Thursday, November 12, 2009

Poison or Medicine?

Over the last two weeks, I have received three correspondences from an anonymous blogger who has raised questions I think it would be helpful to address.

First, Anonymous is concerned with the "fundamental lack of seriousness about your Jesuit recipes and whistle-playing and inordinate self-abosorption...". I never would have thought that sharing one's passions for food and for Irish music would manifest a lack of seriousness or be considered a measure of frippery [<-- a too seldom used word].

This should go without saying: this is, of course, my blog. When I set out to maintain it, it was with the purpose of sharing the story of one Jesuit's formation. By its nature, it is a blog focused on a central character. If that is considered self-absorption, then I reckon I'm guilty. But it would seem that the whole project does necessitate that in order to tell of "A Jesuit's Journey" there needs to be a Jesuit to narrate it. On this site, I am that Jesuit.

This self-absorption, Anonymous has gone one to note, might be better expressed as a form of narcissism:

Obviously I did not intend my last communication for on-line viewing, nor am I concerned to dialogue. My identity is irrelevant to my comments, the value of which only you can assess. I intend them for the opposite of a "poison pen" letter, a "medicinal pen" letter, if there is such a thing--simply what one of the nameless non-faces in the crowd thinks about your auto-publicised journey. Somewhere in the gospels St John the Baptist says, "I must decrease so that Christ can increase." What I would hope to see in your blogging, and don't, is the figure of Jesus becoming more important and presented in sharper outline as you approach the priesthood, while your own personality fades into the background. Such a transformation would seem truly priestly. I suppose narcissism is least evident to the person most beholden to it, yet I would hope that you conquer it for the sake of your priestly vocation, or, failing this, that you commence a different career path. Your obvious talents, especially in writing, would make the first option better for the Church. We need good priests, because we need Christ. We need men who know how to move the self off-stage.

Now this comment leaves me with something of a paradox.

You see, if I ignore this comment completely, then Anonymous might think that my narcissistic tendencies have blinded me to any criticism. But by engaging it, I might just be reacting hysterically to criticism (a point Anonymous raised in an earlier missive), thus demonstrating the fragility of my ego, thereby confirming Anonymous's diagnosis.

So what's a supposed narcissist to do?

Well, I can begin by acknowledging that regardless of what I say or do, it's not going to sway the mind of my anonymous interlocutor. He or she has already figured out my psyche.

One thing that I can do is to restate briefly the rationale behind my blog.

I have no qualm with Anonymous's desire that Christ be kept at the center. I desire this, too. And I should like to think that a person who reads my blog will get a sense of the joy and excitement I have as a Companion of Jesus.

Here is the rub: I am trying to be a Companion of Jesus. This means that through prayer and discernment I have felt called and confirmed in my desire to live out my Christian discipleship as a Jesuit. I simply reject any idea of Christianity that would say that my personality would have to "fade into the background" because it is in and through my personality that I met and continue to meet Jesus Christ. It is, after all, Christ who makes me who I am: a sinner who feels called, a musician who strains mightily to follow the beat of the band's leader, a sous chef trying to imitate the Master.

As a Jesuit, I have grown unimaginably and been stretched in innumerable ways. Indeed, one of the great confirmations of this growth has from voluminous correspondence I've received from people who've read my blog or seen my YouTube videos who will say how much they resonated with what I've written, played, or taught and how it has helped reconnect them with their faith.

Anonymous, I don't know what more I can say. I am not Christ and although I do feel as though I've been called to serve as a priest at the Eucharistic table, I haven't any such assurance. I try with all magnanimity to be open to the movements of prayer and discernment, although I must say that the support of fellow Jesuits, friends, family, and colleagues both confirms this call and enkindles my desire.

Each one of us is to be bearers of Christ's light to a world that has been darkened by sin. We must become so enflamed with this fire that we become incandescent, casting away the darkness and serving as a beacon where others come to find the truth of who God is and who they are called to become. It is my belief that when Christ comes toward us, we do not cease to be ourselves. No, to the contrary, we become most who God desires for us to be.

I could no more abandon Irish music than I could deny that my greatest desire is to be a Companion of Jesus. I do not see this as a career or one job among many other pursuits. I have felt the stir of longing in my own heart that has called me in this direction and I have had that confirmed multiple times. Many other paths have presented themselves along the way, but none has called me toward itself as this path has. It is a path that has asked me for everything that I could offer and has returned more than I could have hoped for. This blog tries to reflect that abundance: the grace of the God who calls and the joys (and occasional struggles) of one who wishes to accept what has been offered.


Carol said...

O how I thank God for these wide-bottomed hairy-eared sages who selflessly lay their typing down in medicinal bursts-- who, in their great care for mankind, have finessed such a unique interpretation of the Pope's Year For Priests. Only the most short-sighted of us could think of suggesting the Holy Anonymi lend a little correction to the willing, growing godless for a change.

Victoria said...

It's your blog. If I or anyone else don't like the topics you choose to write about or the way in which you write we don't have to read the blog.

Dr. Rural said...

When I was a child, it was made clear that the only really "holy" people were the priests and nuns. It was also made clear that to be "holy" was to be quite inhuman. Any time that one devoted to anything remotely normal for a child (like watching TV or climbing trees) was time that one wasn't contemplating the Eucharist or saying the rosary. I spent my childhood being terrified of God (and priests and nuns) because I certainly wasn't holy enough to want to do nothing but sit in church all day.

The thought of a priest who plays the tin whistle really well and plays the accordion for dancers?Praise God for the gifts of music and dance I say. And praise God for priests who can be individual human beings (both gifted and fallible) rather than terrifying plaster images of perfection.

To quote the great Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose words seem relevant here:

"Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, / Crying What I do is me: for that I came."

rydm39 said...


Maybe the anonymous blogger was trying to direct you to St. Ignatius’ surrender prayer.

Take, O Lord, and receive my entire liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will. All that I am and all that I possess You have given me: I surrender it
all to You to be disposed of according to Your will. Give me only Your love and Your grace; with these I will be rich enough, and will desire nothing more.

You were given gifts by the Spirit to cook, play the tin whistle, to teach and blog. You do a good job using those gifts to evangelize.

Continue the good job!

Continued prayers,


Tim Irish said...

How many imbeciles cloak their idiot rants by using this "anonymous" cowardice? This person's an obvious fool, doubtless covetous of Ryan Duns many fine gifts. Continue on your way Mr. Duns and thank you for everything.

CowPi said...

I like C.S. Lewis' analogy of life being like a story. Every story contains a setting, characters, and a plot. The sequence of events in the plot cast a net to try to catch the theme of the story, the purpose, the meaning. And so it is with life.

In sharing your stories through your blog here and else where, you let shine the theme of the Author of creation.

Yes, Anonymous is correct that there is a danger of egotism and self-absorption, but nothing grace and a committed prayer life as prescribed by St. Ignatius won't correct.