Friday, December 28, 2007


For your consideration, this is the prayer I wrote for my Uncle Brian's swearing-in ceremony. Brian was sworn in as Municipal Judge for Rocky River. The Deborah mentioned is Deborah Comery who was sworn in as Clerk of Courts.

Good and Gracious God,
You have burdened those who would be your disciples
with a daunting task:
Ours is to be a faith that seeks
to do justice for all.

This community recognizes the challenge of faith
and we pray for Deborah and Brian
as they take office this day.

May your Holy Spirit enliven and inspire them
as they seek to interpret and apply the law
in a way that respects and defends the dignity
of all persons.

May the example of your Son, Jesus Christ,
Provide provide Brian and Deborah with
a model of infinite compassion.
May their vocation as ministers of the law
Help to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Heavenly Father, we have heard many times that we
are to love you and our neighbor.
This is both the burden and the blessing of faith:
That in loving and serving the least of
our sisters and brothers, we are loving and serving you.

This community prays that Deborah and Brian
be stewards of justice and mercy.
We pray that your Spirit inspire them,
that your Son accompany them,
and that you strengthen them in their ministry.
Make them disciples in faith,
channels of peace,
and stewards of justice.
Above all, we pray that in all things
that they dedicate themselves
to the greater glory of God.


2007 Liturgical Round-Up

There's a line in the book Farmer Boy where Father says to Almanzo something like "Many good beginnings have a bad ending." I don't know why this line has stuck with me since I heard it in the third grade, but it seems fairly apt as I reflect on the last two liturgies I attended in my home parish.

On Sunday I went to the 12:00 mass. To begin with, it's amazing how a church that is barely 1/3 full during the first reading swells to 3/4 full by the time we begin the liturgy of the Eucharist. I always thought it was a two-for-one deal (Word and Eucharist) but, apparently, one can choose to forgo the Liturgy of the Word and come in at the half-time break (I'm assuming the Nicene Creed and prayers of petition mark the intermission). 

Not that I can blame them, really. As an Irish musician, I'm accustomed to complicated melodies where wild combinations of notes highlight the skills of the musician. Unfortunately I have little vocal acumen and the opening song demanded any who dared chime in to engage in vocal gymnastics. The fast-paced melody and bizarre lyrics left me bereft of wonder and, instead, wondering why I was being subjected to a watered-down North Olmsted version of Captain and Tennille. The Responsorial Psalm was a fine soprano and when I have the strength and volition to climb up into the rafters, I'll join my dulcet tones to hers and I'll feel as though I've participated.  

The homily, it should be said, achieved a feat of its own: it never mentioned the gospel, any reading, or the fact that the next day was Christmas. I think I recognized the charming story that served as its centerpiece from an old volume of Reader's Digest. 

We clapped during the closing hymn. Done well, clapping can be fine. Done in a suburban parish, it's lethal. Perhaps is was the strange acoustics of the church, but people must have experienced a delay in the music depending on where they were sitting: entire sections of people seemed to clap off-time. 

On Christmas Eve I attended Mass with my family. In the gym. It's my fault: I could have lobbied for going into the Church, but when I saw the enormous crowd there I acquiesced and went into the gym-turned-bingo hall-turned church. It was like beholding the Transformers but there were no talking robots and the threat posed was not to the earth, but to my soul and sanity.

We began with a "warm up the crowd" effort at a sing-a-long. The Xeroxed song guides were eminently helpful: decorative pink paper with songs printed out of order. Had it been hot in the gym, they could have been used as fans because no one sang. The congregation just stood there as the guitar player crooned Angels we Have Heard on High. A particular musical zenith was reached when an attempt at singing Silent Night with a counter-hymn was made. I now have greater sympathy for schizophrenics who experience two (or more) dissonant voices at once. Had these voices told me to do something interesting (Lead my country into battle, pace Joan of Arc) I would have appreciated it more. In this case, the voices prompted me to roll my eyes and contemplate how I could escape the gym without touching the floor.

Finally, I realized that the priest took literally the "Holy Sacrifice of the Mass." There was sacrifice, all right. For this priest insisted on singing the Mass. By the time he intoned "Christ Has Died..." I was envious of Jesus' passion and death. His voice soared and plummetted haphazardly and with dizzying irregularity. It was excruciating...indeed, I think I might write "The Dolorous Passion of Ryan" in light of my experience. 

So what have we learned? If you are going to do liturgy, do it right. There are small things that can be done: if you can't sing, don't inflict your voice on others - there is nothing wrong with the spoken word! If you are going to homilize, don't read a story -- unpack the gospel/readings and challenge us. And if you're going to have music, get a vocalist who has a voice that can be reached without the aide of a ladder and select songs that can be apprehended by regular people. 

In light of this, I propose the 12th Commandment (the 11th, Sister Victoria taught us, was MYOB: Mind Your Own Business): Thou Shall Not be Tacky. The gulf between Taste and Tacky is not always readily discernable but I think that a higher degree of attentiveness to small details will enhance the prayer experience of many. I guess my rule of thumb is to ask whether this __________ (insert here) will help OR hinder the experience of prayer. If it's not pretty clear that it will help, then it should be used sparingly or not at all. 

You can tell I'm vacationed out! 

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Ryan, Brian, and Michael

Would it be a Duns Christmas party without music? We three did a bit of a trio that Paul O'Connor, SJ recorded for us (We've fired Drew and moved up to a theologian as our filmographer!).

Ryan and Emma

On Christmas Morning, as the rest of the family opened presents. I contented myself with the love of Jesus. She contented herself with her own drool.

Monday, December 24, 2007


I'd just like to say CONGRATULATIONS to my sister, Torrey Duns, TCRG. Torrey received today the news that she had passed her exam qualifying her to be an Irish dancing teacher.


I posted this on the Tin Whistle blog but I figured I might put it up here.

Drew came into my class on our last day and shot this video. I regret that I didn't have the students play "Silent Night" or "Jingle Bells" but the tune they have here - "The Rattling Bog" - should be familiar to fans of Irish music. I made them play the second part over and over again, getting progressively faster, just for the craic or fun of it.

Many laughed when they heard that there was going to be an actual college course offered on the whistle. These kids aren't quite ready to compete in Ireland, but I trust that each one has a deeper appreciation of their place in the Irish tradition.

MeMe Mania

Both Karen and Joe tagged me in a Christmas Meme. On this Eve of Christmas, I'm glad to respond:

1. Wrapping Paper or Gift Bags

I'm pro gift bag: they are re-usable (so environmentally friendly) and not having to tear through wrapping paper minimizes the risk of paper cuts.

2. Real Tree or Artificial

We're sort of on the fence on this one: I've always had a real tree, but I see the value of the fake tree (Yeah for the environment!). The Duns house now has two decorated trees: the one under which presents are placed is real, the upstairs tree is artificial.

3. When do you put up the tree?

We put our tree up at Ciszek sometime after Thanksgiving. I'm assuming my parents put our trees up around the same time.

4. When do you take the tree down?

It'll probably be down by January 1st. Hopefully I won't be around for it - I hate taking down ornaments because the needles stick my fingers.

5. Do you like eggnog?

No! I drink an obligatory glass each year, but it's like drinking sweetened Crisco.

6. Favorite gift received as a child?

I think my favorite gift remains a set of tin whistles I received almost twenty years ago. They were nickel-plated with blue tops....a range of keys from a tiny G-whistle to a big Bb. I thought they were so beautiful and I felt like a real musician when I set them out in front of me.

7. Do you have a nativity scene.

Yep. Two of them (No, one is not made of real people and the other artificial).

8. Hardest person to buy for?

Me. I'm pretty low-maintenance. I'm one of those people who are happy with socks and underwear.

9. Easiest Person to buy for?

My grandmother. I could give her a rosary made out of small balls of drier lint with a bobby-pin cross and she'd be ecstatic.

10. Worst Christmas gift received?

I think I was a freshman in college when a friend of Grandma Duns sent me a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toiletry set. I kept the tissues and gave away the bubble-bath.

11. Mail or email Christmas Cards?

If I sent them, they'd be by hand-delivered courier.

12. Favorite Christmas Movie?

A Christmas Story and, though it is not an explicitly Christmas movie, it does seem to appear around this time of year: The Sound of Music

13. When do you start shopping for Christmas?

Early in December.

14. Have you ever recycled a Christmas present?

No. Most people don't want tin whistles or books about Karl Rahner.

15. Favorite thing to eat at Christmas?

There are sweet rolls we buy at Fragipanne's Bakery. They are delicious.

16. Clear lights or colored lights on the tree?

Clear. No twinkling. No special messages. Just clear and simple.

17. Favorite Christmas Song

O Holy Night. I think the imagery of a weary world aching for its savior speaks to the power of the Incarnation.

18. Travel for Christmas or stay home?

Stay home. My whole family lives in Cleveland.

19. Can you name all of Santa's reindeer?


20. Angel on the tree top or a star.


21. Open presents Christmas Eve or Christmas morning?

Good question. Traditionally we opened on the morning but last year we opened on Christmas Eve.

22. Most annoying thing about this time of year?

24-hour Christmas music. Also, listening to Ann Curry (Today show, which I am watching now) remind us OVER and OVER that there is one more shopping day left.

23. What I love most about Christmas:

I love gathering with my entire family.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Baby Talk

Well, I'm home for the holidays. 

As is my custom, I stay over at my grandmother's house where I get loads of peace and quiet and my own television (Food Network is on channel 40). This morning I woke up, showered, picked up my bagel and coffee (Gingerbread brew, in case you were wondering) and came home. My niece Emma stayed the night with Grandma and Grandpa Duns so she was in her bouncy-activity-lead-free-walking-seat in the middle of the kitchen when I arrived.

What is it about babies that makes adults lose their speech capacities and begin to speak utter gibberish? As I type this my sister Hagan is making the most ridiculous noises and asking questions such as "Who's got your nose? Who's got your nose?" in a variety of high-pitched catterwallings. This child is FOUR MONTHS OLD! Without a sense of Object Permanence (Hooray for Psych 101) every time she sees me its like I'm born anew in her eyes. So I highly doubt that she takes any cognizance of the fact that someone has purported to steal her nose. 

I say this all in jest. I think it's hysterical to watch how people talk to babies. Granted, I'd be more inclined to coax the baby to say "Rahner" or "Heidegger" or "Transubstantiation" than "ba-ba" or "nook-nook" but that should come as no shock. 

Emma is now sitting in my lap and I've realized that at 4 months she has a lot more hair than I do. I'm sort of jealous. She's wearing a floral onesie (one-z? One piece thing) and she smells good. 

So that's my first Cleveland update. I'm fighting off a cold - I'm bordering on it, tilting toward being sick, but I'm fighting heartily - so I'm going to go and relax with my book ("The Holy Sinner" by Thomas Mann) and try to stay well.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Vocation Video

As many of you are aware, the Jesuits have of late been putting various vocation videos up on YouTube. Drew Marquard, SJ, shot many of the interviews over the Summer and they've now been edited and posted online.

I think this represents a good and creative step in vocation promotion. Below is a video offering Vocation Advice:

Perhaps by hearing - and now seeing - the ways that other men have discerned a vocation, those discerning how God is calling to them will find greater clarity.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Vocation Story

I submit for your reading pleasure this link to a story written by Paris Wolfe, a writer for the Saint Ignatius Magazine. It's a very fine piece about seven recent alums of St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland who have recently entered the Society of Jesus. It's a .pdf file so you'll have to download it. The stories are interesting and the pictures are good, too. Just follow the link to ThinkJesuit. Scroll down the main page and you'll see it!

I should mention that since its publication there have been two more alums from Ignatius to enter the Society: Andrij Hlabse and Lorenzo Herman entered the novitiate in August, 2007. That brings us to NINE recent alums....not too shabby!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Over the Hump

Well it's been a long time in coming: the days of leisure are now upon me! I finished my last paper on Friday and, since then, I have:

-gone to the movies to see "The Mist"
-visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art
-napped a lot
-begun reading a book I have to review for the Heythrop Journal

It's really amazing that the semester is over. It's not that it necessarily went very quickly, but now that it's over there's only one week until Christmas. I feel as though I've been rushed these last few weeks and I'm sort of sad that I haven't had time to savor more of the holiday spirit.

I guess I'll have to do a lot of 'savoring' when I get home on Thursday.

On a Jesuit-Formation note: do you realize that I'm now 1/2 way through my First Studies program? Three years seemed like a long time when I began but now, 50% of the way through, I realize how little time it is. I feel like I've grown by leaps and bounds these last semesters and I feel academically and spiritually stronger than ever.

So that's my little update for today. Although my papers are finished, I still have two classes to attend...including one later this afternoon.

There've been few posts these last few weeks and I figure that's because nothing particularly interesting has happened. Rest assured: my family is, at the very least, interesting and I'm certain there will be loads of stories (some sure to elicit smiles, some sure to draw winces, the majority sure to lead to tears and wailing).

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Dinner Party

The last two days have been spent largely on a dinner party I hosted here at Ciszek. Invtied guests included several Jesuits from America House and two faculty members from Fordham.

On the menu, in case you're curious:

Bacon and Spinach Wrapped Scallops
An assortment of cheeses and crackers
A gorgeous split-pea soup
Shepherd's Pie
Fresh Brown Bread
Pecan Pie with Spiced Whipped Cream (Not really in keeping with the Irish theme, but it was tasty and I wanted to use pecans we had left over from Thanksgiving).

This last week has been very, very busy. I'm heading into the home-stretch and have but one small paper to write sometime this week. With any luck, I'll have time to post more often between now and Christmas in order to make up for my relative absence these past few weeks.

One question for readers: any suggestions about a new series I might watch? As a Jesuit, I've watched Rome, Oz, the Sopranos, Smallville, Heros, and Top Chef. I'm looking for a new addictive pleasure but haven't seen anything that really jumps out at me. Thoughts?

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Shadow of the Cross

Readers of my blog are familiar with my sharing, on occasion, something of my own spiritual journey as a young Jesuit. There have been times that I offer reflections on the consolation of ministry and prayer and, to be sure, there are times I give a glimpse into my own struggles. Of late I have been wrestling with a particularly dark and weighty issue that has occupied an enormous amount of my spiritual energy.

Each year during Advent, our eyes turn toward the coming of the Savior with with hope and eager anticipation. Children scamper about and write Christmas list and adults shop and clean frantically. In our good moments, we have a chance to gather with one another and share memories of holidays past - old friends and loved ones now dead - and create memories we will treasure into the future. I, for one, am very excited to spend Christmas this year with my new niece Emma and it brings me great joy to imagine her wonder at the holiday seasons to come.

So it is with great difficulty that I write of an icy hand that has gripped my heart these past few weeks. In fact, sometimes when I think of Christmas it makes me want to cry out in pain and in great anguish. I grit my teeth and pray for greater strength, but it seems to be of no avail. The darkness has spread itself wider and more thoroughly than anything I could ever have imagined. Were I a poet I would write verse to rival even St. John of the Cross.

It is not that I doubt the existence of God or that I have difficulty with my life as a Jesuit. It is not the poignant memories of deceased loved ones or friends that I've not spoken with in many years. It's not even the fact that December 11th is the last airing of Emeril's show on FoodTV before it gets canceled.

No, the shadow of the cross is thrown much longer and far darker than any of these.

You see, my room at La Casa Hagan has been taken over my the O'Malley family.

Several weeks ago, you may recall, I was visited by my aunt and uncle Cheryl and Terry O'Malley. The first members of my family to visit me in New York, they stayed here for two nights and we did have a lovely weekend together. Apart from Cheryl's mind-numbingly embarrassing stunt at the Fordham bookstore where she feigned tripping in order to get a discount on a hooded sweatshirt, it was a great visit.

What I did not report is that for several weeks they have been living in MY ROOM at my Grandma Hagan's house. Yes, MY ROOM. Sleeping in my bed, watching my tv, and putting their books in my closet. Their children have also colonized the other bedrooms, leaving me with few options for where I'll stay this Christmas.

So my struggle? I'm going to be bloody homeless for the holidays.

"Ryan," you might say, "why don't you stay at your ancestral family home in North Olmsted?"

Well, let me provide some reasons:

1. Hagan painted my old room pink when she moved in. I could do with a light chartreuse, Pepto-Bismal pink is not to my liking.

2. Who will do my laundry? True, Grandma Hagan obsessively unplugs every electrical appliance in the house in order to save energy and hasn't used the furnace in seven years but she does one great load of laundry - it goes down dirty and appears several hours later clean and freshly ironed. At my house, I'd probably get a bill for laundry service before I saw my clothes again.

3. What car would I use? To stay at my house means fighting for someone's vehicle. Apart from the Coumadin Clinic and the occasional run to someone's wake or funeral, my Grandma's car is pretty much free for me to use. And its new. And it has a rear spoiler, which is pretty snazzy.

The list could go on and on, but I'll stop with these three (for now).

So it has appeared that, with no space at the Inn, I'd either stay at my house or I'd check into the West Side Catholic Center for two weeks.

Fortunately, the dark night has been pierced by a growing ray of hope: their bid for a new house has been accepted and with the paperwork moving quickly, it appears that the O'Malleys will vacate the premises just in time for my arrival. This is, of course, Advent and not Lent and I can't really endure TWO penitential seasons in one year and without my regular room at Grandma's house, I don't know how I'd face the coming weeks.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I'd Lather Not

I'm not a big spender, really. Apart from dining out (my favorite activity) I don't really spend very much money (just look at the way I'm dressed!).

Today, however, is one of those rare days that I splurged on a purchase. In need of shaving cream and deodorant, I walked over to a local Rite Aide and picked up some toiletries. As I wandered about the store, my eyes fell upon a wondrous invention: the ConAir Gel & Lather Heating System. All you have to do is drop in your can of shaving gel/cream and, after a few minutes, it's nice and hot! With the prospect of greater shaving comfort tantalizing me for only $20.00, I surrendered to my pleasure seeking nature and bought it.

Well, let me tell you: I will shave every day now. To be sure, the set up of the apparatus tested my technical ability. But the end result was worth it - my shaving gel was WARM! Hot, really, and perhaps I'll lower the temperature for the next time.

I'm hoping that this purchase will get the use I envision....unlike TaeBo tapes, a food dehydrator, Epil-Stop hair remover (I had to see if it worked. It doesn't.), and some ab machine. Granted, I bought all of these things before I entered the Jesuits so now with a restricted budget, I do have to be more judicious in my spending.

I'm glad the weekend is over, by the way. After leading a team in preparing Thanksgiving dinner for 40 people, I arose at 3:50 am on Friday and took a 6:00 am flight to Chicago where I played for the Mid-American Oireachtas. Three days of playing is rough going and I'm only today back to some semblance of normalcy. (I say this realizing that I bought a shaving cream heater a few hours ago. Normal???)

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tin Whistle Videos

Due to a technical snafu, I have to re-load all of the "Fordham University's Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle" videos. I hope to have this completed by next weekend.

Thanks for your patience!


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Some People Will Do Anything for a Discount

My Aunt Cheryl and Uncle Terry (O'Malley) arrived here for a visit yesterday. It's great to have guests and it's the first time that members of my family have visited Ciszek Hall.

I'm certainly proud of Fordham University and it was my great pleasure to give my aunt and uncle a tour of the campus. I rehearsed the history of some of the buildings and then, toward the end of our tour, we made the obligatory stop at the bookstore. Cheryl busied herself with shopping for sweatpants (for Sarah) and a hooded sweatshirt (for Bridgid). As anyone knows, such paraphernalia can be quite expensive.

So as we were walking to the checkout counter, I had an uneasy feeling that Cheryl was crafting an intricate plan to save money on her purchase. Would she claim that was purchasing these items for poor starving children? Would she suggest to the cashier that as the mother of two sons who graduated from a Jesuit high school or as the aunt of a Jesuit that she deserved some reduction in price?

No, Cheryl's ploy was much darker. Indeed, as we approached the counter I stepped forward, eying several candy bars and thinking that I might like to avail myself of a York Peppermint Patty. I was so excited about the prospect of a minty treat, however, that I momentarily forgot that Cheryl was plotting - and now enacting - her devious scheme.

So while my attention was diverted and with only six feet separating her from the cashier, Cheryl "trips" over some unseen thing and falls face first to the ground. Splayed out like a bear-skin rug, the eyes of all turned toward her. Moaning softly about her pains and the injury done to her "bad knee" she grasped the arm of her bemused husband and stood up. Then with a limp even Tiny Tim couldn't emulate she hobbled toward the counter and began the transaction. The wily Cheryl said nothing - her fall was so perfect, so calculated, so complete that she knew a discount awaited her. As she scanned the sweatshirt, the properly unnerved cashier made eye-contact with Cheryl and informed her that she'd taken an extra 20% off of the purchase, all on account of Cheryl's fall. Cheryl thanked her, of course, and then as we left the bookstore I could hear her mutter something about a lawsuit and owning the university in light of this tragedy.

The rest of the evening was spent listening to her recount the sorrows of the day. What began as a simple trip-and-fall soon evolved into an epic saga akin to the Fall of the Berlin Wall. God knows that by the end of the night she was beginning to craft a ballad or epic poem like Beowulf to capture the sheer enormity of the event.

So that was day one. I just sent them into the city where they will meet a friend for brunch and I'll try to catch up with them this afternoon. It was so gratifying to see her limp down Fordham road, bravely walking on her maimed and crippled knee, barely complaining to anyone. But her silent suffering must not go unnoticed, hence my obligation to post about her trials. For Cheryl is a true martyr (to saving money) and her story must be told, her example must be followed by all those wishing to realize in this lifetime a discount for an overpriced hooded sweatshirt.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Traditional Irish Music Lessons

I just wanted to take a moment to plug the new website for Brian Holleran's (my soon-to-be brother-in-law) music school

Located in Cleveland, Ohio this music school promises to be a great asset to Irish culture in the area. With instruction available on tin whistle, flute, and uilleann pipes and, starting in 2008, on the fiddle, banjo, and concertina this school of traditional Irish music will help to promote Irish music and culture in Cleveland.

If you are interested in learning more, follow the link above or visit the Ciunas myspace page. As any reader of my blog knows, Irish music has been an integral part of my life's journey and I'm proud to know that a member of my family will be sharing his deep love of his culture with another generation of musicians who will, I pray, benefit as much as I have in being a part of traditional Irish music.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Soul Provider

Several weeks ago I received a copy of Father Edward L. Beck's new book Soul Provider. Based on the dust jacket's adulations - Andrew Greeley, Diane Sawyer, and Anne Lamont - I figured it'd be at the very least an accessible book on prayer. Fortunately for me, I found it not only accessible but also deeply moving.

Structured around the Ladder of Divine Ascent written by the sixth-century monk John Climacus, Soul Provider invites the reader to embark upon a spiritual pilgrimage. The book is broken up into thirty chapters, fourteen corresponding to vices that we need to overcome (anger, malice, falsehood --- a purgative path) and sixteen virtues we ought to acquire (Simplicity, humility, discernment -- an illuminative path) culminating in a deep union with God in love.

What I found helpful was both the length of each chapter - about ten pages each, making for quick reading - and the questions at the end of each chapter. These questions helped to spur my own personal prayer as I worked through the book and I found myself processing ever more deeply the insights I gained from my reading as I meditated on his reflection questions. And in using narratives drawn from his own experience, I found it very easy to see the ways in which the spiritual wisdom acquired through these pages became incarnate in my own life.

I have a deep mistrust of "do it yourself" spirituality books, usually because I find them pretty flaky. This book does not promise instant enlightenment or wisdom. What it does offer is a companion for the journey each of us must make, one rung at a time. It is a painful, arduous journey (one not able to be covered in 30 days or even 30 chapters!) but I'd suggest this book as a very fine start on your pilgrimage.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Hurts So Good

As many readers know, over the past few years I have gradually become more and more engaged in what is commonly known as "working out." I have come to enjoy going to the gym and now that Drew has built a good home gym in the house, I enjoy it even more (since I don't have to walk outside in the cold to get to Fordham's gym).

So this week we embarked upon a whole new workout program. And let me say this: I am in pain! My legs are killing me and, after today's chest workout, I expect that tomorrow is going going to be a painful day. The irony is that I'm actually glad to feel sore: it means that the whole program is working!

I've been meaning to post all week, but I've been extraordinarily busy. I've finished two papers this week (just two more to go - one 15-20 page, one 10-page) and I've been refining a music primer that I'm writing. I also wrote an encyclopedia entry on "Judith" from the Book of Judith (apocryphal story in the Hebrew Bible. She decapitated Holofernes) and I'm now editing that for submission. Also this week I received the proofs of my piece "Being in the Face of Nameless Mystery: Levinas and the Trace of Doctrine" which will appear in the Heythrop Journal this January (pages 97-109, if you want to find it when it comes out!!). It's really cool to see my name as "Ryan G. Duns, SJ" in print!

This weekend I'm going to Denver overnight. I have to work on a presentation today for my class next Thursday and get a truck load of reading done. But otherwise I'm pretty calm and looking forward to a fairly leisurely rest of the semester. With any luck, something interesting will happen that will prompt me to post more often!

By the by, be sure to check out Jesuit Recipes. Loretta has recently posted several new recipes and I'm sure you'd all be well counseled to try them out. I hope to post a delicious chocolate chip cookie recipe in the near future - I've been experimenting here at the house and I've found a recipe that appears to meet near-universal acclaim.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

FLY Me to the Moon

So a quick tale about my day:

Wednesdays have become a packed day for me. I work out in the morning, shower, and then go to class from 11:00-1:00. I eat a piece of pizza at 1:15, go to the library for a little while, then I head over to Fordham Prep where I'm teaching the tin whistle as an after-school program.

So, in keeping with my policy of wearing clerical attire when teaching, I wear the whole outfit to class, too. And to the pizza shop. And to the library. Gist of the whole story: I'm looking very priestly on Wednesdays.

So at 2:20 this afternoon, I packed up my computer and, before I left the library, I made a pit stop to use the restroom.

You'll be glad to know that nothing out of the ordinary happened.

Until, that is, I tore the zipper mechanism off of my pants (I'll blame shoddy construction over my strength...although I did work out this morning). And, to make matters worse, the zipper teeth didn't connect so now I'm walking about with my fly completely open and I've not very many options because I have barely fifteen minutes to get to the Prep and meet the students.

I don't know about you, but I'm nervous when I see ANYONE with his fly undone. And in this day and age I reckon I was just one student's complaint away from an appearance on Dateline NBC.

Fortunately, I had on my person one of my "effects of a dead Jesuit", namely a black sweater vest. Figuring it was the best I could do, I tied it around my waist and positioned it in a shabby-chic sort of way that conveyed either a sense of studied unkemptness OR a hidden desire to look like Adam with a fig leaf.

Fortunately for me, I made it through teaching without a hitch and I promptly discarded the offending pants upon my arrival at home.

So that's my amusing narrative for the day.

As for amusing pictures:

My father - Big Bob Duns - finally ordered something other than cigars off of the internet. Grandpa Duns actually bought my niece her Halloween costume. What will Emma be this year? A bunny rabbit? A fairy princess? Padma from Top Chef?

Surprisingly, none of the above.

Because my niece will be going as a Whoopie Cushion.

Now isn't that a gas?

Thursday, October 18, 2007

28 Years

Although this will be posted a bit before midnight, I am writing this as my birthday post. As many of you know, I was born on October 19th, 1979. It also happens to be the Feast of the North American Martyrs celebrating the 17th century Jesuits and Companions martyred by the Iroquois. Since it's my birthday, my parents think that the Feast of the North American Martyrs applies to them, too.

I often wonder what my parents thought 28 years ago when they held me for the first time. What hopes did they have? What dreams? Fears? Probably the same hopes/dreams/fears that my brother is feeling over his daughter Emma. Probably the same hopes/dreams/fears that I felt when I held Emma. But the joy of parenthood - or being an uncle, in my case - is to respond to the vocation to play a formative role in the life of a new creation.

I don't yet know how I'm going to celebrate. I'll work out in the morning and then translate some German. Then off to the library to work on some research and then, hopefully, I'll watch an episode of Heroes. After that it's dinner and then into Manhattan for an enjoyable evening.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Love at First Bite

It is with great pleasure that I direct your attention to Love at First Bite - a film by Drew Marquard, SJ.

The film is being featured on and you can register to vote for his film.

Check it out!

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Can you believe?

Can you believe that it is 4:00 am and the temperature outside is 79-degrees Fahrenheit? It's October 10th, after all, and I'm really quite ready for autumn temperatures to roll in. I'm not particularly fond of the heat and, since I'm up at 4:00 am, it goes without saying that this weather is preventing me from sleeping.

Since returning, I've written several posts *about* me but I've not had much that draws on much of the internal grist that I find helpful to write about. Since I'm awake, lucid, and hopeful that writing will make me sleepy I figure that I can write a bit about my internal life a bit.

It may come as a surprise for some that I found last year rather difficult. No, not spiritually or socially but, interestingly, academically. And no, it's not because I found the courses too rigorous or demanding. Instead, I was bored for almost the entire year. The philosophy courses I took were terribly dry and uninteresting and were not challenging. The saving grace of the year was the fact that I managed to take two phenomenal theology courses, one of which produced the paper that will be published this January.

It is easy to become overly romantic about the catch-phrase "Jesuit Mission." We can think of intrepid priests and brothers blazing trails through the Congo or visiting China. We can imagine scientists or scholars or teachers. We can envisage pastors and counselors. But can we imagine lethally bored graduate students? If you have a hard time imagining a bored Jesuit, then you can imagine how hard it is to be a bored Jesuit.

So it's been a welcome relief this year to find myself enrolled in courses that are very stimulating. Each of my four courses is helping me to think through a number of philosophical and theological issues and I'm amazed at the connections I am able to make between the subjects. Who'd have thought that one could range in a web of thought from Virtue Ethics to Hegel to Aesthetics?

In some ways, I'm finding a new cross to bear: I find many students of the other students to be boring. This is not to say that they aren't smart or engaged! Indeed, they often know much more on the subjects than I do. Nevertheless, I'm usually left cold by the points they raise in class. Often enough it's as though they are jockeying for profundity, hoping to make a good impression on the professor by asking (what seem to me) utterly pointless questions in a psuedo-erudite manner. It is perhaps a mark of my own immaturity but I often pose my father's litmus test on the points they raise. If a class comment or observation doesn't rank high on the "So What?" scale, I must admit that I tune that person out and begin thinking about more pleasant things, like dancing chimpanzees (Thanks Joe):

Let it never be said that graduate studies necessarily must drive the whimsy from a person!

Now don't read what I've written and assume that I'm in some spiritual crisis or having angst. I'm not. This blog is as much therapeutic for me as it is informative to others, so I'm merely offering a bit of a glimpse into my internal state.

I guess at the core is this: I can do this because I pray. I can work my way through readings, often inane class discussions, papers, deadlines, and such only because I feel called to do so through prayer. If I didn't experience such a call, if I didn't realize that this prayer had led me into something of an academic asceticism, then I'd be terribly unhappy. It is because I prayed last year that I found some of the courses bearable and it is because I pray that I find many otherwise insufferable people to be at least semi-bearable (If that sounds harsh, it is: I do not suffer fools gladly and it often takes an enormous amount of self-restraint to refrain from offering to them a few observations of my own).

So that's a glimpse into the academic state of affairs. I have been invited to do a book review for the Heythrop Journal and I'm also preparing a paper abstract for a conference this summer. I also have two independent projects in the works: I'm reading Totality and Infinity with a member of the philosophy department and I'm writing the course text for the "Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle" course that I'm hoping to submit for publication.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Three More Pictures

My mom just sent me three more pictures of Emma:

Books, not Babies

As you can probably tell, I don't have the most *natural* baby-holding ability. I think it's because I'm used to holding books, or whisks, or accordions!

So here's Emma - my baby niece. My mom brought her to the Youngstown Feis yesterday and snapped this pictures. Hopefully my mom will send some pictures of her in her non-bundled outfit (she is cute underneath all of those layers!) but since the arena we were in yesterday was chilly, it was better to keep her warm.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Catching Up

Well, as you can see by my inability to post in a regular manner, I've been pretty busy these last few weeks. Between the start of school, a number of social activities, a lot of writing, nearly severing my thumb, and falling off of a ball as I tried to pray...well, I've been busy.

This weekend I'm heading off to Youngstown and Pittsburgh for their two feiseanna. My mom is going to bring my niece Emma on Sunday, so if I remember to bring my camera I'll be sure to take a lot of pictures.

It's been funny: there's really been nothing for me to comment on, nor has there been any internal motivation to write anything. Nothing particularly funny, or sad, or irritating has struck me. Which means only to say that I've been very busy, and extremely peaceful, so I've not needed to extrovert on these pages in order to process any angst.

It's like the year-round "Theater of the Absurd" that is so often my life has gone on a hiatus! Tragic, so tragic.

The minute I get some pictures of me and the baby, I'll be sure to put them up!

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Cut Above

It is with a great deal of pain that I type this. Agony, really, so I shall be short. In addition to the bruised ribs that I earned the other night while praying (for those of you who didn't read the post below, I engage in full-contact prayer) I have yet another new injury.

You see, several weeks ago I ordered a beautiful set of Calphalon knives. Gorgeous blades, really, and while they certainly aren't executive chef quality they are still an enormous improvement over our other utensils.

So I was preparing supper last night when, in a fit of magnanimity, I decided to slice some apples for the baked Brie I had prepared. In the midst of slicing (oh so easily, thanks to the knife) I basically removed a really good portion of my thumb. I can only imagine how much more exponentially painful it would have been had I used a dull knife so, I reckon I'm a mite bit lucky that I had a lovely new knife to take a nice hunk of skin off of my finger.

Moral of the story: Calphalon knives are excellent. Should you desire to: 1. Chop your vegetables well; 2. Slice easily through large hunks of meat; or 3. Amputate a limb easily, I'd suggest buying a set.

So that's it for now. I should have gotten stitches (it bled for a long time) but I'm stubborn and didn't want to be bothered. It'll be fine in a week or so, I'd bet, so no worries. It just means that I'll not be playing "Where is Thumb-kin" any time soon...unless I want to have a disfigured Thumbkin (Here I am! Here I am! How are you today, sir? Very well I thank you, run away, run away).

Oh Lord - I've regressed to pre-school.

Actually, I never got much beyond it.


Thursday, September 20, 2007

Sitting in the Rec Room

I write this from the Rec Room where my Rector - Father Vincent Sullivan, SJ - is learning how to upload material to Blogger.

In his honor, I include this video that Drew Marquard, SJ, has created as a contribution to

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Off the Ball

Several months ago I purchased a physio ball. You know the kind: those HUGE balls that kids love to kick around and adults love to buy because it seems like a cool, and harmless, piece of workout equipment. Anyway, I really enjoyed using it for stretching and for my abs, so when I returned to the Bronx I brought my ball with me.

Well, I had some time in between dinner and watching a movie so I thought I'd go to my room to pray. In the still silence of my room, I had a great idea: "Boy Ryan, wouldn't it be cool to pray on the ball? You could balance yourself on it like some Zen-master and look like Yoda as you commune with God." And so I alighted upon the ball, drawing my legs up underneath me and I sat triumphantly on the ball for several moments. Assured of my stability, I closed my eyes and tried to relax.

That seems to have been my mistake. For upon relaxing, the ball shifted and I began to wobble to-and-fro upon it. With my legs pinned beneath me, I had little chance to break my fall as I toppled over and fell onto my metal garbage can. I now have a nice little bruise on the left-side of my rib cage and my ego is a bit bruised.

Additionally, I did continue praying throughout the affair. "Oh God, you've got to be kidding me." "Oh God, I can't move my feet." "Oh God, don't let me break anything think." "Thank God my ribs aren't broken." "Thank God no one saw me." "Oh God, I'm an idiot."

So Zen-Master Yoda I am not. From now on, when I feel daring I'll say the rosary as I walk down Fordham Road. Otherwise, I'm going to stay seated.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Semester Plans

It's hard to believe that I've been back in NYC for nearly a month and that classes are now entering their third week. Time seems to fly by so quickly and I'm ashamed that I've not been more vigilant about posting updates on the blog. It just seems as though I've not been doing anything blog-worthy!

I do want to share, however, some of the ministry opportunities that I'm going to active in this semester. First, I am again teaching the high-powered and rigorous "Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle" course here at Fordham. I've also been asked to offer the course at Fordham Prep and I'll meet with the principal on Wednesday to discuss what shape that will take.

I am particularly excited about a new venture entitled "Faces of Catholicism." As I described it in an email

Faces of Catholicism" will be a bi-weekly group of students who will
attend a diverse array of liturgies throughout New York City. Whether
we celebrate the Eucharist with Vietnamese immigrants,
African-Americans in Harlem, the eclectic mix of parishioners at
Xavier on 16th street, an impoverished parish in the Bronx or a
wealthy parish on Park Avenue, our goal for the group is threefold.
First, we want to experience the various ways in which the Church is
incarnated in the lives and meets the needs of its congregants.
Second, following each liturgy there will be a meal where the students
will reflect on the particular face of Catholicism witnessed. Third,
it is hoped that a heightened awareness of the diversity and richness
of parish life will animate the each student's own faith life, leading
each to active participation in the life of his or her own parish.

Finally, and this is directed more toward anyone at or around Fordham, we are planning to have an Irish Music concert on October 19th. Now for those of you not aware, October 19th has two points for which it is noteworthy: it is the Feast of the North American Martyrs AND it is my Birthday. I'll post concert details very soon and I'll probably ask Drew to videotape it and I'll put clips up here.

I'm going to see "The Lion King" tonight. I am really excited to see this show and I'll post a bit about it tomorrow or Monday.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New Link

Before I head off to the gym, I wanted to alert readers to the following blog:

Jesuit Tertianship in the Phillippines

maintained by Father Ray Guiao, SJ, an alumnus of and teacher at my own Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio.

Of this experience he writes:

Lots of people ask me, "What exactly are you going to the Philippines for?" My answer to them is, "I'll be doing my Jesuit Tertianship there." And after scratching their heads, they go ahead and ask, "What's Jesuit tertianship?" Here's a simple explanation.

Jesuit tertianship is the final phase of training for a Jesuit. It is a program that usually lasts seven to nine months, and it is a requirement for all Jesuits (priests and brothers) prior to pronouncing final vows in the Society of Jesus. There are currently about 27 Jesuit tertianship programs all over the world for Jesuits who are invited to this final phase of training. While a few tertianship programs exist in the U.S., I very much wanted to take this opportunity to do my tertianship in the land of my Filipino origins, for reasons which I will explain in various postings on this blog.

For us Jesuits, tertianship is a time of intensive reflection and renewal on our lives as a members of the Society of Jesus -- a kind of "spiritual sabbatical." The centerpiece of any Jesuit tertianship program is the Spiritual Exercises, otherwise known as the 30-day retreat. This will take place in the month of November in my tertianship program. Other activities include studying the various foundational documents of the Society of Jesus, as well as the rich history of the Society of Jesus. We also do various ministerial projects during tertianship -- a total of three projects in this particular program, including work with the poor and marginalized and spiritual and sacramental ministry.

I'll be sure to detail my experiences in the postings on this blog. Thanks for your interest in my progress, and most of all, thanks for your prayers on my behalf! Be assured of my own for you!

Insofar as my blog is written from the perspective of a man in the early stages of Jesuit formation, it is inherently limited to my four years of Jesuit life. It should be interesting, therefore, to have an opportunity to see through the eyes of one in the Society for over twenty years.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Forthcoming Publication

I was just informed that my article "Being in the Face of Nameless Mystery: Levinas and the Trace of Doctrine" has been accepted into the January 2008 issue of the Heythrop Journal. The referee wrote of the article

This is an erudite and clearly thought out defense of Karl Rahner's doctrine of God against the charge of reduction or assimilation of the transcendence of God into the experience by man of his own finitude, using cleverly Levinas' distinction of the saying, said, and unsaying to defend a limited capacity to speak about the wholly 'Other' while recognizing at the same time the limits of our conceptual tools. The author shows real potential for the future.

This is really exciting news for me and I really wanted to share it with my readers. It's a great affirmation to know that others appreciate your theological reflection, particularly when engaging in theological reflection is what one wants to do with his life!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Is it time for school yet?

Before I head off to Mass, I thought I'd post a quick update. Since I've not really done anything of note this last week - read a few books, bought an exercise ball, napped - there's not been much to blog about. With classes resuming on Wednesday, however, I expect to have more to kvetch about within the next week!

I'm having a little dinner get-together for some friends tonight. On the menu:

Mixed greens salad with bleu cheese crumbles and cranberries
Four-Cheese Orzo with Fresh Basil
Lemon-Pepper Chicken with gravy served over grilled herbed-polenta
Garlic/Spinach/Parmesan stuffed Portobello mushrooms

and, for dessert, we have caramel brownies a la mode.

It's not necessarily a spectacular meal, but I'm hoping for it to be fun and tasty. I found some frozen imitation crab meat that I'd like to turn into some sort of appetizer dip, but that's only if I can find the time.

While we're on the topic of recipes, let me encourage one and all to check out JesuitRecipes.
An approved ministry of the SMMSJ (Society of Mothers of Members of the Society of Jesus) this site has been updated quite a few times recently and I think many will be pleased with the selection of recipes available.

I should like to mention, while I'm bringing folks up to speed, that they can expect the Intermediate Series for Fordham's Introduction to the Irish Tin Whistle Course
within the next week for so. We taped three of them on Thursday and, when Drew returns from camping, he'll edit them and have them posted online. These videos are less "technical instruction" and more "affective encouragement" about how one takes the notes of the tune and transforms them into music.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I make no apologies: I am an indoor Jesuit. I certainly appreciate nature and I like to spend time outside, but I hate direct sunlight and I hate being dirty. I don't care much for bugs or creatures and the prospect of poison ivy and being mauled by a bear keep me from the woods!

So it is odd that I do have a fondness for Omena, Michigan. Omena, as some of you are aware, is where many Jesuits in the Chicago and Detroit provinces spend two weeks each summer for vacation. It is true that up until regency men are required to attend, but it does seem that the vast majority of guys enjoy spending two weeks in this oh-so-rustic environment.

I'd like to post, then, a few pictures of "Young Jesuits at Play." I should like to think that many readers will know the Jesuits as men of prayer, so I'd be remiss if I didn't broaden that horizon to show some images of us enjoying ourselves. I only had my camera for one evening, so these were taken the last night of villa as we sat on the docks. The top picture is of me along with Drew and Adam taken during our wine-tasting tour.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Back in the Bronx

Well, I'm back in the Bronx. We've been working to welcome the new men who moved into Ciszek after professing first vows and I just finished preparing breakfast for the community (cranberry vanilla blintzes, creme brulee French toast, fruit salad, Drew's sausage casserole, and oatmeal). I smell of Canola oil and sugar and need desperately to take a shower.

As many of you know, Michael and Brian English were featured on YouTube last week. I don't know how it came about, but I was most pleased to see the overwhelmingly positive response to their duet. If you've not seen it before, it is here:

You'll note, also, that I had to disable the comments function on the YouTube site. For some reason, there are purported adults out there who felt it was their right to disparage two minors for their music. It's been a galling experience to read and moderate the comments, ranging from AMAZING! to a person who wrote what some might read as a threat (that comment is being investigated as we speak).

I mention this as an instance of a much larger problem. The inter-connected nature of the internet has allowed us access to resources and ideas in a manner unparalleled by any other point in history. But our ability to lurk anonymously has, I fear, led to a loss of personal accountability. So while it would be highly irregular to have a person recite a menacing poem at a live performance, it is apparently nothing for such a person to write a (poor) poem (in rhyming couplets) and post it as a comment on a video he'd seen. No fear of retribution, no decency, no responsibility. Just a cowardly deed enacted under an invisibility cloak.

On a more pleasant level, this is a very busy week for us. We're heading off on Thursday to Cornwall, NY where we have a house. The whole weekend will be spent "getting to know" one another again, with time for faith sharing and recreation.

I've quite a bit of work to do between now and tomorrow, so I must be off. I'll not be able to blog again until Sunday/Monday, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

8 Things About Me

Alan, a fellow blogger from Thoughts on the Journey has invited me to post eight facts or habits about me that (I guess) people don't already know. Here are the rules:

"The rules are simple…Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog."

1. Fact: I am a Jesuit
2. Habit: When I'm at home in Cleveland, I go for bagels and coffee every morning.
3. Fact: I play and teach Irish music
4. Habit: I still put "A.M.D.G." (For the Greater Glory of God) on every paper I write...we were told to do so in high school (St. Ignatius) and its a habit I've maintained.
5. Fact: I love to cook. I want to write a cookbook for desserts called "Dessert Mysticism"
6. Habit: I buy more books than I can ever possibly read. I've gotten better at this as a Jesuit (I haven't the money to buy an excessive number of books) but it's still a struggle!
7. Fact: I had six wisdom teeth! Two on the bottom, four on the top.
8. Habit: On long car rides, I pray the rosary to stay awake.

I'm going to break the rules and invite anyone who would like to do so to pick up this challenge and write 8 things about him/herself.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


If you're coming here from YouTube (having seen Mike and Brian doing their cross-handed duet) and you want to learn to play Irish music on the tin whistle, I would suggest:

If you're in Cleveland, leave a message or email Brian Holleran at:

Brian is a brilliant tin whistle/flute/uilleann pipe player and he's a great teacher. Drop him a line if you're interested in lessons!

Think Jesuit

If you've ever considered a vocation with the Society of Jesus, then perhaps you should

Think Jesuit.

This is a new tri-province initiative combining the resources of the Detroit, Chicago, and Wisconsin provinces of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits).

Check it out!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Uncle Ryan

I'd like all of you to join in wishing Congratulations to Colin and Charity (Colin is my brother) on the birth of Emma Elizabeth Duns. 7 lbs 9 ounces and 19" in of height, she was born yesterday afternoon. This is our first grandchild/niece in our family and I'd ask all of you for prayers for her health!

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Omena Update

We just finished our annual Softball Game against some of the local players from Sutton's Bay. Alas, I did not play this year - I opted instead to offer sideline commentary and good cheer (in addition, I should mention, the beverages were kept along the first-base line).

Now, while I do have some internet access, I suspect that I'll spend more time working on my bun...errrr,, melanoma. One of the sad consequences of balding is that my head actually burns. My Head! It's really gross to have a peeling head so I wear a bandanna or cap most days to protect my poor scalp.

Long story short: unless something really nifty happens, I'll not blog until about August 13th. I do want to talk about my retreat at some point very soon, but I think I'd rather spend time with my brother Jesuits than blogging!

Best to all!

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Summer Hiatus

Now that my initial study of German-for-Reading is complete, I will be going to Milwaukee to play at two Irish dancing competitions. I return on Sunday to begin my retreat here in Chicago. Then, on the 30th, I'll head off to Omena for my vacation.

So I'll not be posting over the next two weeks, or at least not until the July 31st. Please pray for me as I make my retreat and know that I will pray for you.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Small Caveat

As many of you know, I'm doing several book reviews on this site. These are intentionally non-academic reviews. I have neither the space nor the desire to engage in systematic dissection of texts on my blog. In reviewing books for DoubleDay I choose to review those books that I think are pertinent and relevant to those who might read my blog. DoubleDay is not paying me and I won't review a book unless I think people might actually be interested (or warned against) reading it.

So a "lens" through which I read these texts is "Will this be helpful to one of my readers?" If it is going to help you pray, to understand your relationship to God better, or to become more knowledgeable about your faith, then I'll probably give it a good review. Since no one's career rests on my review, I can afford to be positive about various works. I don't want to give a book report or a synopsis; rather, I want only to say what I read, give the gist of it, and say something of why I liked it. Feel free to agree or disagree, but know that I am reading/blogging with an eye to what I think might be helpful to my readers.

Opus Dei

There are few organizations as polarizing as Opus Dei in the Roman Catholic Church. Made (in)famous in Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code its membership of around 85,000 persons seems to attract a disproportionate amount of attention.

Veteran Vatican reporter John Allen has done, consequently, a great service to those interested in learning more about "The Work" in his estimable book Opus Dei.

Let me begin with a caveat: I began reading this book with a presupposition that I would come away thinking less of Opus Dei. Interestingly, Allen's balanced treatment highlights many of the positive qualities and characteristics of Opus Dei while at the same time acknowledging shadowy areas in its practices.

The book is partitioned into four main sections: the Essentials of Opus Dei, Opus Dei from the Inside, Question Marks About Opus Dei, and finally a Summary Evaluation. Each section relies heavily on information provided both by current and former members of Opus Dei. This has led to the accusation that Allen's research is compromised by lack of objective sources. While this may be true, I suspect that John Allen did the best with what he could get and, by the 400+ pages of the paperback, it appears that he did get quite a bit.

What I appreciated about the book is that it is the first time I've learned something useful about Opus Dei. At the core of Opus Dei is the belief that

holiness, 'being a saint,' is not just the province of a few spiritual athletes, but is the universal destiny of every Christian. Holiness is not exclusively, or even principally, for priests and nuns. Further, holiness is not something to be achieved in the first place through prayer and spiritual discipline, but rather through the mundane details of everyday work. Holiness thus doesn't require a change in external circumstances, but a change in attitude, seeing everything anew in the light of one's supernatural destiny. (17)
If this were the only thing people were to learn of Opus Dei, it would be a great gift. A human organization, it has, however, its shadow side. We are all familiar with accusations of abuse, secrecy, and manipulation. Opus Dei is often mentioned alongside the Jesuits as being interested in world domination (there are YouTube videos to back this up!). Allen takes these shadows and specters seriously and even-handedly massages the issues that both sides are often well presented. The end of the book, helpfully, offers something of an "action plan" to help Opus Dei more transparent and less mysterious to many Christians.

A Jesuit favorably reviewing a book favorable to Opus Dei? Yep! There are drawbacks to the text, to be sure: Allen can get somewhat repetitive, the book is long and, while written in an engaging style, it can plod at times. Still, it is quite worth the investment of time and energy in that it does provide a glimpse into the world of Opus Dei.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Newflash: The Pope is Meaningless! (It's news to me, too!)

For those of you who read, you'll have probably seen this charming little piece by journalist Roland S. Martin.

You really have to read the whole article for yourself, but it is really quite interesting. But the analytic part of my brain did a double-take at his line of argument:

Yet as I reflect on my years as a Catholic, it pretty much was a wasted experience, as there was more identification with the church, and not with Christ.

And that's why Pope Benedict XVI is meaningless, along with his decision to re-state the primacy of the Catholic Church.

Now, I think his whole piece is completely stupid. But tell me how this argument hangs together? Writing out of HIS experience, he feels that HIS experience of Catholicism led more to an identification with the Church than with Christ. THEREFORE, the Pope is meaningless.

In MY experience, I am a complete failure at tackle football. In MY experience, it led more to an identification with a Crash-Test Dummy than it did with Don Shula or Peyton Manning. And yet does it follow that football, or Roger Goodell (the commissioner of the NFL) is meaningless? While there are certainly some who will say that it is without meaning, I suspect there are enough Americans who might disagree.

My main point is that his argument just doesn't work, because there is no argument. He's writing more out of emotion than logic and while it makes for an interesting read, it makes him seem tremendously foolish.

And I'll forgo the discussion of his (woefully inadequate) use of scripture. Perhaps I should cut him some slack as he's ONLY had 13 years to understand the Bible sins break free from the fetters of Roman Catholicism.

But my favorite line of the text is this:

It doesn't matter what Pope Benedict XVI has to say, or for that matter, any other religious leader. A Christian believes in Jesus Christ and what He had to say, not what a man of God has to say. This is not an attempt to completely dismiss religious leaders, but is further evidence of what happens when ego is more important than the work of Christ.

I completely agree that we should harbor suspicion against potentially ego-maniacal religious figures. Egotists who would dare to make any sort of pronouncement, self-important individuals who want only the spotlight and attention, to have the whole world gaze upon them. We definitely must look askance at anyone who keeps "running off at the mouth mouth and making pointless declarations". I'm sure his publisher will agree, too:

Oh, perhaps my fatigue with German study has led me to be a little less-than-charitable. Believe me, I'm holding back a lot of venom on this post.

Again, as I tried to make clear when I wrote an analysis of Regina Brett's column several months ago, I'm not against dialogue and debate. I am against, however, shoddy arguments and appeals to emotion that go absolutely nowhere and are more displays of rhetorical skill than they are at sound analysis.

The theological debate that this calls for is inappropriate for my blog. The most I feel I can offer in this setting is just a quick appraisal of Mr. Martin's argument which I find to be completely erroneous. His assessment of the Pope as "meaningless" makes me question his skill as a journalist and leaves me even more grateful that I watch the BBC rather than CNN.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Book Review

For my first book review, I'd like to recommend "Mother Angelica's Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality."

This book finds its place in the long and venerable line of spiritual direction as exhibited by the Desert Mothers and Fathers. These wisdom figures would often receive visitors who would hail them with the greeting, "Abba, give me word of salvation." The Abba or Amma would then tell a story or give a short saying to the person. Such sayings or stories were not spontaneous aphorisms or Chinese fortunes, but rather the result of many hours of prayer and reflection.

Are you struggling with a long-held resentment over some slight you have suffered? Let us take this to Mother!

Gruge-Holder: "Mother, Give me a word of salvation! I am beset with a long-held grudge"

Mother Angelica: "Don't waste your time in life trying to get even with your enemies. The grave is a tremendous equalizer. Six weeks after you all are dead, you'll look pretty much the same. Let the Lord take care of those whom you think have harmed you. All you have to do is love and forgive. Try to forget and leave all else to the Master."

Struggling with being impatient?

Impatient Person: "Mother, Give me a word of salvation! I am most impatient with myself and with those around me!"

Mother Angelica: "Patience is adjusting your time to God's time."

Now it's obvious that this is no easy answer - nor should it be. The lessons and stories contained in this book are great material for prayer and reflection. Like the marrow bone that must be boiled for many hours to flavor a soup, many of these pithy statements and stories need to be reflected on in order for their lessons to penetrate deeply into the soul.

My only caveat: this is not a book to be read, necessarily, c0ver-to-cover. As it is helpfully broke up into sections such as "Sin and Temptation" "Living Prayer and True Spirituality" "Motherly Advice for the Family" "Everyday Holiness" one should bring one's struggles and questions to the text, open to the section addressing one's angst, and begin to read. Approach the text not as a How-To book of spirituality, but rather as a wisdom figure who has prayed and reflected for a long time. Come to the book and say, "Mother, give me a word" and ask your question. I have a feeling that she'll know just what to say.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Up to my eyeballs

Sorry for not posting more often; I really have been up to my eyeballs in German. We're heading into the home-stretch of study and with only 2.5 weeks to go, I'm hoping I'll have the energy to finish it out! My head is swimming with overloaded adjective constructions and modal verbs...oh, how I long for the easy days of Rahner!

Sunday, July 01, 2007

In From France

I just thought I'd post this link to a web page run by the French Jesuits. It is a page discussing the various ways Jesuits are using YouTube. You'll see a familiar face at the top of the page!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More Fun at the Fair

As some of you know, if a person makes a complaint about something or someone at a feis, he or she is able to file a formal complaint with the feis.
Normally one writes out the infraction and then includes
some nominal fee say, for instance, $10.00.

Now in addition to the irate parent I highlighted in my last post, it has come to my attention that another complaint was filed. Apparently one of the dancers didn't care too particularly well for one of the tunes I played for him. His formal complaint is that I played a reel tainted with Scottish influence. As this is a competition for traditional Irish dancers, he has charged that I impeded his ability to execute his dainty steps by not playing fully traditional Irish music. You can see my accuser pictured here.

As I said, at a normal feis one would just submit a check and a written complaint and the complainer would feel like he/she had been listened to and the feis would be satisfied with an extra $10.00. Well, this feis is just a smidge different. I had to leave the feis early on Sunday in order to catch my flight back to Chicago. Since the charges were not leveled until after I left, this feis's mechanism of justice began to turn in my absence. In short, they hold a trial. We're talking an epic affair, a Scopes Monkey, Inherit the Wind, hey there get me Atticus Finch sort of affair. Adding enormous gravity to the event is that it is presided over by the queen of the feis. A former World Champion Irish dancer, the feis queen oversees the proper order and running of feiseanna. At our right you can see the Feis Queen as she prepares for the trial, arranging her rare Faux Pearls (Sadly, she thinks Faux is a region of France known for its fine pearl-producing oysters) as her loyal subjects cower before her refulgent splendor.

I digress.

Since I was not able to make it, the chairwoman of the feis was kind enough to assemble a crack legal team who would work at exonerating me. Sadly, Clarence Darrow and Johnny Cochran they are not:

So to make a long story short, the trial resulted in a guilty verdict. Now, if there is an upside to this verdict, it is that I have a choice in my sentence. I am either to enter into a six-year term of service on a spice trading ship OR I may accept one year of exile from the feis. I have duly accepted this latter option, accepting my exile to the Isle of Chicago where I will study German before returning to New York where I will resume the study of philosophy. Perhaps a year will give me time enough to consider the errors of my ways, a year before I will (hopefully, if asked back) play at the Feis at the Fair.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Oh The Places You'll Go!

The title of the Dr. Seuss book Oh, the Places You'll Go certainly seems to capture well the life of a Jesuit. Two summers ago we took a road trip to Denver where we studied Jesuit history for a month. One year ago at this time I was in Lima, Peru studying Spanish and learning to see the presence of God in a third-world milieu. This summer, I'm studying German in Chicago. While this summer may seem far less glamorous than my previous two, I now have pictorial evidence to the contrary.

As many of you know, I play the accordion for Irish dancers. Last Monday I received a desperate phone call asking me to come out to Irvine, California to play at an Irish dancing competition. Never one to turn down a trip across the country, I accepted the invitation and I played both Saturday and Sunday at the Feis at the Fair. So what made this event extraordinary?


I spend much of my day in the same position:

You can tell by the look of studied concentration on my face that I am thinking very hard about the piece of music that I'm playing. Taken on Saturday afternoon, this picture doesn't quite do justice to the sunburn I have sustained on my bald head.

Now, I must confess that sometimes I get lonely while playing. Irish dancing teachers and judges seem to want to talk only of Irish dancing. The Irish dancers themselves pretty much ignore me (I am, after all, only a musician so what difference do I make to them and their dancing??). So I'm forced to go off to find new friends with whom to share my feelings. Friends like these

I spent quite a long time with my two new friends, talking about our feelings and discussing the spice trade and bartering for magic beans.

But a feis requires a lot of work and, as it was an outdoor event, I ended up playing for HOURS under the blazing hot sun. Truth be told, I was under a tent for much of the day, but the heat does takes its toll after a spell. So wouldn't you know that I totally messed up during while a dancer was performing? I was contrite and apologetic but this guy wouldn't let the matter rest. Talk about a terrible stage parent!

It's one thing to want to be defensive on behalf of your child, but this fellow took it to a whole new level. So, to make a long story short, I used the broad sword I purchased from the local blacksmith (I was deciding between a sun hat and a sword. I'm glad I risked sunstroke for safety). I didn't get a picture of me with my trusty blade, but I did manage one of Ye Olde Blacksmith who forged it for me. I think his name is Lothar

As you can see below, this mildly overbearing recoiled in fear as I brandished before him my blade. He put down his weapon and surrendered. He even offered me his pelt. A friend of PETA, I respectfully declined.

And so, my feis day began to wind down. After many hours of reels and jigs and a few brushes with irate parents, I relaxed with a stein of grog. While sipping my frothy ale, I managed to capture a photo of the chair of the event as he relaxed after a hard day at the feis.

In the wake of my letter to the parents and teachers of Irish dancers, I received a number of questions as to whether I would continue playing at feiseanna. My answer is simply and resoundingly: YES. I love to play for Irish dancers. I love the fun and quirkiness of each feis day. These pictures and my (inane) story illustrate, I hope, something of the fun I find as a participant in this great art form. A joy that I hope many participants in our Irish culture avail themselves of often!

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame