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Doing Dishes with Our Father

Ignatian Spirituality - Mon, 09/20/2021 - 05:30

By Loretta Pehanich

The Scripture verses included in the following imaginative contemplation are not exact translations but rather an invitation to readers to look up the texts to deepen their experience of this post. I imagine Jesus at 22 or so, treasuring each ordinary day in his “hidden” life, making the mundane sacred. “Jesus, dear, would you mind […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

Approach the Examen in fresh ways with Reimagining the Ignatian Examen by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ.

Click through to read the full article Doing Dishes with Our Father, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Encountering God’s Heart in Men Behind Bars

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Mon, 09/20/2021 - 01:00

I’ve only been in L.A. for a couple of weeks, if I’m being honest, I’m already numb to the tents and RVs that some Angelinos call home. It’s a hot day as I drive with Fr. Mike Kennedy, SJ to South Gate, a small city in Los Angeles County, California. As we drive from the Jesuit community at Loyola Marymount University, we pass homeless encampments that have sprung up in parks and under freeway overpasses all throughout L.A. This morning, I ignore what’s happening outside the car because I’m too wrapped up in trying to get the cold air flowing in our standard-issue Jesuit Toyota.

After what seems like hours in morning traffic, we arrive at the offices of the Jesuit Restorative Justice Initiative (JRJI), where I’m spending the summer on assignment. JRJI was founded by Fr. Mike to bring Ignatian spirituality to men behind bars. My job this summer is to read and respond to reflections written by Californians who are incarcerated. 

The first letter I read is from a man named Tom who is in prison for killing his girlfriend. (Like the other names in this article, Tom’s is a pseudonym and the details of his crime have been altered so that he can’t be identified). As I begin to read the letter, my first reaction is judgment. How could this guy kill his girlfriend? Of course he’s in prison. That’s probably where he belongs. 

Then, a few lines later, Tom responds to the jury that has taken up residence inside my head. In fact, he says exactly what I’m thinking. How could I kill my girlfriend? Of course I’m in prison. That’s where I belong. But Tom’s self-accusations don’t stop there. How can God ever forgive me for this? How can I ever forgive myself for this? 

It’s his last question that stops me. His writing is full of the hard stuff of self-help work: pain, trauma, and remorse. But there’s something deeper going on. Bubbling up from beneath his writing is a desire for something more, for the forgiveness, healing, and transformation that we call God’s mercy. 

The truth is that, despite my own self-involved and judgmental attitudes, reading the personal writing of incarcerated men is a privilege. In writing these reflections, these men give me access to the most intimate parts of their souls. Whether it’s Tom’s struggle to comprehend God’s unconditional love or Jack’s battle with the darkness of life behind bars, each of these men bares their soul. As the day goes on, the jury that’s in my head takes a recess. In its place is silence and a warm feeling of compassion.

Reading these letters is my window into God’s soul. If I’m so deeply moved by the lives and struggles in these letters, I can’t help imagining how much more God is moved. Recently a religious sister told me that God doesn’t judge people; God cares for people. That’s been my lesson at JRJI, what Fr. Mike calls “deep sea diving.” God invites us into encounters, sacred moments in which we can glimpse (through sin, division, and wounds) the sacred divinity that dwells in every person.

After a day of reading letters, I find myself leaving the JRJI office to drive back to the Jesuit Community with Fr. Mike. Once again, we drive past a seemingly endless parade of homeless encampments. I’m still hot, and the car’s air conditioning still seems to blow air that’s too warm. But after reading these letters all day, something in me has changed. When God draws us close, we stop judging and start caring.

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Photo from Catholic News Service

Categories: Things Jesuit

Greatness: For the Glory of God | One-Minute Homily

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Sun, 09/19/2021 - 02:00

Can Christians strive for greatness? Br. Sullivan McCormick, SJ, reflects on Jesus’ words about humility and what true greatness looks like. Based on the readings for Sunday, September 19, 2021.

Is it okay to strive for greatness as Christians? 

Hi, I am Br. Sullivan McCormick and this is my One-Minute Reflection. 

The drive to be great is a fundamental human drive. Martin Luther King Jr. referred to this drive as the “drum major instinct,” the desire to be out front and be recognized. The problem isn’t the desire, the problem is when that desire gets twisted and distorted. Jesus doesn’t say “don’t strive for greatness,” he instead says be great on my terms: be of service to others, embrace the least among us, the one society deems unworthy. 

Take the example of Saint Ignatius. Here’s a man who refused to surrender at the battle of Pamplona, who wanted to outdo the saints before him, and make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He doesn’t stop striving for greatness after his conversion, but he now does so on God’s terms, for the greater glory of God, not the greater glory of Ignatius. So by all means, be great, but do so on God’s terms. 

Categories: Things Jesuit

Recognizing God

Ignatian Spirituality - Fri, 09/17/2021 - 05:30

By dotMagis Editor

Fewer words make space for quiet listening. Some people pray through meditation, some say memorized prayers, some absorb the wonder of creation and see that “It is good.” Some look at that same creation and are frightened by the power of wind, rain, and fire, wondering about the source of such a destructive force. Finding […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

Filled with wisdom and reflections from favorite Ignatian leaders, An Ignatian Book of Days sees God as actively involved in the world and intimately connected with us in every moment and place.

Click through to read the full article Recognizing God, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Afghanistan and the Gospel

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Fri, 09/17/2021 - 02:33

Not far from where I live there is a small South-Asian grocery. Being the son of an Indian mother, every other week or so I stop by to pick up the ingredients necessary for dhal, chapatis, chutneys, and various masalas (never buy turmeric or cumin at the regular grocery store). A couple weeks ago I was chatting with one of the owners, whose name is Mark, and I was surprised to learn that he was Afghan American and a former American service member. He hadn’t slept in three days as he spent day and night calling friends in the American military as well as his state and national representatives in the desperate hope of getting his family extracted from Afghanistan.

I visited the store on August 29th with some baked goods for him and his family but he wasn’t there – his friend and co-owner informed me that his family had not yet made it out of the country. I have yet to find out if they ever did.

Mark’s story highlights the tragedy of the events we as Americans have watched unfold in Afghanistan over the past month. Yet this wasn’t an isolated tragedy. It stands as the culmination of a great series of tragedies. We often hear of the 2,461 American service members killed in the 20 year war waged on Afghan soil. However, we don’t often hear of the over 43,000 Afghan civilians killed over those twenty years. Or the over 64,000 Afghan police killed. Or the over 42,000 opposition fighters killed (note, the least of all). Including other smaller categories of casualties, the war in Afghanistan has a death toll of over 157,000

Tragedy may not be the best word to describe this reality, but it is certainly fitting.

Now with the window for safe evacuation closed, the bitter fruits of a two decade bloodbath manifest: tens of thousands of innocent dead, hundreds of thousands of allies stranded in a nation controlled by the historically hostile Taliban, and over 180 persons senselessly killed in the war’s final hours. Perhaps we are finally ready to reflect on America’s ‘forever war’ in a new light: that of the Gospel.

Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount, “You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil…You have heard that it was said, ‘you shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father.” But do we take this message seriously?

For the first time since President John F. Kennedy, we have a practicing Catholic in the highest office in our nation. President Biden has, to his credit, ended a war that was in many respects an unmitigated disaster. By the numbers alone, our war in Afghanistan was a war on civilians with frequent Taliban casualties, not the other way around. The utter lack of support shown for the US-backed regime is nothing if not confirmation of this fact.

Yet after the horrific suicide bombing of August 26th which killed the 13 US soldiers and 170 Afghan civilians, I could not help but shudder at President Biden’s words of response: “We will not forgive. We will not forget. We will hunt you down and make you pay.” Biden has already made good on his sanguine promise by using deadly drone strikes which may have killed yet more innocent civilians.

As I prayed over these events in the light of Jesus’s words, I could not help but feel in my soul  (and my eyes) the words of the psalmist as he cries out in anguish, “my eyes shed streams of tears because your law is not observed.”

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius reminds us that there are two standards in life and in important moments we as individuals and we as a nation must choose: the Standard of Satan who tempts with riches, ensnares with honor, and destroys with pride; and the Standard of Christ, whose banner is the Cross and whose road is first poverty, then insults, and finally humiliation. 1 Human nature instinctively shrinks from the Standard of Christ because Jesus’ Cross despises safety purchased with blood. It has no interest in hiding the truth to escape mockery. It rejoices in humiliation in order to confound the madness of retaliation. After twenty years of war, do we still believe safety from terrorism requires hundreds of thousands of dead bodies? Do we still believe turning a blind eye to the massacre of 43,000 civilians is the only way to preserve our sense of nobility? Are we still convinced that retaliation is the only legitimate response to vulnerability and defeat? 

In other words, do we still believe in Satan and all his works and all his empty show?

In baptism it was precisely these empty works we rejected in order to cling with certain conviction to the opposite: that there is “no sublimer road above, nor a safer way below” 2 than that of Christ and his Cross. From its inception this Christ and his Cross has been foolishness to the (worldly) wise and a stumbling block to the (self-)righteous. We are the worldly wise. We are the self-righteous. If Jesus’ words do not sometimes make us exclaim “this saying is hard, who can accept it?”, then we have not yet heard Jesus’ words.

Let us pray for the Taliban, ISIS-K, the people of Afghanistan, our military personnel, our President, our nation, and all those who die as a result of hatred and war. Let us pray that we who have heard the Gospel might receive the grace to live it.

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Categories: Things Jesuit

A Deacon’s Diary: Life as An Almost Deacon

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Wed, 09/15/2021 - 06:00

Today, we introduce a new regular series, A Deacon’s Diary, that will follow Steve Molvarec, SJ, in the year from his diaconate ordination until his priestly ordination next June.

I.

Proto-deacon. The pastor said. Almost deacon. I returned. Pre-deacon? I asked. Pseudo-deacon! He exclaimed.

Father Kevin, Catholic chaplain at Boston University, and I were standing in the narthex of Marsh Chapel as Boston’s T-trains navigated Commonwealth Ave., trying to figure out how to explain that I was assigned to Boston University’s Catholic Community for my diaconate year. They’ll want to use a title for you. He said.

It’d been a while since anyone asked how to call me. Around the School of Theology & Ministry at Boston College, everyone was always first names, even some faculty. At Marquette University, students usually resorted to doctor or professor and some used my first name. Deans and administrators sometimes called me father, surely a reflex in response to the clerical collar that I wore when teaching. At various times in Jesuit life, when I’d worked with homeless folks in Detroit, or Chicago, or Milwaukee, people tended to call me brother—it went with my scruffy work clothes and was more relatable and friendly.

II.

One night, we were on a “Cannoli Pilgrimage” with some BU students. We were headed to Mike’s, in Boston’s North End, a landmark location for Italian pastries. About forty students assembled after rosary and Mass and we made our way on the T. I tended toward the back of the crowd, to make sure that no one got left behind and I walked with various students as we progressed on our “pilgrimage” for pastries. We stopped and prayed, too, outside a church in the North End.

In various conversations, since I was new, students kept asking me the same question: “How did you know you were supposed to be a priest?” “I wanted to serve the Church and God’s people,” I told one. To another, “It was my deepest, holiest desire.” Another student probed a bit more and I said: “Well, one morning, the year before I entered the Society [in 2012], I sat down to pray before grading my students’ papers and I noticed that all of the reasons I had given myself not to enter novitiate—career, romantic relationships, family—all seemed to have evaporated.” To yet another, I confessed: “I’ve wondered if I’m not nervous enough about diaconate ordination.”

III.

One Sunday, recently, I was at Marsh Chapel with BU’s Catholic Community for Mass. I’d begun serving Mass there, to meet people, to be seen and introduced, to get to know the community and the place where I’ll be serving as deacon for the next nine months. The time came to help distribute communion and I realized that it’d been a while. At school, it was something that my lay classmates and friends enjoyed doing at our liturgies. Some of them even baked the bread we used. At home, in our community’s chapels, generally our priests did it.

The experience became new again for me as I watched Christ’s people come up the aisle of the chapel to meet Him, to meet me, to receive the bread that was body, to become part of His Body. I felt a little awkward as each approached and bowed and I held the small disk of bread before them, reminded them of what it was, reminded them of who they are, and placed it on hands and tongues outstretched.

I felt a little awkward. Maybe because I was out of practice. Partly because I worried I would drop the Sacrament. Mostly because as I placed the wafer of bread onto Christ’s people’s palms, a little clumsily, a little firmly, a little gently, I felt as though I was eavesdropping on something. That I was overhearing a conversation between God and the people gathered for Mass.

IV.

Standing on the Marsh Chapel Plaza after Mass, greeting students and parents as they left, someone asked me: “How long does it take?” I replied: “I’ve been a Jesuit for nine years. And have less than two weeks until diaconate.” He said: “That’s a really long time.”

V.

My mom and her sister texted:

Hi honey, how’s everything going and have you started school?
Less than 2 weeks until we’re together in Boston celebrating your Special Day!
Is there anything special you want me to give you for a gift?
Let me know.
Thanks.
Have a great weekend.
Love you xo.

With family, my vows had gradually reshaped our conversations. Almost exactly seven years after professing poverty, chastity, and obedience in the Society of Jesus, , however, not as much as I might think. “What will you do for work?” an uncle would ask. “It’s up to my provincial to decide where I’m missioned,” I’d say. “Can we get you something?” my mom and aunt would ask. “No,” I’d offer. And they’d persist until I replied: “Clothes. But only what I need. Only what the community would already buy for me. But no cash. If you give me cash, I have to turn it in when I get home. Or give it to someone on the way back.” Vows were sometimes still hard to explain to family in their nitty-gritty. Especially obedience, jobs, work, and relocating. And especially poverty, when it came to gifts. Chastity seemed straightforward for them in comparison.

