Friday, February 27, 2009

Jesuit Mock Interview

Greetings from Detroit! I flew into Cleveland last night, picked up a car, slept at St. Ignatius High School and, after getting up at 5:45 this morning, drove to Cuyahoga Falls where I interviewed at Walsh Jesuit High School. Following that interview, I jumped into my PT Cruiser (it's a rental) and drove to Detroit, where I interviewed at University of Detroit Jesuit High School. I've been battling with a cold for the last two days and I'm now just about ready to go to bed.

Before hitting the hay, however, I wanted to upload Drew's latest mock interview. This video stars David Paternostro, SJ (New Orleans Province).

Stay tuned - if memory serves me correctly, my video is the next up!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

2009 Lenten Reflections with Fr. Pat McGrath, SJ

Tomorrow we begin our annual Lenten journey. I often find it helpful to have a guide in my prayer, someone to help me along as I walk with the Lord toward the awful triumph of Calvary. 

This year, I would like to recommend a series of Lenten Reflections done by Father Pat McGrath, SJ. Pat is a recently ordained Jesuit priest and is a gifted homilist. These seven reflections offer an opportunity to reflect on the meaning and importance of Lent in our lives. 

I've said this before, and I'll say it again: if we've entered into it with an open heart, our Lenten journey will not leave us unscathed...there will be no "back to business as usual" on Easter Monday. Over these weeks, each of us has an opportunity to take stock of our relationship with the Lord and to ask how we might come to know Jesus more deeply, to follow him more nearly, and and to love him more dearly. If you can say, "AH!!! Now, back to normal" then you've missed the point of Lent. Our walking with Jesus helps to put things into perspective, to give us a new insight into the way we live out our lives as Christians. Lent doesn't necessarily mean you undergo a conversion of your life; instead, it leads to a conversion of your values that will animate and guide your life.

So I prayerfully suggest you join Father McGrath this Lent. Let him be your guide through this season as you reflect on your relationship with Jesus, listening attentively to the ways in which you are being invited to deepen your friendship with the Lord. 

Friday, February 20, 2009

Jesuit Mock Interview, II

Starring Dennis Baker, SJ.

Again, the gist of these videos is a lighthearted take on vocational discernment. They were made as part of the entertainment for a discernment weekend and ARE NOT to be taken as the official vocation promotion effort of the Society of Jesus. They are the product of love and excitement: men who love being Companions of Jesus and want to share that love and excitement in creative, and rather humorous, ways!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vanity Faith

I wanted to advert attention to the recently released book Vanity Faith authored by my good friend and professor, Father Terrance Klein. Father Klein is an excellent writer and in this work he explores how God can be found amidst and within pop culture.

I have taken Terry for two courses and let me assure you: this book is excellent. If you've ever wrestled with trying to explain issues of faith to people, you know how helpful it is to have an image that they can grasp. I often use Harry Potter, Spiderman, and Star Wars. Father Klein has recourse to Eliza Doolittle, Brand and Jennifer, and "I Love Lucy." All told, he finds a way of using the images that often seem wholly secular to show how the images of our culture are imbued with the power of the sacred.

The book is issued in paperback and retails for under $13.00 on Amazon. If you're looking for a book that will be as enjoyable as it is informative, I strongly urge you to purchase Vanity Faith - and journey along the Red Carpet of spirituality.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Society of Jesus: A Better Option

Every year, Ciszek Hall hosts a Candidates' Weekend for men discerning a vocation to the Society of Jesus.

Each year, sort of the highlight of the weekend has been the Jesuit Coffee House, where desserts are prepared, coffee brewed, and various musical acts and comedy routines are performed. The heart of it, though, has always been the movie Drew Marquard, SJ produces for the occasion.

This year, Drew videotaped a series of mock commercials. Burger King has "Your Way, Right Away" and Nike has "Just do It." So the Mock-Commercial has the tag-line: "The Society of Jesus: A Better Option."

These videos are meant to be good-humored and fun. They're relatively short, followed by an interview with the main actor from the skit. Here is the first one, starring Michael Wegenka, SJ, entitled:

The 25th Date

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Running Update

This week really got away from me: here it is, already Saturday!

For those interested, I ran my first half-marathon last Sunday. Back in November 2005 (check the archives, if you'd like) I said that I would do so. It took over three years, but I finally made good on my commitment (then again, I had an intervening medical condition that didn't make running terribly pleasant). I finished in 1:59:29 -- 9:07 miles. 

So how do I celebrate it? By running 14 miles tomorrow. I'm committed to training for a full marathon, even if that means dedicating a lot of time to training. I even bought a "Fuel Belt" to hold sports beverages. If I can find someone to take a picture of me wearing the Fuel Belt, I'll post it!

In other news, I have been invited to interview at the following four schools for regency. If you have a child at one of these schools and want me to teach him or her, send bribes to the principal's office of the school and have them pass it along to me. And send some for the principal. And to my formation director. And provincial. Because, at the end of the day, it's their decision!

February 27: Walsh Jesuit
March 2: Saint Xavier High School (Cincinnati) 
March 3: University of Detroit Jesuit High School (Detroit) 
March 4: Saint Ignatius High School (Cleveland)

I am *really* excited about these interviews. I can imagine myself at any of the schools, so I feel like I'm blessed with a lot of opportunities. Over the next few weeks, I ask your prayers for discerning hearts and a greater awareness of where I will be better formed as a Jesuit and where I will be able to do the greater good, always, for the glory of God!

Saturday, February 07, 2009


This may surprise some to hear, but I'm not a great one for reading other blogs. In fact, apart from several news sites and Whispers In the Loggia, I don't read very much else. I simply don't have the time.

Blogging doesn't seem to be a terribly popular hobby for many Jesuits. Father Mark Mossa, SJ is a notable exception to this. I reckon Mark and I share a similar vision of blogging: we try to give an insight into what it is like to live as a Jesuit in the 21st century. In blogging, we open up elements of our lives that would, without the internet, remain hidden to much of the world. 

So let me say, I was taken by surprise the other morning when I came down to the breakfast table and learned that a fellow Jesuit - we'll call him OTHER-Ryan - was starting a blog. Now I was very excited to learn that another smart, interesting, and thoughtful person was entering into the blogging world. But before I could even utter a word of congratulation and welcome, he startled me by proclaiming, "Listen, Duns, I'm starting a blog and I'm planning on putting you out of business. Either join up with me now, or you're going under. I'm buying you out, Son." 

Now, dear reader, you know that I'm a gentle soul. I don't pick fights. I'm NEVER given to irrational action or responses. For God's sake, I play the accordion - how aggressive could I possibly be? So this sudden assault really took me aback.

"Well, OTHER-Ryan, that's a pretty lofty goal. First, blogs are free - so you can't buy me out. Second, my niche is Irish music and dancing. Your niche seems to be stick-dancing and posting pictures of you cradling Cabbage Patch kids, or pictures of you dressed up in lamb costumes."

At this, OTHER-Ryan (the non-Irish variety of Ryan, if you've ever heard of such a thing) became wholly indignant. He started mumbling curses in his native tongue (Lord knows what that is - again, he's not Irish) and, I fear, he put a hex on me. 

So now I am embroiled in something of a blog war. If OTHER-Ryan thinks that he's going to take me out with ease, he's got another thing coming. I'm like the Old Ironsides of Jesuit blogging: I've had my fair share of run-ins with total whackos and lunatics, and I still keep on sailing. So, non-Irish-Ryan, let me assure you: I will not go gentle into that good night. Nay, I will rally the troops and meet you head-on! 

I hope people realize that I'm being wholly facetious. 

Ok, so before I get reported to my Jesuit superiors for belittling another Jesuit, let me say: WELCOME to Ryan Rallanka, SJ and wish him well in his blogging endeavors. Ryan is in his first year here at Ciszek and has been a great addition to the house. Check out his blog and see how the Other-Ryan lives!


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Monday, February 02, 2009

On Loss

The other day, my mother sent me a quick email asking me to call her as she had some "theological questions" for me. When my family members raise "theological questions," they tend to be things like "Can I see a psychic to have my Tarot cards read?"

In this case, her question was startlingly simple: What do you say to a parent who has lost a child?

Mom had just come home from a funeral for a young woman - just 17 years old - and was grappling with this question. Interestingly, she did not want me to answer over the phone. Rather, she asked that I blog about this in hopes that I may say something that is helpful to others.

So here goes.

To the Parent who has lost a child,

Allow me to begin by acknowledging the depth and breadth of your loss. No words of mine can fill this void and, to be sure, this is not my intent. Your heart is breaking, nay, it is broken, and there is nothing that I can say or do that will change this. I have no delusion of dispelling your grief. But if it is helpful to you, I ask your permission to say some things that aim only to give you some comfort.

Recall you child's infancy. What hopes and dreams did you have? Could you have imagined the first-steps and words, birthday parties, new school years, dances, sleep-overs, sporting events, and proms? Each time you placed that little bundle into the crib for a nap, could you for a moment have anticipated the joys and the hardships of being a parent?

Can you remember envisioning the seemingly unlimited future of your baby? Perhaps in the still of the night, you rocked your baby to sleep and, as you waited, you imagined all sorts of possibilities. In those moments, maybe you envisioned the joys and excitement of the life to come. In those moments, maybe you also felt the stirrings of fear: an uncertain world, illnesses, heartbreak, even death.

If you were fortunate, you were able to dispel those fears quickly. You were able to bracket out the darkness and fear and dwell on the hopes and promise of your baby's life. And each time you brushed your lips over her forehead, or said to him "I love you," you sought impress upon your child the seal of love that would protect and strengthen him throughout his life.

Do not, for a moment, forget this. You loved your child. None of us ever loves perfectly, but you know the depths of your love. You know the many ways you showed it, ways your son or daughter never could have realized: the sacrifices, the scrimping, the reshuffled schedules, the countless acts of love and self-giving that you filled your lives with. And you did these not to make yourself feel good about yourself, but you gave wholly and generously for your child's future.

And now that future has been stolen.

You are right to be angry. This is an offense - things like this should not happen. Babies should not die suddenly. Little boys should not be diagnosed with leukemia. Little girls should not be killed by stray bullets or drunk drivers. This suit should have been worn at his graduation, not at his funeral; this dress should have been worn at her prom, not at her wake. Such losses offend everything within us that calls for justice and rightness.

Your child should not be dead. All of the hopes and dreams, promise and potential, have been dashed. Those feathery kisses that danced across sleeping foreheads, high-fives, and silent smiles seem now to have been thwarted in the most ghastly way imaginable: your baby, your child, is dead. And you are supposed to continue living with this gaping whole in your heart. It is, I suspect, as though the very air that you breath has been stolen away from you.

Surely, you will be accosted by many well-intentioned people. When they begin to say things such as, "She's in a better place" or "God wanted her to be with Him" - please, put your hands over your ears and run. Do not be afraid to stare at someone offering such blithering idiocy and to tell them to GET LOST. These are profoundly empty and meaningless platitudes, words that are meant to give a REASON for something that is, one the whole, UNREASONABLE. I think when people offer such nonsense, it's done with the best of intentions - to make you, or themselves, feel better. Don't allow yourself to be used in this way. This is your time to grieve.

Know, first, that this is going to be harder and last longer than you can imagine. People will bring trays of lasagna over for a few weeks, and you'll receive many calls for the next few months. Soon, the food and the calls will diminish and then, not long after, people will begin to expect that you'll "get back to normal." But what is normal, anyhow? A major piece of your life has just been ripped away. It takes weeks to recover from a broken bone. Months to recover from certain types of surgery. Following the death of a child, it seems to me that the recovery period is a lot longer: like the rest of your life.

I say this, not as a pessimist but, rather, as a realist. And this might be freeing for you: you have all the time you need to grieve. The first cycle of grief will force you through the calendar year, with all of its important dates: birthdays, anniversary of death, holidays, etc.. Each date will evoke a memory, a feeling, and will seem to re-open your wounded heart. Your life is adapting to its new normal: a life without one you love. No amount of time will fill this void, but you will grow accustomed to it.

But right now, as you feel yourself suffocating, allow yourself to grieve. Be angry. Be Furious. Cry out "WHY!!??!!?" and allow yourself to be angry at the silence. Give yourself permission to grieve. We live in a culture where entire cities go into a state of depression when they lose a major sporting event. If this is the response to something inconsequential, your anger at this loss is more than justified.

If you believe in God, I encourage you to let God have it. God is very big and has heard many things. Let the Almighty have it. If you are a Christian, you now find yourself at the foot of the cross. Know that Jesus, the Son of God, also met a terrible death. Know that his mother had to stand by before, during, and after his execution. This, too, is part of the Passion: the broken, pierced heart of Mary as she watched as her son is nailed to a tree like some animal. But our belief as Christians is that death is not the final answer to our life, and that the promise of the resurrection gives us hope for life eternal with God. The cross neither makes sense of our suffering nor takes it away from us. The cross marks the horrific reality that suffering and death is a part of human life. The cross also symbolizes the belief that life is more powerful than death.

Even if you do not believe in God, or cannot any longer believe in God, I should like to think that what I have said is applicable to you, too. The heart of the Christian, the Jew, the Muslim, the Buddhist, and the Atheist beats the same; each is susceptible to grief and loss. For you, know that your love and care for your child has contributed to the betterment of the world. Your love, like all love, poured out into the world through your son or daughter. Christians will claim that their love pre-figured the Kingdom of God; without being beholden to this belief, know that through love you helped to re-figure our own world as one that is more open to and able to give love. You will live forever with the memory of the one you have loved, and he or she will always be a part of you.

To you, dear parent, allow me to offer my sincerest and most heartfelt sympathies. I do not know your particular pain, but I do know something of loss and, in the solidarity of grief, I unite my heart with yours. I cannot give you answers, nor can I make the pain go away. I can only encourage you to trust in the power of love which transcends and unites all human traditions and urge you to be patient with yourself and with others. Know as well that you are in my thoughts and prayers, for I pray daily for those who have lost children. Finally, trust that with patience and time, with grace and perseverance, you will grow into the new normal of life after loss. You will bear forever the mark of the one you have loved, and it is my hope that you will bear that scar into the future as you continue your journey of living and loving.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame