Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Some of you may know that I have often dreamt of having a tattoo. Yeah, it sounds kind of crazy but there's something about it that really appeals to me. I doubt that I would ever do it but, if I did, this is the design that I'd want on my right arm (on the tricep).

I always joked that once I had muscles I would get a tattoo. Well, I'm well on my way to having fairly well-defined arms but, now that I am in the position to "get inked" I hesitate. Maybe I'll get a bunch of removable AMDG tattoos (like kids have) and wear them when I want to show of "my guns"!

You know, I thought Hurricane Katrina was terrible. But on my visit to Denver this last weekend, I encountered a more terrible disaster: a giant blue bear attacking a convention center.

Monday, April 24, 2006


After a fun-filled weekend with Anne Hall in Denver, I've returned to the quotidian stylings of a hospital chaplain.

I'm so sad that I've less than two weeks left here in Chicago! This has been such a wonderful ministry and I'll miss my Jesuit community, my hospital family, and my patients. There's no such thing as a "normal day" and it is the unpredictability that I find so exciting about this type of ministry.

There's really not much else to report. I'll try to watch the last hour of God or the Girl to see what type of resolutions the three remaining men made during the course of filming.

So that's about it. Things are pretty dull in Ryan world. Special thanks to John Cunniffe who sent me a Jesus Action Figure with Glow-in-the-dark hands. I'm very excited by this gift and it already occupies a place on my bookshelf and it will, no doubt, migrate with me back to Detroit.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

God or the Girl

By this point, many of you have seen the A&E produced series God or the Girl. I've managed to watch all four of the as-yet aired episodes and I plan on taping the fifth installment on Sunday so that, when I return from Denver, I'll have something to watch after dinner on Monday night.

The response to the show has been very interesting. In one ear, I've been attentive to the criticism heaped upon it, most especially by other Jesuits. "It's too much about sex!" [meaning the centrality of choice of being celibate/priest or married] "Where's the spiritual director?" "What about the psychological exam?" These questions are born, to be sure, of our own arduous experience of applying to the Society and the many steps we had to take in order to begin even the application process.

It is true that the centrality of the dichotomy between God and Girl takes center stage. I'm un-impressed with the two American priests and, were I to have been told that I ought to lug an 80-pound cross twenty miles, I'd probably have skipped over the lumber section of Home Depot and headed for Starbucks. Part of the simplification I've taken exception to is that it seems these men (or the producers) are expecting signs and wonders of an epic proportion that are meant to lead these men in making a decision. I can only speak from experience, but it was often the "still small voice" of God speaking in the depths of my soul, in the dark times as well as the light, that led me to where I am today and continues to lead me toward vows.

Nevertheless, the show is not without merit. The harsh criticism I have heard ought to be chided for being less-than-charitable. For I have received numerous emails and had numerous conversations this last week with people who have been captivated by the series. It is raising up for the public to see - albeit at times in an exaggerated manner - something of the struggle people go through in discerning a vocation. In telling these stories, there are many whose own chords are struck and who are moved to wonder "What would it be like if I..." or "I wonder if...." To see them struggle with deciding between two goods, with uncovering what is of value in each one's life, this is undoubtedly a good thing.

No series, I suspect, could capture all the intricacies of vocational discernment. I don't even know that the producers tried. But what excites me is that, insofar as young men and women may begin to think of a vocation to the religious life, this becomes an opportunity for us to witness to them. In my own life, I was attracted to the Society not because I read about them, but because I was taught and befriended by them. If this show creates even the smallest aperture through which we might enter and engage in conversation, then we must seize this opportunity.

Br. Jim Boynton, the vocations director for the Detroit Province, has a great line that he uses when he gives vocation talks. He acknowledges that many of the young men to whom we are speaking will probably go on to get married. But each of them may know someone who embodies the traits we would desire in a good priest or nun. He encourages his listeners to tell that person, to share with him or her that he/she might make a good priest or nun.

Just about every Catholic boy thinks about being a priest at some point in his life. For some, the thought never really leaves. But it's easy to be scared into silence, to quash that thought, especially in a world where it is common to equate priests with pedophiles. But if we as mentors and friends and family members see something special, something that should be shared with God's people, present in someone's life, then we owe it to that person and to the Body of Christ to say something!

Simply put: If you know someone who is thinking about a vocation to religious life, or has gifts that you think would lend him/her in that direction, please tell that person. At the very least you've paid the person an enormous compliment. But perhaps your words will give courage and comfort, will give pause to thought, and will enkindle the imagination and draw the person to wonder what it would be like to serve as a religious.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

As Morning Breaks

There's a line from the "Liturgy of the Hours" that has always impressed me:

"In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine
on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace."

This will be my last post-overnight shift reflection. There have been some overnights that I ached to see the sun rise. Sometimes it felt as though all I could do was to just "hang on" and hope that morning's light would set aright all that was in chaos.

Last night, however, was not such an evening. I fell asleep in a confessional at 11:00 pm (since our office is being renovated, there's only one on-call room which I ceded to the other chaplain) and woke up at 5:45 am. This never happens! No traumas, no deaths, no emergencies. I'm now eating porridge and drinking coffee, writing this, and watching as the sun slowly creeps above the horizon.

In a way, I suspect my overnight experiences prefigure the Easter Vigil. Indeed, my first task yesterday was to lead with the other chaplain a prayer service for 75+ college students who had gathered to support one another as two of their friends struggled to survive after a terrible car accident. We moved these students down into the chapel and led them in prayer. Having been asked to do so, I offered some brief reflections and I pointed out to them that they occupied a space like that of the apostles after the death of Jesus. A terrible and unexpected tragedy had taken place. Lives had changed. A life had been lost. Hearts were battered and broken. And all day Saturday did the apostles not begin to gather in fear and trembling?

So much of our lives are spent in-dwelling the Holy Saturday. We await in the daily grind and the humdrum nature of our existence the flowering forth of God's grace and mercy but, oh!, doesn't it take a long time! Doesn't it seem as though we wait...wait through the silence...wait through the tears...wait....wait...wait. Soon we begin to be afraid and doubts nag us. The tragedy that has befallen us threatens to define us and our hearts strain forward in search of any thread of hope and we spend hours, days, even years - Holy Saturday is not limited to twenty-four hours in the spiritual life! - in this pursuit.

But our faith is that Easter morning will break upon us. Death itself is pierced through and rather than circumscribing or defining the nature of human life, death is itself incorporated into God's saving plan for all of humanity. Death is lifted up and its stinger removed and it becomes but a comma, a brief pause, that separates us from life eternal.

So from my window I can see the parking lot and budding trees. My shift will conclude in a little over an hour. Easter morning has broken. I turn my eyes eastward to greet the new day and my heart is joyful. And I will follow the day's new rays to my car and I shall go to celebrate the Eucharist and though the overnight portion of my training ends today, the learning I take from it will continue to inform my prayer for the rest of my life.

Happy Easter!

Friday, April 14, 2006

Easter Candy

Just another quick update:

I was preparing to go upstairs to make some phone calls when a pleasant representative of the United States Postal Services rang the doorbell. In his hands a box with MY NAME ON IT! My mother remembered me and sent me Easter chocolates from Malley's.

Thank Mom!

Good Friday

One of the problems of moving into a new house is that, invariably, something small and insignificant will go wrong with some new feature of the house. Last night, for instance, the third-floor cooling system refused to work and, at 2:00 am, the thermostat registered that my room stood at a balmy 90-degrees. Since I didn't sleep terribly well, I took a long two-mile walk up to Enstein's Bagels and read the paper and had my coffee. I think I'll settle in and watch "The Passion of the Christ" before heading off to a Taize prayer service at 3:00.

I bring up my walk because along the way I mailed my application to take vows as a member of the Society of Jesus. In fact, I probably passed by six or seven mailboxes as I walked but, each time, I couldn't bring myself to mail the letter. This isn't a sign of horrible doubt or fear...just the realization that I held a letter stating my desire to be a vowed religious.

I would like to share the closing paragraph of my letter. To set its context, I framed my application as I frame much of my prayer: the image of me being in an Irish band with Jesus. It may sound hokey, but it really does nourish my prayer life. The "leader" you will see referred to is none other than Jesus himself.

The leader of the band ascends the stage and the crowd goes quiet. The fiddles and flutes have been tuned and the dancers wait for the music to begin. I raise my accordion and look to the leader who gives me a wink. He knows that I will make mistakes, that I will struggle to keep up; on my part, I have fear that I'll screw everyone up, that I will go off time, that I'll forget the tunes. And yet to see him looking at me assures me that I can be a member of the band and that I do have something to contribute to the music and the dance. The piano is struck and the first notes sound out and soon all the room is a swirl of dancers spinning and shouting and laughing and musicians playing and Guinness being poured. I lose myself in the music, finding that even when I make mistakes I am still at my finest because I am doing what I love - I am helping people to dance and I am playing with the One who summons forth the best of my music - and in that I rejoice. I catch the eye of the leader of the band and for the briefest moment, I glimpse an eternity of playing music. Then it is gone and I return to playing, no longer an accordion player who wishes to be in the band, but a musician who has found his voice in the tradition.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

New Recipe

I just posted my new recipe on

I give Giada credit for its basic recipe, but combining it with vanilla ice cream, honey and chocolate is my own contribution!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Free Weekend

This is my free weekend...the last of the experiment. Next week I work the overnight on Holy Saturday and the following week I shall reunite with my beloved Anne Hall. The following week is the Open House for our new community and, the week after that, I head back to sunny Detroit.

So, since this is my last "obligation free" weekend, it stands to reason that I feel lousy. I managed to dodge the cold that wound its way through our house two months ago and I thought I'd dodged the flu bullet, but I'm not so sure now. I've had a headache for two days and I'm just not feeling too great. I'm hoping to get a good night of sleep and feel better in the morning - Drew, Mike, and Eric are in from Detroit and I'd like to spend the day with them.

I want, before I go to bed, to offer an image that I use when I pray for patients. Sometimes in the silence I find myself imagining myself standing in an ocean of darkness, an ebony night that wraps around me. I hold in my hands the patient for whom I am praying and I commend that patient into the Divine Darkness surrounding me, the living night which consumes death itself. Given my special love for the theology of Karl Rahner, SJ, I pray that he be present with the patient, a guide into the very heart of God. In prayer I submerge my whole self into the inky stillness of God's silent presence and I pray that God guide and draw close to him or her.

I don't claim that Karl bears the sole responsibility, but I will report that both the baby I baptized last week and a 12-year old boy who coded on the table are still alive even when no one thought they would make it. Many aver that Rahner will never be made a saint of the church...and I suspect that it's an honor he would not have wanted. He was and is still a guide into the very life of God's love, a mystic of the every day life, and a theologian who tried to transmit to all the world his own experience of God's love and grace. It is to this man - a teacher of theology and a teacher of prayer - that I commend my patients and, one day, it is next to this man I hope to kneel in prayer for all eternity.

Karl Rahner, Pray for Us!

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Friday's Overnight

I wanted to post at several points during my shift on Friday, but there never was a proper window of time allowing me to do so. Indeed, although I was not wholly occupied with immediate patient needs, I had to be at the ready to spend time with a family whose 1-day old son was/is desperately ill.

There is a great irony in that I wrote how my stance when being present to one mired in suffering strives to be a stance of empathic listening. As the night crawled forward, I heard the plaintive cries of a mother shouting into the whirlwind of suffering and doubt, "Why? Why my baby? WHY? WHY? WHY?" Every fiber of my being strained to find an answer to why her full-term baby languished, his body wracked by a bacterial infection that ravaged his lungs. I wanted nothing more to comfort this young mother, to encourage the young resident who called upon all her skills to regulate the baby's blood pressure and increased the level of oxygen in his blood. I wanted so say something, to fill that void, and yet I took my own advice and stood mute. I prayed, I listened, I held the mother as her body quivered with heaving sobs, and I said nothing.

Fortunately, the baby's blood pressure was stabilized at 6:30 am and I was asked to baptize him. As I did in January, I welcomed this child into the community of Christian believers. And as I stood to the side to fill out the Baptismal certificate, I asked one of the veteran RN's what she said to comfort patients when they searched desperately for answers for their "why" questions. Her gaze penetrated deep into my heart when she said, "Nothing. I say nothing. Sometimes I say 'I don't know' but, more often than not, I say nothing." She then thanked me for not offering empty platitudes to the mother, saying that she appreciated having the "silent presence" of the chaplain rather than someone who tried to offer hollow words to comfort that which could not be assuaged.

I know Mary Ellen English (Shot out to the mother of my music students!) is a frequent reader of this blog. She often writes lovely emails in response to my posts, emails that teach me so much of what kind of service pastoral ministers do provide. I hope that she's not mortified by my mentioning her here, but I would like to solicit from her and from my readers - particularly doctors and nurses - what their thoughts are on the issue. What has helped in crisis situations? What has not helped? What do you see as being of the greatest assistance both to the medical staff and to the family?

If nothing else, this might accomplish something of a dialogue as well as sharing the enormous wisdom your experience has generated.

On another front, I was correct in my assumption that, on Wednesday, the patient would die. I was able to visit her and her family early in the afternoon. Her eyes were vacant and rolled back and her voice was forced. Each inhaled breath rattled in her chest and, on each exhale, a stomach-turning gurgling sound was made, not unlike the sound little kids make when the slurp the last bit of soda from the bottom of a cup. I prayed with them and said goodbye to the patient and, two hours later, I was paged back to the room to pray with them as she slipped away.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame