Sunday, March 9, 2008

Here We Go

We're off to retreat. I'm leaving you with our photo and names so you can pray for us. (And if you click on the photo, it will get much bigger. Perfect for a screen saver! :) )

And below you'll find the blog entries I mentioned for each of the four weeks of the Exercises. Each has a bunch of songs, usually one per day. We start the 13th of March. Feel free to join us in this way (or any other).

Thanks in advance for your prayers.

Back Row: Chun Ng (Malaysia/Singapore region); Adrian Lyons (Tertian Director); Radek Robak (Poland); Ansgar Wiedenhaus (Germany); Mars Tan (Philippines); Woo-Bae Sohn (South Korea); Rytis Gurksnys (Lithuania).

Front row: Michael Gilson (California); Dennis Recio (California); Joseph Sobb (Assistant Tertian Director); Raymond Manyanga (Tanzania); Rudi Hartoko (Indonesia); Me.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

First Week

Grace to be Prayed for:
That I Might Intimately Know My Own Sinfulness and God's Love for Me

Instructions: Below you'll find a song for each day of the week that fits the themes of the week. To listen to any song, click on the little right-pointing arrow at the left end below the bar. (It's right next to the little volume control symbol.)

If at first you don't see bars, but instead some sort of symbol (like a big "Q", for example), be patient. The bars will appear.

With some songs, I also found lyrics. If you click where it says, you can read the lyrics, either while you're listening, before or after.

Day One: God's Abiding Love
Father and Daughter, Paul Simon
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Two: Righteousness
Hallelujah, Rufus Wainwright
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Three: Holding Back
For You, Barenaked Ladies
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Four: Denial
Wise Up, Aimee Mann
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Five: "...and I Love You Still"
Still, Alanis Morissette
Click Here for Lyrics

Second Week

The Grace to be Prayed for:
To know Jesus better.

Day One: Baptism
Down To the River to Pray, Alison Krauss
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Two: Invitation
Put It There, Paul McCartney
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Three: Freeing Others
Save Me, Aimee Mann
Click Here for Lyrics

A Way Back to Then, from the musical [Title of Show]

His Eye is on the Sparrow, from Sister Act II
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Four: Unexpected Friends
The Birthday Party, Peter Mayer

Day Five: Facing Skepticism
Do I Disappoint You, Rufus Wainwright
Click Here for Lyrics

Third Week

The Grace to be Prayed For:
To witness the sufferings of Jesus.

Day One: Jerusalem
Going to a Town, Rufus Wainwright
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Two: Facing Death
The Deer's Cry: I Arise, Theresa Donohoo

Day Three: Pie Jesu
Pie Jesu, Andrew Lloyd Webber
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Four: Crucifixion
Strange Fruit, Nina Simone
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Five: Taking Him Down
Into the West, Annie Lennox
Click Here for Lyrics

Friday, March 7, 2008

Fourth Week

The Grace to be Prayed for:
To Enter into the Joy and Consolation of the Resurrected Jesus

Day One: Gratitude
Thank U, Alanis Morissette
Click Here for Lyrics

Day Two: Gratitude
All My Relations, Ulali

Day Three: A Desire for Discipleship
I Want to Walk as a Child of the Light

Day Four: Looking Beyond the Retreat
Time & I Feel So Much Spring, from A New Brain

Day Five: God's Promise
Answer, Sarah McLachlan
Click Here for Lyrics

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Spiritual Exercises FAQ

1. Didn’t you already do this?

Yes, but I'm a slow learner! Actually, every Jesuit makes a long retreat both during their first year as a Jesuit and when they are in this final stage of formation that I'm in now.

2. Do you really have to be silent for 30 days?

It is in fact a 30 day silent retreat. But no, that doesn’t mean we never speak. I’ll talk to a director once a day about the things that are going on in my prayer. I’ll also say all the responses at mass. I might have to ask someone for someone to pass the salt at some point (though for the most part our meals will be in silence, maybe with classical music playing). And oh, we get break days, in which we will most definitely talk.

The real question is, why do you have to be silent? And the answer, we're trying to step away from all the things that usually draw our attention, so that we can be more aware of the invitations and presence of God. So, no email, no TV, no phone calls, no blog posting, no talking. In fact, it might even mean no reading! For those who have known me since I was that kid who walked (or rode) to school with a book in his hand, that might be the real jawdropper.

But the fact is, I can read anytime. I can talk anytime. But retreat is a special opportunity to get closer to God, and I want to do anything I can that might allow that to happen. (Which also means, if talking would help, I should probably do that, too. The rules aren't hard and fast. Most likely, though, I'll pretty darn quiet.)

3. So what will you do for 30 days?

I'll be doing what are known as the Spiritual Exercises. The Spiritual Exercises are a set of well, spiritual exercises (go figure) that the founder of the Jesuits, St. Ignatius, created to help people get closer to God and get in touch with their deepest desires. Ignatius in his early life was a soldier and probably something of a playboy. After a cannonball accident (how weird does that sound?) he began to notice for the first time strong movements of feeling and desire within himself: I think I want to be like the Saints! I think I want to be the chivalric hero! Over the course of the next months and years he grew more adept at noticing these different spirits and how they affected him, and he slowly moved from a sort of hyper-dramatic, romantic vision of Christianity to a very close, intimate relationship with Jesus, the Father and the Holy Spirit.

Out of the lessons he learned from his own experiences, Ignatius created a set of exercises to feed and focus a person's spiritual life. He organized them into four “weeks”, which correspond somewhat roughly to the four chronological weeks of a long retreat. Each week has a specific theme and graces prayed for: The first week is about getting in touch with God’s abundant love for us, and our own need for his love in the face of our own sinfulness. The second week is the life of Christ, and invites the retreatant to come to know Jesus better and desire to follow him more closely. The third week continues in this vein with the crucifixion, and a desire to witness Jesus’ suffering. And the fourth week is the resurrection.

4. You call it the "long" retreat? Does that mean there are other forms?

Most Jesuits do a yearly 8-day retreat, which is sort of like taking parts of the Exercises or doing the same general pattern, but over a shorter period. But there are other forms of the Spiritual Exercises, too; in fact, you’ll sometimes hear Jesuit-insiders talk about the “19th Annotation” retreat. In the 19th annotation at the start of the Exercises, Ignatius imagines a sort of a busy person's version of the retreat, in which a retreatant might keep on living their lives and move through the dynamics of the retreat over 9 months or a year (or whatever), meeting once a week with a spiritual director. (I suspect today this is the most common version of the Exercises; it definitely is for people who aren't fulltime religious. And it can be just fruitful. (Plus, no silence!))

It's a great thing about St. Ignatius – when it came to mission and the Spiritual Exercises, he was incredibly flexible. If one approach works for you, do it. If it doesn’t, find a different one that does. God is working with each and every one of us, and given that, there can be no one size fits all ministry or retreat method. It’s great advice for all of us.

5. So when will you back online?

Our retreat ends the 13th, after which we'll do some sharing, and then we're away on vacation until the 22nd. I might post some stuff while I'm in Melbourne (the 17th-22nd) but the safe bet is to check back on the 23rd or 24th.

It could be that my blogging is going to slow way down after the retreat, as I'll begin working full time at a parish doing some spiritual direction soon after that. I won't give up entirely, but it may only be a couple times a week. We'll see.

I'm going to leave you with one more thing which I hope you'll enjoy. As of Monday, I'm going to post four entries, one for each week of the exercises. (The one you'll see when you come to the page will be the first week, the next scrolling down will be the second, etc.). Each entry will allow you to listen to different songs that relate to the themes/graces hoped for in that week. So the top post will have songs that I think touch on God's love for us and our own struggles with sin, etc. Most of them are not explicitly religious songs, just pop songs and show tunes that I thought would be accessible and also fit.

I and my classmates would be very grateful for your prayers these next five weeks. And if you're so inclined, take a couple minutes each day or every couple days and listen to the next song down (I'll be putting them in a sort of order from top to bottom). You might find it a nice way to relax or pray at some point in your day; and it might give you a little taste of the retreat for yourself.

OK, talk to you in April!


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

First Fleets

Before I shut things down here for the long retreat, thought I might tell you a little bit more about one of the "foundings" of Australia.

On May 13, 1787, Arthur Phillip of the British Royal Navy (right, from a plaque near our house in Pymble) set out with a fleet of eleven ships from England to Australia. The fleet, known today as “the First Fleet”, consisted of 160 marines and 729 convicts who together would form the first British colony in Australia. The trip took 7 months, and not a single ship was lost. Between the time it took and the vast distance they had to go, that fact alone is an astonishment.

On January 18th, 1788, the fleet landed just south of present day Sydney at Botany Bay (Star Trek fans take note: here's where Roddenberry et al. got the name and idea for the desert planet where Khan and his buddies were exiled).

That's not Seti Alpha Six!

After finding Botany Bay too sandy and shallow, the fleet moved slightly to the north, and settled there, at what is today the spectacular Sydney Harbor.

Sydney Harbor from the Sydney Harbor Bridge. The Pacific is in the distance. (Click for bigger view.)

The city of Sydney was named after Thomas Townshend, Lord Sydney, the British Home Secretary (which meant at the time that he was in charge of domestic affairs). After the American colonies were lost, Townshend had been responsible for figuring out what to do with British convicts. He had chosen Phillip to begin a new colony in Australia for this purpose. It appears he also believed that sending the convicts away was not simply a sentence of lifelong exile, but an opportunity for them to rule themselves and redeem themselves – a philosophy Phillip would also espouse.

(Let's not forget, however, when we speak of convicts, usually we're not talking about hardened criminals. We're talking about petty thieves and hungry children arrested for stealing a crust of bread.)

Today the city’s denizens call themselves Sydneysiders.

And if you think traveling halfway around the world in boats – and making it – sounds incredible, consider the indigenous people of Australia. They, too, are not native to the continent. And there never was a time when Australia was connected to the rest of the land masses, so there never was any time when people could have walked into this world. No, when aboriginal people came here somewhere between 45000 and 60000 years ago, they, too, came by sea, probably from what today we call the Indonesian archipelago about 60 miles from Australia.

But here’s the thing – if they came by sea, even if it was just by accident, a raft blown 60 miles off course – still, they were traveling in boats of some kind, which puts them (says Bill Bryson) about 30000 years ahead of anybody else in the whole world.

And if it all happened just by accident, there had to be a whole bunch of accidents, not just one, because otherwise you wouldn't get sufficient people to begin and sustain a whole new civilization.

It's all sort of staggering, isn't it?

Sydney Harbor, filled with sailboats. Click for bigger view.


Tomorrow: So You Want to Know About the Spiritual Exercises

Monday, March 3, 2008

Lessons Learned

The last three weeks we tertians have been doing seminars on community life, leadership and authority, intimacy, the Spiritual Exercises and St. Ignatius. It’s been very rich and also very provocative. Our presenters and the guys in my group have had some really great ideas and images to share. Thought I'd share a couple humdingers:

Organizational Leadership: Bring People in at the Level of Myth.
A myth is a story that shapes our world and the way we act within it. We're not talking about truth or falsehood here, but rather what is the story that gives our lives meaning. So, for Christians, the stories of Scripture constitute our central myths.

If you had to make a flow chart of how things should proceed in an organization, the process ideally would look like this: myth -> vision -> goals -> objectives -> programs -> operation. Each step flows from the last and gets more concrete, until you're talking about specific actions we're going to do. And the ground is the story. The story has the power and the clarity from which everything else comes.

The problem is, oftentimes in parish or school meetings, we skip myth, skip maybe a lot of the earlier steps, in fact, and move right to programs -- "Here's the problem, now what are we going to do?" "Let's get to the point." But in doing so we keep the group from having access to that which is essential and grounding, the stories that help us make sense of everything.

When we are working in a group setting, we should begin with some kind of evocation of the myth. Our facilitator spoke of starting parish council meetings with prayer: a brief time for scripture, some quiet prayer and some sharing. It’s amazing, he pointed out, how much other issues will dissipate if you start here. Because now the group is proceeding grounded in, reminded of the story that’s at its heart.

Bringing people in at the level of the myth... good stuff.

An Image for Liturgy: Breathing Exercises.
People talk about doing breathing exercises as a way of slowing down or even of praying. And if you’ve ever done them, just sat down and slowed down your breathing, got conscious of each breath, you know that when you do this, you begin to slow down, but also to notice the air going in, going out. You begin to savor and maybe see in a different way.

Catholic mass is our breathing exercises. It’s something we do for just the same purpose – to become aware and savor, not just the air but life, and God.

If you ever chafe against going to mass every day or every Sunday, I thought that’s an interesting way to look at things. It’s not about fulfilling an obligation, it’s not about whether Father has anything good to say to me, though hopefully he does, but probably not always; liturgy is a space meant to allow us to exercise our spirits.

An Image for Planning Your Life: The Glass Jar.
Do you ever find yourself saying, I have no time for the things that are important to me? Well, we were talking about time management as priests, and somebody in the group told us an image he's used to try to deal with that.

Imagine you have a big glass jar, and outside of it you have five big stones, 50 smaller stones, and sand. If you put the sand in first, and then try to put the stones in, you’ll find that not everything can fit.

But strangely, if you put the big rocks in first, and then the smaller stones, and then the sand, the sand very naturally will find all the little crevasses that are left, and everything will fit in that glass jar.

Think of that jar as your life. When we don’t plan ahead – and sometimes we just can’t – we let the busyness and the immediate moment demands (read: the sand) fill the jar. And the more important things (the rocks) may end up getting pushed aside, and if we’re not careful, not just temporarily.

So, if you feel like your life is sort of getting away from you, it’s good to stop and ask yourself – what are my 5 or 6 big rocks? What are the things that mean the most to me? Some might be obvious; but take your time naming them, so you can be confident they’re what you think they are.

Once you have them, look to your schedule. Make sure that in your schedule over the course of each week or each month you’ve set aside time for each of them.

It’s not easy; you’ll have to recommit to them regularly. And maybe the big rocks will sometimes change. Fine. But it’s a process to help you do the things that make you happy.


If You Wondered Whether I Need This Retreat...

My friend Boom Martinez, a Jesuit of the California Province, has been in tertianship in Weston, Massachusetts and Jordan this last seven months. He just finished a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and I wanted to post a couple photographs. They're just amazing.

The Sea of Galilee.

A shot of the Garden of Gethsemane. Those olive trees are 2000 years old.

Mt. Sinai.

Sign outside the Shepherd's Field in Bethlehem.

Is it me, or is the whole sign thing a little over the top? I feel like it should be surrounded by cast members from the musical "Hair". (Ha!)

And this is... (Wait a second, that's not the Holy Land. Those are my nieces.)

And this is Jack and Demi. (Who?) They're my favorite couple from So You Think You Can Dance Australia. (What?)

This is Boom and Michael Gilson last summer in Florence. (Last summer? What's going on here?)

This is sunset over the Dead Sea. (...That's better. )

This is a shot of some of the pools at Bethesda, from above. (They are mentioned in today's readings, in fact. Great shot.)

This is Boom and his tour group living out the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (That's funny. It really does look like the end scenes of Indy.)

Seriously: It's the Last Crusade. (Wow, you're right!)

I'm not kidding. (Yeah, we got it.)

Here Harrison Ford and Sean Connery are standing right outside the same location.(Dude, enough.)

They just need the Holy Grail:

(...uh, that's not the Holy Grail.)

Is too.

(Is not. That's the idol from the start of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now, get back to the photos.)

I couldn't find a Grail photo.

I looked really hard. (The photos.)

This is Jack and Demi's second routine. It's really good. (For God's sake, show them the PHOTOS.)


(Do I have to come back there?)

This is...(Ok, we're done.)

I seem to be having some sort of issue with my system.

I guess I'll have to call it quits for the night before things get out of hand. Thanks, Boom, for sharing your pictures. They're really amazing.

(What is with the Demi and Jack stuff?)

(That is Boom, but it's not the Holy Land.)

Here's where you can get a preview of the next episode of Lost. I think it's a Juliet episode! (No one's reading any more.)

(You blew it.)

This is the advertisement for the new Indiana Jones film!
I heard the Ark of the Covenant is going to be in it! (You drove them all away. They've all gone home. )

Bring back Belloq!
(You are really scary.)


Found it!

Good News of Great Joy

Got some great, great news from friends this weekend that I want to share.

First of all: my friends Meg and Marty from Weston just had their first child, Kieran Fox Kelly (right). He's 8 pounds, 5 ounces, and 20.5 inches long. Which I think makes him as long as a rake. 20.5 inches... that just sounds long, doesn't it? Like if he already had hand/eye coordination he'd be dunking on a kid's hoop. No?

It's funny to get the news today, as I was just introduced to this little Ignatian nugget... in 17th century Canada, when women would have labor that went over 24 hours long -- as my mom did (and it was worth every minute of it, by the way) -- supposedly they would have relics of St. Ignatius rubbed on their stomachs, and just like that, out would come the babies! I'm not sure if that's accepted medical procedure where Meg and Marty live, but it's worth checking out.

Meg and Marty, Congratulations!!! Everyone say some prayers of thanksgiving for them.

But wait, there's more! I also found out today that my friend Greg Kalscheur (above) has just gotten tenure and been promoted to Associate Professor at Boston College Law School. Huzzah! Greg and I have known each other since we studied philosophy together at Loyola University Chicago; I remember many laughs and great talks while walking along Lake Michigan. I wish I could be there to take him out for beers, but I know you'll all join me in celebrating this great achievement. As we say in my barrio of M'waukee, Ring out a hoya!

But wait, there's still more! Ok, this is more a shameless plug, but not entirely. I don't know how your Lent is going, but Tim Reidy, the online editor at America just wrote me to tell me our website just put up some slide shows that combine art and spirituality. They're each pretty short, and really well done. If you're looking for something a little bit different to nourish you in the coming weeks, you might check it out.

One last shout-out: my brother Scott just put me on to another website,, which supports people with severe physical disabilities. I think the guy who runs it is a friend of Scott's, so I just want to give it a little plug.