Friday, July 31, 2009

Feast of Saint Ignatius Loyola

Today the Church, and especially Jesuits around the globe, celebrates the Feast of Saint Ignatius of Loyola.

As I went for a run this morning - a 6.2-mile run from Villa Marquette to Barb's Bakery in Northport - I reflected for most of the 47:08 minutes on my life and the Society of Jesus. On October 19th this year, I will celebrate my 30th birthday (on this date, too, the Church in the United States celebrates the Feast of the North American Martyrs). Looking back on the three decades of my life, I'm struck with how each decade bears basically two particular graces that have shaped and influenced my life tremendously.

As a child, I would locate the two primary graces in faith and music. I grew up in something of a Catholic ghetto; with the exception of my Lutheran father and his family, I think that nearly everyone I knew was Catholic. Indeed, the great childhood distinction between kids on our block fell between those who went to the parish school and those who were designated simply as "publics," so dubbed because they went to the local public school.

I cannot claim that I loved going to Mass. I didn't. I found it boring. Nevertheless, it became a practice, a discipline, that gave me the space and time to grow up spiritually. One priest in particular, Father Stephen Moran, really captivated my imagination...I still remember a homily whose tagline was "Think Mink" and involved a contest his mother participated in to win a mink stole. Serving Mass for Father Moran and for Monsignor Corrigan - who always referred to me as his 'Number One Server' - helped to cultivate a healthy respect for the priesthood and inspired in me, from an early age, a desire to serve the Church.

I'm grateful that my parents decided that a tin whistle and an accordion were better ways to express my Irish heritage than Irish dancing would have been. I have played Irish music for nearly twenty-two years. I will readily admit that I'm not as polished as I used to be, or could be, but I still love the musical tradition that I have been graced to be a part of. Music, as I look back on it, became my second language, another way of expressing myself. For a time, I reckon, I was most fully myself when I was playing and performing. After over two decades of music, of playing with other musicians, by myself, and for Irish dancers, I cannot begin to describe how important music has been to my life. Some of my closest friendships have been forged in and through Irish music and dancing. It has been, truly, a privilege to be an active participant in my Irish culture.

As a teenager, the great graces were a love of learning and a deepening of faith. I struggled terribly during my first two years of high school. I guess I was a late-bloomer. But with a six-month go at Weight-Watchers (I lost over 60 pounds) and some personal maturing, I found the last part of my high school experience to be overwhelmingly positive. I fell in love with learning and especially with writing. It was stamped on my heart that, in the future, no matter what it was that I studied it would have to be something that I loved enough to teach. It may be a shock for people to learn that I began my college studies as a science major (Biology and then Chemistry) but abandoned that to study Theology.

With a growth in my love for learning came a profound deepening of my faith. I was so blessed to have encountered numerous Jesuits in high school and college and these men were formative in my development as a Catholic. They were, to a man, smart and faithful, funny and sincere, intellectually adroit and yet humble. One once told me that the four pillars of a functional Jesuit were "Intelligence, Independence, Cynicism, and Sarcasm." He may have overstated the case just a bit, but the love and passion of these men helped to give a sense of how I, too, might live my own life in service to the Church as a companion of Jesus.

Finally, in the last ten years, there has been no grace greater in my life than the Society of Jesus. I pray with gratitude each day that I continue to live out my discipleship as a Companion of Jesus. I am humbled to think that I stand in a line of Jesuits such as Ignatius and Xavier, Matteo Ricci and Friedrich Spee, Alfred Delp and Karl Rahner, Henri De Lubac and Teilhard de Chardin, Pedro Arrupe and John Hardon. I look more immediately and consider that the men I consider to be the greats - Howard Gray, Walt Farrell, Bill Verbryke, Frank Canfield, Ben Fiore, Mark Massa, Jim Keenan, Paul Crowley, Tom Schubek, John O'Malley, Robert Welsh - are all men I call proudly "brother." Men of such wide and varying talents who have dedicated themselves wholly and unabashedly to serving Christ and his Church.

There are certain corners of the Church who seem to revel in calling attention to every fault and failing of any member of the Jesuits. As I have said in the past, I think this trend is itself satanic and a profound mark of the evil spirit. This is not to say that neither individuals nor the corporate Society is without blemish; far from it. But we are, all of us, sinners who struggle day in, day out, to discern how Christ is calling us to love more deeply and to "help souls" and, in so doing, help to bring about God's Kingdom on earth.

I include the aforementioned comments simply because I think it can be forgotten that part of our lives as disciples involves a continual discernment of God's Spirit. This is one of the great graces of Ignatius, one that he offers to the entire Church through the Spiritual Exercises. Ignatius teaches us that God deals directly with the human person and that we must pay attention to our affective responses, the innermost stirring of our hearts, as we attempt to know more clearly how we are being called. Discernment of God's Spirit makes us vulnerable: very often, what we want immediately is not what we sincerely desire. It is this, in the deepest and most vibrant desires of our heart, that God speaks to us. And, at times, in order to live fully this desire, we have to sacrifice some of our wants. (Case in point: if I desire to lose weight in order to be healthy, I will sacrifice eating dessert each night even though I want the decadent slice of cake. So, too, if I desire to be available to be missioned even though my immediate want is to stay in my current location.)

One of the things I treasure mostly about Ignatian Spirituality is that it is passionate. It calls forth the entirety of the person, demanding a commitment of mind, body, and soul to cause of God's Kingdom. It is an exciting, vibrant spirituality that asks us to give ourselves fully. It wrings out from us all that we think we can give, and then uncovers within us resources we never dreamed we possessed. When I look back upon my time in the Jesuits, I am struck by this most of all: I walk with men who are passionately committed to Jesus Christ and who offer themselves unabashedly to the service of God's Kingdom.

Today, at Villa Marquette, we will celebrate the Feast with a feast! Bishop Cooney will join us for Eucharist and then we will have social and dinner (tonight, discernment of spirits will be necessary to decide between Gin and Vodka). As Companions of Jesus, we will bring ourselves to the Lord's Table in order to be nourished at the true source of our strength; and then we will head to another table where we will continue our celebration as brothers gathered together, a disparate group of disciples, drawn together as Friends in the Lord.

I ask today that you remember in pray all of those who claim Ignatian spirituality as their way of coming to know God's desires more deeply. In a special way, I ask for prayers for Jesuits throughout the world. Pray that we grow closer to the Lord through the Eucharist and, as men called to eat from the same plate and drink from the same cup, that we can unite our hearts with a passionate zeal for proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed, thereby dedicating ourselves wholly and completely to God's Kingdom.

Happy Feast!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Great Start to the Day!

I don't know how today could get any better:

I woke up, refreshed, at 6:00 am. I made coffee, ate a bowl of Fiber 1 cereal, and watched BBC news. I stretched out and then went for a 6.3-mile run which I did four minutes faster than my run on Friday and over a minute faster than Monday's run. It must be the new shoes that I bought!

I celebrated my time with a large coffee and a protein bar. I came home, shaved and showered, and ambled over to the house with internet access so that I could check my email.

In my inbox, I found seven new emails. One of them was from eminent Domincan philosopher, Father Fergus Kerr, informing me that my article entitled Recovering Rahner's Concept of Being in Spirit in the World has been accepted for publication in New Blackfriars Review. What is especially heartening is that I have to make no corrections to the manuscript: they're going to publish it as I sent it. The NBR is a venerable publication published by the Dominicans of the English Province emphasizing articles emphasizing theology, philosophy, and cultural studies.

A special thanks is due to one person (among many) for helping me: Father Terrance Klein of Fordham's Theology Department. Father Klein has been invaluable in forming my thinking and approach to theology. He is a master teacher and a great friend and I can only hope that our professional and personal paths will continue to intersect in the years to come. He has been a great mentor and guide, traits any graduate student certainly appreciates.

In the great scheme of life, this is certainly not the most momentous occasion: my ordination to the priesthood, or the birth of a new niece or nephew, certainly rank higher. Nevertheless, it is thrilling to learn that your work makes an ostensible contribution to the academy and that it is of publishable quality. As one who desires very much to serve the Church as a theologian, this only affirms and emboldens my desires.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Picture(s) of Formation

I'm attaching two photographs taken from the 2009 Tri-Province Formation Gathering (Chicago, Wisconsin, Detroit).

The above picture is of all of the men in formation (from novice through recently ordained) in the three provinces. I know a few recently ordained priests were unable to attend. Nevertheless, you do get a sense of what we look like!

This picture is of the men in formation from the Detroit Province.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

On Vacation!

I'll be on vacation in Omena, Michigan until August 14th. Obviously, I do have internet access but I can't promise frequent updates.

I hope all of you are keeping well. This is sort of the calm before the storm of teaching high school, so I'm really trying to enjoy the peace and quiet!

Monday, July 20, 2009

In-Flight No No's

I fly frequently enough in my avocation as a musician for Irish dancing competitions that I’ve become a connoisseur of seats (JetBlue has comfy seats, Continental’s leave my bum sore), in-flight food (I appreciate Continental’s commitment to providing food, but I really love the United snack-box), boarding procedures (on United, they board windows first. Continental boards from the rear forward. And Southwest boards in groups based on your check-in time), and in-flight perks (MidWest Express has delicious food for sale and awesome chocolate chip cookies).

Over the years I have done more than my fair share of travel. I have, consequently, developed a host of pet peeves associated with travel. Before I head off on vacation, I thought I might render a service to fellow travelers by sharing this list so that you can avoid committing an atrocious faux pas that will cause me to say prayers against you and your well being.

• Even in these tough economic times, bringing a raw onion and a plastic-wrapped summer sausage with you as your in-flight snack is not advisable.
• Please refrain from lathering your legs with cocoa butter, especially if you plan on falling asleep. To begin with, cocoa butter has a distinctive smell. Second, when you fall asleep, your legs will invariably change position and your right leg will press up against your seatmate’s, imparting a dark stain on his khaki pants.
• Do not ask the person sitting next to you if he has “been redeemed.” He is not a coupon. I’m very pro evangelization, but the confined quarters of an airplane may not the be most appropriate place for it.
• It is a show of consideration to bathe and brush your teeth before going to the airport. This is especially important if your head happens to tilt to one side when you sleep, blasting your neighbor with an odor so foul that it makes the local sewage treatment plant look like a Chanel outlet.
• Having bathed, do not feel obliged to douse yourself in your drugstore cologne. Axe body-spray might win you a date at a bar, but it will earn you only the ire of other passengers if they can smell you down the jetway.
• During the meal service, if your neighbor has fallen asleep, please do not attempt to steal the nut-log out of his meal tray. It belongs to him. Indeed, just think how embarrassed you’ll be if he wakes up as your big fingers are fumbling to extricate the nut-log from between the bun/beef/lettuce entrĂ©e and the wilted side-salad.
• Your spouse or partner many think your feet are sexy, but they’re probably gross to everyone else. If you slip your sandals off, please keep them off of the seat and, whatever you do, do not think that the two hours of air travel are affording you the opportunity to pick at your calluses or to de-lint your toenails.
• The aforementioned comment applies also to playing with or picking at your teeth or your nose.
• If you want to avoid looking like a raging alcoholic on a short flight, don’t ask the people sitting on either side of you if they’d buy a drink for you if you give them the money.
• I’m all for traveling in style, but is it really a good idea to put on ALL of your jewelry before you head out to the airport, where you’ll have to take all of it off to go through security? Furthermore, if you are going to wear thigh-high boots, remember that you’ll have to manage to get them off somehow.
• Once you’re through security, it might be a nice gesture to not get dressed while standing next to the conveyor belt. Take your possessions and walk on and then, when you’re no long blocking traffic, you can feel free to get dressed.
• If you travel with children – and God bless you if you do! – please keep an eye on them so that they don’t paint someone’s leg with peanut butter.

As I said, these are pet peeves. They are such because they are all things I have seen and experienced in my travels. Funny though some of them may be in retrospect, many of these have contributed to great irritation. If you can avoid committing any of these, know that you’re on your way to earning your way to traveler’s heaven!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Another Round of Packing

After I write this post, I will turn my attention to packing up the vast majority of my earthly belongings as I move from the John Carroll University Jesuit Community to....well, I don't exactly know yet!

I'm going to Milwaukee tomorrow night to play the accordion at two Irish dancing competitions. I'll return Sunday night and I suspect I'll seek lodging at Grandma Hagan's house (read: the only person besides myself who is happy to do my laundry). I'm planning on driving up to Detroit on Monday evening, storing clothes and some sound equipment in my new room at the Jesuit community of the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. I'll come back to Cleveland on Tuesday morning, see some family and friends, and then on Thursday I'm driving up to Omena, Michigan where we have our villa. The first week of villa this year will be spent on a work-crew: I, along with several other Jesuits, will be cleaning the villa grounds and tearing down a few abandoned shacks that are on the property. This latter task is the one I most look forward toward: once they are torn down, I've been assured that we can drag the lumber to the beach and create a bonfire. Since I'm taking my camera with me, rest assured that there will be pictures!

As I prepare to head off to Villa with the other guys in formation, I'm beset with both great excitement and nervousness. I'm excited that I'll get to see my friends and classmates and to have almost two weeks to be with them. I'm nervous, though, because as soon as Villa concludes I will begin the new teacher orientation!

This fall, I'll be teaching three courses: 1 section of Intro to UD High (freshmen), 2 sections of New Testament (sophomores), and 1 section of senior philosophy. I have a lot of ideas about how I want to approach these courses, but I must admit that until I get there, I'll have no idea whether they'll work or not!

I have taught many times before: kindergarten, junior high, and college students. I think my gifts as a teacher are that I'm highly organized and I'm enthusiastic. My biggest fear in teaching is that I won't tend well enough to the young men who are being entrusted to my care. The cura personalis or "care for the person" asks that I address both their academic and spiritual needs. I only pray that my teaching is worthy of these students.

On that note, I'm off to do laundry. I hope all of you are having a restful and relaxing summer. I'll try to post again before I head up to Omena - perhaps I can get some pictures of my new digs at UD High - but if I go silent for awhile, rest assured that all is well.

Peace and Blessings!

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

For the Love of God!

One of the practices I regularly encourage others to participate in is saying the Rosary. My Rosary beads are seldom far from reach. Long road trips, take-offs and landings in airplanes, waiting rooms, evening walks, and the time before mass: each provides enough downtime that I can knock off a decade or more of prayer. It's not my main source of prayer, by any means, but it is a practice that I continue to find very helpful.

So could someone explain to me how it is that I have managed to lose no less than six sets of Rosaries in the past year? I know that one pair was left in Los Angeles last September. If you come upon a gray fleece vest, they're the nice wooden Rosary beads in the right-hand pocket. Another pair was lost in the purple PT Cruiser I rented from Budget back in March (I didn't choose the color or's all they had). A third pair has probably flown the route from JFK Airport to Denver several dozen times since April. One set is in a Detroit hotel. The fifth one is probably in Lake Erie, because I tripped and dropped it into a drain. The sixth and final pair I seem to have lost somewhere in the yellow PT Cruiser owned by the John Carroll Community, even though I tore through the car three times looking for them.

While I admit responsibility for five of the losses, the sixth one is simply beyond me. I was actually being ATTENTIVE to where I put them. Nevertheless, I've managed to lose yet another pair. The trouble is, though, that I'm really particular about the kind I use (they have to be small but sturdy, light, preferably smooth, and be able to fit into my pocket easily). So this just adds further stress: not only do I need to buy several pair, but I have to stress out about what kind to buy.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Godfather

Yesterday, I became Godfather to my nephew Quinn Sullivan Duns. My sister, Reilley, is his Godmother.

Near as I can tell, he's the only member of my family compared to whom I have a lot of hair.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Ryan's Day with Nature (or why I'm not a Franciscan)

I took my first steps toward being a runner last September. I began by running 3-mile stretch of Fordham road once or twice a week. Over time I managed to increase the number of miles. This led me, back in January, to begin training for a marathon, a feat I accomplished back in May.

I have found that running has been one of the better practices I have adopted as an aide to my spiritual life. Running, like prayer, takes discipline. Just as one must "settle into" prayer, so one must "settle into" a run: you stretch, take in some water, and perhaps eat something before embarking on your course. Some days prayer, like running, is very easy and it is a great delight to be out there. Other days it's far more difficult and one is tempted to give up. And yet we know that prayer, like running, is good for us so we persevere. Such disciplines, or ascetic practices, are ways in which we become literal "athletes for Christ."

I arose early this morning - around six - and stretched. I drank my water, had some coffee (I seldom do anything without a cup of coffee in the morning) and ate a whole-grain English muffin. At around 6:45, I stepped out of the house, turned on my iPod, and started to run.

It was a glorious morning. The sun shone brightly, there were few cars on the road, and the recent rains seem to have cleaned both the streets and the air. I relished the cool breeze that swept past me and I gave a silent prayer of thanksgiving to God for such a beautiful morning and this opportunity to participate in creation. My prayer, though, was interrupted by the shaking of a bush. Out from behind a low-growing shrub came a beautiful golden-white dog. While I'm normally skittish around dogs, I felt deeply consoled by this one. A friendly beast, the dog ran along side of me for about 3 blocks before he turned and returned to his place of origin.

Again, I gave thanks: the beauty of the morning and the loveliness of one of God's creatures. I silenced my iPod for a few moments and allowed myself to relish the morning's glory.

Today's course is nearly four miles longer than the one I've been doing these past few weeks. But I ran easily and felt very strong as I rounded the corner on the last long stretch that would lead me back to John Carroll University. And, as I ran down Fairmount Blvd, what should I see but two gorgeous deer crossing the street. They stood in the median strip of the boulevard and I chuckled inwardly at how human they seemed: it seemed as though they looked left, right, and then left again before proceeding to cross the street. I watched as they ambled up onto the tree lawn, crossed the sidewalk, and proceeded into a yard.

And then they stopped. Having maintained my pace as I marveled at them, it caught me off guard when they turned to stare at me. Big doe eyes. Dark. Black. Potentially malevolent. So I froze. It suddenly occurred to me that these animals could well perceive my efforts at exercise as my chasing after them. This caused images of "Animals Gone Wild" to flash through my mind and I was seized with fear that these animals might take a notion to attack me. SO I did what any reasonable person would do when faced with a potentially dangerous animal: I thrust out my hands, palms toward the deer, and spoke in a loud voice that I meant it no harm. Maintaining what I felt to be a reasonable distance, I edged my way around them, assuring and re-assuring them that I meant them no harm. Their enormous eyes followed me the entire time, glaring at me, until I made it past them. I was somewhat afraid to turn my back on them, fearing a hoof-and-run attack, but I took my chances and pushed a little bit harder to put some distance between me and the deer.

Again, I thanked God, but this time for not having been mauled by angry deer. I even thought of how the Cleveland Plain Dealer could have run the story had the deer actually attacked and killed me: "Deer God: Seminarian's Last Words as he is Mauled by Two Doe."

At nearly 45-minutes into my run, I was 1 for 1 in my dealings with nature.

As I entered into the last mile of my run, I really focused on pushing myself hard. I resumed listening to my iPod - I think, at this point, I had on Linkin Park's new single - and kept my eyes on the road ahead. That is, of course, until my eyes were distracted by a bluebird that appeared to be heading straight for me. My reaction time was a bit slow, to be sure, but I watched this bird doing what seemed like a swoop-and-dive straight toward me. I flinched, awaiting impact.

And then it dropped out of they sky. Just dropped straight down at my feet. I stopped for a moment and looked at it: it was, quite obviously, dead. Like a doornail. Ryan and Nature: 1 for 2. (I wonder if I had begun giving an anti-animal aura off or whether at this point in the run I had begun to smell so bad that my odor was potent enough to kill)

So I kept running and finished my exercise in relative peace.

Now I'm in something of a quandary. I'm supposed to go over to my parents' house for 4th of July celebrations, but I am actually terrified of going out to the car: following the trajectory of my day, there's probably a bear sitting behind the wheel. And even if I do make it over to my parents, what it is to guarantee that I won't go into the kitchen to get a beer only to find a Chupacabra drinking tea.

I recount this for my readers, firstly, because I find the story sort of humorous. It's so strange that I've deemed it blog-worthy. Second, as an extrovert, I have had the experience that "quiet prayer" can be somewhat draining on a day-to-day basis. For this reason, I have found it helpful to do something physical while praying. Many nights I'll go out for a walk and pray the rosary or, as I did this morning, relish the chance to bask in the glory of creation (that is, of course, when I wasn't pleading with or apparently killing it). This is not to say that quiet prayer is bad, or should be avoided: it is an important way of "being with" the Lord, to be sure! But there's no reason not to add variety to one's prayer life and, strange encounters with nature aside, I have certainly found running to help cultivate a profound attitude of gratitude for God's work in creation.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Requiem in Pacem: My teacher, my friend

As my readers know, I am seldom at a loss for words. But for days, I have struggled to find a way to express the deep sorrow I feel that my teacher and mentor, Doctor Michael Pennock, has died.

"Doc" Pennock is a legend at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland. Over the course of a long teaching career, he influenced and shaped the lives of countless numbers of students. Nor was his reach limited to his immediate students. Doc was a best-selling author of religious textbooks that have been used throughout the country for decades.

So what do I say about the man who helped me through a terribly dark period in my own faith life? How do you encapsulate the life of a man who relished telling ornery junior and senior boys that his great loves in life were "pizza, golf, my wife, and sex with my wife"? How you bid adieu to a man who, through word and deed, showed you what it meant to be a Christian? How do you thank a man who taught you so much about love: not only what it was, not only what it meant to love another person, but also what it meant to receive it?

As a former student and one who admired him greatly, I will miss my old mentor. As a theologian, I will always look to him as a model, as one who ceaselessly pursued a relationship with Jesus Christ and who put all of his talents and gifts to the service of the Gospel as a teacher. As a teacher, I will emulate his gentleness, his humor, and his pastoral skill. And as a Christian, I will celebrate tomorrow that he stands now in the presence of the Heavenly Court in the presence of the God he loved and served throughout his life.

I ask for prayers for Doc's wife Carol and their family: Scott & Misty, Jennifer & Thomas, Amy & Jonathan, and Christopher.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame