Saturday, 31 March 2012

Nothing More Practical than Seeking and Finding God

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

In today's readings for the Eucharist, the people begin to look away from themselves and towards Jesus. After Lazarus is raised from the death, Mary, his sister, travels with Jesus because she believes in him. A great many people are hearing stories about the many wonders Jesus has worked!

Anticipation builds, what will this Jesus do next? And with that anticipation, dread builds in the hearts of the Jewish authorities. “The Romans let us run our temple because we keep the people in line … now some prophet in the desert is stirring them up! We could lose everything. We must be unified, not divided.” 

In the first reading, the prophet Ezekiel speaks to a people experiencing the pain of division. The once proud nation of Israel is broken and scattered. They long to be gathered up into one.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Happiness on Trial – Part I

By Artur Suski, S.J.


What is the meaning of life? What is our purpose, our end? What is the deepest desire of our hearts? These are all very relevant questions for contemporary society. But what should be the Christian response to these questions?

Back in the days of the Church Fathers, St. Augustine thinks that all people desire to be happy. The “who” and the “how”, though, is another matter. St. Augustine, along with St. Thomas Aquinas, are said to have successfully baptized the teachings on happiness by Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle. These two saints are the representatives of a certain take on the Christian life which is called ‘the way of ascent’. According to this model, the goal of the Christian vocation is the ascent of the soul toward God – the Beatific vision – in which the human will find his ultimate happiness and fulfillment.

The Christian hence leads a virtuous and prayerful life, to further dispose and perfect themselves so that he may participate in this divine encounter that will bring him unending happiness. One can say that this model of happiness has dominated the Christian understanding of the Christian life.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

A Jesuit Journey: Re-Imagining Our Mission

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

Imagination is a gift from God and a cornerstone of Ignatian Spirituality …

… but at times our imagination needs to be purified.

Monday, 26 March 2012

A Tale of Two Rallies

By John O’Brien, S.J.
  

There were two large gatherings of people in the Western Hemisphere this past weekend. The first was Saturday’s self-billed “Reason Rally” at the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where 20,000 atheists gathered as a show of political force. Comedians, activists, bloggers, and the evolutionist writer Richard Dawkins headlined the event, which was reported to be lively despite the drizzling rain.

Speakers called for “zero tolerance” for anyone who disagrees with atheism and urged the nonreligious to run for public office at all levels of society. The most caustic advice, however, came from Dawkins, who told the crowd they should heap scorn on people of faith, above all, on Catholic beliefs such as the Eucharist.

“Mock them, ridicule them in public,” Dawkins said. “Don't fall for the convention that we're all too polite to talk about religion.” A preponderance of four-letter words throughout the day was reported, colouring blue the overall tone of the event.

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Rulers and Leaders

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it. (Williams, in Henry V)



There is an brief observation in C. S. Lewis’s English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama which has remained with me ever since I read it years ago. (The introduction to this work, though contentious—he proposes that there was no such thing as a Renaissance in England—is delightful and worth reading. He spent almost a decade toiling on the volume, which is part of the Oxford History of English Literature. Eventually, he began referring to it among his friends by the series’ acronym, O.H.E.L., which he would pronounce phonetically).

At any rate, the observation of Lewis’s that I am recalling now is the following: in the early modern age a change occurred such that ‘those who were once called a nation’s rulers are now almost universally called its leaders’.

This is a salient point, if we think about what the difference between a ruler and a leader is. A ruler is responsible for applying a standard—a ‘rule’—for his subjects. A leader simply leads. Doubtless, a good ruler is also a good leader, but a good leader might not be a ruler at all: it is very possible that he has no standard for his leadership beyond his own will.

So, are we right in calling our heads of government today ‘leaders’? In a sense, they are also rulers: there is, after all, a constitution. On the other hand, parliament is, in this country at least, above the constitution in certain cases. Then by what, ultimately, do they rule?

Lewis was making the point that the change in language came with a corresponding change in the conception of where our laws come from. A ruler recognises a law higher than himself; a leader does not necessarily do so. This is something that could be reflected upon at great length.

But for now, we can make the brief observation that rulers have subjects and leaders have followers. When is it appropriate to be a subject, and when a follower? After all, if all citizens were mere followers, King Harry could not have made his sobering response to Williams’s challenge: ‘Every subject’s duty is the king’s; but every subject’s soul is his own.’

Thursday, 22 March 2012

The Injustice of Life: Offer It Up to the Lord


By Br. Daniel Leckman, S.J.

“Life is short, and then you die.” This may not be the best way to describe the cycle of life and death; especially not to a grieving family!  But it’s a start. In fact, reading through the books of wisdom in the Bible has helped me confront the themes of death and of imperfection in creation. Amazingly enough, the sentiment expressed above is found in one of the books of Wisdom.  I won’t tell you which one though! I’ll let people guess via the comments section of this post!

I can tell you, however, that these books ( Job, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom etc…) are ripe with such “rebellious statements” that deny the perfection of God’s creation. The rebellion they express is not against God, but against an idea of God that dates back to ancient Israel:  God works perfectly through creation. Through creation, he takes care of all those who revere and fear him. Anyone else who suffers calamity does so because they’ve sinned against the Almighty. They must repent in order to be ‘restored’. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

The Sanctifying Furnace of Silence

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

In The Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola gives us the First Principle and Foundation. In it, this Joyful Beggar communicates to us our goal in life: to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord, and by these means to save our souls. In short, we are born to be saints. This statement alarms many: “Saintliness is only for monks and nuns.” Others may recognize the desire to be saints, but their uneasiness and dread stop them from heeding this universal call to holiness.

This is the first stumbling block in our understanding of holiness: we equate holiness with perfection. When we hear that we are called to be saints, we think that we need to be perfect. Well, here is the good news: we don't have to. Perfection cannot be attained on this side of eternity. One of my Jesuit brothers likes to constantly remind the rest of us that we are wonderfully imperfect. Our call is not to perfection; we are called to be whole. Jesus called imperfect people to be His disciples. He worked through their imperfections, and their love for Jesus set them on fire for the Kingdom of God.

The men and women we recognize today as saints had a profound and intimate relationship with Jesus, and they lived out the fruits of that relationship through their interactions with others. If we are to take our vocation to holiness seriously, we need to pray. Prayer needs to become our daily bread. In prayer, we know by faith that God is within us, closer than breathing, thinking, or choosing.

Monday, 19 March 2012

If It Makes You Happy...

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

For the past few days, I have been frantically working on an assignment for my “Sexuality and Marriage” ethics class, which comes in the form of a presentation on pornography to a group of university students. Through this process I had come across quite a few studies that examine the effects of pornography on many fronts. One of the studies cites a strong association between pornography use and dissatisfaction with the users' own intimate relationships, in addition to the plethora of other damages that it elicits.

I personally find it ironic that pornography users seek out these XXX materials for their personal gratification, but end up with a bigger void and dissatisfaction on all fronts. This reminds me of a pop song in my youth, “If It Makes You Happy by Sheryl Crow. Two lines of the lyrics are particularly suitable for this occasion:

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Theology in 15 Seconds

By John O’Brien, S.J.

When I was a young lad, my mother, good Christian woman that she was, instructed my siblings and me in a series of nighttime prayers, which she repeated each evening over the years.

I can still remember the routine. She would walk into the room, sit on the edge of my bed and we would say the lines together. It was almost always the same string of phrases, prayerful sound-bytes that contained powerful truths. Sometimes we would say them together. Other nights, when the sand in my eyes was drawing me too fast into slumber, she would say them for us both.

It’s been a good twenty-five years since the last time we prayed like this, but I can still hear her voice reciting our set-list of invocations:

Mother Mary, I belong to you. Keep me and guard me as your property and possession.

Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give you my heart and my soul;
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, assist me in my last agony;
Jesus, Mary and Joseph, may I breathe forth my soul in peace with thee, amen.

I have loved you with an everlasting love – you are mine, says the Lord.

There were a few others like that.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

A Short History of Salvation

By Greg Kennedy, S.J.

Pharaoh had a ton of stuff:
Soldiers, chariots and slaves;
But when he messed with the Israelites
No possession could he save.
Everything got stuck in mud
As he tried crossing through the Red Sea.
But he would’ve made it safe and sound
If he drove a SUV.

Moses was a grey, old man;
His arms weren’t all that strong.
He needed Hur and Aaron
To hold them up for long.
But when he staggered down the mountain
How much better he would have had it,
If instead of two, huge, rocky slabs
God had given him a Kindle Tablet.

“Samuel! Samuel!”, God said one night.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
Poor Eli couldn’t get a wink of sleep
Till he hit upon this plan.
“Boy, next time you hear the voice
To it these words you tell:
Your call is very important to us.
But please text me on my cell.”


Young David was a quiet lad,
Not much a fan of sports.
He could spend whole days alone
In other worlds absorbed.
But when he deftly killed Goliath
It was a dead sure sign,
That all those hours on the X-Box
Weren’t a waste of time.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Beauty, Where Art Thou?

By Artur Suski, S.J.

When I was pondering about what to write for my next blog entry, I happened to be listening to Mozart’s Symphony no. 41 in C major (“Jupiter”). There I was, listening to the first movement, with its interplay of upbeat rhythms led by a choir of violins, amidst the slow and lofty themes; all that kept coming to my mind was “what beauty!” I often do not have such reactions – surely a sign that I should listen to more Mozart – which made me reflect upon why this was so. Is it because I don’t intentionally seek out the beautiful? Or is it because today’s human-made world has lost its splendour and beauty? After all, how often do we hear people complementing anything today as ‘beautiful’? Perhaps I am out of touch with today’s culture of pop music, but I haven’t heard anyone describe any recent hits as 'beautiful'.

Take architecture as another example. Are there any contemporary buildings that can be described as 'beautiful'? ‘Interesting’ would be a better word. A friend of mine recently took a course on aesthetics, and the professor asked the students what they thought of the new design of the Royal Ontario Museum (the ROM). For those of you who have walked down Bloor Street in downtown Toronto, you may have noticed a somewhat older building with recently-added glass protrusions…what does it look like? Can one describe it as beautiful? (Un)surprisingly, no one in the class was able to describe the edifice as such.

The ROM
I may be completely wrong about this – as I await your comments – but it seems to me that today our contemporary culture has abandoned the 'beautiful' and embraced the practical or that which looks provocative; that is, what attracts attention to itself. Others say that they go for the symbolic: their creations ‘transcend’ beauty in order to express something more, an idea, or a message. It is assumed that they need to make their oeuvre stand out in some way; otherwise beauty is simply looked upon and quickly passed by, without being given another thought.

Monday, 12 March 2012

When the World Feels Heavy: The Joy of the Lord is Our Strength

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

There is a certain anxiety that comes with reading the newspaper and discussing with others the situation of the world. I often experience the angst of knowing that so many are suffering, and there is so little I can do. Many a time, I feel like Atlas, with the weight of the world upon my shoulders. Other times, I feel numb.

This past week has been rather eventful. Every event heightened my sense of responsibility for the well-being of those who are suffering. This heightened responsibility seemed to echo the magis, the more. “What more can I do for my suffering brothers and sisters?” is a reverberation of, “What more can I do for God?” I was seized by the question, but I found no answer. Be it facilitating an event on immigration in Canada; participating in talks with a government official about the relationship between Canada and Colombia; working as a translator for a group of Mexican activists and human right defenders; or attending a International Women’s Day event highlighting the voice of women in Africa. The question only became more urgent; it was impregnated with new meanings and depth. With so many people in need in the world, what can I do? Where should I start?

Saturday, 10 March 2012

Anime Christi - Part 2 of 2

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

In anime there are also characters who are not Christians themselves but who represent Christ in the story. Most heroes can be considered Christ-like characters because of the way in which they redeem the story and defeat evil through their actions. However, there are a few characters, who represent the person of Christ and their actions in the story reflect Christ's actions in salvation history. For instance, many heroes sacrifice their lives to save the lives of their friends; only to experience a 'resurrection' moment.

 In my opinion, the most explicit Christ figure in anime is from the 1998 series Trigun. Trigun is primarily a western; as such it seeks out to explore the themes and archetypes of the great cowboy movies of the past few decades. As such, the exploration of a western gunslinger as a Christ-figure is very deliberate. The hero's name is Vash the Stampede. It is revealed that while he is an extremely dangerous gunslinger, he has taken a vow never to kill. In a world where outlaws threaten innocent lives, Vash struggles to save the lives not only of the innocents but of thieves and murderers. Vash works to redeem and change the minds of criminals and “sinners”.

At one point in the series, Vash is depicted as a young man watching a spider catch a butterfly, and he wants to set the butterfly free. An older character kills the spider, explaining that without food, a spider cannot survive. The older character states that the human mission is to save that which is beautiful from that which is evil … but the young Vash weeps and pleads that there must be a way to save both. His character rejects the logic of death and survival and seeks another way.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Anime Christi - Part 1 of 2

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

I have learned that one can find God in all things, even anime. In this entry, I would like to explore the relation between Christology and anime. After WWII, Japanese culture was highly influenced by American culture. In the 1960s, Japanese artists adapted and simplified the “Disney” style animations they saw at the movies and used them to tell Japanese stories.

In the 1980s, the popularity of manga, the comic-book form, skyrocketed and the process of animating manga series as TV shows became big business; making titles like Dragon Ball Z familiar to westerners. Anime is known for its distinctive artistic style, its use of cartoons to convey serious literary themes, and frequent appeals to the zany, the magical, or the metaphysical.

For Westerners, Japan was the final frontier. Traveling from Europe to Japan in the 16th century was the equivalent of traveling from the earth to the moon today; except space travel is a bit safer. Travel by ship carried enough risk of disease, malnutrition, pirate attack, and shipwreck that missionaries had about a 50/50 chance of making it alive to Japan. What religious order would be foolish enough to take on odds like that? You guessed it: the Jesuits. St. Francis Xavier, the great Jesuit missionary, arrived in Japan in 1549. Christianity enjoyed great reception in Japan, especially among peasants, until it was outlawed decades later by the shoguns, who rejected all things foreign. A few underground churches survived but Christian culture didn't gain much traction in Japan until after WWII. The lasting contributions of American Christianity to Japanese culture are Christmas and weddings.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

To Dream the (Im)Possible Ignatian Dream

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

Once upon a time, I was passionate for the Arts and the ability it gives us to dream. In my years as a college and university student, that passion bordered on (L)insanity! I was full of zeal for poetry, film, music and literature. In a special way I turned to literature as my artistic inspiration. I was particularly taken with Russian literature.

The ‘Ruskies’ had such an impact on me that I suddenly began to dream about becoming someone that could write books that would both enchant readers, and challenge them to become better people. I yearned to be a writer that helped people to dream, but also empowered them to act against the injustice in our world.

When I left university, there was a shift: I emerged from the academic bubble I had been living in, and entered into ‘the real world’. This was a place where I worried about the future and struggled with present financial insecurity. In such an environment, my passions withered, and they were replaced by a need for escape. My dream of becoming a writer did not fade, but rather than cultivating it by writing, I turned to films and television. Oddly enough, my dream to captivate and challenge people was still nurtured by TV, especially by Josh Whedon. Every single week, the creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer had me eagerly waiting to hear his wit, insights and wisdom through his characters. I envied and wanted to emulate this kind of writing very much. However, as with all earthly things, this show, and the influence it had on me wasn’t meant to last.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

I.Not.Robot

By Edmund Lo, S.J. 


We Jesuits in studies all have ministry work on the side. For me, I teach RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, as preparation for the sacrament of Baptism) to Chinese refugees. In the Catholic tradition, there are many “bells and whistles” that are imbued with significance, but which may not seem important to those who don’t know the underlying meanings. If such a disconnect between actions and meanings exists, we become automatons. I decided to address this issue to my students.

But how on earth does one explain this dualistic fallacy in simple terms? And in Mandarin? Thanks be to God, I was able to come up with an analogy: robots, or ji xie ren. I encouraged my students to not be robots, to not mechanically and lifelessly bow to the altar or genuflect to the Tabernacle as if “this is what Catholics do”. Know what you are doing. But having the head knowledge is not enough: it needs to be incarnate. Know what you are doing, and do it like you mean it. This would help to alleviate the half-hearted curtsy to the Tabernacle, or the “half-bow-while-shifting-away-horizontally-because-I-am-in-a-rush” phenomenon. The Lord desires that we worship and revere Him not in body, nor in soul, but in body and soul. 


We all have our robotic moments, be it tending a toddler during mass, or saying a half-hearted “I love you” to loved ones while thinking about the hockey game. This Cartesian-like separation necessarily pulls us away from a reality that manifests itself in the here and now, in flesh and blood. One of the tell-tail signs is when we find ourselves saying “my heart is not in it”. While it may serve as a defensive mechanism for those who have been traumatized in various ways, one ultimately needs to live in an incarnate reality to be fully human.



Sunday, 4 March 2012

Impressions of Tosca


By Adam Hincks, S.J.

Is this a dagger which I see before me? (Macbeth)

When Toronto's new opera house opened in 2006, I was living elsewhere, so I told myself I would see something there as soon as I had the opportunity. It took a few years, but I was finally able to visit it last Saturday evening when I and two companions from my community went to see the Canadian Opera Company's production of Tosca.

The theatre, as well as the production, were superb. Puccini's magnificently sumptuous music came all the way up to the fifth tier with remarkably clarity. In this particular opera, I was struck by how often the orchestra played alone while mute action unfolded on stage: the beginning of Act III must have at least five minutes of music with only a line or two of singing here and there.

One thing that made the performance enjoyable for me was that I knew very little about the plot, apart from its tragic end (hence, I should issue a spoiler alert here). We were seated near the back of the theatre, so when Tosca in Act II had just despairingly agreed to Scarpia's lewd proposal in order to save Cavaradossi from the scaffold, and then spied something on his desk, I wasn't able to descry exactly what she was looking at. I guessed that it was a crucifix. She was an ostensibly pious woman, and I imagined that she was turning to the cross in desperate prayer. But soon it became clear that what I thought was a crucifix was in fact a dagger with prominent quillons, which she promptly plunged into the villain’s breast (and then slit his throat for good measure).

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Slow Down: Save a Life

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

In the wake of the VIA Rail train crash in Burlington, Ontario, the authorities have discovered that the train was going four times faster than the allowed speed. The train was supposed to slow down before it switched tracks, but it never let up after the train left the station. Unfortunately, this accident claimed the lives of 3 people and many were seriously injured. This tragic incident can teach us something about our habit of living in the fast lane. If we go faster than we should, if we try to juggle more than we can, we will also derail. We will crash.

We need to slow down. We have to take care of ourselves. Lent is precisely the time to heed this invitation. In my last post I commented on Jesus’ desire that we might live life to the fullest. This does not mean we need to do more. We do not need to busy ourselves in order to achieve more for ourselves and for others. We need to take the time to be. After all, we are human beings, and not human doings. In Ignatian spirituality, we learn to live for the greater glory of God. This is captured by the Latin word magis – not Magi, as we call the wise men from the East – but the more. What more can I do for God? This translates not as ‘what else can do I do?’ but ‘how can I do it better?’

Friday, 2 March 2012

The Monk and His Bowl

By Artur Suski, S.J.

As we begin Lent, we ask ourselves the question: what shall I give up for Lent? Or perhaps the flip side of the coin: what special thing shall I do during Lent? Lent is a time to ‘pick up the slack’ when it comes to our habits: we either want to work on purging those that get in the way of our relationship with God as well as our fellow brothers and sisters, or on developing those that help these relationships. This is the goal, but are we always aware of this goal when we choose our Lenten commitments? Do we become so absorbed by our commitments that we fail to respond to others’ needs and be generous with our time and energy? Worse yet, our commitments may help fuel a certain spiritual pride. A while back I heard a ‘parable’ addressing this very topic, called “The Monk and His Bowl”. It goes something like this:

Lent was approaching and a very pious monk was trying to decide on what sorts of penances he would do in this Lenten Season. He dreamt of doing heroic deeds of penance to please the Lord. As any monk would do, he put the matter to the Lord in prayer: “Lord, I desire to do great things for you this Lent. I want to be holy and do great acts of penance. What do you want me to do this Lent?”

After a moment of silence, the monk heard a voice, saying: “My dear child, this Lent you will take a bowl of water, fill it to the rim, and place it on your head. Everywhere you go you shall keep it on your head, though you are not to spill even a drop of its water!” Finally, a challenge worthy of me, thought the monk. “Yes, Lord,” answered the monk, “I will do this great deed during Lent.”