Wednesday, December 29, 2010

End of the Year

It was with great hope and some enthusiasm that I sat down last Saturday (the 18th) and conceived of offering a blow-by-blow account of my family's Christmas. In years past, both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day have been occasions of much frivolity and tended to instance at least several noteworthy events.

This year, however, I fell sick with the flu last Wednesday morning and it took longer than I'd have expected to recover. Hence Christmas this year was a more...sober affair than usual.

A few fun happenings over my break:

  • Getting sick at Panera (last Wednesday) and then apologizing to the manager for the state I left the bathroom. The look of relief on her face was astonishing: "Well, as long as you're not blaming the food, that's okay."
  • Netflix is the greatest invention. Ever. I watched all of the available Charlie Chan movies while sick in bed. I then went on to watch a bunch of documentaries and even managed to get in a screening of The Bells of Saint Mary. All of this right from my laptop!
  • My niece (Emma) and nephew (Quinn) are endlessly entertaining. Quinn does fascinating tricks like putting socks and pens into the toilet and Emma talks nonstop (without subtitles).
  • My least favorite thing to do is getting the oil changed on the car I drive. I get so nervous when I have to drive it into the changing bay at the Valvoline: what would happen if I didn't turn the wheel the right way? The workers yell out commands to one another so quickly and they try to get me to buy things I neither want nor (think) I need. 
As you can see, a pretty uneventful break. 

I go to the Colombiere Center today in Clarkston, Michigan with almost 100 Jesuits in Formation for our annual Formation Gathering (AKA: Kiddie Conference). I'll be back on January 1st with a novice who will be living in our community and teaching at the school this semester.

As we close out the 2010 year, I cannot help but be grateful. It has been a remarkable year capped, in my own mind, by the tremendous success of our first U of D Jesuit Pledge Detroit! initiative. Right now, I feel as though I am exactly where I need to be doing precisely what I am called to do. This is a great grace, one for which I am heartily grateful. 

Please be assured of my prayers as we enter into the new year. Let's hope that a slightly less demanding second semester might occasion more opportunities to write and to share with the world further stories from this Jesuit's Journey!

God Bless and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Christmas!

I had such hopes of writing several posts this week. These hopes were dashed against the hard rocks of the flu that has kept me in bed since Wednesday. I ventured out last night and saw my family but it might have been premature and I paid for it through the night last night. So I'm going to take it easy today: I have one thing yet to pick up for a Christmas gift and then I'll join my family for Mass later in the evening.

Please be assured of my prayers - I've not much else to do as I sit here in bed - on this Eve of the Savior's birth!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Church is a Process

The great Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe writes in The New Creation that the
...process by which the world grows to maturity in Christ is the Church. The Church, as we shall see, is not a thing, it is a process in time. (18)
His insight has been percolating in my heart and mind these last few days of vacation and, this morning, I'd like to offer a few comments upon it.

I frequently lament the lack of charity on the part of Catholic bloggers. Dr. Jeff Mirus, just this week, mused over at that he is tempted to end each of his writings with "this very particular truism: The Jesuits must be reformed." In his writings, Dr. Mirus bandies about the label of Modernism - a slippery, unwieldy word that he doesn't take the time to pin down the precise way in which he uses it - and decries the failings of the Society of Jesus. Reading his piece, one would get the sense that there is but a small remnant of faithful Jesuits out there and that the rest (of us? Or am I part of the remnant??) are a bunch of heterodox barbarians who delight in scandalizing the faithful.

Sometimes I am left to wonder, then, if persons like Dr. Mirus, Joseph Fromm, R.R. Reno, and Diogenes fall into the category Father McCabe describes when he writes

A man whose heart is full of hatred but who does not deny the Creed can be genuinely baptized and receive the Faith, though in such a case the Faith he receives is what we have called "dead faith", a faith which is not enlivened by charity. (44)
I'm not saying that these are bad men: indeed, I think they very often do very good work. But as I impress upon my sophomores, you cannot extract a generality out of a particular: the fact that some Jesuits do things that raise eyebrows does not mean that the entire body of the Society of Jesus is in need of reform. I would simply say that the entire body of the Society of Jesus needs to be reformed simply because it is a part of the Church, the Body of Christ, and we are called to part of the "new creation" wrought by Faith. We need to be reformed not because we have gone astray, or are wicked, or are heterodox; rather, we need to be in a constant state of reform because we are part of the living Body of Christ, the Church.

Monday, December 20, 2010

When are the Jesuits going to be Catholic?

I met some friends - guys I've not seen in very many years - this morning for coffee. We ordered our beverages (you can tell we're all growing up by our common order: regular coffee, black) and set about the business of catching up. We chatted of families, weddings, deaths, births of children, and the passing of loved ones. New jobs, career changes, and fears for the future peppered the discussion, too, and it was great to hear the stories and see how the lives of my friends had unfolded since we graduated in 1998.

At a certain point, the conversation turned to my decision to enter the Society of Jesus. "When," one of my friends asked, not without a barbed edge, "are the Jesuits going to be Catholic?"

Now I don't think he meant this to be offensive but, all the same, it cut a bit. Normally, I let these little jabs go but, being fueled by caffeine, I thought to pursue the issue. With no small amount of irritation lacing my voice, I asked him, "What, if you don't mind me asking, do you mean by this?"

He went on to talk about how ALL the Jesuits have become liberal and NONE of them love the Church any more. ALL Jesuits are disobedient and are involved in advancing some RADICAL AGENDA of liberalism. Jesuits seldom wear clerical attire in public, he added, and they breed confusion and dissent rather than clarity of thought and acceptance of the Church.

Having said his piece, my friend sat back. I sipped my coffee and met eyes with the other two guys who were with us, each of whom looked bemused and embarrassed.

The conversation that ensued for the next half-hour ranged over many topics. Later, I'll take up the question of the Catholicity of the Jesuits. Right now, I would like to make two points that touch on the experience of clergy (potentially) in general:

First, to the point of Jesuits being liberals, let me take one instance. When I am asked about whether I am Pro-Life or Pro-Choice (or Pro-Abortion) I have no reservation in averring that I am 100% pro-life. This meets with nods from many who seem to think that there are Jesuits out there who are actively working to kill unborn babies. Yet I always go on to say that not only am I vehemently against abortion, I am against euthanasia, I am against guns, I totally oppose the death penalty, and I'm not a fan of war. I'm also so Pro-Life that I think that we as a nation, and as a world, need to address the economic structures that contribute to crippling poverty. I am so Pro-Life that I think we as a nation need to take steps to address our flailing educational and medical systems. I am so Pro-Life that, when people hear how broadly I construe Pro-Life, I go from being a "Good Conservative" to being a "Filthy Liberal."

Does this make sense? If I agree with a person on abortion, I'm a Good Catholic. If I extend my valuation of life to other issues, I become a Socialist and I'm told that I'm out-of-touch with reality and that I live in an ivory tower (such towers, I guess, abound in Detroit). How is it that the more Pro-Life I am, the more that I endorse and affirm the dignity of EVERY HUMAN LIFE from womb to tomb, that I am transformed from a "Good Catholic" into a "Dissenting Jesuit"? Boggles my mind.

As for clerical attire, I wear the Roman collar every day to work (unless we have a spirit day, when I seize the opportunity to wear jeans and a spirit shirt). I also wear it to sporting events (when we play other Catholic league teams), when I chaperone dances, when I go out to meet benefactors, when I attend social events that are directly linked to the school or to the Society of Jesus. Yet the fact that I spend most of my waking hours wearing black isn't enough for some: when I go to the movies, the doctor's, or to hang out with my friend I should be clad in clerical attire. So should clergy be "on" all of the time?

I think people forget the demands that are placed on priests and religious today. We are expected to be good preachers - not too long-winded, of course, and sufficiently entertaining - and good with balancing the books. A high premium is placed on orthodoxy, so long as it doesn't make waves or make people feel uncomfortable. We need to be available at a moment's notice to bring Communion, celebrate weddings, do wakes and funerals, offer counseling, rush to hospitals, and teach courses. And, I might add, try to find time for personal prayer and relaxation.

In other words, I often wonder if people realize the enormous burden that is placed on clergy today. Speaking personally, some days it really stinks to be a Jesuit. Jokes about pedophile priests, about clergy abuse, about financial improprieties, about discrimination and hypocrisy, about a host of things...I get these a lot. People write comments on YouTube and on the blog and send me emails that are little more than scurrilous attacks on me, the Jesuits, and the Church at large. If my experience is at all similar to that of others, is it any wonder that guys would want to go to the movies, or out to dinner, or to the bar without having to be identified as clergy? Some might see sporting clerical attire as a public witness...others experience it as a target. There is a time and a place for all things and, as I've experienced it, there's no hard-and-fast rule for wearing a collar. I think my solution - wear it when it involves my working or being a Jesuit presence - has worked well...for I just can't imagine that my wearing it to see "A Nightmare on Elm Street" or "Black Swan" has much of a witness value!

It's sometimes disheartening to poke about on the internet to see the great animosity had (1) toward the Catholic Church, (2) toward priests, and within the Church (3) those who hate the Jesuits. These are humbling days, in my experience, for there is precious little luster or glory associated with being a part of the Church. Perhaps I'd have it no other way: the Christ child was born in a manger and, perhaps, it's my job to sit vigil amidst the manure!

My friend did apologize for his comment, saying he didn't realize things were so complicated. This, I think, is symptomatic of idiot-blogging and the news bites we get on television. We want short, pre-digested bits of information so that we don't have to take the time to wade through the information and make informed judgments on our own. Perhaps here, then, is the challenge each of us can accept this final week of Advent: to embrace the story of Christ's coming not as a mere fact, a bit of information, but rather as an invitation to learn more, to explore more deeply what the coming of the Son of Man means and how it might encourage us to grow as women and men for others who have committed themselves to the greater glory of God.

Cleaning Out the YouTube Bin

As the views of my videos posted to YouTube approach 3,000,000 it has become harder and harder to keep up with the deluge of email I receive daily. Granted, there are some single videos that have many millions of views; my videos, many instructional in nature, don't simply occasion comments but also elicit numerous emailed questions and comments from viewers.

Arising early this morning, I set about going through nearly a thousand emails that have come in over the last two months. In the craziness of school and my other obligations, I have had to sacrifice the attention these people deserve. I feel somewhat guilty over it but it can't be helped: there is only one of me and I need to put my (live) students first!

So as I went through the emails that had been addressed to me personally, I plucked out a few of the gems to share with my readers:

  • Dear soon-to-be Father Ryan, 
                Can you do exorcisms? My son is possessed and I need someone 
                to get the demon out of him.
  • Are you really studying to be a priest or is this just a marketing strategy?
  • Do the Jesuits really control OPEC?
  • What is it like to be part of the Illuminati?  [Note: why would you ask a person in an ostensibly secret society what it is like to be a member of said society? If I did belong to such an organization, don't you think I'd deny it?]
There were others, but none that was particularly amusing. Sometimes I go through and find a host of hysterical nuggets but, today it seemed, I hit a dull spot. About two dozen of the nearly one-thousand notes involved invitations to play in various places and another fifty were meaningful questions related to people's vocations and spiritual life. Several hundred were requests and then the rest were rants and harangues. 

It does occur to me that I should seek out some endorsement deals from manufacturers of tin whistles. Many people wrote asking about what kind of whistle to buy and, to be honest, I'm useless on this: I have played the same whistles for over fifteen years. I don't keep up-to-date on instruments so I'm a terrible person to solicit for advice. The company that makes Generation should pay me a commission as I do mention them by name as being a good beginner model. Perhaps, if I decide to remake the series, I should go find corporate sponsorship...I'd be the Michael Jordan of the whistle industry. 

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Do you hear what I hear?

If you strain hard enough, you might still hear the weeping and gnashing of my students' teeth. I'll admit it: I'm the Grinch teacher who assigns homework over Christmas break. My seniors have to read about sixteen pages of Fear and Trembling and my sophomores have to write a five-paragraph reflection...that has to be turned in online by Friday, December 24th.

You heard it right: I made something due on Christmas Eve. Next to decapitating Santa Claus or turning Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer into road kill, there seems to be no graver offense possible for a teacher. In my defense, I justify my actions accordingly:

  1. Their assignment is to write on one of the Gospel readings that they will hear at Christmas Mass. It sort of defeats the purpose to have them write a reflection that they would give on Christmas AFTER the fact. I want them to read and think about the readings BEFORE they hear them. 
  2. If I make it due on January 4th, most will wait until January 3rd to write it. In this case, I'll get receive 69 papers all at once and I'll have to read and correct them that week ahead of finals. Further, the essays will be hastily written because the students will have waited to do all of their homework until the last day. If nothing else, making it due the 24th gets one assignment out of the way.
  3. Because the evil within me is foul...and I love it. (Attributed to Saint Augustine)
Anyway, there we stand. One essay has been submitted - 1/69 - and I await with baited breath the rest of them. I hope they trickle in so that I can grade them piecewise and do a few each day. 

Twas the Week Before Christmas...

So I have left Detroit and rest now in the living room of the Duns family's ancestral home...well, it'll be our descendants' ancestral home, at least.

At the moment, I'm watching The Real Housewives of Beverly Hill with my sister. I feel sorry for these women: they seem to live such vapid, uninteresting lives. This particular episode showcased a dinner party held by Kelsey Grammer's (now ex) wife. The mother and aunt of Paris Hilton attended as did a Medium. By Medium I mean one who purports to communicate with the dead; I haven't any idea what size she wears.

I mention this because I suspect the producers of the show must work hard to make these women's lives appear mildly interesting. They should come and videotape my family in Cleveland: we're every bit as dysfunctional and almost certainly more entertaining. If I can manage it, I'll try to keep folks updated as the week unfolds: since I'll be here all week, I should have plenty of time to post my observations.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snow Day

There are so few words or phrases in the English language as capable of sending a frisson of joy and excitement through the student body as the phrase, "Snow Day." Last night, a little after 9:00 pm, the decision was made to cancel school today due to icy driving conditions and single-digit temperatures.

It is nice to sleep in two hours later than usual, to eat a leisurely breakfast, and to ponder the ways in which this gift of a day might be spent. Shall I read my book? Go to the gym? Watch television? Plot the downfall of my enemies? Who knows, who cares! The day is ripe with possibilities, with untold chances for enjoyment and rest.

I recall Advent of last year being so much more chaotic. A first-year teacher with three different courses, I spent as much of my time trying to figure out what I was supposed to be doing as I did actually doing anything. I'm grateful that I'm a pretty quick study so that this year I have a good senes of my role as a teacher and Senate moderator. The busier I am and greater responsibility I have in the school, I find, the more joyful I am because the more I get to interact with the students.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

High schoolers’ service benefit community

Here's an article from the Michigan Catholic about this year's "U of D Jesuit Pledge Detroit!" initiative. As of this morning, this effort has raised over $153,000 for our students!

High schoolers’ service benefit community

Monday, December 06, 2010

Already into Advent!

It's hard to believe that the whirlwind travels of the Thanksgiving Holiday - Chicago and Tampa - are now behind me and that, two weeks from now, I'll be back in Cleveland for Christmas Vacation. This semester has flown by so quickly...come January, I realized last night, I'll reach the half-way point of my regency. 1.5 years down, 1.5 to go. Sobering to think about!

This week, we begin sales of the Winter Spirit Shirt. I'll post a picture of them later, after each one has been folded and neatly stacked for sale (I sometimes wonder, with the amount of things I sell for the Senate, whether I'm a moderator or a wholesaler).

I'm very much looking forward to Christmas vacation this year. Our last day of school is the 17th, so I get nearly a full week of pre-Christmas preparation time this year. I'll have a lot of papers to grade - 35 philosophy papers come due on the 17th - but I'll also have time to do things I enjoy: run, yoga, read, and make cookies.

I wish I had about four more hours in each day, for then I could do things like update the blog! Without such luxuries, however, I must be content with wishing readers well as we continue our Advent journey and to assure them of my prayers as our hearts cry out Maranatha: Come, Lord Jesus, Come!

Flute playing priest finds YouTube fame