Friday, June 27, 2008

The Patience of Job...

I have not. In a first for this blog,k I am actually writing this as I am experiencing the matter about which I blog. So I am writing from seat 28 C on a Continental flight from San Francisco to Dayton with a stopover in Cleveland. I'll not give any more information, lest other passengers find this and feel that I have singled them out for derision.

On three passengers, in reality, should have this worry.

Allow me to begin with the woman on my left. Probably approaching retirement, she has thoughtfully squeezed herself into sausage-skin tight shorts and a strange, yet inexplicably captivating, white linen shirt. Upon her mountainous bosom rest a pair of antique brown spectacles. Her fingers are painted a shade of light pink, her hands look soft and supple. They seem care-worn, soft, and now smeared and streaked with what pizza sauce she was unable to slurp off of her fingers. My entire left side is wet and sticky from her baptizing me with her "orange juice, no ice" that she "accidentally" spilled on me. Occupying the middle seat, she seems to prefer to recline back, extending her cold, pale, flabby arms into my ribs. Now - thankfully - that the meal service is over, she has graced us all by crossing her legs. Her gleamingly white thighs would make Jesus' transfiguration look like an overcast morning.

In the aisle immediately to my right, a line has formed to use the single toilet. I remember now scenes from WWII movies that portrayed masses of people crammed into airless cattle cars with little to no food and only a bucket to use as a toilet. Strange...I'm paying $700 to do a WWII re-enactment. In such a case as this, I reckon many otherwise shy people lose their inhibitions: I've had more breasts, backsides, and Lord knows what else crammed into my face as people scoot about trying to let others pass by to the bathroo. Frottage is a felony on the ground, but not up here it seems.

To my right side is my greatest fear on any flight: two morbidly obese men. I haven't any clue how they managed to get in their seats; they are so securely crammed in that a jeweler could learn much about setting stones from these two. Sadly, however, there's a normal-sized man buried in the midst of them. I've absolutely no idea how he's managing to survive. Where pressure and time reduced Job to sack cloth and ashes, I fear the pressure and time of this flight will turn this man into a diamond.

Jane Goodall made herself famous by living with gorillas. She observed their behavior, charted their growth, and reported this to the world. So let me have a go at this:

I would estimate the aisle to be about 27" across. A few moments ago, a
rather large woman lumbered into the toilet. As I write, an equally large man is
beginning his own trek back here. Turbulence. With a running start, I reckon he
could do an Olympic flip over her. But that is undoubtedly against FAA
regulations. No, folks, the side-to-side maneuver won't work, at least not when
the two of you, standing hip-to-hip, are as wide as the plane. OH! Yes: this is
it. He has found a small child in an aisle seat and he's stepped in. For the
love of the Sacred Heart, this kid is learning the true meaning of the 'Dark
Night of the Soul.' Success. The ships have passed.

Quick aside: my neighbor, she of enormous legs, just told me that I look like her son. "You'd be handsome if you let your hair grow."

"Thanks, but I'm going bald. It's easier to keep it short." (I'm thinking: "I'd be dry and not sticky if you wuold have kept grazing at the Cinn-a-Bun and missed the flight.")

Oh Lord, the flight's only half over. It just took three minutes for her to get out of the seat to use the bathroom and the obese man across the aisle is snoring. When I stood up to let her out, I realized that SOMEHOW I have been sitting on her dinner fork. I have no idea how it got there...I think she's trying to kill me.

I give up.

So, kids, this is Uncle Ryan's rant for tody. This is sort of cathartic. I hope to publish this when I get to my hotel, but it may end up going online on Monday when I get back to SFO.

Don't let this scandalize you! Think of the grace behind it: at least I didn't succumb to air rage. I reckon it's better to make a joke of it than to face incarceration at the hands of Air Marshalls.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Ryan and Emma talk about Theology

As one who strives so hard to be a good Jesuit, I thought I'd continue my niece Emma's catechetical formation.

I began with the question, "Emma, who is the greatest theologian in the Church?" She was, of course, a little stumped: she loves theology but, as she's only 10 months old, she feels that there may be some thinkers that she's not quite familiar with.

So I offered her a few suggestions. "Emma bug, do you think Hans Urs Von Balathasar is the bestest, coolest, most neat-o theologian EVER?"

Her face said it all:

Then I said, "Hey now! He's a really good theologian, too. Sure, he is not nearly as fun as some others, but you need to be open to him!"

I continued our lesson. "Emma, there's a very clear answer in my mind. Two words: Transcendental Thomism. Okay, one more hint: think Vorgriff."

Yes, Emma, of course it's Karl Rahner!!

You see, everyone, theology is fun! 

Now all I have to do is by her the "Foundations of Christian Faith" coloring book and we'll be in business!

Friday, June 20, 2008

And he's off!

Tonight begins my marathon of travel for the summer. In this order (and subjected to a few additions) I will be:

  1. Leaving tonight for Los Angeles where I will play a 2-day feis in Irvine
  2. Flying from LA to San Francisco on Monday
  3. Staying in SF until Friday, when I'll fly to Dayton and Cincinnati for their feis
  4. Returning to SF for two weeks
  5. Going to Denver the second weekend of July
  6. Two weeks later, I may or may not take another feis
  7. Fly from SF to LA, and then LA to Cleveland (On August 1st)
  8. August 3rd I'll fly from Cleveland to Chicago, get picked up at the airport, and then drive to Omena for summer villa
  9. Post-Omena, I'm playing two feises (Windsor and Lansing) and then coming home to Cleveland. That week I'm having a medical procedure done and going to my cousin's wedding
  10. Then, finally, I'll return to New York
Now this does not include any day trips I take while in SF.

I should mention that my travels do have an apostolic purpose:

  • I love playing for Irish dancers, and I think a lot of them appreciate the fact that I'm a Jesuit and it, in general, intrigues them.
  • I'm in San Francisco this summer to study Spiritual Direction at the Mercy Center in Burlingame
Ok, that's it for now. Grandma Hagan is doing my laundry (did I remind her that I like Downy rather than Bounce??) and I need to finish my coffee (at Bruegger's) and go back, pack, and go say goodbye to the family.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Storm has Passed

On Saturday I had the joyful privilege of watching my sister - Torrey Duns - marry Brian Holleran. So my first order is to offer my sincerest congratulations and best wishes to Brian and Torrey Holleran (Mrs. Holleran!!) as they embark for their honeymoon. 

When I go home this afternoon (I'm writing this from Bruegger's Bagels. Grandma Hagan's house does laundry, it does not do internet) I will upload some pictures from the wedding. 

I've been to a good few weddings in my day, and I'll say this: this was the most fun I've ever had at a wedding. The food was delicious, the crowd was in great spirits (both literally and figuratively), and we had great music. Again, I'll post pictures later today.

My own travels begin on Friday. I'll be playing at the Irish Fair in Los Angeles and then I'll head down to San Francisco for a few days. I'm coming back to Ohio for two feiseanna and then BACK to San Francisco until the end of July. I'll be, as I may have mentioned before, at the Mercy Center where I'll continue my study of spiritual direction. 

Now, as many readers know, I have struggled for several years with a medical condition that has caused me no end of irritation. I've been to numerous doctors who have all given me varying diagnoses, so I want to call special attention to Dr. Michael Lewis. Dr. Lewis FINALLY gave me a diagnosis of the problem and also treated me for some pretty severe allergies. I mention him by name because he is also a very fine musician and if you follow the link above, you can visit his website and, should you be so moved, buy his CD. I'd recommend doing so!

In other news:

My alma mater, Saint Ignatius High School, runs a program for soon-to-be 8th graders each summer called the Summer Enrichment Program. My cousin Liam is enrolled in it this summer. The other night, trying to be a supportive cousin, I asked him about whether or not he was excited to be in the SEP. When he told me that he was indifferent, I told him that I had had a good time when I did it. His response pierced me to the very core of my being: "Yeah, but you did it in the 90's. Things are different now." 

The 90's are now a benchmark of old? Truth be told, I did do the SEP 15 years ago. But dissin' the 90's?!?! 

I'm going to take my fiber now.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Calm Before the Storm

Well, it's upon us: my sister's wedding. Months of planning and scheduling, meetings and fittings, are all about to culminate in the Sacrament of Marriage between my sister Torrey and Brian Holleran. 

Do you think that peace and tranquility are reigning supreme at our house?

Not on your life.

So forgive me if posts are sparse this week. There is much that must be done before the Big Day arrives. Then again, if things are totally insane at my house, I'll probably camp out at various coffee shops where I'll sip green tea and blog. So who knows: there may be multiple posts giving updates about the insanity that is sure to break out before Saturday!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

One for Joseph Fromm

So I thought I'd throw a bone to Joseph Fromm over at GoodJesuitBadJesuit. Given his ability to stand in judgment over the relative goodness or badness of a member of the Society of Jesus, I reckon he'll appreciate that I've been spending some time with both the code of Canon Law and with various directives issued by the USCCB  in regard to the reception of the Holy Eucharist.

You see, there's a young diocesan priest in my Bronx neighborhood who has been the source of great consternation these past few months. Now for many, Father certainly looks the part: he struts regally throughout Little Italy in his cassock and biretta. He also has brought the Latin Mass to the parish. 

Yet Father sometimes forgets that the homily is often better spent breaking open the readings and preaching the Gospel of Christ rather than ranting about poor mass attendance (preaching, of course, to the people who do attend). And just yesterday, I heard from a friend that this week's homily - Matthew's Gospel on the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built on the sand - addressed the pressing need of a diatribe against taking communion in the hand. 

Now Father and I have had already a little skirmish over this issue. It's in the hands of the chancellory right now. But in my effort in wanting to be a GOOD Jesuit, I went back to the teaching of the hierarchical Church to see what it had to say.

And this is what I found:

1. In Canon 912, we read that "Any baptized person who is not prohibited by law can and must be admitted to Holy Communion." 
Now I mention this simply because I thought it very interesting.

Here's where it really starts to get interesting. On the website for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, I found a work from the Committee on Divine Worship entitled Norms for the Distribution and Reception of Holy Communion Under Both Kinds in the Dioceses of the United States of America.

A little ways into the norms, I came upon this little gem. Believe me, I prayed over it at mass this morning:

41. Holy Communion under the form of bread is offered to the communicant with the words "The Body of Christ." The communicant may choose whether to receive the Body of Christ in the hand or on the tongue. When receiving in the hand, the communicant should be guided by the words of St. Cyril of Jerusalem: 'When you approach, take care not to do so with your hand stretched out and your fingers open or apart, but rather place your left hand as a throne beneath your right, as befits one who is about to receive the King. Then receive him, taking care that nothing is lost."

Call me crazy, but I think that's quite lovely. And it's interesting, too, that St. Cyril - born in 315 CE - appreciated back in the good old days that Communion in the hand wasn't a grave offense to the Lord. 

Now I'm all for personal predilections: coffee with cream or without, vanilla or chocolate, bagel with cream cheese or butter. There may be all sorts of reasons motivating one's choice but, ultimately, one has a choice. As the norms are very clear, an attitude of reverence and devotion is to be maintained both on the part of the Minister and on the part of the Communicant. 

It may certainly happen that some day a directive will be promulgated that Holy Communion may be taken only on the tongue. On that day, I will do so. But to the extent that I have choice, that I have prayerfully considered and find that I have a preference for receiving in the hand, I will continue to do so. 

Not to be trite, but if I met our Lord today I'd sooner stick out my hand to greet him than stick my tongue out at him. Actually, I'd probably hug him but, I reckon, you get the gist.

I mention Joseph Fromm explicitly because I know how liturgical abuse gets under his skin. And I thought I could be a good Jesuit if I helped to limit what I see as a corruption of the purpose of the homily - to break open the living Word and to help articulate it to the Body of Christ - when it is used as a personal platform to expound upon one's personal preference. 

Perhaps it's just me, but when I am subjected to long harangues on ANY topic in the place of the homily, I leave the Eucharistic celebration somewhat irritated. I take it as an insult to me and to God's people that the priest has no interest in reflecting prayerfully on the readings and helping to bring us into contact with the living Word, choosing instead to trot out his own pet issue and give an address that is wholly out of place for the Eucharistic celebration. 

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Give us this day, our daily rant

I was doing some maintenance on my YouTube videos this evening and I discovered that as of right now, my videos have been viewed 1.2 million times. That's 1,206,877 times to be exact. That's a lot of times that my mother has clicked on my videos to drive up the view count!

Now, while it's no Charlie the Unicorn, the popularity of the Tin Whistle videos has prompted many people to send me emails. I get quite a few each day and, truth be told, I really do read each one and I try to respond to all of them. But sometimes I get behind in my correspondence, thus forcing me to answer a slew of emails in one sitting. 

Don't get me wrong: I love hearing from people. It really does seem that the whistle videos have reached a world-wide audience and I've heard from two guys who are discerning vocations to the Society of Jesus, in part, because they were introduced to the Jesuits through my lessons. So I'm glad to be of service both to my faith and to my musical heritage.

I am not, however, thrilled by the utterly obnoxious emails that I receive. Let me just offer a few choice quotes from recent emails I've received:

  1. Your religion distracts me from learning the tin whistle.
  2. I don't like your outfit. Couldn't you wear something nicer?
  3. You're bald [as if I didn't know this]
  4. Why are you trying to force your religion on me? 
  5. Could you record your videos in other languages? [this is synthesized general I get "can you please record your videos in ________ (insert language here)]
  6. This is why the Jesuits have no vocations. You are teaching the tin whistle when you should be praying.
  7. "I don't believe in God, but..." [these tend to be laudatory. I don't mind them, usually]
  8. My husband is cheating on me. Do you think I should get a divorce?
  9. Sometimes my tin whistle squeaks like "eerrrhehhhehhh" and I don't like it. How can I make it not do that?
  10. My cat doesn't like the sound of my tin whistle. Can you suggest one she might like? Yes, this is real question. I received it just before retreat and it gave me much to pray on. Woe! Woe!
Well, the list goes on and on. 

I'm pretty good: I'll admit that much. But some of these people must think I'm Kreskin or something. I've run the gambit now from divorce to sorting out one's sexuality to relationship between cats and the whistle. Just when you think it can't get any nuttier, I sign into YouTube and discover a whole new message that brings me to yet another low.

And some people think the Cross is present only on Good Friday. 

So that's it for tonight. I tried a new workout DVD tonight: Yoga Burn. I've been working out consistently for six months and let me tell you that, if I had not, I'd still be lying in the "Downward Facing Dog" pose or the "Baby Cobra" pose or some such thing. It was really rough and I realized that, while I'm flexible in many areas of life, my body is not yet one of them. I have a strong suspicion that I'll be very, very, very sore tomorrow.

Which will be just perfect when I go to YouTube and read yet another email asking me if I could: Please teach with your shirt off. Bald men are attractive and I think I'd learn better this way. This is easily my favorite. It's relatively recent -- maybe last week -- although I just read it this evening and it's the one that tipped the scale in favor of composing this post.

Monday, June 02, 2008

My Prayer Metaphor

So I've now concluded my annual retreat. It was a graced time of prayer and reflection and I feel a renewed sense of joy and enthusiasm as I enter into the busy travel schedule of the summer.

If I were to distill the movements of the retreat into a single image, it would be this: Green Lantern. As some of you know, the Green Lantern is a character from DC Comics. Given a green power ring, the Green Lantern is charged with being a force for good in the world. But the awesome power of the ring requires that it be recharged on occasion. The wearer must charge it using a small battery that draws its own power from the Central Power Battery. (yeah, it's a stretch, but bear with me)

You see, the power of the ring fails if it is not charged. Sure, the Green Lantern is still the Green Lantern but, without taking the time to charge his ring, he is unable to answer demands posed to him as a member of the Green Lantern Corps. Wearing a charged ring, the Green Lantern is possessed awesome abilities; a dead ring, however, is one that is cut off from the source of its power and bequeaths to its wearer no advantage at all.

This is how my prayer has been. When I pray, I bring myself into contact with the Source that gives direction and meaning to my life. I am more attentive to the needs of others, I am more aware of God's presence in my life, I am more fully committed to 'giving and not counting the cost' as I enact feats that, without this guidance, I know that I'd be incapable of doing. When I fail to pray, when I place other things as a priority in my life, I find myself limping. I am more easily irritable, I feel disconnected, I experience the temptations of success-at-any-cost and I measure myself against human-made standards rather than those set forth by God's Kingdom.

In short, when I prayer I feel empowered to be part of the Corps; when I do not pray, I experience myself as not living up to my potential or answering fully to the responsibilities with which I have been charged. When I pray, I can respond in amazing ways to my vocation; when I do not, I'm like a silly man running around in a funny suit.

This is a lesson I've had to learn the hard way this year. But I am glad to have learned it. To be a Christian is a heroic act in this day and age. We are beset by forces of darkness and a cultural nihilism that demands now, perhaps more than ever, for women and men to proclaim loudly the message of the Gospel. But sometimes we get caught up in the doing that we forget to center ourselves, that we think that the power that drives us is of our own making, rather than from the true Source of All. Our daily prayer reconnects us to this Source, bringing us back into contact with a power that is far beyond our comprehension or our control, a power that enables us to do great things when we synch ourselves with it.

Prayer is a heroic act, one through which we recognize our own limitations as finite beings and one that offers us our mission in this world and the power to achieve it. It is the discipline of the hero, the day-to-day work that makes him or her able to answer when called upon. Perhaps we Christians should develop something of our own Oath akin to that of the Green Lantern Corps:

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power...Green Lantern's light!
I would suggest that something like this would make prayer an oh-so-sexy endeavor, kind of like football or karate practice. It sort of casts things in terms of the Call of the King and Two Standards meditations found in the Spiritual Exercises. Thinking of prayer as an active participation, a practice-for-the-Kingdom, a girding of one's loins for battle, might go a long way in helping today's young people cultivate a deeper prayer life.

This, I offer, as just a suggestion: it worked for me on my retreat and, if it's an image that is helpful to you, I commend it gladly. If it's not helpful, perhaps thinking of Pokemon or Hello Kitty or some other such thing would do you a good turn.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame