Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward - Regency

When I was applying for the Jesuits, I was thinking about my back-up plan if I was denied. If not a Jesuit, I wanted to be a teacher. I probably would have applied for a program like Teach for America had I not been accepted (and then the back-up for that just for kicks would have been to train as a masseur. I used to give massages before I entered, and many said I did a pretty good job). Who I am most definitely has been influenced by the many wonderful teachers I have had throughout my life, and I feel incredibly blessed to have been provided the education I received. They helped to shape and develop the person I am today and the way I think about the world around me.

As a result, I look to the future and towards my upcoming assignment at Jesuit High School with a lot of excitement and consolation. In this upcoming period of my formation called regency, most Jesuits are typically missioned to teach high school at one of our Jesuit high schools around the country for around two to three years. I will be teaching four sections of freshmen faith formation, and with two of my other Jesuit brothers teaching the same class, none of these freshmen will be able to get away from Jesuit without having had at least one Jesuit in the classroom.

It's a curious thing to think that, at age 27, this will be my first full time job ever, since I entered the Jesuits right out of college. I have spent practically all of my life in the classroom, which obviously will not change in these upcoming years. But, I will now be on the opposite side of the classroom for a change, and thank God for that!

In preparation for regency, I had the privilege along with a number of other neo-regents from across the country to get some teacher training here in California. Half of the group was placed at Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, and the other half was placed at St. Ignatius High School in San Francisco, which is where I was assigned for the summer. Working with my master teacher, I was able to make some important notes about the vital details I need to keep in mind for the fall such as classroom management and lesson planning. If I can come up with some arbitrary numbers, it seems to me that 10% of teaching is the actual content of a course and 90% of teaching is the manner in which that content is conveyed to the students.

When I was talking to a older Jesuit a number of weeks ago, he remarked that I should simply aim at surviving my first year of regency. Well, that seems like a rather minimal goal to have and which also gives the sense that the first year teaching will kinda suck. While surviving might be what ends up happening, I would like to do more than simply survive my first year in regency. My goal is to thrive God willing.

As a teacher, I expect to be quite demanding at an appropriate level for incoming freshmen while being fair at the same time. I want to begin challenging them to think critically about faith and to provide them with the some tools to begin thinking about it more deeply. I hope to develop budding prayer lives that aims at a relationship of depth with God. While doing this, I also want to love my students, and this certainly does not mean giving out an easy 'A.'

Well, these are goals anyway and hopefully what I don't end up doing is simply crashing-and-burning. And hopefully I don't end up burning for being considered a heretic, lol.

I would like to mention that I am extremely grateful thus far to have amazing support from the school and Jesuit community in Portland. I feel that they have gone out of their way to show how much they are looking forward to having new Jesuits and have made sure that the proper structures are in place to enable me to do my best.

This is the final post of this series that I have written throughout this past week. If you have been following along, I hope it has been a good read. I was given a real gift the other day when an incoming Jesuit novice wrote me saying how much he found my writing over the past year to be moving and inspirational to him. That makes my writing completely worth the time. I never know who reads it, but I throw my seeds (or whatever it is I throw) and hope that my reader is able to find at least one thing that is helpful to them.

I'm now off to Los Altos, CA for an 8-day silent retreat. But, before that, my sister has just come home with sesame balls. Mmmmmmm

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward - First Studies

The day after I took First Vows, my provincial gave me my first mission--to live at Ciszek Hall in the Bronx and to study philosophy at Fordham University. A few months ago, after three years there, I finally graduated with, as we like to say in my community, the highly elusive and coveted MAPR (Master's in Philosophical Resources). The MAPR is similar to an MA in philosophy, except that its requirements are much different. We approach philosophy historically, starting with Plato and Aristotle and work our way forward. The program culminates with the De Universa - an oral exam administered by three philosophy professors who grill you for one hour about broad philosophical questions.

Many Jesuits strongly see this mission as a true act of obedience, as they would much rather be doing something else. They validly ask what how philosophy is relevant to their work as Jesuits, and some do in fact say that philosophy has little to no influence with their current work. Some tell horror stories of their time in philosophy--one had such a strong visceral reaction to first studies that upon visiting the old site where he studied many years before, he promptly threw up.

During my time at Seattle University, it was my own choice to study philosophy during my first two years there. I actually rather like the discipline, although I'm quite aware that I'm in the minority position here. So, I found myself in a privileged position, since some of my other Jesuit brothers hadn't studied philosophy before.

My approach to philosophy stems from the root meaning of the word. Philo in the Greek means love and sophia means wisdom. At its core, philosophy is a journey towards the love of wisdom, which is a helpful trait to have as a Jesuit. Indeed, love of God should not contradict love of wisdom -- these loves should very much be in harmony. Of course, that is a disputable point depending on one's perspective, but Christian thinkers I assume would not argue with me on that.

One of the lessons from my philosophy studies at Seattle University that I carried with me into Fordham was the importance of slow thinking. The questions that philosophers have asked throughout the centuries are not easy ones to grasp, and it necessarily demands a lot of time, energy, and patience if one is to plumb its depths of meaning. For me, I have never been satisfied simply regurgitating what ancient philosophers have stated about a particular topic. I seek to understand the importance of the questions being asked and to ponder why they are being asked in the first place. I also ponder whether the question being asked is relevant, which does not always seem so because some philosophers don't seem to know how to put forward a clear thought. At least it seems that way to the contemporary ear. And, to be honest, some of their questions are rather irrelevant today.

Some of the more compelling questions I encountered were: What does it mean to be a human being? How did the universe come to be? What can we know of the world around us? Can anything meaningful ever be said of God philosophically, or must we necessarily rely on Scripture? (The Catholic Church historically has used philosophical discourse to talk about God without relying on faith as a way of asserting that God-talk is indeed possible even without faith while stressing that reason alone can only take us so far) Why is there evil in the world? What is truth? What is justice? Are we truly free beings? The quest of philosophy is the quest for understanding, to set aside substantial time to reflect and meditate upon some of these big questions. In an age where so many can live an unreflected life spurred on by habit, routine, and technology, philosophy necessarily requires the person to step back and to consider the life one leads in light of these major questions.

For me, the most significant questions related to those concerning human nature, to God, and to an understanding of the created world (some claim the universe simply 'is' and never had a beginning point, a claim I don't buy). While most of the philosophers we engage with are dead, I would think about the type of questions I would want to ask were the philosopher alive today. For me, philosophy is not about looking back to the past and dwelling there ad nauseum. Minimally, it is at least entertaining the idea that the philosophers of the past might have something worthwhile to say to the present, which might challenge the way we look and understand the world in our own time and place. Might what they say uncover false assumptions and opinions that we hold today? Or, how might we respond to their questions and give clarity to our own thought?

So, the question is: why is philosophy studies relevant for a Jesuit? It is important to acknowledge that we live in an age where people more readily question their beliefs and no longer view tradition as a sufficient source for truth. The Catholic Church, as a result, continues to be in need of those who are willing to critically think and give well-reasoned responses to today's probing questions. As religious, people expect us to know what we are talking about, and they can smell bull**** from a mile away. Of course, studying philosophy will not magically give us all the answers we need. Indeed, sometimes it leaves us with more questions than answers. And sometimes it just leaves us dazed and confused. I think, though, that the practice of critical thinking is essential in our ministries, as I have witnessed many people who do not respect and who readily dismiss priests they deem to be incompetent.

Second, most of the philosophers we study are not people of faith. It is very easy for religious people to live in their own bubble and to expect that everyone should think the same way they do. It is much easier to converse and talk with those who share our same beliefs. Yet, in an increasingly globalized and diverse world, it is essential for us to be able to develop the skill to have honest and meaningful conversations with those who see otherwise, and one of the ways this is done is by truly making the effort to see as the other sees. Nothing is so maddening as those who pompously assume they are right without even respecting what the other has to say. One might be right, but what is gained if the other is alienated in the process? Philosophy truly is a time when we are forced to try to see things the way others see them. We don't have to agree, but the manner in which we disagree is essential to the way we relate to the world today.

Finally, Jesuits are challenged to find God in all things. I remember my provincial urging us who were going to embark in philosophical study to do our best to find God in our work. For me, this became an important interpretive lens as I sifted through various philosophers. If I was conscientious, I tried to ask where God was found in what I was reading and studying, and trust me, it can very much seem like God is absent in the studies. Thankfully, I feel that I was able to keep this challenge in front of me in many instances, as many of the papers I wrote reflected this struggle of finding God. If I may exaggerate, if one can find God in philosophy, then one can find God anywhere.

I can write so much more about the past three years, and indeed I have so much more to say. For example, there was so much I learned and experienced during this time that was really important to my growth and development and that has absolutely nothing to do with philosophy. But, this post is already getting long, so I'll restrict this post primarily to reflecting on the academic aspect of my previous mission. I'll end by saying that I find myself quite grateful for my time in first studies in spite of the numerous challenges I faced, and I was privileged to feel God's intimate presence in a variety of ways during the past three years.

On an unrelated note, tomorrow is the Feast of St. Ignatius day - a cause for celebration. I intend to do just that =p Happy St. Ignatius day!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward - The Novitiate

On August 19, 2006, I entered the Jesuits. I sometimes get some strange questions like: "how long does it take until you become a Jesuit?" Well, it's not like I should expect everyone to know everything about our lives. When men choose to enter that door to their respective novitiates on entrance day, that is the day they become Jesuits. Of course, we are always growing more and more into that identity, but we are technically considered a part of the order at that time.

Some Jesuits look at me funny when I mention that I actually enjoyed my two-year experience as a novice. Well, maybe enjoy isn't the right word, but for me, that time as a novice was an essential time for my own growth and development as a human being.

Practically speaking, I feel in a lot of ways that I truly grew as an adult in developing life skills important for anyone. For example, I entered without my driver's license, and a few months in, my novice master out of obedience told me that I had to get my license, which I was more than happy to do. I learned how to cook, and not the sort of cooking where you learn to boil water and heat some ragu sauce. I also came to highly value the importance of cleaning and taking care of the place I lived (which is a good reminder for me, since I can be a slob still. This also reminds me of something a speaker said to the guys at Ciszek some time ago, that she was truly impressed that grown men were talking about properly cleaning the kitchen at community gathering). It's kind of true for me that the state of my room is similar to the state of my mind.

Novices are sent on a number of experiments during their two years, and for me, I found my experiments to be important in challenging and stretching me. I probably would never have done most of the things I did as a novice in any other context, nor would I have traveled as much and gotten the opportunity to visit so many different cities. For example, I spent some time on a native reservation. I was privileged to live in a L'Arche community for a few months. I also had the unique opportunity to visit Colombia. Though challenging in their own way, I thought it was awesome to be able to do things I never would have considered doing otherwise, and I truly learned a lot from those experiences.

Spiritually, it was as a novice that I truly began to develop my prayer life and an authentic relationship with God. As someone who is typically unstructured with his time, I appreciated an external schedule (what in Jesuit lingo we term as an 'ordo') that helped me to order my day. One would hope that I would learn how to pray with all of this time structured in the day for it. I also learned how to be silent and to listen and discern the movements of God in my life (literally, for more than 30 silent days praying with the Spiritual Exercises).

I also learned how to faith share under the Oregonian model. We have a reputation with other Jesuits for 'oversharing' because as novices, we would faith share every week, and there would be a double round. I like to think we simply learned how to share honestly and authentically, which fostered and challenged us to have relations of depth. In the first round, everyone was invited to share their consolations and desolations of the week and how they experienced God. Unique to our province is the second round, in which after everyone shares, we go off for twenty minutes to pray over what everyone has shared, and then we reconvene to share the fruit of our prayer. Sure, the sessions might have seemed drawn out and somewhat painful at times, but I think these sessions helped to develop a level of openness and trust I think is important in Jesuit communities. We weren't simply sharing at one another, but we were encouraged to share and to be able to have a dialogue with one another about our lives in a meaningful way.

The novitiate was also a very important time for me because, with all of this time for prayer and reflection, a lot of old demons began to surface that was necessary for me to face. I found myself wrestling with a lot of old emotions that my novitiate experience brought to the forefront of my consciousness. I remember feelings of uncertainty, wondering, as I mentioned earlier, what the heck I had gotten myself into. Wounds from my childhood that I thought I had gotten over a long time ago resurfaced in unexpected and surprising ways. Sometimes, I felt the darkness so strongly that I wanted to kill myself. Of course, that wouldn't look too good on the Jesuits =p Through these times, I am extremely grateful to my formators who gave me so much love and support during those times and who allowed me to be open and honest with what I was going through. It was especially in these shared moments that I felt my love of the Society truly deepen and grow. These men were not afraid to confront that darkness that I faced, because they believed much more deeply in God's healing light.

On the day of my First Vows, I remember feeling so much joy and consolation on that day. I truly believed that God had given me so much, and that God was truly inviting me into this way of life by sharing the gifts I have been given in this unique way. I prayed over the vow formula we had to recite, and I felt strongly that I would not recite those words unless I truly meant it. When it came my turn to recite my vows, I had a difficult time getting through the first line. Not for lack of belief, but for how moved I felt in proclaiming my vows before God. I started to tear up, which got my mom to tear up, which got another mom to tear up. Of course, it was a huge shock to everyone that I got emotional =p

In one of the lines, Jesuits profess that God will give us the graces we need to live our lives. In other words, we acknowledge that this life is truly impossible without God, and it is in God that we must necessarily place our trust. That is why our prayer life is so important for us. If we are not connected to God through our daily prayer, then we begin to lose our connection to the One who truly makes our life possible.

I remember sharing my vow picture with one of the philosophy students here at Fordham, and she remarked how happy we looked. At least for myself, I knew that was true at the time that picture was taken. It has remained as my desktop wallpaper for quite some time. It's good for me to be reminded from time to time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward - The Call

It doesn't seem that long ago that I followed my gut and chose to enter into a way of life that is amazingly foreign and other to the way most live their lives.

Of course, one of the most common questions Jesuits are asked are our reasons for entering religious life. I've always struggled to answer that question, because it's not like I literally received a call one day from God telling me to drop everything I was doing and to follow Him. To truly answer that question honestly and authentically takes a lot of vulnerability, especially when you're being asked by those suspicious of religious life in general and who hold negative views of the Church. It also takes a lot of time to answer if one wants a full answer and not a canned response.

It's hard to pinpoint just one reason why I decided to become a Jesuit. It was probably the culmination of influences of those who threw their seeds and sought to nourish them with their time and love. My parents labored long hours for countless years to put me and my four siblings through Catholic education. An incredible hardship, to say the least, and completely a sacrifice on their part--a sacrifice, I believe, that shaped my own desire to offer my own self for others. The friends and teachers I encountered from Kindergarten up through college who taught me what it meant to be a person of faith and who challenged me to do that authentically and openly. Schooled in Catholic education all my life, the way I see, view, and interpret the world around is inextricably linked to my faith. In a lot of ways, my faith is who I am--a self shaped and molded by the embrace of God. I also encountered in high school and college those Jesuits who were both uncouth yet also some of the most Holy people I have met, who through word and example helped to enkindle a fire in my heart, and who challenged me to find God in every moment and place. When I met them, I wanted to be like them.

As a feeler, I place a lot of value, both consciously and unconsciously, on my emotions when processing. In my prayer life, I feel that God has always invited me to own that aspect about myself, as my emotions can very much be conduits of grace in my experience. Looking back before I entered the Jesuits, I remember a lot of hurt and emotional suffering. Painful as it was, I always remember how that inner hurt and suffering was integral to my vocation as a Jesuit, and I truly would not be the person I am today without having gone through those experiences. I remember moments such as my Kairos retreat in which I felt that hurt to be healed in a powerful and transformative way thanks to those who mirrored the love of Christ--a love I wanted to extend. I think back to moments of learning about and seeing injustice that fueled a desire to make an impact in society. I also think about how I wanted to live my life in a much different and radical way than the typical get-a-job-and-raise-a-family route. I saw, and see, these inner movements as a call.

It's rather ironic that I did decide to enter religious life because I hated going to Church growing up. I thought Mass was the most boring thing in the world, and it seemed silly to me to engage in rituals which I felt had no bearing on my life. My experience of going to Mass was not lifegiving. It was simply a duty that one had to do because that's what Catholics do on Sunday, which I thought was stupid. It was the same damned thing week after week, and sometimes even the priest looked like he was bored. I needed good reasons for doing things, and I never considered the reason "doing it because you had to" as a good reason. My doubts and questions, though, were essential to my vocation, because they led me to question why we do things the way they do, and I realized that Catholics actually have damn good reasons for doing the things they do.

So, during my time at Seattle University, I decided to pursue my desires and to see where they took me. For most of my time in college, I had a Jesuit spiritual director whom I saw on a fairly regular basis. I had the opportunity to get to know the Jesuits much more at that time through weekly masses, Campus ministry retreats, and vocation retreats. I also remember when I visited the novitiate for the first time, and I just remember feeling quite at home with the men there. Once my senior year came along, it just felt right for me to apply to the Society, and so I followed me gut and went for it.

In my mind, it wasn't a life commitment. I was simply applying to the novitiate. Nothing more.

Although I was quite open about my desire to become a Jesuit with my friends, I was much more secretive about it with my family. The way I told my parents about this desire is rather strange. A number of months before I entered, I called my parents and told them that I had "big news," and that I would call them the following day. In my mind, I felt I had to prepare both myself and them for what I was going to share. When I did, they asked the typical questions that concerned parents would ask: "who's forcing you to apply?" "how will you make money?" "what if they send you to Africa?" I had always been surrounded by people who were super supportive of my desire to enter the Jesuits. I actually can't think of one person who told me that they felt it was a bad idea for me. Well, that changed with my parents--at least for a while. They are now proud parents who have no problems telling others that their son is a Jesuit. I think it was my First Vows and the way they saw me profess them that changed the way they saw it.

I feel extremely blessed and grateful for all of those who helped to shape the person I am today. It's very possible that I literally would not be here alive and doing what I am doing without their love and support. They imaged the love of Christ for me in a real way, and perhaps unknowingly, they imaged the voice of God who beckoned me to come and see where He wanted to lead me. AMDG

Monday, July 25, 2011

Looking Back, Looking Forward: An Introduction

Has it really been five years?

As you may know, the road to priestly ordination for Jesuits typically takes about 11-12 years. These years can be broken down into four main periods of formation in the United States: 2 years as a novice, 2-3 years in first studies, 2-3 years of regency (A period in which Jesuits are engaged in full-time work, and usually this entails high school teaching) , and about 3 years of theology. In terms of our education, we are required to have about 2 years of philosophy (first studies) and 4 years of theology. Most Jesuits in the US typically do a year of their theology studies during first studies, so first studies will usually take 3 years.

In terms of time, I am not yet halfway towards ordination, which baffles many people I tell. However, I have just finished my first studies and will be entering into regency later next month. In a lot of ways, it does feel like I'm halfway there, having finished the first two main periods of my formation towards priesthood.

Jesuits are in the habit of reflecting. Our way of proceeding in a lot of ways is to look back in order to move forward. This is not meant to dwell on the past--life of course must always be lived in the present. But, it is a helpful exercise to look back in order to orient the present towards a hopeful and lifegiving future. Through our examen--which I'm finding I talk about quite a lot on my blog--we dispose ourselves to prayerfully seek how God has been at work in our lives in the day. We reflect on the past in the present moment, and the examen for Jesuits is a daily invitation of intimacy with the Lord.

As I move soon into my regency at Jesuit High School in Portland later next month, I thought it might be a helpful exercise to examen my vocation thus far and to remember how God has been at work in my life.

I've actually written most of my reflection, but then I thought it would be waaaaaay to long for a blog post. So, in this next week, I will upload four different posts reflecting upon my Jesuit journey thus far. That's how long I ended up writing =p

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sunday Scripture Reflection for June 26, 2011

Today, Catholics celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. I find it to be a curious feast, since really every Mass is a celebration of the body and blood of Christ. Fr. Radmar Jao, a newly ordained Jesuit priest, beautifully preached today the awe and wonder that we are invited to experience everytime we approach this most Sacred Mystery. Yet, it is a quite natural experience that such awe and wonder is dulled by habit and routine. The feast, then, provides us with an important occasion to reflect and remind ourselves about the faith we take for granted. We believe that Jesus is truly present to us in an immediate and real way, and such a rich encounter can inspire and transform us to become more and more what we eat--the Body of Christ.

As I prayed over the readings today, I found my thoughts focused primarily on the reading from Deuteronomy. Here, Moses tells a people who find themselves in the desert for 40 years that this journey was meant as a test for them to see whether they would keep his commandments in times of strife.

As I listened to the readings, I found myself thinking about a movie I watched recently with some of my Jesuit brothers called Rabbit Hole starring Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart where they play a struggling couple attempting to cope with the death of their young son tragically killed in a car accident. In order to cope with their loss, they go to these support group meetings where other couples share about their own loss. In a poignant scene, a couple is talking about how God acts for a reason, and that their child's death happened so that God could have another angel at His side. Upon hearing this, Kidman's character Becca angrily retorts by asking why God didn't simply make a new angel rather than taking her son. The tension is strong in the movie between those who find comfort in God and faith and those who find the notion of God and faith repulsive in the face of tragedy.

Becca's reaction is very real and her anger over any God-talk is quite understandable. Many would not find the response "it happened for a reason" to be very comforting when attempting to process a seemingly senseless death. When reading Scripture, though, we find these feelings are not isolated to the present moment. Even in the Bible, especially in the OT, we read of a people who continuously struggle to make sense of their relationship and faith in God in light of their own struggles. We read of a people continuously in exile, a people who yearn for peace and justice while being battered by violence, war, and oppression. We read of a people who continuously strive to turn their hearts back to God over and over again even in those times when they feel abandoned by Him. Why?

For our ancestors in faith, they found strength in remembering the great works that God had done for them. They continuously go back to that pivotal moment in history when God led them out of Egypt and out of the hands of their captors. They remember the enormous blessing that God bestowed upon Abraham. Their communal memory makes present in their mind the wonders of God, strengthening them to have faith in God and to believe wholeheartedly as they journeyed through the valleys of death.

I imagine that someone like Becca would not find such a move comforting these days. My sense in the movie was that she grew up Catholic and no longer believed a long time ago. What she seems to most deeply long for is a pastoral response--someone to be there for her in her pain and suffering, not someone to recite to her creeds and doctrines. She yearns for a nourishment not given by bread alone.

When we encounter Beccas in our world, we certainly cannot force them to have faith. But, we can perhaps nourish them with an embodied love formed by the grace of God. As Christ sacrificed for us, so too can we sacrifice ourselves for those in need and to share the life we have been given to others. We cannot bring back her son, but perhaps we can begin to ignite hope back into her eyes. Let us become what we are: the Body of Christ.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Sunday Scripture Reflection for June 19, 2011

Today Catholics celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Trinity. Probably one of the most confusing and difficult theological beliefs that we have, since we hold that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are both separate yet One at the same time. Historically, this doctrine posed a major problem for early Christians, since the Trinity evoked polytheism. The Church uses a big philosophical word which is pretty relevant with the new translations coming up--consubstantial--which will replace the line 'one in being with the Father' when we recite the creed. The term 'substance' in philosophy refers to the quiddity or 'whatness' of a thing, and the term 'consubstantial' is meant to express how the Father and the Son are not two essentially different beings but are united as One. St. Ignatius in his autobiography likens the Trinity to three musical keys which are in profound harmony with one another.

As I was praying with Scripture this morning, however, I must admit that most of my thoughts were not on the contemplation of the Trinity. Rather, I found my prayer centered around the words of St. Paul in today's 2nd reading. He writes in 2 Corinthians 13:11-12

Brothers and Sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you.
Mend your ways. Here, St. Paul highlights the fact that we are a broken people. Our lives and actions are in need of healing and repair. The way that we act and treat each other can often be hurtful and harmful, and sometimes we are not even aware that we do such things. I think this is probably one of the reasons St. Ignatius stressed the examen prayer so much. When we get so busy and distracted, we do not allow ourselves the time to reflect on our day. When we reflect, we can take note of things we might not have noticed otherwise in our day. We cannot mend something that we do not see is broken. The first step to healing is to acknowledge that we are in need of healing. Too often, we find ourselves mired in self-deception.

Encourage one another. We are in this together; we cannot do it alone. In my own experience, simple gestures that people offer to me like saying hello or giving a warm smile is enough to brighten my day. These small acts of encouragements are acts of love which can bring so much life. I just got back from a short trip at St. Marys, Alaska, a small town of about 500 people, primarily Eskimo people, and I was struck by how so many of the villagers would wave at you when you drove by. Such small acts expressed how so much life can be found in a place I deemed was a pretty run-down area in the middle of nowhere.

Live in peace. There is a rich and profound depth of meaning in these simple words. It speaks to an inner disposition saturated with an interior quiet and tranquility--a still pond untouched by a surrounding storm. Jesus sleeping on the boat. I find myself most close to this sort of peace when I am faithful to my prayer life. It also speaks to an outward disposition in which we work to end all hatred and violence. When our actions towards one another bring into life the words of Christ: "Peace be with you."

And the God of love and peace will be with you. In doing all of these things, we will find ourselves coming into greater union with God. Our awareness of God's presence in our lives will be heightened, and we will be more apt to see the working of the Holy Spirit around us. The profound harmony of the Trinity will extend to our own personal lives and relationships with one another.

So I pray that we all may mend our ways, that we may encourage one another, and that we may live in peace, so that we may enter into greater life with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

(On a side note, I've been thinking about how I can write a little more frequently on my blog, and it occurred to me that one way I can do this is by writing weekly on a scripture passage. Hopefully this is not a one time thing and that I can keep it up in the future. I definitely would like to be more active in my writing, and I'll be more disposed to write more often now that I am no longer a graduate student)

Monday, May 2, 2011

A brief philosophical reflection on the death of Bin Laden

Many people around the country and around the world, unsurprisingly, are rejoicing that the mastermind behind the attacks of 9/11 has been killed. The news of Bin Laden's death certainly has aroused within our memories that stark day nearly ten years ago when so many witnessed the collapse of the Twin Towers and the permanent mark it left on too many families. In our desire for justice, President Obama's late-hour news conference inevitably caused many to run into the streets in joy and celebration.

I join with quite a number of people, however, who are unable to find it in themselves to celebrate. The Vatican summarizes it best when Fr. Lombardi, the Vatican's spokesman, stated earlier today:
In the face of a man’s death, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibilities of each person before God and before men, and hopes and works so that every event may be the occasion for the further growth of peace and not of hatred.
Personally, I find myself thinking about the tragic nature of Bin Laden's life. What would ever cause a human being to think up something like 9/11 and rejoice in the death of countless lives?

Curiously, I find myself reflecting on the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas during this time, whose philosophy has heavily influenced Catholic thought to this day. Aquinas in many ways can be characterized as being a pure optimist when it comes to the human person. He believed that it is impossible for a human being ever to will evil, and certainly someone today might use the example of Bin Laden to refute him on this point. Yet, I find myself in agreement with Aquinas--perhaps because I would like to be overly optimistic about the human condition. Human beings cannot help but act towards what we understand to be the good, and it is through the errors of our judgment that we get into a lot of trouble. Yet, our erroneous thinking does not negate our human impulse towards the good. In response, Aquinas would argue that Bin Laden never willed what he understood to be evil. He arguably understood the attacks of 9/11 and all the other terrorist acts he committed to be an absolute good in itself.

This is the point of tragedy for Bin Laden. That any human being could understand the death of thousands to be a good is beyond me. Yet, I am sure there are a lot more people like Bin Laden out there whose thinking is shaped by injustice, greed, and desperation. Somehow, Bin Laden's thought was tragically shaped into the mind of a killer, which is not the natural state of a human being.

Our essential task is to bring healing and reconciliation to the world. We have to be able to transform hearts and minds so that no human being ever thinks that the death of innocent life is a good. We have to be able to build and nurture environments where love and charity are at the center of all human action. This is why the education of youth is so important, since when improper thinking takes root, it is almost impossible to uproot as one becomes older. Striving for justice, then, cannot simply be reactive. It must also be necessarily preventative. Ideally, it can also be restorative--that justice restores us to become the sort of human beings we were meant to be.

May Bin Laden's death, then, be an event that spurs us into greater love and service. May his death lead us into the greater task of working for peace and justice. For Christ teaches: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matthew 5:9)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Last Mass Reflection at Ciszek

Today, I gave my last Mass reflection at Ciszek Hall, so I thought I would share it for anyone interested. As always, what I write for Mass is always intended for my immediate Jesuit audience, but perhaps it can be some fruit to others.

Anyway, a quick note that during my April 1st fun post, I totally didn't intend for the part where I wrote how I wanted to write an update to be part of the joke. I actually had meant to write an update, but then the craziness of this past month went into overdrive, and I'm just getting a quick breather from it all. From the various papers/exams due, to my time at the Jesuit Conference in DC to discuss the role of Jesuits and Communications in the 21st century, and to organizing a great deal of the Easter Triduum music at the local parish here (bilingual, no less), it's been difficult to find time or energy to write. This upcoming week, I have two more papers and what is called the De U-- the capstone oral exam that I will have to take to finish up my Master's, so I'm sure I won't be writing anytime soon, especially since afterwards I have to worry about moving back to the West Coast. Hopefully in due time, though.

FYI: the Gospel reading today is taken from Luke 24:13-35

In today’s Gospel reading, we hear how the Risen Christ appeared to two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus. We hear at the beginning of the passage how the village is about seven miles from Jerusalem, and that it was nearly evening by the time they reached Emmaus. We can assume, then, that Jesus had spent practically the whole day with them, yet it was only near the very end when they came to recognize Him through the breaking of the bread, at which point Jesus disappears from their midst. And, as they reflected and did their examen, so to speak—they noted how their hearts burned, and how this intense feeling within was confirmation that Christ truly was in their presence.

When I think about times when I have felt my heart burning within me, that intense feeling in which I could not help but believe that I was in the presence of God, I typically think about my Kairos retreat during my senior year of high school at the beloved CA retreat center in Applegate. Kairos, as it was described to us, was defined as God’s time. This was God’s time—a time in which we were invited to intimately place ourselves in the presence of God and to be receptive and vulnerable to God’s grace at work. The student leaders and faculty shared personal and often vivid stories of their lives—stories of great vulnerability—and how they strived to see God at work in the midst of their great struggles and joys. I’m sure those of you who will be moving on to regency will be invited into such situations.

I remember a moment in particular after I had the opportunity to confess what was going on within me during the retreat. I was sitting in the chapel and gazing upon the cross of Christ. As I looked at the cross, I remember being overwhelmed with the intense feeling that Jesus was really with me. That Jesus was there, his arms outstretched, his gaze inviting me to draw ever closer to Him.

As I looked at the cross, I found myself in tears, because I had never before felt the presence of God so strongly. I could not help but believe that this truly was the work of the Holy Spirit, that God really was present to me at that time. There, I believe my heart began to truly burn for the first time, and I tend to think about that time as the seed of my vocation into the Society.

When I think about our Father Ignatius, I cannot help but contemplate the fire that burned in his heart throughout his lifetime. As he read about the Saints and about their love and desire to follow Christ, I can imagine the transformation taking place within his heart. At his bed, in the reading of Holy men and women, Ignatius was having a Kairos moment. God deemed that to be the appropriate time to seize his heart and mind and set it aflame, and from that point Ignatius would never be able to look back.

Ignatius at the river Cardoner was also a Kairos moment for him. As he sat and contemplated the mysteries of Christ amidst the beauty of nature, I imagine the fire in his heart as he began to understand more and more the ways that God was working in his life and the way God was working in the world. Ignatius was often so moved that he would tear up just thinking about how beautiful, for example, the Trinity was, as it seemed to him to be like three harmonious musical keys.

And, on his way to present himself to the Pope, Ignatius had a Kairos moment in the Chapel of La Storta, where the Father came to him in an intimate way and placed Ignatius with his son Jesus. I imagine the intense feeling that Ignatius was having during this vision, and how this vision sought to confirm the deep desires he believed Christ was placing within him.

Ignatius’ heart was set on fire by our Lord, and he could not help but want to share and enkindle that fire with others.

I think this is why GC 35 truly wanted to remind us about how our charism is founded upon this inner flame given to us in God’s time. For all of us, I would venture to guess that all of us have had Kairos moments in our lives prior to entering the Society in which we felt ourselves to be on fire with the love of God—a flame so strong and intense that we sought to enter into such a radical life. And why? Because God had lit a fire within us, and we had a burning desire to respond to his Call. Like Ignatius, we received something from God that was so profound and so intimate that we could not help but want to share the life of God given to us with those around us. As first year novices, we then all entered into the Spiritual Exercises, in which we devoted a full month of silence where we truly dedicated our lives to Christ—a Kairos month meant to ground our lives as Jesuits even to this day. In those days, we encountered the living God in a real and intimate way, and we might have found ourselves like the disciples, in which our hearts burned because of Christ’s real work within us.

As Jesus was his disciples on the road to Emmaus, and as Jesus was with Ignatius, so too is Jesus with us, even when we are blind to his intimate presence. All time is Kairos—all time is God’s time, for He is always with us, never leaving our side.

In my humble opinion, the people of God deserve nothing less that Jesuits who are on fire with the love of God. And we should expect nothing less of our Jesuit brothers than to know that each of us have this flame within. Of course, I’ll be the first one to admit that I have not always tended well to my flame or to that of others, nor do I expect to feel on fire everyday for the rest of my life. Just the same, in spite of my own weaknesses and faults and blindness, You should expect me to have a burning heart for Christ that grounds my life and vocation as a Jesuit, and I would expect nothing less of all of you. And I personally don’t think that is too much to ask. Only with hearts truly aflame can we set the world on fire and make present to all the already present presence of our living God.

As we approach the table, let us come before the Lord, as the psalm says, with hearts that rejoice in his presence. Here, in the proclamation of his Word, and especially in the breaking of the bread, we believe that God is here with us in an intimate and special way. Every liturgy for us is a Kairos moment for God’s grace to enter ever intimately within and to renew our flames. This is God’s time. Jesus is here, alive, and with us. Alleluia!

Friday, April 1, 2011

Back with Big News!!!

So, my last posting on here was in late November, so it has been way too long since my last update. Well, I'll be writing another update in the next few days about news that is going on in my end, but I just wanted to share about a new mission that I have been given that is super exciting!

Anyway, you probably would not have known, but much of my silence has been due to the fact that I have been secretly cultivating a program that will be introducing a new frontier to the work of the Jesuits that I am now ready to share with the world. I call this new ministry the ministry of smiles. As a Jesuit, one of the ministries you are apt to hear about is called the ministry of presence. I think my new program will revolutionize the way we think about the ministry of presence and bring us to a new frontier where we can boldly go where no man has gone before.

Let me explain this in a simple way:

Ministry of presence does not necessarily entail smiling.
Ministry of smiling necessarily entails smiling.
Everybody likes smiling.
Therefore, everybody will like the ministry of smiling.

In order to develop this program, I have been working every day to develop a smile that is new, revolutionary, and avant-garde while still retaining traditional elements pleasing to all. Let me tell you my superiors have been completely blown away by this new program that I am proposing, and when I pray about it, I know that God is all smiles.

As one theologian puts it: "The one who smiles prays twice."

I thought I would post a few pictures that shows the fruit of my five-month silence and that this period of time has not gone to waste. I think these show quite evidently how successful the ministry of smiles will be.