33rd Birthday and The Feast of the North American Martyrs



I'm very fortunate to celebrate on the same day the United States observes the "Feast of the North American Martyrs." On this day, we celebrate the witness of Saint John De Brebeuf, Saint Isaac Jogues, and their companions. For these men, death did not bring about their martyrdom. It was the consequence of their lives lived as witnesses to the Gospel. 

In 1979, I had four great-grandparents and four grandparents. Today, only my Grandma Hagan is alive. I'm blessed that my godparents - Jack Duns and Kelly King - are still alive, as is my Confirmation Jack Barret. Nevertheless, it's hard not to think back and miss those people who have passed from my life as I celebrate it's start. Likewise is it hard not to think upon the wonderful people who have entered my life, who have played a role in it, who have helped to make me who I am today. 

I am a fortunate man. I have a family I love very much - although my sister Hagan apparently is afraid of me! (and this for the one who taught her to eat sushi) - and I am uncle to the two best kids (Emma and Quinn) in the world. I have taught music to countless women and men thanks to the internet, I have played for Irish dancers across the world, and although I will forever be a Wildcat of Saint Ignatius, I must claim that my happiest experience of high school came from my privilege of serving at the finest Jesuit high school imaginable: The University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy.

 If I were to mention by name each person to whom I owed a debt of gratitude, I'd write for days. My life is blessed. 

I have never made a secret that I am a man sorely tempted by doubt. Yet, with Karl Rahner, I will aver: I believe because I pray. I believe in the goodness and mercy of God because I look at my life and I cannot help but to feel it is more than any one person could ever deserve. I am son, brother, and uncle. To some I am a tin whistle teacher, to others a nameless feis musician. To a good number of high school students I am Abba Duns. To the worldwide Society of Jesus, I am a brother Jesuit, a co-laborer in the Lord's Vineyard.

Overall, I should like to think that I might be known simply as a friend. 

Let me be crude for a moment: sometimes, it really sucks to be a Catholic. It can feel even worse to be clergy. It has been my grace, however, that I've never regretted getting out of bed in the morning and I've never gone to bed with a heavy heart. Life is not always easy, but it is joyful. I don't know how many of my peers can say this...

When I set off for college, I thought I'd be a doctor. "Ryan Duns, MD" looked pretty good to me. To this day, however, I get a thrill of astonishment when I sign the 30th letter of college recommendation "Ryan Duns, SJ". It's not where my earliest daydreams led me, to be sure, but never in my wildest dreams could I have have anticipated such joy in a life.

In 1998, a line from today's Gospel was harder to imagine:
"Even the hairs of your head have all been counted." 
15 years later, the Lord has a much job.

It is true that I am balder now and that it's harder to keep off the pounds. Still, I am happier today than I could ever have imagined and I'm far happier than I should ever deserve.

I wrote this two months ago, but it stands true and rings in the depths of my heart. It has become a daily prayer and on my 33rd birthday, I should only hope to have another 33 years of life lived in the same way:


For all that has been, I say: Thank You.
For all that is yet to come, I say: Yes. 


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