Things Jesuit

Three Poems

Ignatian Spirituality - Mon, 11/06/2017 - 05:30

By Mary Ellen Smajo

Jubilee You’ve multiplied the many fruits of every gift You’ve given me: music, service, intellect, with love-begetting-love multiplied most; and now like a plant in a pot You ask me to rest; and looking up I see Your hand and feel grace shower down restoration, emancipation, readying me for Your coaxing forth the new growth, the new buds, the new fruits, the new gifts-for-the-world. At rest I receive what I need for next, what serves [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

The Power of One

Ignatian Spirituality - Fri, 11/03/2017 - 05:30

By dotMagis Editor

This whole universe, with its trillions of galaxies, began as a tiny speck of concentrated energy; smaller than a grain of salt. When you were first conceived, you were just a single cell, a mere pinpoint of life, barely visible to the naked eye but packed full of the potential for everything you would ever become—every action, choice, and relationship. You are just a drop in the ocean, but without you the ocean will not [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

Aronofsky’s mother! and the Weirdness of Catholicism

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 23:01

What do Darren Aronofsky’s recent film mother! and the Catholic Church have in common?

They’re both really weird.

The movie is a unique and disturbing interpretation of the story of God’s relationship with humanity. Aronfsky’s symbolism is obvious:

  • Javier Bardem is God, the poet who creatively authors a two-part epic in which he plays the leading role.
  • Jennifer Lawrence is a fusion of Mother Earth and the Virgin Mary. She’s Mother Earth in her role as the caretaker of the home, a symbol of the universe. She’s Mary in her role as the mother of the child that Bardem and humanity sacrifice near the end of the poet’s New Testament.
  • Ed Harris is Adam, the first man to enter the house, the universe.
  • Michelle Pfeiffer is Eve, the wife of Adam and the mother of two sons, Cain and Abel (played by Domhnall and Brian Gleeson).

The tale that connects them is mysterious and epic, occasionally beautiful and often creepy.

So apart from the biblical characters, what makes the movie weird and Catholic? I’ll give you three reasons:

Humanity kills Jennifer Lawrence’s son. Subsequently, Javier Bardem’s followers begin to eat his flesh. It’s not a pretty picture, but it is a clear reference to the Catholic Sacrament of the Eucharist. After all, we do claim that our most sacred ritual is a meal of Jesus’ flesh and blood.

The people that Bardem has created are prone to horrible wickedness. They are so evil that one wonders why he made them in the first place. They kill each other, and, finally, they kill his own son. Nevertheless, Bardem forgives them without blinking twice. His mercy is loco generous. The Church recounts the same story throughout the Bible’s history of salvation. Adam and Eve tragically sin, and one of their sons kills the other. Humanity is poisoned from the get-go, but God sends his own son to love them–even though he knows that they will murder him. This love is mind-boggling, even scandalous.

Bardem’s disciples mark each other’s foreheads with a strange substance. If you go to church for Ash Wednesday or Confirmation, you’ll see the same. They light hundreds of candles in dark spaces. If you visit a Catholic shrine, you’ll see the same. They pray in front of an image of Bardem himself. If you look at a Catholic icon of Jesus, you’ll see the same.

 

These similarities are uncanny. Aronofsky is clearly hoping to make a point about Catholicism–perhaps religion in general–and it’s undoubtedly a negative one. The movie comes off at best sacrilegious and at worst militantly atheistic, mostly because the God played by Bardem is a total psychopath. Like an egomaniac, he takes extreme delight in humanity’s praise, and he refuses to intervene as the universe goes up in flames. In an article and video, Bishop Robert Barron of Los Angeles has responded to the movie’s solemn critique of God. He is right to point out that the Christian God is in no need of humanity’s praise, being perfectly happy in himself as a community of three divine persons.

I would add to Barron’s critique by highlighting the film’s bait-and-switch concerning the relationship between God and his son. In the film Bardem hands his child over to the world for sacrifice as if he is completely separate and emotionally detached from his son. This detail makes all the difference in the world. It makes God seem cruel and cold. Who would smilingly give his kid to murderers?

Essentially, in mother! God is the torturer, the reason for evil in the world. However, in Christian teaching, God is the son, and this God-man himself enters the world for its salvation. He is not indifferent to the world’s suffering; rather, he becomes one of us to personally show us the path to peace and justice.  In Christianity, humanity is the torturer of itself as a free agent capable of choosing good and evil. This distinction may seem a bit nuanced, but it’s simply high school level theology with which Aronofsky seems wildly unfamiliar.

Regardless of the movie’s theological error, it is a must-see. It restores to its proper place the most interesting–and strange–questions about the universe. In a world that is increasingly indifferent to religion, Aronofsky’s movie is like a slap across the face that says, “Wake up! There’s something serious at stake here.” In a generation of “nones” and “mehs,” mother! puts the viewer face to face with the primordial, stunning, and eerie truth: “If God exists, then everything changes.”

Granted, Aronofsky’s message is closer to, “If God exists, then everything is a nightmare,” but it’s a start. The movie gets an A+ in art but an F if we’re talking accuracy in a eighth grade religion class. But in terms of connecting the weirdness that links the two, it’s a start.

Aronovsky and I can disagree on the details.

-//-

The cover photo is featured courtesy of Jennifer Lawrence Films of the Flickr Creative Commons. 

 

Categories: Things Jesuit

10 Surprising Things in the Catechism

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 11/02/2017 - 02:14

The Catechism of the Catholic Church was first promulgated by St. John Paul II 25 years ago, October 11, 1985. In honor of this silver anniversary, TJP would like to point out some surprising things about the Catechism. If you don’t own a copy, it can be found on the Vatican website. Check it out!

1. Renewing your driver’s license soon? The Church encourages organ donation: “Organ donation after death is a noble and meritorious act and is to be encouraged as an expression of generous solidarity” CCC 2296

via GIPHY

2. Think fake news is only a recent problem? The Catechism already condemns it: “Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice, and solidarity: The proper exercise of this right demands that the content be true – and within the limits set by justice and charity – complete.” CCC 2494

via GIPHY

3. The Catechism says we can talk of the motherhood of God: “God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature. The language of faith thus draws on the human experience of parents, who are in a way the first representatives of God for man.”

via GIPHY

4. Thought lay people can’t administer sacraments? In the Roman Church, the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the couple[Footnote 2. Anyone can baptize in emergencies as well, per CCC 1256]: “According to the Latin tradition, the spouses as ministers of Christ’s grace mutually confer upon each other the sacrament of Matrimony by expressing their consent before the Church.” CCC 1623

via GIPHY

5. The Catechism has a whole article (CCC 1928-1948) on social justice: “Society ensures social justice by providing the conditions that allow associations and individuals to obtain their due.” CCC 1943

 

6. Feel like Catholicism is just a bunch of rules? Well, actually the Catechism is not a rule book. Less than a third of the book deals directly with the moral life (paragraphs 1749-2557, out of 2865 total paragraphs, by my back-of-the-envelope calculations).

via GIPHY

7. Concerned about climate change and pollution? Care for creation is there, even before Laudato Si’: “Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.” CCC 2415

via GIPHY

8. Isn’t faith opposed to science? Actually, the Catechism praises science for its contributions to truth: “[M]ethodological research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are.” CCC 159

 

9. God gave you your voice, let Him hear it! The Catechism encourages you to sing at Mass: “Song and music fulfill their function… according to three principal criteria: beauty expressive of prayer, the unanimous participation of the assembly at the designated moments, and the solemn character of the celebration.” CCC 1157

via GIPHY

10. Lastly, our very own St. Ignatius of Loyola is quoted three times! All from his Spiritual Exercises:

  1. “Do not swear whether by the Creator, or any creature, except truthfully, of necessity, and with reverence” CCC 2164[Footnote 1. Annotations from the Catechism are generally referenced by “CCC” then the paragraph #], SE 38
  2. “Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try in all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved” CCC 2478, SE 22
  3. In contemplation, one “learns the ‘interior knowledge of our Lord,’ the more to love him and follow him” CCC 2725, SE 104

 

***

Feature image courtesy FlickrCC user Henry Burrows. Others from ChurchPOP.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Even in the Aftermath

Ignatian Spirituality - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 05:30

By Cara Callbeck

Recently I attended the showing of a local organization’s documentary called After a Suicide—Moving Past Why. While this would not normally be on the top of my “must do” events for a Friday night, I was there with my husband to support a friend of ours who lost her son to suicide a couple of years ago, and who was featured in the documentary. I thought I would leave that night feeling sombre after focusing [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

Los Muertos Remain With Me

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Wed, 11/01/2017 - 02:01

We’ve come inside from the road, a welcome reprieve from the brutally hot southern Arizona desert. Our host, the chief medical examiner, begins a thorough explanation of the death investigation services the Pima County morgue provides for Unidentified Border Crossers (UBCs). My companions and I have just traversed all of Mexico. We’ve been visiting migrant shelters for the last month.

“The combination of the intense sun and scavenging critters can pick a corpse clean in a matter of days. Tattered clothing might be the only clues we can work with.”

I bow my head at these words and try to shake off images of young men I have recently met – guys who might end up as nothing more than a pile of bones and tattered clothes. When I pick my head back up, I’m relieved our group has started moving down the hallway. We emerge into a brightly lit examination room. The stench hits me suddenly and hard. My childhood dog would smell like this after he had a good romp with an animal carcass in the cornfield.

On the steel table in front of us is a neatly ordered skeleton. It provokes memories of Frank or Tom or whatever-the-name of that plastic skeleton in my high school biology classroom was. Except the mostly-complete skeleton in front of me is pure collagen and calcium. The bones are clean, betraying what I thought would accompany the stench. If this skeleton is not identified, it will eventually be buried in the pauper’s corner of the Pima County cemetery.

We huddle in a circle after walking among the mass of UBCs gravestones.They die because they can’t carry on and their companions leave them. They lie down in the desert sand, starved, dehydrated, afraid, and abandoned. Then they turn into skeletons. The priest among us says Mass beside those graves. Somewhere, somebody else is praying for these skeletons by name.

***

Every November 2nd since 2004, I think of Trent and Zach.

Trent and Zach were my friends in high school. Both were the class below me. Trent and I had spent much of the spring and summer traveling together to compete in off-season wrestling meets. Zach was a fellow parishioner and sang with me in a couple of youth choirs. To say their tragic death in a car accident was traumatic would be an understatement.

At our school, all of our gear that year – sports equipment, tshirts, car decals – had their initials on it. Their names on the outside gave a glimpse of the terrible pain we carried on the inside, a profound vacancy we felt acutely in the activities we once engaged with them.

Somewhere in a box in an attic, that gear is buried away. But I don’t need their initials on my clothes. Though they’ve been gone and long time, they remain with me.

***

Students pour into the classroom at the beginning of the passing period. I’m busy pulling up my PowerPoint slides as quickly as possible so as not to waste time with it during the class period.

“You know what I did this weekend, Mr. Hanson?” It’s Catrina, and I wish she hadn’t asked. This particular period is rowdy. The slightest pause on my part could lead to total chaos. These few minutes before the bell rings are crucial. “What’s that?” I gave in.

“My brother was an organ donor, and I met the guy who got his heart.”

I immediately look up and set the wireless keyboard aside. “Wait, what?”

“Yeah, at first we weren’t going to meet the guy cuz he didn’t want to but then he changed his mind so me and my mom met him on Saturday. I got to listen to his heart – my brother’s heart.”

I stare speechless into Catrina’s eyes. Tears start to well up in mine, which causes her to tear up, which causes me to tear up even more. The chaotic noise of the rest of the students resisting the beginning of class fades into the background.

I rip two tissues from the kleenex box on my desk, handing one to her and dabbing my eyes with the other. We turn slightly toward the window, attempting to protect the sanctity of this moment by giving our backs to the rest of the classroom.

***

A skeleton on a cold metal table and a mass grave filled with the bones of unnamed people. The initials of friends who died too soon. The still-beating heart of a brother who passed away.

In the month of November, when I remember my beloved dead, I’m reminded of how they remain with me; how my relationship with them has not ended. They remain part of the present while giving a glimpse of the future. Somehow, through this reminder, their bones gain flesh again, I hear them speak their own names, and their hearts beat on.

-//-

Categories: Things Jesuit

Finding the Martin Luther in All of Us

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Tue, 10/31/2017 - 02:14

The sound of hammer hitting nail continues to reverberate through imaginations five hundred years after it ceased echoing through Wittenberg. On this day, five centuries ago, Martin Luther posted his ninety-five theses and, so the story goes, began the Protestant Reformation. It is a moment that has been captured in art, drama, and film many times through those years—yet often it is remembered more as a symbol of the larger moment than as a particular historical event.

Admittedly, it is a captivating image: a lone, solemn man standing at the door of a medieval church, angrily nailing his list of grievances to a building that symbolizes to many the very thing he was criticizing. As a symbol, it is often used to suggest an underdog fighting a corrupt establishment, or a rebel taking a stand on conscience, or perhaps even a revolutionary bringing about a better system. Perhaps more than anything else, though, it evokes a sense of righteous indignation.

Righteous indignation is one thing our culture seems to agree upon these days, and so it is no surprise we would love to imagine a great moment of history so rich with it. Were Luther posting his theses today, we might expect him to use Twitter, or at least for the theses to quickly go viral. Social media has proven to be a prime venue for righteous indignation, surely better even than a church door was for Luther’s day. It’s not hard to find stories of people being fired because of Twitter controversies they started or which were started about them, stories of righteous indignation which can turn so easily to mob justice. As politics becomes more and more polarized, it’s hard to imagine an end in sight for the torch-and-pitchfork approach to social media or for the indignation both producing and produced by it.

And no wonder: Righteous indignation is a cheap high, and it seems to be one of the drugs of choice today, across generations. How satisfying is it to feel entirely right and just in one’s positions and to look down at the fool who just doesn’t get it, who is too blind or misguided or out of touch with reality to see how wrong they are? And righteous indignation allows you to look down on a person no matter how high up they are: I’ve seen it in different friends and family for the last four Presidents—and felt it myself towards all four, if I’m honest.

Yet before we are too quick to make Martin Luther the patron saint of righteous indignation, we might take a second look at that October morning. Whenever this event comes up in conversation, I love to ask people if they have read the ninety-five theses. In my experience, many have not, and I think often people would be disappointed if they did. Because of how much we lionize the moment, I think we expect searing critiques, direct assaults on the Pope and hierarchy, and a call for a whole new way of doing things (perhaps we can even imagine cries for democracy in the Church).

Here are just a few of the theses chosen at random:

“9. Accordingly, the Holy Spirit, acting in the person of the pope, manifests grace to us, by the fact that the papal regulations always cease to apply at death, or in any hard case.

22. Indeed, [the Pope] cannot remit to souls in purgatory any penalty which canon law declares should be suffered in the present life.

87. Again: What does the pope remit or dispense to people who, by their perfect penitence, have a right to plenary remission or dispensation?

94. Christians should be exhorted to be zealous to follow Christ, their Head, through penalties, deaths, and hells.”

Not exactly sick Twitter burns.

Nor are they particularly savage attacks on the hierarchy or the majority of Catholic practices. In fact, these propositions seem far more like sentences you would find in an academic or even committee document within a university or policy-making body. And here we find the balloon-popping truth about the ninety-five theses: their posting may not have been such a rich moment of righteous indignation and revolution. In Luther’s day, a theologian could do as he did to start a conversation—a disputation—over aspects of Church teaching and practices; it may have made him enemies, but it was not a rare occurrence.

Would Luther have felt some righteous indignation in his posting? I think it likely. Does this seem to be the driving force or the tone of his thoughts? Not at this point. That would come later. We seem to be premature in our celebration of the 500 th anniversary of the Reformation: it was not Luther’s ninety-five theses in 1517, but his refusal to submit to papal authority and his burning of the papal bull in 1520 that made his break with the Church official. Until that point, he was in a theological disputation within the Church of which he was an active member—something for which the Church always has room.

***

So why do we continue to remember Luther at the church door as the pivotal moment, and why do we build it up so much? For many reasons, I’m sure, but I’d guess at three worth reflection. First, because we love to lionize single dramatic moments of conflict and I think we Americans especially love criticisms of authority—and this moment is easily turned into that. This brings me to my second thought: we tend to simplify history, and to let later events reshape our understanding of earlier ones. We see Luther in 1517 through the lens of the whole Reformation which followed. Finally, I think it’s easier to latch on to this moment because Luther’s target hasn’t responded yet. By the time we get to 1520, it’s messy; both Luther and the churchmen who opposed him have had opportunities to mess up, go wrong, and hurt people. Righteous indignation is much easier before you have to see the face and recognize the humanity of your
target—and before you have a chance to say or do something stupid yourself.

By the end of his life, anger had come to be a hallmark of Luther, and to his own detriment. Yet perhaps when we remember the ninety-five theses today, we can remember them not as a moment of righteous indignation and self-satisfied criticism of authority. Maybe we can remember them as a call for dialogue and as a warning to the lasting harm that is caused when either side moves too quickly to righteous indignation.

Reform in the Western Christian tradition is two-fold: we look back to special moments of divine grace, but we also look forward to what God will continue to do. True reform also demands more than just a grievance or criticism. It requires a positive vision, an idea of what our Church or society ought to be. But most of all, as we consider our history today, let us remember that all Christian reform starts with less with righteous indignation than with our own conversion, our own need for reform. If we remember that, perhaps we can learn to have the kind of substantive dialogue that Luther tried to start five centuries ago.

Categories: Things Jesuit

When Do You Pray?

Ignatian Spirituality - Mon, 10/30/2017 - 05:30

By Vinita Hampton Wright

So, when do you pray? Think about that for a few moments. Most of us pray when we feel in desperate need of help or rescue. At the apex of anxiety over a teenager who is two hours late getting home or the car that’s acting up on the expressway in the middle of a downpour, we send our most blunt and honest prayers. At the other end of the experience spectrum, we utter prayers [...]

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Can a “Broader Conversation” about Life Still Include Abortion?

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Mon, 10/30/2017 - 02:14

We’ve all read articles and listened to arguments about how the Catholic pro-life movement needs to take a broader approach to life issues. Aware of my male privilege, the complexities of the abortion issue, and saddened by the ways women have been shamed in this conversation, I agree with those arguments. But as we close Respect Life Month, I am curious how often this argument is just an excuse to not talk about abortion at all.  

You’ve probably read these words by Sr. Joan Chittister:

I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.

She is right. Too often, however, her words are used to limit rather than expand the conversation on abortion. Sister Joan is not calling us to forget the issue of abortion. On the contrary, she is challenging us to connect abortion to a wide variety of issues that demean the dignity of human life.

Where are the Catholics willing to promote SNAP programs, education equity, child care subsidies, housing vouchers, denounce systemic racism and LGBTQ violence, and still challenge the morality of abortion out loud?  I think those voices could lie within young Catholic millennials and I wish they were louder.

There is a divide between “pro-lifers” who fail to preach a consistent ethic of life and those who resist various assaults on human dignity but neglect to question the morality of abortion. A voice is missing in our social, political, and theological conversations about life and dignity of the human person. If you’re a progressive Catholic, millenial or not, doubting whether you can or should be bolder in questioning abortion, I hope this will give you a place to start your discernment.

A woman walks along a street in Reykjavik, Iceland, June 15. The country is on its way to “eliminate” people with Down syndrome. (CNS photo/Birgir Thor Hardarson, EPA)

Pope Francis recently denounced abortion’s “eugenic tendency” while speaking to a conference on persons with disabilities. The percentage of babies screened positive for Down Syndrome who are aborted is astonishing: 100%  in Iceland, 67% in the U.S., 77% in France, and 98% in Denmark. Francis explained, “An often narcissistic and utilitarian view, unfortunately, leads several to consider people with disabilities as marginal, without seeing the multifaceted human and spiritual wealth that they possess.”  

The growing movement to eliminate people with Down Syndrome sends a false message that the life of those who live with Down Syndrome is less valuable, less necessary, and less cherished than those who do not have Down Syndrome.

That is sinful and wrong.

Earlier this month, Frank Stephens testified before a House Appropriations committee on Capitol Hill exclaiming, “I am a man with Down Syndrome and my life is worth living.” Speaking on the movement to limit Down Syndrome births, he lamented, “I completely understand that people pushing this ‘final solution’ are saying that people like me should not exist.”

He continued, “I don’t feel I should have to justify my existence.”

No one should. However, Frank and others will have to do so if this trend continues unquestioned. We need voices who will call others to think deeper about this issue, regardless of how inconvenient and unpopular it will be. Progressive Catholics especially have to be able to ask their fellow progressives, is this is really how we want to proceed as a people?

For millenials, that question alone will be difficult to engage, especially in progressive spaces like a university campus. Earlier this month the Students for Life group at St. Louis University erected a cemetery of innocents commemorating those living in poverty, the number of states still using capital punishment, and the number of abortions throughout the last year. It was a nonviolent remembrance of people often left unremembered and unreverenced. The modest cemetery, which consisted of 175 small wooden crosses in a school yard, was stolen overnight. Twice.

Dr. Fred Pestello, University President, wrote in a statement:

It is intellectually disturbing and ethically problematic that having a larger, more robust conversation about the value of life and finding common purpose is thwarted by ideological divides. I am not suggesting that we ignore our differences, but I am asking that we be willing to go to places that are uncomfortable, to spot the hurt in the world and in each other and to hold space for that pain.

Limiting the conversation on abortion is not progressive. Progress must include uncomfortable and honest conversations about how abortion has affected our cultural conscience when it comes to picking and choosing which lives are worth living, celebrating, and welcoming. Multiple feminist groups have done so and are able to speak to the issue much better than I ever could as man.

Regardless of one’s political stance on abortion, I hope that everyone would find this “eugenic tendency” deeply troubling. Let the lives, stories, and prophecy of people with Down Syndrome serve as a wakeup call and a source deeper dialogue within the abortion debate.

We began Respect Life Month with the deadliest shooting in U.S. history. We close it with horrifying knowledge of ethnic cleansing, suffering refugees, and nuclear threats. Let this all be a call to action and consciousness for young Catholics.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Remembering Alphonsus Rodriguez 400 Years Later

Ignatian Spirituality - Fri, 10/27/2017 - 05:30

By dotMagis Editor

This month marks 400 years since the death of St. Alphonsus Rodriguez. A Jesuit brother, he served as a humble doorkeeper in Majorca, Spain, for 45 years. As Bert Ghezzi explains in Voices of the Saints, Rodriguez found joy even in hardship and wrote: Another exercise is very valuable for the imitation of Christ—for love of him, taking the sweet for the bitter and the bitter for sweet. So, I put myself in spirit before [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

A Heart of Stone (My Own)

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 10/26/2017 - 02:11

59 were killed, and many more wounded on October 1st in Las Vegas. It was a massacre. I heard about the shooting the day it occurred, and I was hauntingly…

unmoved.

