Monday, March 17, 2014

Saint Patrick's Day

As one who derives a great deal of his identity from his Irish heritage, it may sound like apostasy but: I hate Saint Patrick's Day. Well, hate is a strong word. Strongly dislike? Really struggle with? I don't know where to place it, really, but it seems to me that it falls someplace between getting a filling without anesthesia and watching Miley Cyrus twerk on national television.

I didn't always feel this way. When we were kids, the whole month of March was filled with excitement. We were hauled all over Cleveland to perform at senior centers, parish dinners, and grade schools. On Saint Patrick's Day itself, the fife & drum corp would march into Saint Coleman's Church and then, afterward, we'd march in the parade. Once in high school, I started playing at "paying" gigs and would make a few hundred dollars for a day's worth of music.

I haven't performed on Saint Patrick's Day since...2003, I think. It's not necessarily because I didn't want to play. One year I was on a Native American reservation and, when I lived in New York, I wasn't playing with a regular group. My custom over the past eleven years, oddly enough, has been to go to a Mexican restaurant rather than a pub: they are far less crowded, as you can imagine, on 3/17.

My distaste for the public celebrations is certainly not novel: I think it's so weird to see people clad in outlandish green outfits, complete with shamrock antennae and glasses, walking on the street. And while I'm certainly not opposed to have a couple of pints, I'm shocked with this being a total excuse for people to binge drink as though it were a badge of cultural heritage.

That said, I'm actually playing in a pub for the first time in over a decade. A few musicians from my regular Monday night seisiún asked me to join them from 12-4 at the Green Dragon. It's early enough in the day that it shouldn't be too insane and, perhaps, it'll ease back into this type of performance.

***

I know the blog has been quiet of late. I've been really busy and, to be frank, uninspired to write. There's nothing at all wrong: it's just my focus has been more on metaphysics than on updating! Between school, playing at feiseanna, teaching RCIA, and reading a lot it's hard for me to sit down and write. At least, it's often difficult to "just do it." Sometimes an idea bursts forth, other times it has to be dragged out. It's most certainly a temporary phase!

Sunday, March 09, 2014

How to Really Measure the 'Francis effect'

For those interested, journalist Daniel Burke recently interviewed several of us at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry for an article entitled "How to Really Measure the 'Francis Effect'". I happen to be quoted along with several of my Jesuit brothers. I'm posting the picture from the website -- it's pretty snazzy!

Photo: Webb Chappell for CNN

Thursday, March 06, 2014

A Deeper Response

Without fail, every time I read the "First Principle and Foundation" of the Spiritual Exercises, I feel a jolt of excitement. I have a distinct memory of reading it in some vocation literature back when I was a senior in high school. 
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, to be considered somebody important or a nobody, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to the deepening of God's life in me. 
When things are going well in my life, I have no difficulty in saying, "Yes, everything does draw me closer to God!" When things are going less well, when I'm feeling tired or stressed, it's much harder to say this. Indeed, the things of daily life can become oppressive burdens, huge weights, that seem to keep me from set apart from God.

As many people know, 18 years ago I enrolled in Weight Watchers. One of the great lessons I learned: you can only ever begin a diet from where you are right now

We all know people who say, "I'm going to start going to the gym once I lose ten pounds," or, "I'll quit smoking as soon as tax season, this semester, this season is over." Students do this a lot, "Yeah, I bombed the midterm, but next semester I'm going to do better." These people know, deep down, they are being called to have a more full and abundant life, but they won't allow themselves to start where they are at. So they delay, and delay, and delay.

How many of us delay in our spiritual lives, too? It's easy to put off praying, or going to church, when we put a million excuses between us and what we know we are called to do. Sometimes, I think, we're so afraid of failing or faltering after a few steps that we don't even embark on the spiritual pilgrimage.

This is why Lent is a great season for all of us. Yesterday, marked with ashes, we all expressed outwardly what we know inwardly: we are sinners, and sin makes us look foolish. We're all sinners, and we all look foolish. Sharing this common starting point, we set out together to grow closer with Jesus, on the way of the cross that is foolish to many, yet the way we know will bring us life.

In the great locker room of Lent, none of us looks good without his or her clothes. Oh, we do yeoman's work to cover up our jelly rolls and jiggly, flabby folds. We think that if we start out on this journey, on Lent's program of spiritual exercises, that others will see how out of shape we are. So we must choose: do we hide in the corner and try to conceal ourselves, or do we give in and join in with everyone else? Do we open ourselves to being helped by others, do we offer assistance when called upon?

You can only begin where you are. Even a small choice today, perhaps to pray, "Lord, give me the desire to pray!" may be the first step toward a renewed relationship with the God. Wherever you are, whatever the state of your life, you can begin...now. Always now, forever "now," because God invites us in all things, in our everyday lives.

Lent's gym seems imposing at first but know that you're always welcome to enter into its program of exercise and discipline. You won't see results immediately - this isn't a fad diet! - but over time you'll find yourself stronger, more centered, and more deeply engaged in responding with your whole life to the God who loves you.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Now is a Very Acceptable Time

Throughout the world, the Christian faithful celebrate today the beginning of Lent. Marked with ashes, they embark upon a forty-day journey of prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and conversion as they move toward the horror of Good Friday and the triumph of Easter.

For me, this is an especially meaningful Lenten season. Since October I have been working with an outstanding group of women and men at Saint Cecilia Parish to prepare them for full reception into the Catholic Church. It is a true testimony to the power of the Spirit, and the tenacity human perseverance, that they have come so far in growing in their friendship with Jesus.

It's easy, I reckon, for many of us to start out Lent much as we begin the New Year: with a list of resolutions, of things we're going to give up, of hopes to help re-create ourself. We start with a sizable list and if we "do" one of those things, we cross it from the list and try to preserve our other "resolutions" until, after ten days or so, we find ourselves back to where we started.

Saint Paul, in his Letter to the Corinthians, encourages: Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. This "day of salvation" isn't a once-a-year event, like a sale at Neiman Marcus. This "day" is every single day for those willing to open their ears and hearts and ask, "Well, Lord, where would you like to lead me?"

For those interested in and looking for prayer resources, please allow me to suggest a resource put out by the Society of Jesus. Called Moved to Greater Love, this is a first-ever experience of communal prayer for Jesuits. Across the country, we have all been asked to pray together as one body, as brothers in the Lord. You, too, are invited to join us in prayer.

You can even sign up to receive the daily reflections in your email. I find this helpful as it allows me to pull the daily reflection up on my phone in the morning so that I can pray from the comfort of my bed!

Yes, now is a very acceptable time, not necessarily to try to lose ten pounds or quit smoking, but to come to know the Lord. Rather than fret over the number of times you swore, or how many candy bars you've eaten, such energy could be better dedicated to coming to know the Lord better, to listen more carefully to how God is speaking to your heart, and to enter more deeply into friendship with Jesus.

Monday, March 03, 2014

No Irrelevant Jesus

I apologize for the long absence from writing: it was a hectic February, in all sorts of ways, but I'm glad now to have a few days of Spring Break to re-organize.

For those looking for spiritual reading this Lent, please allow me to suggest Gerhard Lohfink's new No Irrelevant Jesus: On Jesus and the Church Today. I began the book this morning with a commitment to reading one chapter each day. Normally, I devour books such as this but, in attempt to have a more reflective attitude toward the text, I'm going to take it slowly.

The first chapter, provocatively entitled "On Not Taming Jesus," rejects the tendency to reduce Christianity to a message of self-acceptance. In a riff on Matthew 22:39, Lohfink writes
You shall love God,
you shall love your neighbor
and you shall love yourself -
in fact, you shall first of all love yourself,
because otherwise you can love neither God
nor your neighbor. 
The problem with this, Lohfink writes, is that it assumes Jesus addressed his teaching to individuals, to each disciple one-by-one. Instead, he continues, we must remember that Jesus addressed himself to his disciples as a group. The way of life inaugurated by Jesus was a new way of living as community, a new way of being a group of women and men committed to God's Reign on earth. Jesus' way had precious little to do with accommodating to society (something many would-be church reformers seem to have forgotten) but with rethinking what it meant to be a society, a church, gathered in expectation of God's action in history.

In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe the children learn of Aslan that he is "not a tame lion." Aslan doesn't like to be tied down or restricted: his mission, as king of Narnia, demands his freedom to go to and fro. Lohfink, concluding chapter one, similarly decries attempts to "tame" Jesus by making him in our image and likeness in a way that affirms, rather than challenges, ourselves.

If this book unfolds as I expect, this is going to be a rich source for spiritual reading this Lent. I'll do my best to share more  as I read, both to encourage people to take up this text and to process it for myself.