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Showing posts from January, 2011

The Prayer That Changes Everything

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As part of my (seldom successful) efforts to clear up a backlog of tasks, I'd like to share with you some thoughts on a books I've read recently. This little gem was sent to me by its publisher at Loyola Press who invited me to share my thoughts. The book is entitled

the prayer that changes everything:  Discovering the Power of St. Ignatius Loyola's Examen
 (Note: the title is in lowercase letters on the book's cover, hence the strange way it appears in type here)

Written by Jim Manney, it's a short (~80 page) treatment of the prayer Saint Ignatius enjoined on his Jesuits and those who would receive the Spiritual Exercises. Manney, either consciously or not, crafts his treatment of the topic in the form of an inclusio. That is, he begins and ends his treatment of the Examen with the five basic points of how to pray using this powerful method


Ask God for light.Give thanksReview the DayFace your shortcomingsLook toward the day to comeThis skeletal structure - so decepti…

A New Cast of Characters

The theology courses I teach are all semester-length, meaning that with the start of the second semester I found myself standing in front of four entirely new sets of students (3 frosh courses, 1 sophomore). I feel like my grandmother as I struggle to learn their names quickly: I end up pointing at kids, fumbling madly to get to name. "Chris, Mark, Martin....MAX!" has been a frequent chorus this week.

With each student comes an entirely new story. I have the guy who basically refuses to speak, so he flashes me the thumbs-up sign when I'm taking attendance. Another student has transcended the level of 'bookbag' and carries a suitcase with him. I sort of like this guy because, as a freshman, he walked into school holding  a take-out cup from Tim Horton's filled with black coffee, which he drank while leaning against a pillar, observing his surroundings.

With the freshmen in particular, we began the "Magical Mystery" tour of religion. I have been tinke…

It Begins Again (and a ghost update)

After the frenzy of finals week and a nice long weekend, the second semester of the 2010-11 school year begins in a little more than two hours.

I woke up early this morning - around 4:00 - and was unable to go back to sleep. I contemplated going out for a run, but my left knee has been bothering me for a few weeks and I do not wish to aggravate it any more than it already is. So I remained in bed feeling a mix of nervousness and excitement for the semester ahead.


In other and, perhaps for many, more interesting news: just last week, yet another event occurred that confirmed for me that if our Jesuit community is being haunted that I know the identity of the one haunting it.

How so?

Last Monday, the final day of classes before exams, the Student Senate office was PACKED with kids after school. From the midst of the crowd I heard an, "SJ! SJ!" and then saw one of my students emerge from a crowd with a photograph in his hand. Thrusting the photo into my face, he asked me if I k…

The Truth Behind My Vocation

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My students frequently ask me if I dated before I entered the Jesuits. I suspect they find it inconceivable that I could do anything but live in the school and focus my entire life on them and their well-being. Nevertheless, they are often interested in learning that I did date off-and-on during college.

What they don't always get is the story of why I (basically) abandoned dating. This is a story only a few of my close friends know but one I thought might be helpful to share in the interest of vocation promotion.

Many years ago, in 2001, I was an eager college senior. My roommate Jeff and I lived in a suburb of Buffalo called Tonawanda. We shared a two-bedroom apartment on Paradise Lane in the Raintree Island development. To meet the (relatively) low rent, both Jeff and I had jobs: Jeff worked overnights at FedEX and I taught grammar school Spanish in a local Catholic school and I played at Irish dancing events.

One day, Jeff told me of a young woman he had met after Mass at the …

What Did You Do to the Roof?

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Watching my niece this Christmas vacation, I was struck with how powerful the imagination is. One night, her voice invested with all the urgency a 3-year old can muster, she told my sister Torrey that they were on an adventure in the haunted forrest. In her mind, the family kitchen was transformed from the place we ate into a spooky wooded path. Emma knew that there was something in these woods, something none of us could see, and she held her finger to her lips while tip-toeing out into the dining room, leading us all to safety.

There is, then, something wonderfully childlike about Ignatian prayer. My Emma can become Dora in an instant; I, likewise, can become a friend of Jesus, a casual bystander, even a hostile party. This morning, as I prayed on today's Gospel, I found myself not as Dora, nor as a particularly close friend of Jesus (rough night of sleep), but, rather, as an interested spectator who comes to see the commotion surrounding this Jesus fellow.

Today's Gospel op…

A Creeping Feeling of Dread

Have you ever experienced that sick, twisted feeling in the pit of your stomach when you realize that you had forgotten something: someone's birthday, a crucial meeting, an important file, perhaps a vital task. There's  brief moment of denial, a quickening of the pulse, and a cold resignation that, basically, you've blown it.

I hate feeling this way. It's as though the bottom of my stomach drops out and icy water surges through my veins. Sometimes, when things are really bad, I feel as though I can hear the blood vessels expanding and contracting as they push newly-frozen blood throughout my body.

For years, I associated these feelings with tasks I had failed to complete. These last two years, however, I have begun to associate them on a near-daily basis with things I say while teaching. As an extrovert, I process my thoughts about three feet away from my head. That is to say, I usually say whatever comes to mind. The more enthusiastic or engaged I am, the greater the …

On Bended Knee

This morning, I went with Brother Boynton and Father Kiser to celebrate the Eucharist at a local parish. The liturgy was very nice and I noticed quite a few of my students in the congregation, so I tried to be on my best behavior. The sprinkling rite was sufficiently wet (Father Kiser, the celebrant, has deadly accuracy with his aim) and the music and homily were spot-on. The only trouble, though, was with the kneelers.

I grew up in a parish without kneelers. For this reason, perhaps, I am extraordinarily conscientious about kneeling protocol. For instance, if I am sitting next to a person who is slower to kneel than I am, I linger in a half-seated, half-standing pose until such time the person has sits down, pulls the kneeler down, and assumes position. I call this the two-stage approach: stage one (sit) followed by stage two (release kneeler and slide into place). I let these people take the lead, usually out of deference to their age.

A second type of protocol is called for when de…

Learning to Read

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I just thought I'd include two pictures of my niece (Emma) and nephew (Quinn) teaching me how to read.

Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord

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The Catholic Church today celebrate the Solemnity of the Epiphany of the Lord, the day on which we remember Jesus' being revealed as the light of all nations.

In keeping with the theme of the "Year of the Stranger," consider these verses from today's Gospel written by the evangelist Matthew:


...magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying,  “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled,  and all Jerusalem with him. Strangers come to the city bearing a message that is disconcerting to those who hear it: the king of the Jews is newly born and they have traveled a great distance to pay him homage. The light of this start has caught the attention of these foreigners, these non-Jews, and they have embarked upon a journey to see with their own eyes the one to whom this sign attests.

Hell, I can't say I blame Herod. If I were something of the puppet king installed by…

Security Breach?

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During Mass this morning, it struck me that as a kid I grew up in a home that never locked its doors. That is, to my knowledge, my parents never insisted on locking the house when we went out for the evening and we certainly didn't lock the doors when we were in the house. Living in a pretty urban area now where we do our due diligence to ensure security protocols are followed, my family's custom (still practiced, I believe) seems so out of place, so naive, so....dangerous.

Over the last few years, I've noticed a significant uptick in the number of commercials advertising security measures for your home and vehicle. You know those commercials: the young woman enters the home, or the mother puts the kids to bed upstairs, when there is the tinkling sound of broken glass as an intruder attempts to enter. Lights go on and the security company is alerted to this incursion and, within minutes, the police arrive. The security system, they would have us believe, will afford us pea…