Saturday, February 27, 2010

Personal Trainer

I guess it is one of the consequences of teaching 100+ adolescents each day that they come up with sobriquets, or nicknames, for you. I've never really had many nicknames. My brother used to call me "Bumster" and my father used to refer to me by a modified version of my middle name Gerard and would call me "Gerard-o". My mom generally called me "Ry" and as a Jesuit most people, at least to my face, simply call me "Duns."

So I've been most interested by the creativity shown by my students in developing nicknames for me...although, I fear, I know only the vanilla ones! Commonly heard:

  • Mr. D
  • Big D
  • Big Daddy D
  • Dunsy (the y in this case is held long, akin to Duns-eeeee)
  • Duns-y (the y in this instance in emphasized, sort of like Duns-E)
  • Abba D
  • Abba Duns
The latter two - the Abba series - are most common with the underclassmen whereas the first five tend to be bigger with the seniors. With some trepidation I am including this link to the Abba Duns page on Facebook - one of my students created it and put up a rather interesting picture of me. I wouldn't suggest becoming a fan of the page, but you might want to check it out if only to see how deranged (I mean that in a good way) my students are.

I've been reading John Henry Newman's Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent. In this work, Newman makes a distinction between theology and religion that has been really helpful for me, one that makes a comment made by one of my freshmen particularly gratifying.

Theology, as I understand Newman, is the realm of abstract notions whereas religion is the real stuff of devotion. Without going too in-depth, my understanding is that theology is the speculation about something whereas religion is the lived experience of that thing. Hence Christology is the theological reflection about Jesus Christ, while discipleship is the concrete relationship one has with the person of Jesus met through prayer and practice.

A few weeks ago, one of my students said to me, "Abba Duns, you're kind of like a personal trainer for my faith. This class is like a gym and I feel like I'm getting a really good workout."

This is one of the nicest things a student has ever said to me. It is true that part of my job is to teach theology - there is content to the course: dates, doctrines, developments, history, controversy, etc.. The propositions of theology, what it is that I can test them about, are like the fixtures of a gym: pull-up bars, weights, treadmills, and the like. But it is only when a student comes in a wants to work out, wants to do more than take stock of what the gym has and actually use it, that I can do what I really love: introduce him to the person of Jesus Christ and help him to grow in that relationship. Just as a trainer cannot make someone fit, but can only give advice and assistance, so too is it that a "personal trainer for the faith" can only instruct those willing to exercise.

This has been one of the great privileges of my regency thus far: I have gotten to teach kids about theology but, I hope, I have managed to show them how to live their religion with joy. I am much taken with John Allen's phrase "Affirmative Orthodoxy" as a stance of saying what Catholicism is for rather than a polemical screeching about what it is against. I pray that I communicate to my students that their faith can be about a joyful commitment to the Kingdom of God and a deep and loving relationship with Jesus Christ, a friendship that carries both the grace of discipleship and the burden of the cross, but one that enables them always to live life for the Greater Glory of God.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Still no internet

Things are still silent on this end - I've no in-room access to the internet! The only time I can post is when the kids are out of my classroom...which is seldom, it seems!

Speaking of, the invading horde is upon us!

Friday, February 19, 2010


I apologize for the week's silence: my Jesuit community is on the same internet server as the school and last weekend, after the school's server was upgraded, there were complications getting my computer (an iMac) into the system. So I've been relegated to checking email using my cell phone and responding to messages during the day during my off periods.

I hope everyone's Lent is off to a good start. As it has been my custom, I have chosen a text to be my guide throughout the Lenten season. This year, I have chosen Archbishop Bruno Forte's To Follow You, Light of Life. I read this book last summer during my 8-day retreat and I found it so moving that I'm returning to it.

This morning, I found myself tremendously moved by Forte's explication of the well-known parable of the "Prodigal Son" which he renames the parable of the "Merciful Father." Forte masterfully uses this parable as a window into the drama of God's love, human sinfulness, and the effervescent joy of salvation. As a Jesuit seminarian, I found my own heart pricked when I read the following description of the elder son on the story: becomes immediately clear that outward proximity does not necessarily mean nearness of heart. One can live the whole of one's life in God's house and yet not love God. It is not enough to rely on being inside the walls of the house of the Lord. What really matters is being close to God's heart, deeply in love with him.
As we begin our annual Lenten pilgrimage, walking with the Lord to Calvary, I hope that each of us puts our Lenten practices into perspective. Lent is not meant to be an endurance contest, a testing of the will to see how much one can sacrifice or withstand. Rather, Lent is a time to refocus on what is really central and important in our lives: that we dedicate our feeble hearts to loving and serving the Lord. When we make sacrifices, when we abstain and fast, we do so in part to remind ourselves of what is truly essential, of what we cannot live without: the boundless and effervescent love of God who calls out to each of us to fall more and more deeply in love and enter more fully into God's own life.

This Lent, my intention for myself and for others is to grow in an awareness of the love that God offers and to respond ever more joyfully. For I do have all that I have wanted and continue to want: to be a Companion of Jesus, one dedicated to helping to establish God's Kingdom on earth. I need, however, to be reminded daily of why I do this: because I have been loved by God and the best way I can respond to this love is by loving, by preaching the Gospel, by being a Jesuit who is committed to the Greater Glory of God.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Break

The University of Detroit Jesuit High School & Academy has the nickname (whether duly earned or not) of "Holiday High." I don't know the history of the name and, frankly, I don't much care: all I know is that classes don't resume again until Ash Wednesday. Winter Break was made all the sweeter when school was canceled yesterday due to the snow, giving us a full week of vacation.

These last few weeks have been very busy. I'm teaching three different courses and one of those courses is brand new to me. I'm on several different committees and I'm working with various candidates interested in a vocation to the Society of Jesus. There are also basketball games, swim meets, wrestling matches, hockey and, if I can make it some afternoon, bowling matches that I'd like to attend. After school, I usually have a few kids lingering in the room, some who just want to talk about life, some who have questions about faith, some who just need someplace to go.

This semester, one of my "Prefect Assignments" is to sit at the guard's post in the school's Atrium from 7:30-7:50 each morning. This is the main gathering area for the students before school begins (Atrium or the cafeteria) and the first school official they see when they stagger in each morning! I sort of feel sorry for them, because I'm a morning person and most of the guys are not. Nevertheless, each morning I try to greet the guys as they walk in, answer questions about last night's homework, answer the philosophical queries of the sophomores, spar with the atheists, and try to figure out why a room full of well-dressed young men smells like a barn. It's never dull.

I'm glad to have a week away from school, to have time to read and pray unhurriedly, to have a chance to go to Cleveland to see my family. It's so easy to get caught up in the unending rhythm of the school's life that I find I need to remind myself to be intentional about getting out and about. Maybe, if the weather in Cleveland holds, I can take my niece out sledding....

I hope everyone is staying warm and dry. I'll try to update the blog from Cleveland. Maybe I'll get some good sledding pictures!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Revitalizing an old Blog

Almost five years ago, while I was on an experiment in Wyoming, I began a blog site to capture my then-growing interesting in cooking. The blog, JesuitRecipes, was created in order to share recipes I found interesting and delicious. In June of 2007, Loretta Marquard (mother of Drew Marquard, SJ) began contributing extraordinarily delicious recipes to the site.

After a period of relative quiet, I'm glad to announce a third cook to the mix: Jason Welle, SJ. Jason is now in his second year of philosophy studies at Fordham University and holds the position of Menu Coordinator for the Scholastic Community of Ciszek Hall (I held the same post for the last two years).

Please feel free to stop by the site to check out the various recipes. Over the next few days, I hope to help organize the site better by labeling the old recipes under handy categories such as "dessert" or "entree" or "appetizer" in order to make them easier to navigate.

Bon Appetit!

Monday, February 01, 2010

Happy Birthday

Just a quick post to wish a very

Happy Birthday

to my uncle, Jack Duns.

Jack turned 58 today, an amazing accomplishment to be sure, given the stories I've heard of his younger days. Such a feat is surpassed only by my own father who will turn 60 on March 19th.

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame