Showing posts from 2011

God's Invitation

Several months ago, Mr. Thomas Flowers, SJ, sent me a copy of his latest book entitled God's Invitation: Meditations on a Covenant Relationship. As we prepare to embark on the 2012 year, and as we prepare to make our annual resolutions to pray more, or to pray at all, allow me to suggest this text to you.

The text is structured around five of the "great covenants" God made with Israel throughout the Old Testament. Each of the five chapters is broken up into a mixture of poetry, scripture, and meditations wrought from personal experience and the scriptures. They are accessible, short, and provide an easy entry point into to praying with the Old Testament with the companionship of a fellow traveler.

Truth to tell, many of the experiences fall within the ambit of a Jesuit in formation. If you're reading my blog, this should not be a foreign experience: I am a Jesuit (is 32 young?) in formation and I share my experiences here, although without the poetic artistry demonst…

The Strangeness of the Christ

It is 2:45 am on Christmas morning and I find myself wide awake. Had I not gone to Confession yesterday, I might attribute this inability to sleep to a guilty conscience. I fell asleep around 10:45 and awoke around 2:00 am with something of a startled sensation. I awoke struck by the strangeness of Christ.

Think of some words we use to express our everyday sense of the strange: odd, weird, abnormal, queer, goofy, bizarre, aberrant, atypical, exceptional, peculiar, offbeat. These are not words normally used to describe Christ. Of course, there are things about Jesus that strike us as odd: it is not every day that we read of persons turning water into wine, raising the dead, consorting with prostitutes and tax collectors, or claiming to be the Son of the Author of Creation. Yet, for many of us Christians, we take all of this for granted and fail to let the absolute oddness of Christ seep into our bones. We domesticate Jesus, we subdue his holy wildness, and we make him tame.

What do I m…

The Scar of Hope

As Christians we should never limit ourselves to asking: how can I save myself? We should also ask: what can I do in order that others may be saved and that for them too the star of hope may rise? Then I will have done my utmost for my own personal salvation as well.   (Pope Benedict XVI, Spe Salvi, #48) I went this morning to Cleveland's Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist to participate in the Sacrament of Confession. I went with Adam, another Jesuit, after we had eaten breakfast, stopped at the West Side Market for coffee, and then taken a walk. The cathedral, although dimly lit, was quite active with final preparations being made for the liturgies that will be held this evening and tomorrow.

As I waited in a surprisingly long line to take my turn in the confessional, I meditated on the power of the Incarnation, the Christian belief that the Word - the Word through whom all things came into being - assumed human flesh. The Incarnation is the belief that the Almighty Creator o…

May We Ever Forget?

There are certain lessons in life that I hope never to forget. Stove tops are very hot. The word "safety razor" does not mean that you can't slice open your finger if you run it across the blades to test how safe it is. The words "Tear Free" on the bottle of baby shampoo does not mean that you can apply a drop of the liquid directly to your eye without some pain.

Human society has lessons we must never forget. We must not forget the terrible toll hatred and intolerance can take upon our sisters and brothers. We must not forget how easy it is to turn a people into a number and then systematically slaughter them. We must not forget that human dignity extends to all people - regardless of race, sex, color, creed, orientation, and economic status - and that all persons must be treated with respect.

Yet, are there things that we ought to forget or, at the least, be allowed to forget?

That time you had too much to drink and told those gathered what you felt about so-a…

Refinement of Taste

"What happens to the guest who visits the house of a great musician," asks Hafiz of Shiraz, a fourteenth-century poet who wrote in Persia. "Of course, his tastes become refined."
I stumbled upon the above quote in Richard Kearney's excellent work Anatheism. The author's intent is to assess the situation we find ourselves in as a community of believers, believers who cannot help but to take notice of the wreckage and debris left in the wake of violence and atrocities done in the name of 'god'. The once-glittering idols that condoned cultures of silence (sex abuse) or cultures of violence (crusades, Inquisition) have been shattered - both by the likes of Dawkins and Hitchens but also by an acute sense of history. 
Kearney's project is to probe the wreckage to see whether the space made in the destruction of idols, in the rubble left by the 'death of god', is actually the space through which we may encounter the "God after god." …

Hope in the Face of Death?

