Showing posts from March, 2012

"It is better for you that one man should die..."

I spent a quiet evening at home last night, savoring the opportunity to catch up on some reading and record some new videos for YouTube. Such an evening gave me, too, a chance to pray in a wholly un-rushed and relaxed manner (I tend to pray very early in the morning and, regardless of my best intentions, the concerns of the day often break in upon me).

Today's reading records the great line of Caiaphas, the high priest of the Sanhedrin. Confronted with the threat that, if Jesus were allowed to continue his ministry, it would incur the wrath of the Romans, Caiaphas pronounces:
"You know nothing, nor do you consider that it is better for you that one man should die instead of the people, so that the whole nation may not perish."  In a sense, we can sympathize with Caiaphas: he knows that the Romans do not suffer civil disturbances gladly and that their wrath could be unleashed swiftly and brutally. He acts, in his mind, prudently and as a utilitarian. Is it not the case th…

Before Abraham Came to Be, I AM

Today's reading from John's Gospel provides an instance of Jesus disclosing to those around him who he is. He shares with them, that is, his identity. For identifying himself with the Father whose mission he was enacting on the human stage, the response is predictable: those gathered 'picked up stones to throw at him' but Jesus manages to escape.

When I was in high school, we read a book entitled Why am I afraid to tell you who I am? One thing I remember - from over fifteen years ago - is how easy it is to wear a mask that conceals our true selves. "The Nerd" or "The Jock" or the "The Cold Customer" or whatever, we don masks to prevent people from getting a glimpse at who we really are. We are, many of us, gripped with the fear that if people knew us, really knew us, that they'd not like us at all. Hence we wear masks to show to others the person we think they will accept, the person we think they'll want to see.

Teaching high schoo…

The Annunciation of the Lord

Many of us, whether of Irish descent or not, celebrate the half-way to Saint Patrick's Day in September. Today, the Roman Catholic Church celebrates the Nine Months Until Christmas, give or take a day, as we pray through our observation of The Annunciation of the Lord.

The figure of Mary is often contested between Christian denominations. I must acknowledge, perhaps under the influence of my arch-Lutheran father, that there can be a certain Catholic excess when it comes to Mary. I once met an earnest and eager young candidate for the Jesuits who, over coffee and pastries, suddenly grasped my hands and began to pray loudly, commending "our conversation to the girdle of the most blessed and immaculate Mary." I don't know what shocked me more: that another guy grabbed my hands over vanilla-glazed treats or that he created, near as I can tell, a devotion to an article of clothing.

What we see in today's Gospels is the theme of 'yes' to God's invitation to…

Fashion Invocation, II

A prayer said before the beginning of the 2012 U of D Jesuit Mothers' Club Fashion Show:

Let us begin, as always, In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The celluloid saint Audrey Hepburn had this to say of beauty:  The beauty of a woman is not in the clothes she wears, the figure that she carries, or the way she combs her hair. The beauty of a woman is seen in her eyes, because that is the doorway to her heart, the place where love resides. True beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It’s the caring that she lovingly gives, the passion that she shows and the beauty of a woman only grows with passing years. Lord, as we gather to celebrate beauty of fashion, let us never forget your beauty reflected in all that we see.  May the beauty we see with our eyes enter our souls, making us ever more passionate for you and the world you have created. Let us show this passion in deeds of love as we help to build your Kingdom here on earth. May all that we do reflect yo…

A Grain of Wheat

A line from today's Gospel, taken from John, is familiar to many:
"...unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honor whoever serves me." There is, throughout our lives, a constant temptation to cling to what we have. We become hoarders - hoarding items and trinkets, money and power, status and reputation - and we cling feverishly to these things. A mantra for many in our age is I am what I own

Many of my students might change this mantra to I am what I scored. It is a constant temptation for our students to cling to their test scores as defining them as they are, to allow their GPA's to dictate their sense of self. When an I is defined by a test score or grade, it is little won…

The Wisdom of Nicodemus

I mentioned yesterday the "Reason Rally" being held today in Washington. As I said, I hope that the "largest gathering of the secular movement in world history" produces (1) clear sense of the god(s) they reject and (2) a positive account both for why there is no god and for 'why there is something rather than nothing.'

It seems fitting that today's reading from John's Gospel shares with us the wisdom of Nicodemus. Crowds of people had heard and been moved by Jesus' words. Some thought him a prophet, others thought him the Christ. Still others were disturbed by his words and the crowds' reactions, so they fled to the religious authorities. Their concern: "The Christ will not come from Galilee, will he?" How could the Messiah, the liberator of an oppressed people, come from some backwater region of Judea?

The response of the Pharisees is telling:
Have you also been deceived? Have any of the authorities or the Pharisees believed in h…

Reason Rally

I read this morning about the upcoming "Reason Rally" being held tomorrow on the National Mall in Washington.

To be honest, I think this is a great event. I really do - if, as David Silverman reports, atheism is the fastest growing 'religion' in the country, then it should feel comfortable coming together to celebrate common values. It should gather as a body - a secular ecclesiastical body - and profess its reasons for being together.

I should like to make, however, two requests of them:

First, as the theologian Denys Turner reminds us, eadem est scientia oppositorum - one and the same is the knowledge of opposites. That is to say, when we are in an argument we must be sure that we are affirming, and denying, the same point. An example: if I say the weight of the watermelon is "three pounds" and you respond, "no, it weighs green" we have a problem. "Three pounds" and "Green" are not comparable predicates; we are not, that is, t…

I Was Doing So Well!

For a while, I actually thought I'd manage to blog consistently throughout Lent. The events of last weekend, however, scuttled that program. The demands of the musical performance on Friday, commitments on Saturday, and then trying to retrench on Sunday have left me precious little time for my own writing. The beautiful weather and the nagging summons to enjoy it do not help matters, either.

This is yet another super busy week: Student Senate campaign, Talent Show on Friday, Mother's Club Fashion Show on Saturday, a meeting on Sunday never ends! Stay tuned, though, for I'll do my best to continue to update the site as time, and energy levels, permit.

Saint Patrick's Day on Fox 2 News in Detroit


Media Notice

In case folks are around this morning, I will be a guest on our local Fox affiliate's morning show. You can live-stream the appearance (I believe) here:

I'll be on during the 10:00 am (EST) hour.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

I will post another video tomorrow - a bit of a surprise, really - but I had some time tonight so I recorded two new videos for YouTube. I'm awful at keeping fresh content on the channel so my guilt forced me to do something I may live to regret: I recorded Danny Boy and the Irish Washerwoman. How cliche!

Go with the Flo...nase

On occasion, I share with readers some of the stupid things I do. Generally speaking, I don't intend to be just happens. Case in point:
Along with two other Jesuits, I agreed to participate in a Theology-On-Tap program hosted by several  families at U of D Jesuit. Brother Boynton spoke the first week on the History of Spirituality. Originally, I was to give my presentation next week, on the 21st. Well, as it turns out, an emergency situation forced a schedule switch and at 5:30 yesterday afternoon, I was told that I'd be giving my talk instead and I had just about thirty minutes to get it ready.  In my rush, I tried to multi-task. I pulled together some preliminary notes - entitled The Risk of Zacchaeus and the Control-F Generation - while brushing my teeth, changing my clothes, and scrambling to find clean socks. 
It also occurred to me that I'd not taken my vitamins that day. It also hit me that I'd not used my Flonase, either. So I grabbed one B-12, o…

The Elephant in the Gym

Two weeks ago, I created a small controversy when I raised the question of racism within the Detroit Catholic League. A number of people commented on my post - some in favor of what I wrote, others vehemently opposed - and a number of those who were critical thought that I had acted inappropriately in "airing dirty laundry." Still others thought my post was simply a result of sour grapes: U of D Jesuit had lost and I was  lashing out.

Today in the Detroit News, an article about another Catholic League team raises the specter of racism.  We tried, several times, to draw attention to the issues of racism that we have observed within the Catholic League's sporting events.Our entreaties, made weeks before the event written about, seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

Terry Foster, of the Detroit News, reports:

King was on its way to a 72-50 blowout in the Class A regionals at Cass Tech when King fans chanted, "Nah! Nah! Nah! Nah! Heyyy! Good byeeee."

The chants went …

Monday, the 20th Day of Lent

It is easy to love the people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. 
It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve  the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. 
Bring love into your home for this is where our love for each other must start.                                              ~Mother Teresa of Calcutta
I introduced my students to the label of the 'convenient' and 'inconvenient' poor. The convenient poor are those we don't really have to deal with in an immediate way: we see them on television news, we hear about them, we take up on occasional second-collection on their behalf. They are removed from our vision and, in our imaginations, often romanticized. 
The inconvenient poor, on the other hand, are the ones we have to deal with daily. These are the poor people who stand on the corners begging for money, those who frequent warming centers, those who sleep atop steam vents. They are inconvenient becau…

Prodigal Father?

I woke up this morning and found this interesting comment on yesterday's post:
You probably have got a typo there - I think the gospel is called "The Forgiving Father" (or possibly The Loving Father) - I don`t recall God described as being prodigal in the bible ;-)  This caused me to pause. Had I erred in the post? Or is this an instance of confronting the limitations of human language about God?

Herbert McCabe draws a distinction between static words and growing words. Static words are basically words like "jam jar" and "stapler" and "chair" - nouns whose meaning remains stable over time. My nephew Quinn can learn (probably by getting his hand stuck in it) the meaning of the word "jam jar" and in twenty years, the meaning of "jam jar" will probably be relatively the same. This is quite probably a good thing: we live out our lives surrounding by common objects, objects with rather stable names attached to them.

Yet there i…

The Prodigal Son: the 18th Day of Lent

Few stories in Scripture contain more power or poignancy than the parable found in today's Gospel. The story, variously rendered as 'The Prodigal Son' or 'The Prodigal Father', is yet another of Jesus' parables that mark the Great Reversal expected in God's Kingdom. The older brother, angry and resentful at the party thrown for his sibling, represents the way many of us think about the economy of righteousness. If I do good things, if I follow all of the rules, if I do what is asked of me...then I shall be the favored one.

Pity that God's grace doesn't work quite like that...a pity, of course, if the prodigality of grace is ever to be lamented.

I like to describe Jesus' parables as 'atomic bomb' stories. By this I mean simply to say that the parables do more than blow holes in the way we think about the world or how we think of God. After creating or widening the cracks in our heart that allow bits of God's light to stream into our …

The 16th Day of Lent

Well, the streak had to be broken. I woke up yesterday and realized I had not the energy to write a blog post.

Alas. I haven't that much energy today, either.

Today's Gospel is taken from Luke and tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. As you can see from the above, Lazarus is shut out from the rich man's life. Kept outside the front door, he was probably something of an annoyance, an inconvenience. Lazarus, upon his death, is drawn to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man, however, finds himself in fiery torment: the worldly pleasures he had enjoyed are now stripped from him, and he begs for Lazarus to "dip the tip of his finger and water and cool my tongue." No such succor is provided, though. As the rich man lived in this world - cut off from the poor and deaf to their cries - so shall he live for eternity.

Each Lenten season, we are enjoined to partake in prayer, almsgiving, and fasting. In stripping away the excesses of our lives, we come to know better j…

Tuesday, the 14th Day of Lent

Lord, let me know you, let me know myself.
Lord, you do your will and not mine. 
I'm just coming, Lord. 
                                                         ~ St. Alphonsus Rodriguez, SJ
These lines or, as the editors of Hearts on Fire call them, aspirations are taken from the the style of prayer cultivated by the Jesuit Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez. Brother Rodriguez spent many years as the porter at the Jesuit college on the island of Majorca and was renowned for his holiness and wisdom. 
There is certainly a seduction to think that prayer, or deepening one's spiritual life, demands many hours each day or frequent trips to a retreat house. Yet, look at these 'aspirations' above: any of these could easily be prayed while driving to work, folding laundry, mowing the lawn, or changing a diaper. Good prayer doesn't mean means that you've shown up.
Two weeks into Lent and I suspect many are tired. It can seem a rather long trudge, one long night witho…

The 13th Day of Lent: The Jesuit Post

Several weeks ago, several enterprising young Jesuits launched a new website called "The Jesuit Post." Editor-in-Chief Paddy Gilger, SJ is to be commended for his tremendous labors.

I'm pleased that Paddy thought enough of an edited version of a talk I delivered several weeks back that he included it on the Jesuit Post. The talk, delivered one chilly night on Mackinac Island, is a very basic introduction to prayer. You can read the post - and comment, should you wish - HERE.

I strongly encourage you to poke around the site. The content produced by these Jesuits is absolutely astounding and is sure to provide something to pique your interests. I'm hoping to find more time in the near future to contribute something more substantial but, with the Student Senate Campaign looming, I don't suspect much time is going to be available.

Don't forget: The Jesuit Post!

Second Sunday of Lent

I teach a senior-level elective on the History of Catholic Philosophy. I guess, in theory, the course is supposed to traverse the history of philosophy with special attention to major Catholic thinkers. In reality, the course is basically an arena where students get a chance to read some of the more important thinkers in the Christian tradition and wrestle with the credibility of belief. In my experience, students are less fixated on the distinction between homoousion and homoiousion than they are on the existence of God and sorting out the question, "what difference does faith make."

The more stubborn of my students want a proof, or iron-clad demonstration, of faith. They see faith as simply a way of putting plywood over the holes of reason, a temporary stop-gap until we sort out the problems we have still no answer for. The existence of God, or the life of faith, is thought of as more a math problem or chemical equation than it is a relationship.

I wonder if Jesus' dis…

The Eleventh Day of Lent

I must admit that I am seldom good at being politically correct. For some reason, my 'filter' that should keep me from putting my foot in my mouth is broken. That is to say, I very often finding myself saying exactly what I'm thinking. Generally, I don't think I'm being hateful or hurtful but, at times, I curse myself for not being able to reel in my words.

One word I rather like, use too frequently, and realize that it's now inappropriate for use is the word queer. Growing up in an Irish cultural milieu, the word queer did not have the connotation of anything involving sexuality. Rather, it indicated that something was very peculiar. So to hear Tom Byrne, a great flute and whistle player from Cleveland, say, "Ryan, that was a queer tune you played" said nothing of its sexual identity and spoke, usually, to the fact that I had just played something very strange before him. Given the fashion trends of some of my students, I sometimes fail to catch myse…

The Tenth Day of Lent

God of My Life ~Karl Rahner, SJ
Only in love can I find you, my God.
In love the gates of my soul spring open,
allowing me to breathe a new air of freedom
and forget my own petty self. In love my whole being streams forth
out of the rigid confines of narrowness and anxious self-assertion,
which makes me a prisoner of my own poverty and emptiness.
In love all the powers of my soul flow out toward you,
wanting never more to return,
but to lose themselves completely in you,
since by your love you are the inmost center of my heart,
closer to me than I am to myself. But when I love you,
when I manage to break out of the narrow circle of self
and leave behind the restless agony of unanswered questions,
when my blinded eyes no longer look merely from afar
and from the outside upon your unapproachable brightness,
and much more when you yourself, O Incomprehensible One,
have become through love the inmost center of my life,
then I can bury myself entirely in you, O mysterious God,
and with myself all my question…

Thursday, the Ninth Day of Lent

Today's Gospel beings with the line

Ask and it will be given to you;  seek and you wil find;  knock and the door will be opened to you.
I don't know about you, but I find these words to be extraordinarily irritating.
It is my custom to try to be a good guest. I don't like putting my host out of his or her way, so I'm not overly picky when offered a drink, a dinner choice, or the selection of a movie. Even when I have strong tastes or desires, I find myself often saying, "I'm totally indifferent - I'll eat/drink/watch anything." Why am I so reluctant? Is it because I'm ashamed of my desires? Is it because I don't want to impose, even though my host clearly is clearly extending hospitality? Is it because I'm failing to trust the graciousness of the one who has invited me? 
I'm irritated by today's Gospel because it challenges me to be more forthright in prayer. How often do I pray for silly things, safe things, rather than telling the…