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Showing posts from 2014

Crawling Out of the Cave

When I arrive at my professor's house this evening for our end-of-term dinner, my first semester of doctoral studies will be over. I'll cross the threshold with a 31-page paper, a nice bottle of Chardonnay, and a great sense of gratitude for the opportunities I've had this semester to grow as a thinker.

Now, I'll admit: when I look at the shelf that holds all of this last semester's books and articles, I'm astonished at how much I've had to read. An enormous stack of substantive articles - around 40 of them - were the basis for one course. Another course required ten texts, another one required eight, and the third necessitated another ten. Lots of reading, lots of thoughts, and a lot of stuff I've forgotten along the way!

I had hoped that I'd have the energy to blog regularly, but this has clearly not been the case. I spend so much of my time reading, or writing, that the idea of sitting down to write more is downright daunting. Doctoral studies, …

The Audacity of Prayer

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The 17th century artist Peter Paul Rubens captures, as well as I've ever scene, the chaotic scene surrounding Jesus' crucifixion. If you reflect on Luke's Passion narrative and gaze upon the the painting, Jesus' interaction with the thieves is especially poignant. 
The exchange is familiar: 
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us." The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, "Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal. Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus replied to him, "Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise." 
Karl Rahner, meditating on Jesus' Passion, prays, "You are now in the agony of death, Your heart is filled to the brim with…

25 Years On

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On Sunday, we will observe a tragic anniversary: it's now 25 years since a group of Salvadoran soldiers entered the University of Central America and murdered six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter. Dragged from their beds, they were forced to lie down in their community's garden and, one by one, a bullet was put into the back of their heads.

Death is the consequence of authentically bearing witness to the Gospel in a sinful world. I am wary, then, of trying to use beautiful language to speak of my brother Jesuits and their friends who died, lest I run the risk of enveloping them in rhetoric and allowing their message to slip away. Their witness speaks, not through my words, but through the silence that their assassination calls out in us.


The Jesuits of El Salvador were executed for attempting to give a voice to the voiceless, for trying to empower the poor to speak against dehumanizing oppression. There is a tragic fittingness that their deaths bear mute witn…

Diaconate Ordination

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I wanted to post a few photos from this weekend's diaconate ordination. On Sunday, I was given the great privilege of preaching at the 11:15 Mass at Saint Cecilia. Drawing on the banquet imagery found in the Gospel, I concluded with the following:

Practice what you teach

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Believe what you read
Teach what you believe
Practice what you teach
Very often, when friends ask me when I'm going to be ordained, a comment about the great length of Jesuit formation is made. "Almost eleven years? Why does it take so long?" 
Although the formal "training" process to prepare a man for ordination to the priesthood takes a Jesuit nearly ten years, the truth is that it is a process with roots in my childhood. From an early age, I knew very little other than I wanted to be happy in my life. I have been graced with many great opportunities and am quite assured that, were I not a Jesuit, financial concerns would be the least of my worries. I could have been a doctor or a lawyer, although as much as these would appeal to my ambitious side, I could well imagine that I might have become a special education teacher. Yet my draw toward happiness found models in the Jesuits I knew at Saint Ignatius High School, Canisius College, and John Carroll University. Th…

Safe Home

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Last Wednesday, my Grandma Hagan's 86-year sojourn on earth came to an end. Surrounded by her children and loved ones, she died in her own home. Indeed, in keeping with her wishes, she left her house "feet first" and as she was wheeled down the driveway, her family applauded her for a Job Well Done.

Needless to say, the days following were chaotic. As my family made plans, I scrambled to get a plane ticket. Compounding the frenzy was my own "good planning." Earlier this semester, I signed up to give two class presentations, one on a Thursday and the second on the following Tuesday. Well, funeral arrangements and a great deal of travel certainly put an enormous amount of pressure on me to write quickly and, hopefully, clearly!

Thankfully, all that needed to be done was accomplished. The funeral was a beautiful tribute to a woman who taught all who met her how to love. Grandma had something like 28 grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and a smattering of great…

Student Depression

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Last weekend, a former student contacted me to share his experience of a recent loss. A close friend of his, after having struggled for years with crippling depression, took her own life. This young man, in the wake of her suicide, has been left not only with the pain that attends her loss but, also, with a burning question: what, if anything, can be done to help others who experience such crippling darkness that death seems the only way to stop the pain? 
Drawing on his own harrowing experiences of depression, Jesuit William Lynch described the feeling of hopelessness as containing, in varying degrees, elements of the following:  Sense of the impossible - no matter what one must do, it seems too daunting. Whether it be to get out of bed, or go to school or work, or look through the day toward the evening, it seems too much. Sense of too-muchness - the whole of life seems too much, too big, too burdensome. The smallest task is overwhelming, things others might take for granted become …

You Can't Go It Alone

It was hard not to notice this summer, as I spent many, many, many hours in various airport, just how many "self-help" books populate the shelves of various retailers. Some celebrate the power of positive thinking, others promise a program of seven-day personal transformation, others assure personal and professional success if you just follow the ____ number of steps contained in the book.

As a genre, these books tap into a common core: you can rely on yourself, and draw upon your own resources, to bring about the change in your life that you need.

So long as you buy the book!

It's often hard to admit that we need assistance in our lives. There is such pressure to maintain a certain image, to keep up a certain appearance, that we fear having people discover we're not as good, or smart, or competent as we think they think we are. Thus we try to fix ourselves on our own, try to pull ourselves out of the quicksand traps we've fallen into. We say things like, "…

And another summer passes away...

Sitting down to pray this morning, I found myself particularly struck by the day's first reading from Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians:When I came to you, brothers and sisters,
proclaiming the mystery of God,
I did not come with sublimity of words or of wisdom.
For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you
except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.
I came to you in weakness and fear and much trembling,
and my message and my proclamation
were not with persuasive words of wisdom,
but with a demonstration of spirit and power,
so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom
but on the power of God. Tomorrow, I begin what I suspect are my last two years formal classes: I begin my PhD in theology here at Boston College. In a slight sense, I'm breaking sequence in beginning my degree an academic year before priestly ordination. Thus I will complete my first year of studies, I'll be ordained in June, and then continue my studies next Fall.

In light of this new adventure, tod…

BYOD

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On this lazy Saturday morning, my last free weekend of summer, I happened upon a CNN story about how airlines - such as United - have begun to phase out the seat-back television screens on their planes. As I've taken over fifty flights so far this year, it's something I, too, have noticed. One can no longer count on ready-made "in flight entertainment" and must now BYOD: Bring Your Own Device.

Based only on my observation, this already seems to be the habit of most travelers. On one recent flight, a woman had two iPads going simultaneously: it appears that she was on two different levels of Candy Crush and was trying to advance her level-standing on both devices. Another flight from Chicago to Cleveland gave me a view of a man's home-videos that he was editing on his laptop. And, on a severely delayed flight from DC to Boston, one of the attendants had to speak to a man who thought it might be acceptable, in the dark cabin, to watch pornography on his iPhone.

It…

"The Problem" with the Sisters

Anyone familiar with the recent investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) will know that it has become somewhat boilerplate material to try to isolate "the problem" with the sisters. Some pundits claim that they have been infected with liberalizing strains that made them lose sight of their original charism. Others decry their getting out of their religious habit, as though uncomfortable garb were the essential to the proclamation of the Gospel. 
Make no mistake: I often take exception to how the LCWR accents certain issues above others. There have, without question, been missteps (and let the one of us without sin cast the first stone!). Indeed, I'm ashamed to admit that I've sometimes succumbed to making jokes at their expense. 
My retreat this week, however, has driven deep into my heart just how foolish, and ignorant, I have been. I look back on some of the jokes I've made in the past, and repent of them: for I realize that often m…

A Decade of Blogging

It is plainly obvious that I've not been very diligent when it comes to posting. Part of this is due to the fact that I've been busy: in addition to an intensive French course I took this summer, I also continued to play Irish music most weekends and nearly every Monday night. What time is spent on those pursuits, however, eat away at the time that'd be available for writing. Hence the dearth of postings. 
A second, and perhaps more pressing issue, has kept me quiet as well. Over the past year, I have come to question the value of blogging. This blog began ten years ago when I entered the Society of Jesus and I found that it was a helpful means of letting friends and family know what was happening in my life. Over time, I've made forays into spiritual writing, addressing various topics of interest, and humor. If one were to read through the blog's archives, it'd be hard not to detect a great shift in style and tone. 
This blog has traced, in a sense, my "g…

Apathy a Virtue?

Here's a little story from John the Theban, known also to fellow Christians living in the desert as John the Short:
One day Abba Isaac went to a monastery. He saw a brother committing a sin and he condemned him. When he returned to the desert, an angel of the Lord came and stood in front of the door of his cell, and said, "I will not let you enter." But Abba Isaac persisted saying, "What is the matter?" and the angel replied, "God has sent me to ask you where you want to throw the guilty brother whom you have condemned." Immediately he repented and said, "I have sinned, forgive me." Then the angel said, "Get up, God has forgiven you. But from now on, be careful not to judge someone before God has done so."  If we recognize ourselves in this story, to feel a little pluck at our own consciences, it's because this is hardly an uncommon occurrence. How frequently do we find ourselves in situations where we see something pass befor…

Pick it Up and Bead

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In the throes of his conversion, as his soul twisted and wrenched toward leaving his old life behind and embracing a new path, Saint Augustine experienced a profound breakthrough. This came, not from dazzling lights or fireworks, but through a single, unseen, voice:
...and weeping in the bitter agony of my heart, suddenly I heard a voice from the nearby house chanting as if it might be a boy or a girl (I do not know which), saying and repeating over and over again 'Pick up and read, pick up and read." At once my countenance changed, and I began to think intently whether there might be some sort of children's game in which such a chant is used. But I could not remember having heard of one. I checked the flood of tears and stood up. I interpreted it solely as a divine command to me to open the book and read the first chapter I might find. (VIII, Confessions) The book, as you may well have guess, was the Bible. Augustine picked up up. He read. And in reading the words of Sai…

On Religious Conflict

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I was happy to read a comment left recently by a fellow blogger named Roger who maintains a site entitled Natural History, Creation and Religious Conflicts. He raises a great, if baffling, question: from whence does the vehemence with which fellow Christians attack one another arise? When two people are bound by a common confession, "I believe in Jesus Christ, the only son of God," what is it that leads to often violent and vicious attacks against one another?

This is not a phenomenon limited to Christians and Roger's concluding question which extends to address religion in general is incisive: Is religious faith always fraught with these kinds of difficulties?

Sadly, as another commenter noted, I certainly don't think this is an issue exclusive to the religious domain. People gathered around a shared center - a business, a team, a political party - frequently profess identical viewpoints and adhere to a common core of beliefs, but these are hardly immune from treme…

An Unavoidable Temptation

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...both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief, if they do not hide from themselves and from the truth of their being. Neither can quite escape either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt; for the other, through doubt and in the form of doubt. ~Joseph Ratzinger, Introduction to Christianity When I taught high school, it was not uncommon for students to give voice to their skepticism about religious faith. For many, the question of God's existence remained unsettled. The shadow of doubt cast a deathly pall over their hearts and they suspected that even a shred of doubt, any hint of uncertainty, undermined the whole of religious faith.

Many times, then, did I have recourse to the words above written by a very young Joseph Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI. Doubt, for this redoubtable theologian, acts to bind women and men together. Thus it is not a question of whether one doubts - for we all do - but rather how one lives…

Go and Learn...

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Jesus, in Matthew 9:13, admonishes his listeners:
Go and learn what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have come to call not the righteous but sinners.  This is one of those brilliant "bridges" connecting the Old Testament with the New Testament. From Jesus' lips, we hear a prophetic echo: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.

What is this mercy? Is it being nice? Turning a blind eye? "Living and let live?"

Jesuit moral theologian Father James Keenan describes mercy as, "a willingness to enter into the chaos of others." It is a disposition on the part of a person to go where many fear to tread: the muck and mire and messiness of another's life. This is hardly a polite virtue, a breathless cry of "Mercy me!" Instead, it is a messy virtue requiring a person to get dirty, to get grime under the finger nails, to take on the odor of those in need.

A rather unglamorous virtue.

Nevertheless, it is the one to which we are called…

An Archbishop's Gyre

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From the poet W. B. Yeats:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre the falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, the blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned. 
Grant Gallicho, a reporter for Commonweal, reported July 1st that Archbishop John Nienstedt is "being investigated for 'multiple allegations' of inappropriate sexual conduct with seminarians, priests, and other men." It should be noted immediately that this accusation does not involve minors. Nevertheless, the fact that Archbishop Nienstedt has been a vocal opponent of gay-marriage and, in 2012, reportedly committed $650,000 to support an amendment to the Minnesota state constitution that would have defined marriage as between one man and one woman. This effort, as Gallicho notes in his piece, failed to pass. 
Not surprisingly, the accusation against Nienstedt has elicited the expected tongue-clucks: he …