I knew that what happened was terrible. I felt pangs of sadness at a memorial Mass. But I didn’t feel my heart break. In the days following the shooting, I was able live with relative normality. Friends of mine expressed outrage at what happened. What concerned me, though, was how flat I felt. I pushed away the nausea of that recognition by trying to remind myself that just because I didn’t “feel” something, didn’t mean I didn’t care.

Despite this reminder, there was a certain anxiety that lurked in my heart about why I didn’t react more strongly. I wondered, what if I’m not as good of a person as I like to think I am? What if I just want to be? What if at the end of the day I only care about myself?

***

A few years ago, I spent four months working with struggling students at a middle school. In one of the first classes I sat in on, a student in particular stood out. He got mad at the teacher and completely shut down for the rest of class. Something was going on beyond mere middle school attitude.

Soon I learned the reason. Both of his parents died before he was 13, and since then he was understandably having a difficult time coping. I was shocked, feeling completely inadequate in my ability to understand his situation. But again, what felt even worse was how little I was emotionally affected by his story. I felt cold.

One night after school I began to feel nauseous – the same nausea I felt again after Las Vegas. I did care about this boy, but there was some sort of roadblock keeping me from letting his story into my own life. So, I did what I do when I’m looking for answers – I went to  pray.

I walked into the house chapel and let myself settle into this boy’s shoes. I was worried at first that I would conjure up emotion just because I wanted to feel it, but I went forward anyway. I slowly began to imagine losing one parent, and then the other. My parents – the people that fed me, talked to me, were my whole life – gone. I couldn’t go anywhere to talk to them, and they wouldn’t say anything else to me, even if I did something wrong. My heart wrenched with the strain of needing to reach out to my parents, filled with the instinctual urge to run to them and rest in their arms. But then to have nowhere to go with that, feeling completely alone. I could not depend on them –  it was impossible, it was violent, it was cruel.

My sense of separation from this boy’s life shattered. I felt my heart trembling and was seared with a very real pain. The agony I felt in prayer over this kind of loss merely touched the surface of what this boy actually experienced. That thought struck me with the force of its blunt truth and horror. There was no shield to adequately protect him from this, he simply had to bear it. My heart broke.

The next time I saw him, these same emotions arose in my awareness and I was overwhelmed with the desire to care for him in any way I could. The compassion I felt was not because I recognized that I should be there for him. It was from a much deeper desire for his own well being – that I might somehow assuage his pain or, at least, be a loving presence in his life. It was about him, not me. I felt as true to myself as I ever had.

***

As I think about Las Vegas, I remember this student. I recall that my contemplation of his life was not an experience that was self-contrived. It did not come principally from some narcissistic urge to be benevolent, or my own self-preoccupation. It was something that I was drawn to by something both outside of myself and also within my deepest self. It was a beckoning from God.  

I needed only to heed this beck and call and choose to let others into my own consciousness. And having done this, I see that I truly don’t care only for myself. Underneath the dormant, stony shell of my heart exists a passionate energy waiting to break out in love. I trust in this love present in me, and am no longer possessed by the fear or preoccupation about whether I am good or not. All that is left is love itself.

-//-

Categories: Things Jesuit

Seven Tips for Communicating Well from St. Ignatius

Ignatian Spirituality - Wed, 10/25/2017 - 05:30

By Rebecca Ruiz

St. Ignatius must have thought a lot about how to manage oneself in the face of serious differences of opinion. Part of the answer was how he used his communication skills. What pearls of wisdom for communicating well can we glean from Ignatius for our own use? 1. Assume the best in others. Ignatius advised: It should be presupposed that every good Christian ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on a [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

The East St. Louis Race Riots: 100 Years Later

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Tue, 10/24/2017 - 00:37

In 1917, perhaps the worst race riot in American history was unleashed in East St. Louis. Through acts of mob violence and terrorism, up to 400 Black people were estimated to have been murdered and thousands were left homeless after their houses were destroyed. Today, the city of East St. Louis still struggles to recover and rebuild itself in the context of newer forms of racialized depression.

On Monday, Sandra Pfeifer, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, and Father Joseph Brown, a Jesuit and East St. Louis native, were at Loyola University of Chicago for documentary screenings and a discussion on the riots, its significance for our country today, and its deeper meanings and implications. TJP had the chance to interview them.


TJP: What was the inspiration for making your documentary “Always Remember” on East St. Louis? What moved you about the process?

Pfeifer: For me, it began as just a progressive notion to shed light on a subject that was important and underserved. But ultimately, the whole project took on a life of its own, it guided me and gave meaning way beyond what I had imagined. I was given an opportunity, a gift; a calling and I answered. I am its humble servant.

 

TJP: How does a city survive 100 years of what you call “post-traumatic stress”?

Brown: By dressing our world and ourselves with elegance.

By teaching every child as if that girl, that boy, can someday advance medicine, negotiate treaties, make words slap the ears and the hearts with intensity and truth. By telling the world that, yes, we were there; yes, when we even tiptoe near the story of that awful time in July, it causes us to tremble, tremble; tremble.1

By preaching – sometimes, even, by words – and reminding one another and total strangers that “We are here not to be the failures that everybody expects, but to be the harvest that everybody needs.”

 

TJP: What are some parallels between East St. Louis in 1917 and America today?

Brown: For at least an entire year back then, the unrest in East St. Louis simmered, bubbled and flared up, repeatedly. From the meat-packing plant workers in 1916, to the laborers at the Aluminum Ore Company in the late spring and early summer of 1917, the elements were being assembled.2

The factors affecting what would be called the “Race Riot of 1917” (but that more accurately could be called “Pogrom”) seem frighteningly familiar to us, today. Fear of gun-carrying “interlopers”; accusations of waves of “scab” laborers and an influx of “colonized” Black voters to rig elections in favor of Republicans.3

Hysteria was ramped up and so white citizens stocked up on firearms. Politicians engineered more and more restrictive and intrusive schemes to limit the ability of African Americans to vote in local elections. Trains were met by mobs. Black workers were taunted as they entered and left the workplace. Any suspicion was elevated to fact. Every doubt was transformed into certainty: the city must remain white and the Negroes must be forced to leave.

 

TJP: What are the implications of the 1917 riots for Americans today? How is our country’s modern racial climate related to the riots?

Pfeifer: How isn’t it? That may sound snarky, but really it is just fact and reality. Racism exists in America, it did then and it does now. It rears its ugly head over and over again with these major happenings, but in fact continues on a daily basis in ways that White America chooses to ignore.  Because we have never really acknowledged the truth in the right way, so it goes in a vicious cycle over and over again.

The act of atonement is key to overcoming transgressions, especially those that involve human suffering and unjust treatment, it is something we have never done. Not atoning  for slavery was our first big mistake and it progressed from there. The pain it has caused Black Americans doesn’t end there, it hurts all of us, as a nation, and as a people.

It is noted that America doesn’t do shame very well.  Now we must go back, learn our history, all of it, good, bad and ugly. Atone, accept and acknowledge, before we can really face a global world intact and united.

 

TJP: Speaking of history, what’s one take-away you hope people will have from this history?

Pfeifer: That our real history is important to learn and that it is never too late not only to learn it, but to accept it and by knowing it things can change. Once you know something you can’t unknow it and you have a responsibility to it.

 

TJP: There have been questions about the need or role of the 2017 Commemoration. “Will it heal adequately and appropriately?,” “Will it be a turning point for East St. Louis?,” “Will it serve to further divide?,” etc. What is the point of these commemorations?

Brown: In a 2014 Sunday New York Times Magazine article, there are two stories that attach to these questions. One, a photo essay about reconciliation in Rwanda is compelling and humbling. Some of the perpetrators of the violence sought out some of their direct victims and asked for pardon. Both perpetrator and victim are pictured, close to each other; looking at the camera, formally posed, they ask the viewer: “Can you step where we stand?”  

That will be a question for all those whose souls still “tremble” when they realize that parts of them are “still there” where ancestors were crucified and where ancestors carried out the killing.

Another Times article reports on the Mississippi Civil Rights Museum, which opened in 2017, and which has already done much collecting of artifacts and spirit-filled texts concerning the bloody history of that state, of those people. The Museum is under the control of the State of Mississippi and many of the survivors and relatives of those who perished are of mixed minds about the eventual story that will be told, and about who will control the telling.

But they, too – like the men and women of Rwanda who have walked to the place of forgiveness – say that they cannot live – perpetrator and victim, both – unless the truly liberating story is told. And then, just maybe, the song will heal us all.

 

TJP: You both have worked hard on getting the story of East St. Louis, past and present, out there today. Can you talk a little about the process of 1917 Centennial?

Brown: At an early planning meeting, we gathered in the conference room, we were hoping for someone to transform our fragmented and tightly squeezed dreams into a “full meal.”

[We remembered] the Mass graves. Ida B. Wells. Du Bois. Garvey. Daisy Westbrook. Survivors with burn scars and amputations. News accounts leveling the blame squarely on the perpetrators.

[There was] the woman who refuses to let all our journeys from “can’t to can” be forgotten … The man who led the rescue of the books, the papers, the memories of our childhood learning, wheeled into the circle to remind us that the past is never past. The veteran teacher who still reads something new every day and challenges all of us to speak and teach and write with the eloquence which is our communal charge… there was the no-longer little boy who heard his old folks say, often, “Yes. It was terrible. We hid people under our porch.”  His haunting also needed to be freed, released.

Those gathered in the room knew that finally, if the city were to be honored for surviving relentless efforts of social, political and economic eradication, there had to be a healing of the land and a healing of the memories.

We had the mayor, two ministers and several legendary teachers on site and in sight. Several times, the recognition moment occurred. Yes. That is exactly what “I/We” have been saying for 5, 10, 20 years.

No one disappears as long as their prayers linger in our souls.

***

Below is a video about the 1917 East Saint Louis Riots:

 


 

***

Image courtesy FlickrCC user Craig Dietrich.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Prayer in Family Life

Ignatian Spirituality - Mon, 10/23/2017 - 05:30

By Becky Eldredge

Over the last few months, I’ve had the opportunity to be with many groups discussing my book, Busy Lives & Restless Souls. Inevitably, after discussing how to make time for prayer in each person’s life, the conversation turns to, “How do we incorporate prayer in our family’s life?” I always chuckle and say, “I am not expert in how to incorporate prayer in family life, since so much of what we do is figuring it [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

#MeToo

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Sun, 10/22/2017 - 23:01

As a white, prep school educated man, I typically live without the need to question the ways I relate to women, sexual assault, and gender violence. Recently however, #MeToo has made it impossible for me to not stop and examine my life, my behaviors and attitudes, and the way the world simultaneously forms me and I it.

I learned toxic masculinity and dominance in a Catholic, Jesuit, all-male high school. I absorbed from my peers and my school environment a sense of entitlement and self-made prestige that others would and should absolutely desire me. I thrived on male-centric views: I was taught a constant need to compete, to conquer, and demonstrate how I am elite. White, class, and male privileged intertwined to teach me that I am special and stand above others.

I learned toxic masculinity from a broader culture that taught me to pressure, coerce, and to expect. I learned that I am owed. I think back, painfully acknowledging that I expected women would want to date me, would want to be physically intimate with me. It wasn’t until college when some of my female friends began challenging these subtle but dangerous attitudes. These same attitudes, however, still haunt me. I’ve since apologized to all of my former partners for being pushy, self-centered, or controlling. These apologies are by no means complete, but simply a starting place for reconciliation.

Yet I have, even as a Jesuit, continued to fail. Despite my vow of celibacy, I often catch myself analyzing how a woman is attractive rather than appreciating her for her full humanity. I say nothing when fellow Jesuits and clergy deride feminism. I stand by and watch as male-dominate circles and discussions continue excluding the voice of women, especially women of color and transgender persons.

Toxic masculinity (not so) subtly influences all aspects of how I problematically understand the world. Take a recent example: a few weeks ago, a TJP reader politely commented on my piece about guilt, asking why I failed to include women in the article. She further asked if I included women in my class. While I wanted to assure her that I am excellent about respecting and including women, I truthfully fail. We cover sexism in my junior class, especially the language that my all-male classes use to discuss sexuality. But rarely am I forced to stop and self-assess.

***

The incredible number of women sharing their stories has left me saddened and shaken. Statistics on sexual violence and harassment have allowed me to observe from a distance. The stories have faces I know and love have cut through my heart. I have pain – but having never been the victim of sexual harassment, I cannot know the pain, frustration, hurt, and myriad of emotions that accompany these acts of violence.

My sorrow, rather, is in knowing that I have caused and perpetuated that hurt. Mine is a sorrow of guilt. Mine is knowing that it shouldn’t have taken stories of loved ones for me to care and feel more fully. Mine is wondering if my vocation in an all-male religious community perpetuates that which I want to tear down. My sorrow is my conscience on its knees begging me to delve into my hardened heart, to open it to God and neighbor.

I’d love to apologize and go back to comfortably occupying my male-dominated spaces. I’d love to tweet some catchy statements and feel better about myself. But #MeToo is forcing me to sit, to stay, and to pray. It is forcing me to listen, to accompany, and to examine my history and my heart.

This prayer must lead to action. In honesty, I am not totally sure what exactly that action should look like. I would like those actions to be a matter of listening to victims. I want to give up the the space and voice I typically occupy and move aside for those who I often ignore or forget. I would like to hear from women and other victims of harassment of how to best change our culture and injustices. This is not to place the burden on them or assume that victims owe us their stories and solutions; rather, I recognize whatever I do will be incredibly incomplete without their input and leadership.

I would like to thank the women who have shared their stories, offered vital criticism, and demanded justice. I would like to thank and recognize women of color and transgender persons, whose stories are often the most ignored and forgotten. I pray that we as men (yes all men) can make space to listen, to sit with those stories and situations that make us uncomfortable, to examine our lives, and grow into action.

-//-

The cover photo is courtesy of Ashley Rose of the Flickr Creative Commons. 

Categories: Things Jesuit

One-Minute Homily: “Unexpected Goodness”

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Sun, 10/22/2017 - 10:32

Does lacking imagination get in the way of recognizing God’s unexpected goodness in our world? Take a minute and check out this week’s 60 Second Homily with Fr. Michael Rossmann S.J., based on the Sunday readings for October 22, 2017: http://bit.ly/2wWKL0h.

Categories: Things Jesuit

God Deals with Us Directly

Ignatian Spirituality - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 05:30

By dotMagis Editor

We can trust our experience because God deals with us directly. Ignatius certainly believed that the Church and Scripture are trustworthy teachers of truth, and that we need that truth to help us interpret our experience. He also believed that Christians receive spiritual nourishment in the sacraments and in devotional prayer. But he also believed that God communicates directly to each of us. We can have a personal relationship with him. Prayer in the Ignatian mode [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

Finding Hope in A Silent Voice

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Fri, 10/20/2017 - 00:35

When children are bullied – repeatedly taunted and teased both physically and verbally –  they begin to feel less and less valuable as a person. This can happen over night or over the course of many incidents.  Occasionally this leads to suicide attempts, as the opening scenes of the new movie A Silent Voice demonstrates.

Just opened in the US today, the film follows two high school students, a young boy Shoya Ishida and Shoko Nishimiya, a young girl with a hearing disability.   In grade school, Shoya bullied Shoko, making fun of her disability and stealing her hearing aids.  When the class is accused of bullying Shoko, Shoya is blamed, and even the others who used to bully Shoko turn on him.  

In an ironic twist, the child who bullied becomes bullied. This reversal has a tremendously negative effect on Shoya.  He cannot look anybody outside his family in the eyes.  He prepares to commit suicide but decides against it at the last moment.  Perhaps changed by his aborted attempt, Shoya goes to Shoko’s school to return a notebook she had used for conversations with other students.  In sign language, he asks her if they can become friends.

Much of the rest of the film centers on their relationship.  Shoya is awkward and tries to make amends for his past behavior.  Slowly, the other members of their grade-school class join them, and it seems that Shoko has a decent-sized group of friends for the first time in her life.  Shoya’s earnestness in trying to be friends with Shoko and make up for his past inspires changes in the others, however slowly.

But both Shoya and Shoko are still broken characters.  Shoya cannot look people in the eyes and does not know how to deal with his newfound friends.  In one particularly vulnerable moment with Shoko, Shoya yells at all of his other friends, driving them away, one by one.  Desperate for some friendship, he latches onto Shoko and doesn’t let go.

Despite Shoya’s apologies and attempts to spend time with her, Shoko remains very apologetic.  If anything goes wrong around her, she immediately assumes that it is her fault and apologizes.  She and Shoko clearly have a chemistry, but even their time together does not change her perspective.  Failing to see her self-worth, she attempts to commit suicide by jumping off the terrace of her family’s apartment.

Shoya attempts to save her and catches her hand after she jumps.  He pulls her up but ends up falling over the ledge.  In the process, she is saved and he is hospitalized (though he later recovers).  Only through this sacrifice does Shoko see that her life has value to others, and she begins to change at a deeper level.

***

Very real to human experience, the film reminds us that our actions, no matter what they are, have consequences.  Shoya suffers for his sins of bullying Shoko as a child through being bullied in return.  His attempts to make amends with her and with others are slow and painful.  People do not forgive nor forget so quickly.  These relationships take time to heal past hurts, and none of them is perfect.  

Each character is flawed.  Despite the fact that Shoya and Shoko both had people around them who cared for them,  neither of them could see or accept that love at first.  For Shoya it was easier to disengage and simply exist.  For Shoko, she felt responsible for the reactions she received as a result of her hearing disability: in her eyes, everything was her fault.  

By the film’s end, Shoya is able to accept the care of his friends and begin to fully engage with the world once again.  His transformation is slow but the promise he shows is incredible.  His actions have demonstrated to others that he is a decent human being, and he will no longer let his past sins define him.

And this reality extends far beyond the plot on screen.  Each of us can struggle in our own ways to feel acceptable, to feel loved.  Some of us have felt isolated, ostracized, and even worthless as people due to how others have treated us because of who we are.  We can relate to the emptiness Shoko and Shoya demonstrate.

We have all done things we’re not proud of.  In one way or another, we have pushed people down because we wanted to fit in or because we needed some way to feel powerful.  We have pushed friends away because we were not ready to accept their love.

We all have our limits and imperfections, and they can make us feel so small and unlovable.  It becomes easy to feel like we burden others with our limits, that they are only around us out of a sense of duty or obligation.

What is important is to remember that none of these realities has the final word.

While Shoko may not have seen her deafness as a gift, she certainly saw that she was no longer alone.  Even if only after a suicide attempt, she saw people look at her and see not a disability but a person.   And Shoya shows us that there is a light present in the depths of a despair that cripples our self-esteem, so long as we try.

Each of us has at least someone who cares for us, someone who truly loves us.  It is only by sharing our own broken reality with others that we begin to feel healed and that we truly begin to grow as people.  Like in the examples of Shoya and Shoko, the experience can be painful and often is, but in good time, it bears good fruit.

-//-

The cover photo is featured courtesy of Melissa Hillier of the Flickr Creative Commons. 

Categories: Things Jesuit

On Being Exhausted

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 10/19/2017 - 02:02

A few years ago, my buddy had decided – he didn’t have the energy to make any more friends. He was married and thinking about kids, he had a busy job, he had football Saturdays, and he had enough people in his life already.

I didn’t agree. I had roommates who stayed up late, drank wine, and cooked Costco ravioli with freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese. I stood outside bars smoking cigarettes, chatting with strangers about how I ended up in Omaha. I daydreamed with my students about their futures as doctors, lawyers, social workers, world travelers.

But now, I think I understand.

Every morning I wake up hard, the sound of my alarms infiltrating my dreams. Thick creases zigzag across my face, the aftermath of rumpled pillowcases and sheets coming up from the corners of the bed.

It’s not depression. It’s exhaustion.

***

A few months ago, I was at the front-end of my first Chicago summer. I told my friend that the only real thing on my bucket list was playing beach volleyball. I wasn’t concerned about rooftop bars or Cubs games, craft beer street festivals or concerts in parks. Just a little sweat, sand, and the sting of a good dig.

I took a few days off over the fourth of July, but I was swamped with a challenging work issue. I made phone calls during tapas dinners. I ignored my niece while responding to work email. I took another few days off in mid-August, but they were quickly filled with meetings, a doctor’s appointment, cleaning my room, laundry. There was no unstructured time.

I didn’t play beach volleyball until mid-September. I wasn’t even in Chicago when it happened – I was in Michigan at some good friends’ wedding. Summer was all but over.

It’s not overwhelmed. It’s overworked.

***

A few weeks ago, I went to a funeral for the stepfather of one of my students. He was young, 37, and he left four generations of his family behind – his kids and wife, siblings, mother, and grandmother all remain. The church was old, a little Baptist congregation on Chicago’s South Side. The crowd was understandably docile. There wasn’t a choir, just a few kind women singing a cappella. The pastor stood to preach, and he looked tired. Trying to spread gospel love these days can do that to a person.

But he spoke with vigor, his volume grew, his cadence became more rhythmic, and sweat started forming at his brow. This good man – just because he died, he said, doesn’t mean that we can die too. We have work to do. He told us to grab the hands of the people around us and shake them awake – to shake them alive. I felt alive – I was ready.

But, I got on the bus and rode it 65 blocks north through boarded-up windows and broken streets. That time to sit and watch the world pass by slowed me down a bit. I remembered everything we face. A laundry list of ‘isms.’ Threats that I have little control over. In spite of the good message of that pastor, in spite of my energy to respond, I didn’t know what to do. People are dying, and the world is spinning wildly. I walked home a little less alive, caught between wanting to change the world and wanting to lie down.

It’s not unwillingness. It’s uncertainty.

***

A few days ago, I was on my way to a training on investigating Title IX reports – sexual assault, abuse, harassment, stalking, dating and domestic violence – things we hope never happen, but are far too common.

I left the house early, face still creased with lines from my pillow, and drove a car north along the lakeshore. I had plenty of time. I pulled off the road and parked close to the water. I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pant legs, and walked out onto the beach. Sand filled in the spaces between my puffy morning toes, and soon I stood ankle-deep in the cool water. Gentle waves sent playful chills up my legs. It was the first sunny morning in over a week, and it finally felt like fall – golden sunrise, crisp, fresh air.

I stared out, and in that moment of quiet, said the simplest, most ardent prayer I had uttered in days, weeks, months, maybe years. Lord – help me carry on. Then I stood quietly, forgetting for a moment that I was on a schedule, that I had a job, that I had a long week ahead. I closed my eyes and felt the sun warm my face.

Not long after, I was back in the car, driving barefoot and running through a list of things to do that day. I didn’t feel exhausted or overworked or uncertain. I was alive and ready.

It won’t end in burnout. It will all be blessed.

-//-

Categories: Things Jesuit

Direction

Ignatian Spirituality - Wed, 10/18/2017 - 05:30

By Tim Muldoon

A ship may be tossed on the seas, buffeted by storms of every sort. Its crew may be struggling mightily every day simply to keep it afloat, wearying themselves, becoming chilled to the bone. They may fear for their lives every day, and regret ever having set sail with the hopes of adventure and fame and wealth. There may be days when the supplies are running low when they fear starvation. Perhaps every now and [...]

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Categories: Things Jesuit

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