Earlier, I coined the word Ennuim to describe the spiritual dimension of the Control-F Generation. Basically, it has been my observation that there is a pervasive weariness and cynicism within this generation of students that I find surprising. There seems to be a general lack of wonder and awe, accompanied by an apathy toward the future. So conditioned is this generation that they seek the security of the 'right' answer rather than risk failure with a novel or innovative approach to a question. They are, as a general rule, extraordinarily risk-averse: if they are not assured of success, then it is better not even to bother lest one fail.

Perhaps this might be illustrated cinematically. Below is a short clip from The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. I apologize for the commercial at the beginning, but please suffer through it to get to the clip.

Let me offer some brief commentary to set the stage for the unfamiliar. Theoden, King of Rohan, has sought refuge in the mountain f…

The Ennuim: No Hope, No Risk

Over the last several months, I have offered occasional reflections on what I coined as the "Control-F Generation." Today, I should like to reflect on what I see as the spirituality of the Control-F Generation.

Let me begin with the positive contrast. In the Hebrew Scriptures, we encounter the Anawim. The Anawim are the poor, the destitute; they are those who have neither land nor power nor riches by which to establish their place in the world. The paradox of the Anawim is that, throughout the Scriptures, God uses them to demonstrate His saving power.  Time and time again, God chooses the unlikeliest women and men and uses them to show forth the power and wonder of the Creator. Rather than give them magical powers to overcome their obstacles, He does something even more profound: he gives them Hope. The Anawim are willing to risk their lives and their futures on the promise of hope, on the trust that they put in the living God who has summoned them to be His people.

You coul…

Walls Within the Web?

Several months ago, I coined a phrase to describe the generation of students I have been working with these past few years. I dubbed them the "Control-F Generation." The traits I associate with this generation could be described in several bullet points:

These are students who are highly literate in technology. While we are deciphering acronyms (App = application), they are coding new programs and editing elaborate videos that will be posted to YouTube.These are students who have come through an educational system where a premium is placed on test scores. "Test Scores" refers not only to in-class performance, but also to grades earned on standardized tests. From my own observation, it is stunning to consider how much a student's sense of worth is tied into his or her ACT or SAT score. A motto might be, "I am what I scored." These are students who spend an inordinate amount of time behind a computer screen. Whether it is texting or being on Facebook or …

Advent of the Heart

Advent is a time of being deeply shaken, so that man will wake up to himself. The prerequisite for a fulfilled Advent is a renunciation of the arrogant gestures and tempting dreams with which, and in which, man is always deceiving himself. Thus he compels reality to use violence to bring him around, violence and much distress and suffering.                      These words of Father Alfred Delp, SJ, were written from behind the walls of Tegel Prison in Berlin in the waning days of Father Delp's life. Delp, accused of conspiring against the Nazi government, would be executed only a few weeks after these words were written.

Advent, for me, has become something akin to the weekly weigh-in I had to go through when I was in Weight-Watchers. There is no fooling the scale: you either were disciplined during the week or you were not, and the scale didn't care one bit about any good intentions or bad days. The scale loomed large in my life throughout that year and it helped me to admi…

Wants into Needs

Some weeks ago, I had a conversation with an old friend with whom I went to school. After catching up on the years intervening between our last encounter, he asked me if he could ask a theological question. Happy to oblige, he continued, "I get the whole God thing. But seriously: do you really think that God can turn a piece of flat bread into Jesus?"

My response was intentionally curt: "We live in a society where the want for comfort has been transformed into the need for a Snuggie."

When you think about it, his question finds its mirror-image in the state of marketing today. Is not the whole goal of a proper marketing campaign to convince you that some of your wants - certain foods, reliable transportation, a style of dress - are actually needs that can only be met by purchasing a product?

Isn't it funny how quickly so many of us think nothing of shelling out $5.00 for a Venti No-Whip Soy Latte with a Double Shot or paying exorbitant amounts of money for a pa…

The First Sunday of Advent

You, LORD, are our father, our redeemer you are named forever. Why do you let us wander, O LORD, from your ways, and harden our hearts so that we fear you not.  The first reading from yesterday, taken from Isaiah, is quoted above. Entering into the great season of Advent, many of us were encouraged yesterday to examine our lives and to look for those places we were in need of our savior, for those places where we are weak and struggling - those places where we can sense how remote we have become from God - and to call out to the Lord that we might be reunited. 

Advent's theme is to wait and to watch and to come to want the coming of the Messiah. The Church's prayer can be summoned up in a single word, Maranatha, or "Come, Lord Jesus." How many of us can look back on this past year and cry out:

Come, Lord Jesus, in the muck and mire of my life. I am lost and have no idea of where I am to turn. I sense that you are calling out to me, but I cannot raise my head from the e…

And With Your Spirit

This evening, Father Kiser will celebrate the Eucharist with those interested here at the Mid-American Oireachtas (big Irish dancing competition). After a day of dancing and music, we will gather as an Irish dancing community to celebrate our faith. I'm particularly interested to see how Mass will play out this evening as today marks the full implementation of the Third English Translation of the Roman Missal.

Briefly, I think that those with the loudest voices - those who think this new translation is going to fix problems and those who think that it will cause problems - are going to be disappointed. It seems to me that what has been forgotten is that our language, human language, always falls short of fully expressing its target. When I say, "I love my niece and nephew," it is maddeningly difficult to get across to you the nuance of the word love. How much more difficult, Saint Thomas Aquinas realized (as others before and after), is it to use words of God. No transla…


It was nice to wake up later than usual this morning - 8:30 rather than 5:30 - thanks to our day off of school. There is nothing, to my mind, like a lazy day off of school. I enjoyed two leisurely cups of coffee, made a delicious omelet for breakfast, and I'm catching up on reading several periodicals that have been piling up on my desk.

Last night, without the pressure to grade or prepare anything for class, I managed to catch a bit last night's GOP Debate. Like many, I was surprised by Newt Gingrich's comments on immigration:
"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter of a century, separate them from their families and expel them,” Gingrich said last night. “I do believe that if you’ve been here recently and have no ties to the US, we should deport you." Much is often made of Gingrich's conversion to Catholicism. Perhaps it is just serendipitous, but what some regard as devastating "polit…

El Salvador: 20 Years On

Yesterday, Jesuits around the world remembered the 1989 deaths of six of their brothers and two companions at the Universidad Centroamericana (UCA) in El Salvador. You can find a series of beautiful reflections on the event and its aftermath by following this link to Creighton University. A short video, created last year, gives the broadest of overviews of the events of that day:

Ever the provocateur, I posed this question: "In our country, we demand that justice reach to the heavens when people fail to report sexual abuse (Catholic Church, Penn State), and we assign life sentences to those who would defraud us of money (Bernie Madoff)...yet why is it that those in charge can order the murder of six priests, a housekeeper, and her daughter and remain unpunished?" This question, framed on a day when we recall in a special way the Jesuits executed for responding to the Gospel, is easily broadened to ask why we do not cry out and demand justice for all those innocent lives lost…

An Examen for the Close of the 2011 Liturgical Year

we prepare to close the 2011 Liturgical Year and embark on the journey of Advent (11/27), it may help us to engage in something of an Examination of Conscience (or Consciousness). The Examen, enjoined upon his companions by Saint Ignatius of Loyola, is the single most important prayer of a Jesuit's life. In the still of the evening (or mid-day), the Jesuit places himself before God and looks attentively and reverently at his life in order to see (1) where God is working, (2) where one has failed to respond to God, (3) where one has cooperated with God's creative activity, and (4) to ask for the grace to enter more generously into God's creative action.

Just as we embark upon every new year with a host of resolutions, perhaps we should begin the new liturgical year with our own sense of where God is leading us. We need not search tea leaves or the entrails of slaughtered animals; we need only pause and look inward to put ourself in God's presence. God's will is no…

Of Papists and Penn State

I have followed with some interest the unfolding scandal that has engulfed the Penn State University. As is well known, the legendary Joe Paterno has been fired for his involvement (or lack thereof) in the sexual abuse of minors at the hands of Paterno's assistant coach Jerry Sandusky. This morning, the sun rises on a new terrain at Penn State: both Joe Pa and the school's president Graham Spanier have been fired.

What has drawn Paterno into the eye of the storm is that he knew of an allegation of rape made against Sandusky by a graduate student. The student reported to have seen a naked Sandusky in the shower with a ten year-old boy. This was reported to Paterno who passed it along to his superiors; as we know now, the cops were never called.

Maureen Dowd draws a parallel between the situation at Penn State and the crises in which the Catholic Church is embroiled:

Like the Roman Catholic Church, Penn State is an arrogant institution hiding behind its mystique. And sports, as m…

Bedrest, Day II

I am, arguably, the worst of patients. My doctor ordered me to bedrest for the entire week, which I have been interpreting as "so long as you can see your bed, you're okay." I did manage to sleep for another nine hours last night - up from my usual 5-6 hours - and in my mailbox this morning I found "Care Package I" from one of my students. Inside CPI I were three tea bags, a letter, and three small envelopes filled with jokes to brighten my mood. I might not have a son or a daughter to make me breakfast in bed, but this certainly falls into the realm of gracious kindness I would associate with kids.

It's acts like this, to be sure, that keep me from eating freshmen alive in Latin class - sometimes, they are really funny!

Pneumonia Week: A Public Service Announcement for Students and Subs

Since I've been ordered to bed for the week (on my doctor's orders) I've recorded the following video for my sophomore New Testament students. To the Substitute teachers covering my class:

Do not allow them to do any other work during these periods. The Mass is important and they need to read about it!They are to work on their own. They are to work silently (yes, SILENTLY). They need to bring their book to class each dayShow the video below. If you showed the video before reading #1-4, please do that now.

Loving the Church

I have the habit of reading two books simultaneously: one book in the morning (generally something spiritual) and, for bedtime reading, something a bit heftier. Right now my bedtime reading is Peter Geach's God & The Soul  and my morning reading is The Four Loves by C. S. Lewis.

This last week, one of my students raised the critique that he didn't want to be a member of the Catholic Church because it was hypocritical. I was sort of shocked by this, given that I thought it wholly obvious that the Church is so often hypocritical that it seems as though its hypocrisy should simply be taken for granted.

The last few days have shown up a great deal of institutional hypocrisy. We've watched as the drama of the Texas Judge who beat his daughter unfolded; Penn State University is reeling after the revelations of sex abuse and attempts to cover it up have come to light. Even the Boy Scouts have had to face the accusation, if not the revelation, that it has concealed the abuse o…

Watching Jesus Pray?

I spent this week teaching the sophomores about how the author of Mark's Gospel portrayed Jesus. Working through the textbook and looking at the Gospel itself, we have been working to understand what  'Mark' accented and highlighted and then questioning why these emphases were important to the author. 
One thing I have found is that many of my students seem to think that the crucifixion was simply a minor inconvenience, a necessary-yet-regrettable occurrence for Jesus. In an effort to help them another way of viewing Jesus, I had them watch a YouTube clip of Jesus Christ Superstar. The clip I chose, "Gethsemane", is but one interpretation of the events following the Last Supper. We listened to the song twice, once by watching the clip, the second time while reading the lyrics. We tried to be attentive to both music and lyrics. If you're interested in viewing it for yourself: 

Two things I noticed: 
The kids very quickly understood that this was Jesus' pray…

Prophets, Metaphor, Literal, Sacramental

In my sophomore-level New Testament course, we have been examining the Gospel of Mark. In Mark's Gospel, the earliest of the four written, Jesus is portrayed as the "Suffering Servant." I have shared, many times, that the line of Herbert McCabe has been powerfully influential upon me in framing this course, "If you do not love, you will not live. If you do love, they will kill you." The Mark's portrayal of Jesus as the Suffering Servant certainly makes clear that the cross awaits any willing to accept the Lord's invitation to friendship.

I made the students read Isaiah 53 in class:
He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him.
He was spurned and avoided by men, a man of suffering, accustomed to infirmity, One of those from whom men hide their faces, spurned, and we held him in no esteem. Yet it was our infirmities that he …

32 Years

Today, on the Feast of the North American Martyrs, I celebrate my birthday. I remember some of the big ones: 10 (turning double-digits), 16, 18, and 21. I remember turning 25 because it was my first birthday as a novice in the Society of Jesus and I still remember the dive bar we went to that night, pooling our meager personalia and laughing our heads off drinking cheap beer.

