. Provincial,
As I compose this letter to you, I am surrounded by our Lord’s grandeur here at Hayden Lake. I am overwhelmed by the abundance of God shown forth through the beauty of the earth and am moved with awe and thanksgiving. Here, in this most sacred place, God has touched me, deeply and profoundly, yet again. I feel wholly unworthy, yet still God beckons, invites me into a greater mystery beyond my own understanding. God has led me to this point, and as I imagine the prospect of taking vows this upcoming August, I feel at peace. I have found my home, have found where I feel I belong—in the vineyard of our Lord. Therefore, with humble heart, I ask your permission to profess on August 16, 2008 simple perpetual vows into the Society of Jesus and to be admitted into first profession."

These words were not fluff to make the provincial think highly of me. I believed these words profoundly. It is funny to read how unworthy I felt myself to be in God's sight--the story of my life. Yet, God still calls. God sees something in me worth sharing to the world, and I have to believe that because I often do not believe that of myself. That has been echoed in so many people who have been as Christ to me and who have affirmed my decision to be with the Society.

The fire, though, needs greater tending. Anyone can offer herself/himself to God without necessarily being in religious life. Why am I a Jesuit?

I don't want to answer: "because what else would I do with my life?"

As I think about this, I am coming to realize that it is absurd for me to think that I can fully and completely answer this question. Tending to one's fire is, in many ways, the task of a lifetime. I imagine that all people must necessarily ask this question as they grow in years. And perhaps what originally fed the fire must now be fed differently.

I think answering this question presumes that I completely understand my vocation. Yet, I alluded in my vow letter that I felt led into a vocation greater than my own understanding. That this life that I wanted to lead was wrapped in mystery, yet I believed that God would walk with me through thick and thin and strengthen me through His love and mercy to enter fully into this life.

I became a Jesuit, in part, because I felt the amazing power of God's love in my life, and I wanted to respond and share that with others. I saw the Jesuits as a conduit through which I could best share what I have been given to those around me. As a Jesuit, I have grown in faith and in love for our Lord, heartened by these brothers of mine who have taught and formed me into becoming more and more a Jesuit.

Yes, I am a Jesuit. But, in a different sense, I am always in the process of becoming a Jesuit. At this midway point in my time in first studies, I am called to revisit that question: "why am I a Jesuit." Do I have the grace to imitate Christ who humbly became as one of us up til death?

Only by God challenging me in this way can I really grow in my vocation, and I must be open to this challenge. And, that I can be open with this challenge is a grace for which I am thankful for. And, I know I do not enter into this challenge alone.

In my experience, religious life has been a very enriching life thus far, and I have grown in ways I never would have otherwise. But, this life is also not a walk in the park, and there are many painful graces to be experienced.

I hardly ever ask this of anyone (I have been recently), but please pray for me at this time. We religious pray for the world daily, but I think our vocations are strengthened by those who pray for us as well--that we might faithfully and authentically serve God and God's people with integrity. Please help us and support us to be the best people that we can be for the Church and for the world.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Back from the Grips of Irrelevancy!!!

People of earth, I am back!! Back from the woe and wretchedness of obscurity, back from the sad state of insignificancy, back from the (insert catchy alliterative phrase) of (insert catchy thesaurus word)! Trust me reader, there is nothing so deplorable to the serious blogger than to see one's blog gather cobwebs and the chirping of crickets.

Oh, who am I kidding? I have no readers.

Alright, you probably think I have gone crazy, so I promise to check myself into the crazy-house. Actually, now that I think about it, I don't really have to move anywhere...

Mostly kidding aside, I have been wanting again to get back into my old practice of writing. A month and a half since my last post, no? It usually is that last month in the semester when my already crazy-self goes into that super-crazy mode of overly obsessing about my work. The thought of writing anything outside of my 20-page papers almost made me want to vomit. Of course, being a good Asian, I don't care about my grades =p

So what brings me out of that comfortable hole of blog-silence? Well, honestly, part of the reason is that I have been waking up in the middle of the night lately and have a terrible time trying to get to bed. It's been a number of days since I've been able to have uninterrupted sleep. But, if you notice when I wrote on my blog last time, I did it in the wee hours of the morning. Well, I figure instead of wallowing in self-pity for three hours that I would actually make the most of that quiet time. There really is something to those early morning hours that I can find quite peaceful.

Of course, a big reason for my silence is a struggle anyone who writes goes through: what really do I have to say that is worth sharing? I mean, there are millions of people on the intraweb and far more interesting blogs out there to read. Why would I ever want to keep up this blog?

Well, I've thought about it, and the only answer that makes sense to me is insanity.

Really, though, I do like writing, so why wouldn't I write? Well, to write is to be vulnerable. And, who wouldn't want to be vulnerable in this pollyanna society in which we support and constantly affirm one another?

Maybe it's masochism...

Anyway, I really do want to get back into a rhythm of writing, and hopefully I'm just not saying that. Well, knowing me, I'll wait two months, wake up in the middle of the night, and write another post about how I haven't written for two months and how I would like to write again. Lord...

Well, to spur myself to write, there are a few things I've been wanting to blog about (in no particular order):
1) A reflection on the horrific events of Haiti
2) Mapping my faith journey. Why am I a Jesuit?
3) Discerning my summer
4) More reflective writings on my spiritual life
5) Something music related

Before I end, I would like to say that I find myself very grateful at this time to those who support me--for their immense generosity, charity, and love. I am also grateful to know of God's continued work in my life. Undoubtedly, without God's grace, this life that I lead would personally be close to impossible.

Alright. Thank you to my two readers out there, you are the best! Also, happy Martin Luther King day! Let us pray for an end to racism in our world and in our hearts--that, despite differences in color, we may acknowledge the dignity and worth of all peoples. Let us also continue to keep close in our prayers our sisters and brothers of Haiti.