So I replied:

Hey ladies.
We started last Monday.
Honestly, I’m not sure about gifts.
I’m trying to sort out if there’s anything I need.

VI.

Diaconate ordination has seemed really psychologically far away as we’ve moved through August and the start of school—on both campuses, at BU and BC. Time has begun dwindling down. I don’t expect some transformation as by magic. But even knowing that, I can’t help but wonder what it will be like on that morning of ordination.. And how it might shape and reshape me for people who know me and God’s people I’ll meet this year. God’s people, whom I’ll greet at the chapel doors on Commonwealth Avenue and see over the top of the pulpit. God’s people, who will continue to let me eavesdrop on their conversations with Christ as they meet him. Already, some of the folks I’ve met have begun to drop the “almost” in front of deacon. Already, they call me “Deacon Steve.” Prematurely. Proleptically. Even as I still number the days approaching a mid-September Saturday morning in Chestnut Hill.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash.
Categories: Things Jesuit

Imagination and Praydreaming

Ignatian Spirituality - Wed, 09/15/2021 - 05:30

By Vinita Hampton Wright

May we all grow in our creativity as we move from summer to autumn. May we exercise our imaginations in new ways. Here’s one for starters: praydreaming. Following is an explanation from Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ, from his book, Reimagining the Ignatian Examen. Ignatius was a master daydreamer. He could do it for hours on […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

Filled with wisdom and reflections from favorite Ignatian leaders, An Ignatian Book of Days sees God as actively involved in the world and intimately connected with us in every moment and place.

Click through to read the full article Imagination and Praydreaming, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

The Home of Hearts: A Place of Welcome to All

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Tue, 09/14/2021 - 02:00

Throughout my short three-year life as a Jesuit, I have lived in and visited more than a handful of Jesuit communities. These communities exist in cities ranging from Syracuse, New York to Birkirkara, Malta; are composed of men with different academic backgrounds and ministry assignments; and follow a unique ordo or schedule for common meals, prayer, and meetings. Just this past summer, I rested my head in four, spending the majority of my time in El Paso, Texas.

In the midst of these distinctive qualities, all of these communities are really the same: they have all been welcoming homes. Sure, there is an adjustment period and every community has its own way of welcoming. In each, however, I had the opportunity to incorporate myself into the group. I brought what I already learned and cherished from Jesuit life and blended it into the customs and norms of a new house.

In being invited to cook, I have been able to share some of my childhood and family heritage through my mother’s Maltese cauliflower stew recipe. In participating in faith-sharing, I have been able to express and have the movements of my personal prayer intentionally listened to. Driving from ministry to the community in a 1994 Ford Discovery, I have been able to simply be and rest whether in silence or in conversation with a trusted Jesuit. I now find that I can enter a new community as a brother before I am even met.

We draw inspiration from our founder’s pilgrimage, one both spiritual and physical, that established his home on the road. So too is our home. As it says in our Constitutions, we “travel through various parts of the world…to use all…means it can with the grace of God to help souls 1. God sustains us in our humble attempt to do His will through the religious fraternity and community life that builds up and welcomes us into this nomadic home.

We Jesuits are far from unique in our movement or traveling from place to place. This past summer has further revealed to me the forced movement of some of our brothers and sisters south of the border. Walking alongside migrants in El Paso’s shelters I came to realize that, particularly in their transition from Latin America to the U.S., these our brothers and sisters find themselves on the road. Yet home is one of the last words they or any other person might use to describe their traveling.

This lack of finding a home should be obvious. In many cases, migrants find themselves facing the harsh realities of persecution, war, and natural disasters that force them to uproot and leave behind their home and all its beloved people, culture, and, at times, religion. These same individuals often find that on their path in search of a new dwelling place they are met with danger, suffering, and fear. These struggles not only arise while traversing deserts or sleeping in abandoned warehouses, but even while on safe U.S. soil. They are manifested directly in not being given food, water, and shelter. These struggles also come forth indirectly not only in our collective ill-speech toward the migrant, but when we neglect them in our words, thoughts, and prayers as if their hardships and common human desire for a home do not exist.

Children in the shelter showed me that everyone desires a home. Between meals, children would wander around the shelter searching for anyone or anything to play with. They could not wait to be free from their parents’ watchful eyes. They would often be dragged along to important yet boring and stressful adult tasks. After so much time on the move, no kid wants to fill out paperwork or wait in a dormitory for a call from their sponsor informing them that their plane or bus ticket had been booked for their final destination.

One afternoon, I came across a stash of bottled liquid bubbles in the volunteer office and thought of the children. After blowing a few bubbles into the dormitory, I instantly found myself surrounded and adorably followed by over a dozen children ranging from age 3 to 10. Bottle in hand, the children’s faces lit up with joy. Hundreds of bubbles suddenly filled the room as everyone laughed and shouted “mira, mira”, “look, look” to call attention to their impressively large “burbujas”. And when one child would run out of liquid, he or she would not even have a chance to ask before a newly made friend poured some of his or her liquid into the empty bottle. Simply receiving a small bottle of bubbles and being in friendly company, the children had their dark and anxiety-filled experiences transformed into a place of belonging, rest, and generosity. The children were reminded that our God-given yet often troubling world also contained bubbles and friends; there was indeed hope beyond their struggles.

Large-scale issues such as endemic violence in the former home-country of a migrant are in desperate need of being addressed by governments, global organizations, and the Church. These issues, in their magnitude, can lead to our becoming numb to the needs and desires of the displaced. We think that nothing can be done to help on our end. Yet we must not be discouraged. God always has a way of reaching us, even within the depths of our apparent helplessness; He is powerful enough to call us on a smaller-scale to take on a certain disposition toward the displaced and partake in God’s own extraordinary healing.

This disposition of welcome begins within the homes of our hearts. Like any home, we may hear of the unpleasant experiences of those who attempt to enter. It is easy to turn a deaf ear in their direction. We can then ask ourselves, what can help soften our hearts? What can help us not only hear, but attentively listen? It may just be a bottle of bubbles. But whatever it is, we will know when we find it because our hearts will open up to the desires and hurts of the other. We will know because we will be reminded that the displaced share in the human identity of God’s beloved. We will know because our love for Jesus, who does the same in his comforting us, will grow in prayer, word, and action toward all.

Photo by Jessie Shaw on Unsplash.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Dealing with Annoyances

Ignatian Spirituality - Mon, 09/13/2021 - 05:30

By Marina Berzins McCoy

Last year, I wrote a book on the topic of forgiveness, and lately I have been thinking about a separate but related topic: how do we cope with the human reality of hurt feelings? It’s a bit different from the question of forgiveness, because I can be the kind of person who forgives easily but […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

In God Finds Us, Jim Manney shares his experiences of making the Spiritual Exercises in a down-to-earth, accessible narrative.

Click through to read the full article Dealing with Annoyances, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Music Release: Recollections

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Mon, 09/13/2021 - 02:00

Yesterday, Aric Serrano, SJ, released a new collection of music, Recollections. Today, he offers us those tracks along with his motivation for writing.

The forced solitude of the pandemic led me to write music as a way of processing my experience. I wanted to write personal soundscapes that were both uplifting and reflective. I remembered the ordinary pre-pandemic moments that I missed and realized how God had been present in those. Composing music helped me realize how God is present even in these pandemic moments. The tracks blend ordinary sounds with a reflective soundtrack, representing the divine at work behind the simple moments.

 

 

Categories: Things Jesuit

Who do you say that I am? | One-Minute Homily

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Sun, 09/12/2021 - 01:06

When Jesus asks, “Who do you say that I am?” to his disciples, it is an invitation into a deeper relationship. Patrick Saint-Jean, SJ, reflects on who we are in relation to Jesus. Based on the readings for Sunday, September 12, 2021.

Jesus is longing to be in Relation with us. 

Hi, my name is Patrick Saint-Jean. This is my one-minute reflection. 

I was born in Haiti, but each time I go back there, my friends and cousins often ask me, “Who do people say that you are outside of Haiti?” While this question is a way to begin a conversation It comes from a place of love, a  deep sense of curiosity and a sincere longing for a relationship. 

Jesus shares this Haitian curiosity and a deep longing to be in a relationship. Today, from Mark’s gospel, he asks his disciples the same question as a means of deepening his relationship with them. He does the same with us. 

As you and I are grappling now with a deep sense of Identity, perhaps, this might be the occasion to ask ourselves the same question, who do people say that I am for and with Jesus?

Categories: Things Jesuit

Accompaniment

Ignatian Spirituality - Fri, 09/10/2021 - 05:30

By dotMagis Editor

Accompaniment is intimately linked to Ignatian spirituality and pedagogy. It always includes an element of personalized care and attention for the individual, whether via a spiritual companion, a pastoral care worker, or teachers. The key thing is being there. But first of all, you need to be close to them. If you are not readily […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

In God Finds Us, Jim Manney shares his experiences of making the Spiritual Exercises in a down-to-earth, accessible narrative.

Click through to read the full article Accompaniment, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Lots to Lose

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 02:00

In the TV show Friday Night Lights, the head coach inspires his players with the phrase: clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose. This expression reminds the football team to open their minds and hearts to new possibilities. In a spiritual lens, this phrase reminds me to see how God is working in my life and to have an open heart to hear God’s voice. By opening myself to new opportunities and being attentive to God’s surprises, I cannot lose. Still, I’ve often been afraid of losing what God gave me. It’s normal to have the fear of losing the good we already have. We all ask ourselves the question: how do I know if what I’m giving up is worth it?

The author as a high school football player. Photo courtesy of the author.

After my freshman year of high school, a childhood friend who was the starting JV quarterback encouraged me to try out for the football team because of my good work ethic, adaptability, and raw athletic talent. I worried that I was not going to fit in since I had never played before, but I joined the team and quickly grew to love the game. For the next three years, I played with enthusiasm as a quick guard and nose guard on both offense and defense. Through hours of practice, I built my technique on how to block and tackle. My quickness and tenacity helped me become a key player on defense. It was so gratifying to hear my friends and coaches cheering from the sidelines. As much as I loved the cheers, I especially valued the deep friendship and the connection of everyone working together as a team. I loved football so much that I decided to shape my college plans around being a football coach. I had clear eyes and a full heart about continuing to play football in college. I was certain that God was telling me to be a football coach.

God surprised me in April of my senior year when I sang the lead in our high school musical, South Pacific. I loved the excitement of being on stage. When I performed, I felt an electrifying energy with the audience when they cheered. This experience was similar to the joys of hearing cheers from the football stadium. Countless people sought me out and told me that I had an amazing gift. My singing made them feel better. A charismatic conductor encouraged me to use my gifts and try being a music major. Based on my success with the show, I decided to pursue a vocal audition at Youngstown State. My heart burst with excitement at the possibility of following this new path in life. Singing for others filled my heart with a greater joy than I had experienced playing football. I slowly began to see that I was much more talented at singing than I was playing football. I was excited, energized, and hopeful about giving this new dream a chance. I felt sad about giving up my dream to play football at the college level, but I felt God telling me to give it a try. So, I abandoned my dream and never thought that I would be involved with football again. Once again but in a different way, I had clear eyes and a full heart about chasing this new dream of music as a performer and teacher at the college level.

For many years, I had a career as a musician, teacher, and performer. I loved collaborating and working on pieces with the students by teaching them technique and inspiring them to be the best versions of themselves through the music we learned. I enjoyed seeing students grow and become better singers. Rehearsing music gave me so much joy and peace because the music helped people come together to build something greater than themselves. At this time in my life, my eyes were clear and my heart was full because I knew God was telling me to be a choral conductor.

As much as I loved being a choral conductor, I felt something was missing in my life. For a long time after college, I felt God calling me to be a priest, but I was too scared to abandon my job. I thought about being a priest most days, and this idea kept coming back to me in my daily life. I would ask myself “what oh God do you want me to do with my life. I am a good teacher, but do you want something more from me?” I could not see where God was leading me so I reached out to a Jesuit vocation director. He invited me to attend an event where I met a Jesuit priest who was also a choral conductor. He told me that I could have both dreams as a Jesuit. After returning from Chicago, excited by my encounters with the Jesuits, I decided to quit my job and join. For the first time in my life, my eyes were clearer and fuller than ever before by following this new dream.

As part of my formation, I was sent to teach theology, help in the music program, and work in campus ministry at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland. I finally had the opportunity to do both things that I love to do: the dream of being a Jesuit and assisting with music. At the same time, I also felt a deep connection with sports at our school, and I thought about where I could be most helpful. To my surprise this old dream of helping with a football program came back to life in my heart. My second year of teaching I asked if I could assist as chaplain of the football team. I had such an amazing experience being with all of the players and coaches. When I learned that I was going to be there for a third and final year, I asked the athletic director if I could be one of the freshman coaches. The head freshman coach said yes and I was a coach for the first time, a dream that was twenty years in the making. After our first practice, I found myself excited staying up all night looking up videos about kicking and long-snapping techniques. It thrills me when our players make a good tackle and bring in an awesome catch. I experienced a deep sense of connectedness by being with the team, a feeling that was similar to all the games that I played in my youth.

God has called me to things that I didn’t think that I could do. No matter what job I have, I look forward to seeing how God can continuously surprise me in the future. God keeps bringing out new gifts and talents in my life that I could not see before. I have come to know that God really makes our dreams come true in ways that we can not imagine. I am excited to see where this journey takes our team this year, and I know that God will help us on and off the field be the people we were born to be. Our vocation as Christians is to open our eyes and trust that he will give us what we need. By keeping an open heart and clear eyes to new opportunities, we can’t lose.

-//-

Photo by Timothy Eberly on Unsplash.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Middle School

Ignatian Spirituality - Wed, 09/08/2021 - 05:30

By Shemaiah Gonzalez

I have two middle-school age sons, and the word of the hour is awkward! They are tired all the time from their ever-morphing bodies. They fall asleep in odd times and places: a friend’s couch, in the middle of a five-minute car ride to the store, while putting on their pajamas. Without a good handle […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

In God Finds Us, Jim Manney shares his experiences of making the Spiritual Exercises in a down-to-earth, accessible narrative.

Click through to read the full article Middle School, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Prayers for Peace

Ignatian Spirituality - Mon, 09/06/2021 - 05:30

By dotMagis Editor

We mark the 20th anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks this year. Join in prayer for peace with these resources. Xavier University Patriot Day Prayers 3-Minute Retreat: Called to Make Peace 3-Minute Retreat: On a Peace Mission 3-Minute Retreat: People of Peace Prayer Service for Patriot Day Peace Prayer of Saint Francis Photo […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

In Always Discerning, Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, shares how we can implement discernment into not only life’s big decisions but also into the everyday, more mundane choices we constantly have to make.

Click through to read the full article Prayers for Peace, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

The Good News: A Secret Worth Telling | One-Minute Homily

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Sun, 09/05/2021 - 01:00

When Jesus heals a deaf man in today’s gospel, he orders everyone not to tell anyone. What’s the big secret? Fr. Eric Sundrup, SJ, reflects on the Good News of God’s love and mercy, something we just can’t keep to ourselves. Based on the readings for Sunday, September 5, 2021.

Do people think you’re good at keeping secrets?

Hi, I’m Fr. Eric Sundrup and this is my One-Minute Homily.

Let’s try something: Don’t think about a pink elephant.

Did you think about a pink elephant? Yeah, I did too! It’s hard not to.

And so it is, I think in today’s Gospel. Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment and then he orders everyone not to talk about it. 

Yeah right… like that’s gonna work. It makes me wonder, what’s going on here.

In Mark we hear:

“He ordered them not to tell anyone. But the more he ordered them not to, the more they proclaimed it.”

Come on Jesus, you had to know that was going to happen. Why the secret?

Well, Jesus wasn’t doing this for the likes or the retweets. Jesus is in this for the love and care of the person right in front of him. And God’s still in it for us. That’s some pretty Good News…we’ll probably never be able to keep that part a secret.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Grandparents Day Wisdom and Giveaway

Ignatian Spirituality - Fri, 09/03/2021 - 05:30

By dotMagis Editor

In honor of Grandparents Day, Loyola Press is giving away five copies of Sharing the Wisdom of Time to lucky readers. Enter for your chance to win. Sharing the Wisdom of Time collects the wisdom of elders from more than 30 countries. This beautiful book by Pope Francis and Friends is the inspiration for an […]

IgnatianSpirituality.com ® is a service of Loyola Press, a Jesuit ministry.

In Always Discerning, Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, shares how we can implement discernment into not only life’s big decisions but also into the everyday, more mundane choices we constantly have to make.

Click through to read the full article Grandparents Day Wisdom and Giveaway, which appeared first on Ignatian Spirituality.

Categories: Things Jesuit

Jesuit 101: The Spiritual Exercises, the Heart of the Jesuits

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 09/02/2021 - 23:05

To celebrate the Ignatian Year, The Jesuit Post presents our “Jesuit 101” series. Each month will focus on a single concept, term, or theme that is relevant to Ignatian Spirituality and/or the Jesuits. This series will include an explainer article and reflections or real-world applications for each topic. We begin the series with the heart of the Jesuit charism, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. 

 

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola (Exercises) are one of the most influential writings in the history of Roman Catholicism. The Exercises are a collection of meditations, prayers, and guidelines for growth in the spiritual life. They were developed out of Ignatius Loyola’s own lived experience, and are ideally undertaken as a 30-day silent retreat. Ignatius’s great desire was to help people grow in their sense of God’s great love for them so that they could make a return of that love in whatever way God is calling. To better understand the Exercises, it helps to have a sense of how they were formed, their structure, and how they’ve helped countless people grow in relationship with Jesus.

 

It started with a cannonball…

500 years ago this year, a cannonball shattered the legs of then 30-year-old Ignatius de Loyola in the Battle of Pamplona. In his year-long recovery at his family home in Loyola, Ignatius filled his time reading the only books available to him: a book on the life of Christ and another on the lives of the saints. These books prompted the pride of Ignatius to consider what St. Francis Assissi did and what St. Dominic did. He asked, “if they can do it, why can’t I?” Eventually, Ignatius elected to dedicate his entire life to God. He would become a pilgrim for the Lord.

That pilgrimage brought Ignatius to a cave in Manresa, Spain, where Ignatius stayed for a year. Ignatius dedicated his days to prayer. During that time, he also began using extreme ascetical practices, like intense fasting as well as not washing himself and letting his hair and fingernails grow out, in order to counter his pre-conversion vanity. He began noticing that certain practices, like imaginative prayer and meditation on the life of Christ, led him to deeper consolation in the Lord. Others, he noticed, like his immoderate fasting and lack of hygiene, led him to desolation and despair. Thus, he began to take notes of these general movements within his spirit. These notes were the beginning of what would eventually become the Spiritual Exercises. Much of the guidance within the Exercises is based on Ignatius’ time in Manresa, including warning others against taking ascetical practices to extremes.

Eventually  Ignatius, still a layperson, began guiding people in the Exercises. A core component of the Exercises is the belief that God deals directly with the person. In the age of Enlightenment and the Protestant Reformation, however, this belief garnered suspicion of Ignatius. In order to more easily serve Christ and his Church, Ignatius decided to begin studying for the priesthood. At that time, he guided friends and acquaintances through the Exercises, including his roommates Francis Xavier and Peter Faber. It was with these companions and four others that Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus.

 

The Four Weeks of the Exercises

What is it about the Exercises that was so transformative for Ignatius and others? The structure of the Exercises shows the movement of that transformation. The retreat is divided into four “weeks,” or periods of the retreat which have specific themes and graces for which the retreatant prays. The broad sweep of the Exercises begins with meditating on the purpose of our lives in the first week to praying to “labor with Christ” at the end of the fourth week.  

The beginning of the Exercises invites the retreatant to meditate on what Ignatius calls the First Principle and Foundation (PF). The principle is vital because it is upon this foundation that God will communicate with the retreatant. The PF says:

People are created to praise, reverence and serve God the Lord, and by this means to save our souls. Everything in our lives are meant to help us to this end. Therefore, we should use those things as long as they help us to achieve the end for which we are created. We should use them insomuch as they help us, and we should rid ourselves of them if they become obstacles to praising, reverencing, and serving God. For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things as much as we are able, so that we don’t desire health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long rather than a short life, so in everything else, so that we ultimately desire and choose only that which is most conducive to achieving the end for which we were created. 1

Note that desires are at the heart of the Exercises. It is what drives the retreatant to their deepening life in Christ. It is from this foundation of desire that God speaks directly to the person doing the Exercises.  

After the PF, the retreatant meditates on the nature of sin. The first exercise looks at the sin present in the world and one’s own sins. The grace the retreatant is invited to pray for is “deep sorrow and confusion” for their own sins. But even more importantly, the desire for that grace is paired with the direction to speak to the Lord “as one friend speaks to another” in what is commonly referred to as a “colloquy,” Latin for ‘conversation’.

The purpose of the first week is to come to an undeniable embrace of our personal sinfulness. We do that, however, only to accept and cherish the more important reality of God’s relentless love. Mercy is at the heart of the first week. It’s the experience of the first week that prompted Pope Francis, shortly after being named Bishop of Rome, to describe himself in the following manner: “I am a sinner. This the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.” That’s the grace of the first week, and it is a guiding grace of Pope Francis’s papacy, which so often emphasizes mercy as the chief characteristic of our loving God.

During the second week, retreatants pray with the life and ministry of Jesus. The core grace requested in this week can be summed up, that we “may know Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.” 

It is during the second week that one begins to use imaginative prayer, also called Ignatian contemplation, to enter into gospel passages, like Jesus healing the leper, or walking on water, or giving the Sermon on the Mount. Imaginative prayer allows a person to build out the scenes. For example, if one were to imagine the calling of Zaccheus, they may picture a noisy street full of people. Crowds are pressing forward to get a glimpse of Jesus. Then there’s the tax collector Zaccheus, who the Gospel of Luke describes as being “short in stature,” who decides to climb a sycamore tree to get a better glimpse of the Lord. What does Zaccheus look like? What is it like for him to climb the tree in front of the crowd? How does he feel and react when Jesus calls to him? All of this is wonderful fodder for the imagination. We can picture this scene, but imaginative prayer doesn’t stop there.

An important part of imaginative prayer is asking the Holy Spirit to help us enter into the gospel scene. We could be part of the scene as an important figure, like one of the Apostles, or someone on the receiving end of a healing miracle, or perhaps as someone in the crowd watching how Jesus moves and speaks and acts. The primary goal of this type of prayer is to get to know Jesus and to love him in a deeper way.

During the latter half of the second week, the retreatant is guided in making an “election”. When Ignatius was giving the Exercises, it was usually to help people come to a deeper understanding of their vocation. That’s why the Spiritual Exercises is one of the first things every Jesuit does when he enters the order. Encountering Christ helps us clarify our desires, which at their deepest and most authentic are the very desires God has placed in us. 

The third week follows Christ in his Passion and death. It’s where we walk with Christ in his last hours. Through imaginative prayer, we may even experience the fear and horror of Jesus’ closest friends and disciples. It’s the moment in the retreat when Mary’s grief at her son’s death might just overwhelm us. The grace requested at this moment in the Exercises is sadness and confusion at the death of our Lord, who suffers as a testament to God’s endless love for us. It’s that love that opens to us the pathway to eternal life. Even though the retreatant may be tempted to hustle themselves along to the Resurrection, they’re invited to really sit with the reality of Jesus’s death. The third week is an experience of Holy Saturday, when the Apostles, family and friends of Jesus were in shock at the death of the one they called the Christ. 

Death, as we know, isn’t the end. The fourth week is a celebration of the Resurrection. It is Easter Sunday. Imaginative prayer allows the retreatant to experience the joy and bewilderment of the Apostles when they found that their friend and Lord is risen. But before we reflect on Mary Magdalene speaking to Jesus in the garden, and before Peter and John run to the empty tomb, Ignatius invites the retreatant to imagine Jesus appearing to his mother. While much of the Spiritual Exercises involves reflection on scripture, this is one of a few moments in which Ignatius asks us to reflect on something unwritten, but so beautiful and human. Ignatius had a deep devotion to our Blessed Mother, and his intuition is that Jesus, as a good son, would of course appear first and foremost to his grieving mother. 

One of the most well-known prayers in Ignatian Spirituality is also given to us at the end of the fourth week of the Exercises. It’s known as the Suscipe, which asks the Lord to take and receive every aspect of one’s being. It reads:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, memory, understanding, and my entire will.

All I have and call my own, I give it all to you, Lord. Do with it what you will.

Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me. Amen.

The Suscipe is a fitting ending to the Exercises. At this point a person has spent countless hours praying, speaking to God, and contemplating the great love that God has for them. The Suscipe is our response to that love.

 

Making the Spiritual Exercises

So, how does one go through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius? 

First of all, it isn’t advisable to just pick up a copy of the Spiritual Exercises and start making your way through it on your own. The text of the Exercises is actually intended to be used as a guide for a spiritual director who will guide a person through the Exercises. A spiritual director can help introduce you to different parts of the Exercises and serves as a sounding board to help you see where the Lord is moving in your prayer. That being said, a spiritual director is not meant to dictate the experience to a person, but simply guide when necessary and otherwise step out of the way and “leave the Creator to act immediately with the creature, and the creature with its Creator and Lord.” 2

There are Jesuit Retreat Centers located throughout the United States (and all over the world) where experienced spiritual directors can guide you through the Spiritual Exercises. The traditional format of the Exercises is a 30-day silent retreat, which is how all Jesuits go through the Exercises at the beginning of their formation. Being able to spend 30 days on retreat is a privilege that can be difficult for many to make. Because of this, there are other ways that one can go through the Spiritual Exercises. One is called a 19th Annotation Retreat, which is an adaptation of the Spiritual Exercises that can be done while a person continues with their daily routine. A person going through the 19th Annotation would take time to meet with a spiritual director on a regular basis while praying with the Exercises over a period of time. Jesuit retreat centers also offer three, five, and eight-day retreats that can give a person an introduction to the Spiritual Exercises. Some retreats even focus on a particular theme, like addiction, grieving, anxiety, etc.

This, of course, is just an introduction to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Exercises are at the heart of Ignatian Spirituality and the soul of the Society of Jesus. Throughout the rest of the Ignatian Year, we will dive deeper into specific elements of the Spiritual Exercises and offer our own reflections on how the Exercises can impact our relationship with God and the world around us.

 

Check out our short video series on the Spiritual Exercises:

 

Categories: Things Jesuit

DONDA Review: Kanye is our Wagner

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 09/02/2021 - 10:40

In August 1876, Bayreuth Festspielhaus was christened as an opera house erected exclusively for the performance and reverence of Richard Wagner’s work. Built to the composer’s obsessive specifications, it was to be a temple that celebrated his own celebrity and genius with an opera festival that continues to this day. Politicians, musicians, and luminaries from across Europe converged on the pageantry. Some were there for the music, others for the chaos, others for the status. And after the last chord of Götterdämerung (Twilight of the Gods) rang and the colossal operation died out, Wagner took the stage to raging applause and said, “You have seen what we can do—now it’s up to you to want. And if you want, then we shall have an art!” At least as Tchaikovsky recalled, no one had a clue what the madman meant.

Last Thursday, August 26th, 2021, Kanye West rebuilt his childhood home inside of Chicago’s Soldier Field and hosted a listening party for his new album, DONDA. In front of thousands of fans, he vibed on the porch with notable Satanist and alleged abuser Marilyn Manson and outspoken homophobe Dababy, sampled a grotesque years-old meme, lit himself on fire, and mimed a ritual of remarriage with his wife Kim Kardashian. No one, I surmise, has a clue what the whole thing means. The album was released early Sunday morning like a characteristically arrogant call to prayer, featuring a stable of some of hip-hop’s most illustrious and infuriating stars.

Like it or not, Kanye is our Wagner – a master architect of pure spectacle and a man whose unhinged brilliance confronts us all.

Many artists transform art. But every couple generations, rare artists come along whose life and work burrow into the popular conscience and exert influence far beyond the culture industry. Wagner and West are two of those artists.

Both are virtuoso musicians, Wagner with a quill and West with a sampler, who treat music like a springboard for their grander ambitions. Both live lives of public turbulence and hubris. Both harbor unstable and occasionally diabolical political opinions (if you can call anything Kanye thinks an “opinion”). Both will be remembered far more for their daring stylistic innovations than their lyrics. Both enjoy their work being performed and championed by the very people they seek to alienate. Both are indisputable titans of popularity but somehow still manage to sound like agitating outsiders. As with Wagner, it’s easy to imagine Nietzsche obsessed with West’s earlier work – the Dionysian id of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the assaulting, manic pessimism of Yeezus. And just as the philosopher abandoned his muse over Parsifal’s elevation of chastity, it is easy to imagine him equally disgusted by West’s conversion to Christianity.

Wagner and West are both obsessed with scale. Some will call DONDA too long, but I just call it large, like a wall you can’t figure out how to climb. The album begins by summoning its namesake, Kanye’s departed mother. For a record devoted to a powerful woman, it’s a disappointingly rare instance of the female voice. “Donda,” Syleena Johnson incants, “Donda Donda Donda… Don-da, Don-da,” over and over until a name, a person, becomes a rhythm. Kanye turns his mother’s memory into a pulse that sustains the record’s contemplation of his favorite subject: himself – his faith, insecurities, and personal predicaments.

And what a pulse it is. Donda bursts with momentum. Fans who lamented Jesus is King for its lack of thumping beats are rewarded with a treasure chest of classics. After the first five big songs – all heaters – I thought there’s no way he can keep this up. For the most part, he does. “Junya” managed to throw me around the room with nary a bass drum in sight. The song is about a wristwatch. “24” could have been recorded at the guys’ bible study. Kanye begs for the memory of his mother (“I know you’re alive, God’s not finished”) and his Sunday Service choir, intentionally blown and distorted, answers repeatedly, “We gonna be ok.” They sing like it’s a sure thing and have me convinced.

But on top of social insensitivities, musical missteps lurk. Kanye “pays tribute” to Pop Smoke by slapping one of his verses over a kindergarten piano lesson. The various “part 2”s at the end are useless addenda. Usual instances of uniquely Kanye whiplash abound. He swings from a gonzo, left-field sample of Globglogabgalab into the beautiful “Moon,” a haunted meditation on wanting what you can’t have. “Keep My Spirit Alive,” ostensibly about his mom, is an opportunity for Westside Gunn to thank God for some drug deals. And Ye adds another cringey couplet to his arsenal when he raps, “Personal worth is not what a person is worth/I can give a dollar to every person on earth.” This is not true, but why are we counting?

The album art is just the color black, the color of grief. But with Kanye, nothing is private. And if black is the color of grief, it’s also the color of the cosmos and the color of his skin. West has a talent for passing fluidly from hyper-specific particulars to exalted universals. He feels comfortable, while rapping about the details of his divorce for instance, to drop lines like “Time and space is a luxury” and “I give up on doing things my way.” And musically speaking, Kanye’s maximalist and encyclopedic approach to production forbids passive listening. By laughing at the temptation to constantly deliver a cathartic drop, the whole thing feels bigger.

Which brings us back to Wagner, who famously built an entire opera (Tristan und Isolde) around the resolution of a single dissonance. One towering difference between the two artists is that Wagner never wrote himself onto the stage. With Kanye, there is a sense that he is the stage. He acts like his entire existence is an art project – think of the shoes, the Instagram, the gossip. Wagner would have been fascinated by this. I’d also wager that this is partially what allowed West to open himself to the Gospel. While Wagner, like the god of deists, stood at a distance from his own world, Kanye is immersed in it. God became the natural answer to his increasingly exposed insecurities.

What of Kanye’s Christianity? Secular reviewers are bound to sneer at West’s faith and use it as an excuse to moralize his superficiality, but this is a mistake. DONDA is, at moments, mature Christian art – messy, conflicted, and full of baggage. When Ye released Jesus is King, the resounding choir of Christian critics questioned the authenticity of his conversion. We’ll see if he keeps it up, everyone seemed to say. Being a Christian is hard, you know. I’d like to sit with the eye-rollers while they spin “Jesus Lord,” the sprawling, 9-minute triptych that anchors the album’s backstretch. At once hypnotic and bracing, the track features a vulnerable Kanye, a virtuosic Jay Electronica, and a voicemail from Larry Hoover Jr., all wondering in their own way about forgiveness and the generations that keep passing by. All along, Kanye intones again and again, “Tell me if you know someone that needs Jesus, Lord.” I can think of a few, Ye. Maybe even the guys on your porch.

And I’d also like to see if the holier-than-thou tut-tutters’ eyes stay dry during the album’s climax, “Come to Life,” a sublime and fragile track about the ways we try to raise the dead. “I don’t wanna die alone/I don’t wanna die alone,” he repeats. A woman keeps crying out, “Hallelujah!” In what has to be the most touching moment in his entire catalog, pianos cascade and guitars growl while Kanye begs God for help and admits that all his daughter wants are Nikes, a brand he’s been beefing with for a decade. “This is not about me, God is still alive,” he sings. For virtually any other artist, this moment would seem grotesque. But for Kanye West, this confession is as personal as it gets. I may not be able to relate with the specifics, but I sure know what it’s like when someone I love wants something I hate.

For my own part, I was moved at the end as he sang about his daughter and his God, repeating “He’s done miracles on me,” until the record blacked out. I couldn’t tell if the last track, “No Child Left Behind,” was referring to the education bill, the rapture, or his own kids, and I didn’t care. West is a reminder that we don’t only dwell politically or morally. We also dwell poetically and we can be moved by people who seem like a risk. Jewish composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein once said, “I hate Wagner, but I hate him on my knees.”

What is there to say about Kanye? Let the weirdo have his masterpieces.

*Cover image was made using a photo by Jason Persse with modifications. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0

Categories: Things Jesuit

DONDA Review: Kanye is our Wagner

Latest from the Jesuit Post - Thu, 09/02/2021 - 01:00

In August 1876, Bayreuth Festspielhaus was christened as an opera house erected exclusively for the performance and reverence of Richard Wagner’s work. Built to the composer’s obsessive specifications, it was to be a temple that celebrated his own celebrity and genius with an opera festival that continues to this day. Politicians, musicians, and luminaries from across Europe converged on the pageantry. Some were there for the music, others for the chaos, others for the status. And after the last chord of Götterdämerung (Twilight of the Gods) rang and the colossal operation died out, Wagner took the stage to raging applause and said, “You have seen what we can do—now it’s up to you to want. And if you want, then we shall have an art!” At least as Tchaikovsky recalled, no one had a clue what the madman meant.

Last Thursday, August 26th, 2021, Kanye West rebuilt his childhood home inside of Chicago’s Soldier Field and hosted a listening party for his new album, DONDA. In front of thousands of fans, he vibed on the porch with notable Satanist and alleged abuser Marilyn Manson and outspoken homophobe Dababy, sampled a grotesque years-old meme, lit himself on fire, and mimed a ritual of remarriage with his wife Kim Kardashian. No one, I surmise, has a clue what the whole thing means. The album was released early Sunday morning like a characteristically arrogant call to prayer, featuring a stable of some of hip-hop’s most illustrious and infuriating stars.

Like it or not, Kanye is our Wagner – a master architect of pure spectacle and a man whose unhinged brilliance confronts us all.

Many artists transform art. But every couple generations, rare artists come along whose life and work burrow into the popular conscience and exert influence far beyond the culture industry. Wagner and West are two of those artists. 

Both are virtuoso musicians, Wagner with a quill and West with a sampler, who treat music like a springboard for their grander ambitions. Both live lives of public turbulence and hubris. Both harbor unstable and occasionally diabolical political opinions (if you can call anything Kanye thinks an “opinion”). Both will be remembered far more for their daring stylistic innovations than their lyrics. Both enjoy their work being performed and championed by the very people they seek to alienate. Both are indisputable titans of popularity but somehow still manage to sound like agitating outsiders. As with Wagner, it’s easy to imagine Nietzsche obsessed with West’s earlier work – the Dionysian id of My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and the assaulting, manic pessimism of Yeezus. And just as the philosopher abandoned his muse over Parsifal’s elevation of chastity, it is easy to imagine him equally disgusted by West’s conversion to Christianity.

Wagner and West are both obsessed with scale. Some will call DONDA too long, but I just call it large, like a wall you can’t figure out how to climb. The album begins by summoning its namesake, Kanye’s departed mother. For a record devoted to a powerful woman, it’s a disappointingly rare instance of the female voice. “Donda,” Syleena Johnson incants, “Donda Donda Donda… Don-da, Don-da,” over and over until a name, a person, becomes a rhythm. Kanye turns his mother’s memory into a pulse that sustains the record’s contemplation of his favorite subject: himself – his faith, insecurities, and personal predicaments.

And what a pulse it is. Donda bursts with momentum. Fans who lamented Jesus is King for its lack of thumping beats are rewarded with a treasure chest of classics. After the first five big songs – all heaters – I thought there’s no way he can keep this up. For the most part, he does. “Junya” managed to throw me around the room with nary a bass drum in sight. The song is about a wristwatch. “24” could have been recorded at the guys’ bible study. Kanye begs for the memory of his mother (“I know you’re alive, God’s not finished”) and his Sunday Service choir, intentionally blown and distorted, answers repeatedly, “We gonna be ok.” They sing like it’s a sure thing and have me convinced.

But on top of social insensitivities, musical missteps lurk. Kanye “pays tribute” to Pop Smoke by slapping one of his verses over a kindergarten piano lesson. The various “part 2”s at the end are useless addenda. Usual instances of uniquely Kanye whiplash abound. He swings from a gonzo, left-field sample of Globglogabgalab into the beautiful “Moon,” a haunted meditation on wanting what you can’t have. “Keep My Spirit Alive,” ostensibly about his mom, is an opportunity for Westside Gunn to thank God for some drug deals. And Ye adds another cringey couplet to his arsenal when he raps, “Personal worth is not what a person is worth/I can give a dollar to every person on earth.” This is not true, but why are we counting?

The album art is just the color black, the color of grief. But with Kanye, nothing is private. And if black is the color of grief, it’s also the color of the cosmos and the color of his skin. West has a talent for passing fluidly from hyper-specific particulars to exalted universals. He feels comfortable, while rapping about the details of his divorce for instance, to drop lines like “Time and space is a luxury” and “I give up on doing things my way.” And musically speaking, Kanye’s maximalist and encyclopedic approach to production forbids passive listening. By laughing at the temptation to constantly deliver a cathartic drop, the whole thing feels bigger.

Which brings us back to Wagner, who famously built an entire opera (Tristan und Isolde) around the resolution of a single dissonance. One towering difference between the two artists is that Wagner never wrote himself onto the stage. With Kanye, there is a sense that he is the stage. He acts like his entire existence is an art project – think of the shoes, the Instagram, the gossip. Wagner would have been fascinated by this. I’d also wager that this is partially what allowed West to open himself to the Gospel. While Wagner, like the god of deists, stood at a distance from his own world, Kanye is immersed in it. God became the natural answer to his increasingly exposed insecurities.

What of Kanye’s Christianity? Secular reviewers are bound to sneer at West’s faith and use it as an excuse to moralize his superficiality, but this is a mistake. DONDA is, at moments, mature Christian art – messy, conflicted, and full of baggage. When Ye released Jesus is King, the resounding choir of Christian critics questioned the authenticity of his conversion. We’ll see if he keeps it up, everyone seemed to say. Being a Christian is hard, you know. I’d like to sit with the eye-rollers while they spin “Jesus Lord,” the sprawling, 9-minute triptych that anchors the album’s backstretch. At once hypnotic and bracing, the track features a vulnerable Kanye, a virtuosic Jay Electronica, and a voicemail from Larry Hoover Jr., all wondering in their own way about forgiveness and the generations that keep passing by. All along, Kanye intones again and again, “Tell me if you know someone that needs Jesus, Lord.” I can think of a few, Ye. Maybe even the guys on your porch.

And I’d also like to see if the holier-than-thou tut-tutters’ eyes stay dry during the album’s climax, “Come to Life,” a sublime and fragile track about the ways we try to raise the dead.  “I don’t wanna die alone/I don’t wanna die alone,” he repeats. A woman keeps crying out, “Hallelujah!” In what has to be the most touching moment in his entire catalog, pianos cascade and guitars growl while Kanye begs God for help and admits that all his daughter wants are Nikes, a brand he’s been beefing with for a decade. “This is not about me, God is still alive,” he sings. For virtually any other artist, this moment would seem grotesque. But for Kanye West, this confession is as personal as it gets. I may not be able to relate with the specifics, but I sure know what it’s like when someone I love wants something I hate.

For my own part, I was moved at the end as he sang about his daughter and his God, repeating “He’s done miracles on me,” until the record blacked out. I couldn’t tell if the last track, “No Child Left Behind,” was referring to the education bill, the rapture, or his own kids, and I didn’t care. West is a reminder that we don’t only dwell politically or morally. We also dwell poetically and we can be moved by people who seem like a risk. Jewish composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein once said, “I hate Wagner, but I hate him on my knees.”

What is there to say about Kanye? Let the weirdo have his masterpieces.

Categories: Things Jesuit

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