Sometimes, when I visit my family's home, I'll find myself looking at old photo books. Some of my favorite pictures are of me at early birthday parties - I seemed always to have been dressed in overalls and a polo shirt - being held by someone. In these pictures, I see my Grandma and Grandpa Duns, Grandma and Grandpa Hagan, and even my Great-Grandparents. The faces of so many friends and family, many now grown, many now dead, often are frozen forever in the pictures; their young(er) faces frozen as a single candle, or two candles, or three candles commemorate a single person's birth.

Since I do not h…

Three Senate Videos

U of D Jesuit students are hurriedly trying to get their pledges in before the deadline on Thursday, October 20th. The entire school community needs to bring in a total of $130,000 in order for us to earn two free days: the Wednesday before and the Monday after Thanksgiving break. I have adamantly insisted that there will be no extensions: we either bring in the money and earn the days off or we schlep it to school. No mercy!

Two weeks after the event, I wanted to share with you two videos our students made. The first of these plays on the theme of the event: Father Peppard has kidnapped the Cub (our mascot) and is holding him ransom.

The second video was shown on the day of Pledge Detroit. It is meant as a pump-up video, expressing to our students something of what we are about as a school and giving them a sense of why it is that we are doing the projects to which we have committed ourselves.

Finally, and perhaps my favorite for its cleverness, is the video for this year's Icebr…

Episode 32: A New Hope

A long time ago in a city far, far away....
...a child was born. He sought to seek out and do good and to avoid evil.  He gave himself over to the Jesuit ways,  apprenticing himself to a novice master.  After two years of apprenticeship, he studied again at the feet of masters, learning the mysterious ways  of philosophy and theology. Seen by his superiors to be fitting, he was made a "Master"  and sent to teach the ways of theology to young students in Detroit. 
He thought himself an agent of the Good: ...the scourge of heresy, ...the bane of blasphemy, ...the slayer of heretics. 
Until the week before his 32nd birthday when his parents revealed the truth about his identity. 
With his parents' revelation, a new identity emerged:

Darth Vow-der.
So, yeah, a week before my birthday (October 19th, the Feast of North American Martyrs) I notice a box in the mail room. As I've not ordered anything of late, I didn't suspect it was for me; it's only because I had to move it (it was …

Men for Others?

Yesterday was our Faculty Spirituality day. We went to the beautiful and peaceful Manresa Jesuit Retreat House for a morning of reflection and prayer. For about an hour, we were broken up into small groups, charged to discuss the meaning of "Men for Others" and the characteristics of the Grad-at-Grad that are so easily identified with, but perhaps too often understood within, Jesuit education.

We are, understandably, given over to using ciphers and catchphrases. "Men for Others" or, I've heard, "MFO's" is no exception. Yet, I think it helpful to consider the full context from which "Men for Others" is wrought. In a speech by Father General Pedro Arrupe:

Today our prime educational objective must be to form men-and-women-for-others; men and women who will live not for themselves but for God and his Christ - for the God-man who lived and died for all the world; men and women who cannot even conceive of love of God which does not include lov…

Homecoming Excess (OR "Why I would just as soon cancel the whole event")

Last night, I helped to cap off the 2011 Fall Spirit Week with the Homecoming Dance. We had a DJ, decorations, various casino games (run by brother Jesuits), and a photo booth. Our students purchased arrived in suit jackets and ties, accompanied by elegantly dressed young women who wore fresh corsages, nicely done hair, and obviously new dresses. We opened our doors at 8:00 and by 8:15, party bus after party bus arrived, dropping their passengers at our door. The music was wonderful, the lights were dim, the stage was set for what, to my mind, should have been a great evening.

And then I noticed party bus after party bus returning to the door and students boarding it once again. In some cases, students were at the dance for less than thirty minutes before boarding the party bus to take them around the city.

As someone who put a lot of thought into this dance, who put out a tremendous amount of money to help ensure that students had a really enjoyable evening, this really bothered me. …