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.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame