Friday, July 30, 2010


Today I depart for our villa in Waupaca, WI to celebrate the feast of our founder, St. Ignatius.  I've already written once on how Jesuit vacations differ from the tourist idea of vacation.  So, today let me give you a few of points that make Waupaca unique.

1.)  We treasure sitting on the porch talking to each other.  Really, it is a great time to see guys who are literally spread out around the world and talk about their corner of the Church.

2.)  Morning mass and four part harmonies.  Thanks to a generation of trailblazing musicians that graced the Society of Jesus and the American Church, i.e. the St. Louis Jesuits, many Jesuits in our province love to sing and know the harmonies for the mass parts.  Therefore, our masses at villa have some of the most lovely harmonies I've heard in any church.

3.)  Br. Al Dorsey.  Al who is in his 80s has been coming up to Waupaca for fifty years to cook supper for us.  Al's homemade breads are to die for, especially his sesame loaf.  All these years in the kitchen have not dulled his sense of humor or good nature as he still is quick with a zinger.

4.)  Sheepshead.  After dinner, many congregate to play a game of sheepshead and the terms "bluemounder," "Omaha blind," and "loner" fill the lexicon of the place.

I hope everyone enjoys their own vacations this summer and to quote our Holy Father Benedict XVI, "Vacation is a gift from God."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

St. Camillus is alive with the sound of music

St. Camillus assisted living community houses Jesuits who embrace their final mission for the Society of Jesus--to pray for the Church and the Society of Jesus.  These men take that mission very seriously as evidenced by the numerous prayer boards around the community.  But there is an external manifestation of that prayer that makes me smile--song.

I had the pleasure of having two meals with the men there yesterday and at both meals I could hear singing in the dining room.  At lunch, a few fathers were singing the old Church hymns from their youths.  At dinner, Fr. Al Schmitz and I sung the Canadian national anthem at the dinner table.  This was a result of Fr. Al telling his delightful story of how he ended up in Wisconsin from Saskatoon.  May we all emulate the joy of relationship with the Lord that the men in Camillus exemplify.

What song is in you heart?  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Sacramental Imagination

In academia, many words have been spent to discuss how Catholics view the world.  Most academics tend to boil it down to this--Catholics believe that God is always at work and so the Catholic searches for signs or evidence of God's grace throughout creation.  Catholics believe what the Jesuit poet Hopkins once penned that "Christ plays in ten thousand places/and lovely in limbs and eyes not his/through the features of men's faces."  God in all things.

So it was wonderfully surprising to hear the reaction of my fellow Jesuits who just completed the summer mission band tour of the Midwest.  The mission band went throughout Midwestern cities to preach the Gospel and encourage young adult Catholics to continue practicing their faith.  The Jesuits as they finished found themselves struck with the way they were perceived by the laity.  The lay folks who went to these workshops commented how they found Christ in watching the Jesuits interact with each other.  The guys on the tour enjoyed each other's company and reveled in each other's bad inside jokes.  This in turn filled the participants with hope and love for the Church.

These very astute evaluations tell us a couple of things.  One, Catholics do indeed see things sacramentally as evidenced by their observations of the Jesuits.  And two, religious life, specifically the Jesuits in this case,  still does what is was founded to do--witness Christ to the world.

I just thought this worthy of sharing.  People know Christ and can articulate that experience.  And, religious life is still very dynamic.  Thanks to my brother Jesuits and the wonderful lay people they encountered this summer for emphasizing that.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Catching Up

Like many Milwaukeeans, "the storm" of last Thursday shifted my energies elsewhere.  Anyway, I should be back to a daily update this week.

The storm created extra work.  Basements had to be mopped. Travel arrangements adjusted.  Emergencies put our lives on hold.  And rightfully so.  We need to focus on the task at hand.  This becomes evident when talking to someone at a wake or funeral after someone close to them has passed.  Their relief is a twofold: 1) Relieved that their loved ones are no longer suffering and 2) relieved that they can turn their attention to other aspects of life now that the ordeal is over.

But it is not just emergencies that cause us to shift to tunnel vision.  Often our lives get out of balance.  As a teacher, I let work pile up and then I have to put everything on hold to catch up.  Summers become the time for teachers to imagine new ways to teach, to read books in our field, or simply spend quality time with our families.

But do our lives have to vacillate between chaos and calm?  Obviously not, but we accept it as a fact of life.  Maybe in these times of calm we should re-evaluate how we go about our life during the chaos.  I cannot imagine God wants us to be stressed.

So, do you find yourself in this cycle?  If not, feel free to share some good practices that help keep you balanced.  Lets try to have some discussion on this.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Second Vocations

I want to spend some space musing about vocations.  First, I think people are well aware of the idea of vocation--where your gifts meet the world's needs.  God has an idea in mind for all of us.  And through prayer, reception of the sacraments, and spiritual conversation we can get a good sense of what this is.  So when the Church prays for more vocations to the priesthood, religious life, consecrated single life, or family life this is what is meant.  Let us pray that people discover the grand vocation for their life.

But the more I listen to folks the more I realize that there are vocations within vocations. For example, one's vocation might be to raise a family so career choices are influenced by the question, "What is best for the family?"  But a family is not a static entity and as children grow up and move away parents often discover another calling after their children are grown.  Tim and Ruth Leacock personify this.  Through a casual conversation with a Jesuit working in Africa, they discovered that they could provide computers, training, and maintenance for people in Eastern Africa.  After much prayer, conversation, and encouragement from their friends they began Computers for Africa.  10 years later their small organization has helped at least 70,000 people.

So there are many vocations within are vocations.  I often marvel when a child begins the vocation of caring for an ailing parent.  This shifts their energies and forces them to re-prioritize their life.  But whatever our vocations are, we must strive to be holy.  The world has plenty of people doing wonderful things, but as Christians we have to do them with the joy, compassion, thoughtfulness, and hospitality of Christ.  Everybody is called to holiness.  After all, all our vocations come from Christ.

How do you strive for holiness?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Hand me downs

As the youngest child in my family, I looked forward to the day my older brother grew out of his clothes.  His "old" shirts and pants were cool by the mere fact that he wore them.  So when they became mine, I treasured them.  Anybody who has an older sibling knows how to appreciate a good hand me down.

Today, I thought of hand me downs because Fr. David Smith, SJ has taken some older pieces of church art and incorporate them into the bucolic setting of the Creighton University Retreat House in Griswold, Iowa.  He incorporated the tabernacle from the old novitiate at St. Boniface in the chapel. took the stations of the cross from Campion Boarding School and found a tasteful way to feature them in the chapel.  The graces of Campion live on in this rural chapel.  (Pictured below)

David found beautiful uses for discarded items.  He still dreams about having the resources to build a pond or feature some more sculptures outside.  But until then he will continue to do what so many of us do--find joy in recycled things.

How do I look at used items with a new eye?  How does God view people or things we discard?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jesuit Middle School of Omaha

The Jesuit Middle School of Omaha, or Jesuit to the locals, and I have a history.  I spent my long experiment there teaching 4th grade religion, tutoring one sixth grader in history, teaching Latin to seventh graders, and most importantly, playing dodgeball at lunch with students.  At Jesuit I discovered joy as a contemplative in action.  I do not exaggerate when I say that without Jesuit, I would not have had the positive experience I needed to commit myself to this least Society for life.

This relationship has continued over the years.  I journeyed back to Omaha for the tenth anniversary and even popped in on one of my old students who now attends Prep.  Three years ago a former student of mine Kamren Shannon was shot and killed.  I heard the news one night in Chicago and wept.  And then to take my mind off of it I watched a bad Julia Roberts movie, which only made me continue crying.  Kamren's death reminded me of the grave reality so many of our bright talented black youth face today. 

Today was my first time back since Kamren's death three years ago.  Despite my sadness, I found that joy from experiment  welling up inside of me upon meeting Fr. Tom Neitzke at the door.  Fr. Neitzke, ordained in June, brings enthusiasm, creativity, and hope to Jesuit.  This is not to say Jesuit has not been doing well but as with most institutions a change of perspective can enliven it.  I look forward to seeing how Fr. Tom, the acting principal and future president, leads Jesuit these next few years.  And Jesuit will need the help.  North Omaha is the #1 place for child poverty in America.  The students still have to downplay going to Jesuit as their peers threaten to harm them for seeking an education. 

Upon leaving, I could not help but think of Kamrem who ironically died in a family tragedy.  As the obit for the Omaha World Herald reported:

 "Kamren Shannon was shot and killed in what his family calls a tragic accident. Kamren's uncle, fired three shots when Kamren knocked on his door...During Kamren's funeral Friday, his father, Joseph Shannon Jr. told the packed church that if they want to honor is son, they should use his death as inspiration.
"Every situation is an opportunity for God to work a miracle," he said."

So I left Jesuit thinking that about Kamren, miracles, vocations, and hope.  A blessed day indeed.

To learn more about the Jesuit Middle School of Omaha and how you can participate in this unique school contact Fr. Neitzke at (402) 346-4464.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Tony Lusvardi

If you check the blog role on the right of this page, you will see a blog named whosoeverdesires.  The blog features young Jesuits doing a bit of apologetics on various topics.  I highly recommend the blog as it is intelligent and current.

One of the writers is Tony Lusvardi, SJ.  Tony did his long experiment at Marquette High where somehow he got the nickname "The Teacher."  His bald head along with his insightful comments apparently convinced the students that he was indeed a guru.

Here is a short description of his vocation story as found on the homepage of the diocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis:

And do yourself a favor and check out his blog.

Have a good weekend everybody!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Joe Hoover

In the March 2010 edition of the literary magazine, "The Sun," Joe Hoover, SJ had an article published about his reflections on priesthood.  Unfortunately I cannot link the article.  This fits for Joe who would want his readers to read his essays in print.

A few observations about Joe:
Joe wore the same flannel shirt everyday during the spiritual exercises.  He likes trendy New York fashion items like fedoras and square glasses.  Joe once gave me a wonderful CD to listen to when I had to travel home for a family emergency.  As unique as Joe might be, he still loves his brother Jesuits well.

So, below is an essay Joe wrote five years ago while studying philosophy.  Enjoy the work of this actor, writer, organizer, seminarian.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Grace by Association

I had a wonderful day yesterday.  Wonderful because I spent most of the day talking to friends I had not spoken to in many years.  And oh the things they have gotten into these years.  One of my friends and her husband just moved to Minnesota from the south and are looking for a parish.  We talked about why they found it important to have a parish community.

I also spent a large amount of time with some of my friends who are Ignatian Associates.  These folks dedication to seeking God through Ignatian spirituality as well as their love of the Society of Jesus.  Just listening to their devotion to bettering each other was inspiring.  One of the men on the novitaite staff always used to say, "When someone is under a waterfall and your standing next to them, you are bound to get wet."  I got wet yesterday.  And I'm grateful for it.

Who in your life inspires you?  How can you share their joy?

Monday, July 12, 2010

Chris Krall

Fr. John Belmonte and I convinced students that the new Jesuit, Chris Krall, was a Navy Seal before entering the Jesuits.  One young man, who plans on entering the Navy next year, actually approached me and asked me about Mr. Krall's experience in the Navy.  I sheepishly looked at him and said, "I think you should talk to Mr. Krall."

What made the rumor believable is Chris's fanatical workouts.  Krall dedicates himself to waking up at 5:15am every morning for a two hour workout.  Then he proceeds to seize the day with the same zeal he does in his workout.  I have been delighted to work and live with him.  He brings much joy and energy to any situation.

Chris also has a passion for philosophy, in particular Bernard Lonergan.  I think it is safe to say he is the only theology teacher in Wisconsin to teach Lonergan to sophomores.  Below is a link for a paper that he presented at the "Lonergan on the Edge" Conference last fall at Marquette University.  The papers are posted online and this is the link for his.  It was an excellent conference of young students getting into Lonergan.  

Chris proves that young Jesuits still pursue acdemic excellence.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Fidelity, and Yes LeBron James

My students surprised me this year.  In the end of the year evaluation, I asked them which virtue they considered the most important.  Many responded with fidelity.  The answer basically affirmed the need to be faithful to a commitment regardless of its difficulties.  Generation Y surprised me.  I guess all the reports of infidelity on television had convinced me that people in our culture did not deeply care for it.

I have thought a lot about fidelity these past days.  I observed two friends marry this weekend and commit themselves to each other for the rest of their life.  They beamed all weekend.  I noticed how one friend who recently proposed to his girlfriend of six years smiled more since the commitment.  Choosing something, committing yourself to something greater than yourself actually emboldens you.  It frees you to be your authentic self.

But nowhere more than my home state of Ohio has fidelity, or the supposed lack thereof, been on display this week.  LeBron James, the native son of Northeast Ohio, announced on national television (in front of 10 million people!) that he will play basketball in south Florida next year.  While Mr. James has every right to make whatever professional decision he chooses, the symbolic nature of his departure has shattered thousands (possibly millions) of Ohioans.  The good folks of Cleveland consider themselves in a relationship with LeBron.  LeBron did not reciprocate the feelings and left Cleveland at the proverbial altar.

I realize I'm giving a lot of attention to a sports figure for a column about spirituality.  But I think the LeBron James incident proves that people want to commit themselves.  As I told a friend, how much greater joy would LeBron feel if he had committed himself to the building of the kingdom of God.  In my ideal scenario one of two things would have happened.  1) LeBron announces on national television that he is giving up basketball to pursue a vocation with the Jesuits.  Or more likely, 2) He announces he stays in Cleveland, wins a championship, and uses his fame to help rebuild the depleted inner-city of Cleveland with the ultimate goal of eliminating poverty in the city.  In the process, he inspires Ohioans to enjoy sports but ultimately care for substantial things.

Sorry for the long post here.  But I think the contrast is important.  Do our decisions and commitments lead us to greater love and a sense of purpose?  Or, are they about our own self-interest in detriment to the well being of others?

(N.B.  I grew up a Cavs fan and adored LeBron until Thursday night.  Now I'm not so sure I will ever watch the NBA again.)    

Friday, July 9, 2010

Paddy Gilger, SJ

I always leave smiling when I walk away from Paddy.  He listens in such a way that he picks up on the good, draws your attention to it, and then helps you revel in the wonder of such goodness.  His charisma is rather extraordinary.  People want to be close to this man.  People want to let Paddy love them.

These past three years Paddy has been utilizing this extraordinary gift, as well as his deep passion for learning and philosophy, as a teacher and director of the volunteer program at Red Cloud Indian School on the Pine Ridge Reservation.  Paddy has taken some time to pull these experiences together through essays and interviews.  Do yourself a favor and spend some time with these pieces.  I believe you will walk away from these feeling the same way I always do when I leave Paddy--amazed.  Enjoy:

A short essay on vocations  

Audio interviews w/ Red Cloud Volunteers that Paddy has been working with over the past years discussing their experience as a volunteer - 2 Lakota kids as well

Video interview w/ Paddy on Lakota and Ignatian spirituality:

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mission Band

I'm on the road this week to see one of my best friends marry.  So in my absence, I've decided to let the words and works of my Jesuit brothers fill this space.

Today, we feature Michael Rossmann, SJ.  Rossman, 25 and a graduate of Notre Dame, is currently studying philosophy at Loyola Chicago.  Michael is a bit of a celebrity as everyone who went to Notre Dame seems to know and love the man.  I wonder what happened during his college years to build such a reputation.  I gained some insight to his fame while hanging out with some of his college friends last week.  [Editorial note: What follows happened at Notre Dame before Michael joined the Society of Jesus.]  Apparently God has blessed Michael with a concave chest.  Michael has naturally used this gift in public settings to demonstrate how to eat cereal with milk off of one's chest.  There are no truths to reports that David Letterman has sought him for stupid human tricks.

But enough about Michael's zaniness.  He is a bright, wonderful man who deeply loves Jesus.  I'm honored to call him brother.  Below is a link to one of Michael's articles which he wrote for his diocesan newspaper.  This article describes the opportunities and challenges of preaching the Gospel to young adults.  Enjoy:

Also, if you are interested in Michael's summer assignment of retreats for young adults read:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


"Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples
and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out
and to cure every disease and every illness."  (Mt 10:1)

This appears in today's gospel.  Briefly, I'm struck by two things.  First, the power Jesus gives his disciples.  Following the Lord comes with significant responsibilities.  Second, the humility the disciples must have had to receive such gifts.  Maybe today our prayer can be for a greater humility to accept the responsibilities God grants us as a result of our own discipleship.

Where do you find the need for humility in your life?  How do you imitate the disciples by "curing every disease and illness?  

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Jesuit Vacations

In one sense, Jesuits vacations look no different than any other vacations.  For example, this weekend I journeyed down to Chicago to watch the fireworks with some friends.  Pretty standard stuff.  But they also differ in how the rest of the day plays out.  Using this past weekend as an example, I spent a lot of my time touring a high school with a good Jesuit friend of mine.  He works at Christo Rey in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood.  The school, now famous for its innovative educational approach, requires students to attend school for four longer days and on the fifth day they work in a corporate office to help subsidize the cost of their education.  To learn more visit:

So I spent the morning of July 5th visiting empty classrooms talking about the various challenges we educators face.  So even while on vacation, we Jesuits think about our apostolate (the place jesuits work.)  We search for ways to improve, amend, or even change our approach to our apostolate.  In this way, we live the idea of "magis,"  the Jesuit maxim that asks people to seek the "more" in terms of their relationship to Christ.

How do your vacations bring you closer to Christ?  How are you being called to deepen your relationship with the Lord?  Where do you find Christ at work?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Thoughts on America from America's greatest...

I've been fascinated with Abraham Lincoln all summer, especially with his virtue.  I think he was the ideal executive by the way he treated people.  Therefore, on this day on Independence honest Abe will give us a few thoughts from his second inaugural address.  What is striking about the address by the president is his obvious references to the divine.  For a country that seems so squeamish around religion we can learn a lot from our foremost statesman.  Without further ado...

[In reference to the supposed differences of southerners and northerners]

"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes." 

[On the task ahead in the final months of the war]

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

Both of these quotes provide great fodder for prayer today.  How do I view others?  With magnanimity?  With doubt?  How does God view others?  Do I pray for the betterment of others or just my own self-preservation?

And: does my work bring about communion and healing?  Do I care about peace?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Married to reality

Friendships fall in and out of fashion.  I often find I have periods where I'm incredibly close to a few people and then periods, even years, where those same people never cross my radar.  And as a young adult this makes sense.  My friends begin families and/or relationships and it is necessary for them to devote more time to those.  Likewise, the Society of Jesus asks me to stay in one place for a maximum of three years during my formation process.  Therefore, the best I can do sometimes is to hodgepodge relationships together through facebook, my cell phone, and the people geographically near me.

But as much as I try to control/maintain certain friendships, the Holy Spirit has a way of prioritizing my relationships.  I have found this out through a friend of mine who recently went through a divorce.  After seeing her maybe once or twice a year while she was married, I find myself spending more time with her of late.  Is as if the Holy Spirit desires me to accompany her at this moment in her life.  The kicker is we never talk of the divorce.  Rather, I help her with yard work or show her a new feature on her computer.  We simply hang out.  I have noticed that she has taken priority over other friendships for a while.

And my other friends understand this.  They realize that for some reason this person needs some attention and my other friendships can be put on hold.  And it is here I feel most close to Jesus.  Over and over again, we see Jesus getting on a boat to escape the crowds or going to the mountains to pray, only to have people follow him.  Many of His healings are not His idea at all but spring forth from the insistence of others.  The Roman centurion or Bartimaeus easily display this.  Jesus notices the needs of others around him and responds.

In this way, Jesus refuses to divorce himself from the world for the sake of his own agenda.  Rather the people of God show Jesus what he should do.  How do you listen to the needs of those around you?  Is there one friendship in particular that needs attention these days?  How do you encourage generosity amongst your friends?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Carrying our weight

I've spent the last couple days moving furniture.  I'm sore but grateful.  Moving a few couches proves to be quite an effort.  In a way, it takes a village.  And to the village I'm very grateful.  I'm grateful to the people who gave us the furniture, my friend Erik who helped me load the van, the high school boys who helped unload the van, and my brother Jesuits who will help arrange the furniture in the house.  The whole process mirrors the generosity of God.  

When God gives, he gives more generously than we can imagine.  The Exodus story is a great example of this.   God gives His people a leader in Moses.  He then gives Pharaoh an opportunity to listen.  In fact he gives Pharaoh ten opportunities to listen.  As the Israelites flee God gives them protection in the form of a pillar of fire and parting the sea.  When freed the Israelites become discontent in the desert as their journey to the promised land (another gift of God) is more arduous than they imagined.  So God gives the manna and quail in the desert.  The Israelites have a tough time organizing themselves so God provides them with law in the Ten Commandments.

Over and over, God gives and the people receive.  In fact, it is quite an imbalance when one takes in consideration God's generosity versus ours.  St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, grasped this better than most.  He mentions, "ingratitude is the core of all sins."  Ignatius realized that God continues to bless us "7 x 70."  The least we can do is say thanks to God.

What am I grateful for today?  How has God blessed me, like the Israelites, over the course of many years?