Friday 31 May 2013

The Grumpy Worker

By Artur Suski, S.J.


Just a few days ago I was struck by a thunderbolt. No, not a real thunderbolt; but rather a grace-filled thunderbolt that knocked me off my spiritually grumpy behind. It was a moment of enlightenment, a moment of grasping reality for what it was, and truthfully approaching it. Thanks to a seemingly spontaneous examination of the ministry work that I had done for the past few months, I realized that I have been approaching my ministry as if it were a chore: complete it, and get it over and done with. I was stuck in a mindset that I could enjoy myself by doing the things that I liked only after completing such tasks. Such an approach made me spiritually grumpy when I was doing ministry.

Wednesday 29 May 2013

Pope Francis Strikes Again

By John D. O’Brien, S.J.

Pope Francis continues his juggernaut of simple speeches that strike home and make headlines. Earlier this week, in a homily in the Domus Sanctae Marthae where he lives, he said that if we want to follow Jesus we have to get rid of a culture based on economic well-being and lose our attraction to the “provisional.” These two points strike home prophetically and poignantly, as they seem to be precisely what we prize more and more.

The remarks were based on the well-known Gospel story of the young man who goes away sad after Jesus asks him to give away his possessions and follow him. “Riches are an impediment,” the Pope said, that “do not facilitate our journey towards the Kingdom of God”. He did not let us off pointing fingers at the materially rich: “Each and every one of us has riches,” he said, something that “stops us from getting close to Jesus”. We must identify these by name by thorough and rigorous examination of conscience.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Talking 'Bout My Generation

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

I've been hearing a lot of talk about “millenials” lately. There are many criticisms of the generation, but very few genuine attempts to outline the resources and insights that have emerged from the millenial perspective. It is the Ignatian model always to view others with an eye towards what good is already present in them and nurturing that good before worrying too much about criticizing error.

Time magazine has defined the millenial generation as those born from about 1980-2000. Basically, it contains those who grew up in the context of the internet. I was born in 1984 and was at the cusp of the phenomenon. I am quite able to critique some of the excesses of the past few decades. But since few people are looking for the positives, I will put my focus there. I will examine two popular criticisms of the millenials and reply by examining the potential for good in each situation. The two criticisms are: screen-time and selfishness.

Friday 24 May 2013

Love and Death in Dialogues des Carmélites

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

Photo: Michael Cooper

“I have left behind illusion,” I said to myself. “Henceforth I live in a world of three dimensions – with the aid of my five senses.” I have since learned that there is no such world; but then, as the car turned out of sight of the house, I thought it took no finding, but lay all about me at the end of the avenue.
—Evelyn Waugh’s Charles Ryder

A couple of weeks ago, a Jesuit companion and I were able to get rush tickets to see the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Francis Poulenc’s Dialogues of the Carmelites. Based on the true story of a group of Carmelite nuns who were martyred during the religious persecutions of the French Revolution, the opera consists of a series of “dialogues” between the sisters as they come to a unanimous decision to make a vow to accept martyrdom rather than renounce their vows and their common life. It ends with the nuns singing hymns as they are guillotined one by one, with the sound of the falling blade chillingly incorporated into the score. It is dramatic and gripping, which, given the subject matter, might at first seem strange, but if one thinks about it, every opera is basically a series of dialogues at heart. The work is greatly enriched by Georges Bernanos’s libretto, which contains many spiritually profound insights.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

The Happiness Project: Let God Surprise You

By Santiago Rodriguez, S.J.

Credit: http://

A few years ago, I was traveling to Toronto by bus. I was on my way back to books and classes at the university. I dreaded going back to school. I whined and complained to myself that I was not ready to go back to school. After a while, I got tired of my own whining and closed my eyes. I tried to enjoy the ride, but let's be honest: it is very hard to enjoy a ride on a Greyhound bus. I still had a few hours before I arrived at my destination, and I felt suffocated with the misery of my thoughts and the horrible smell in the bus. It was also quite surprising that I could hear my own thoughts amidst the snores, people speaking loudly on the phone and the background music. It was pandemonium.

Happiness did not knock at my door on that day. It texted me. It texted me the way we nowadays text our friends when we are outside of their place: “Did you get to read the book?” Huh? The book. Oh, yes, the book. I had totally forgotten about it. A couple of weeks before, my friend Julia had lent me her copy of the Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project. She insisted I read her new favourite book. I obliged her invitation. I fumbled my way through a reply and let her know I was in the process of reading it: I had the book with me, and that was the first part in the process of reading the book. I was hesitant, but I took the book out of my bag and stared at it. I was filled with tedium just by looking at the book's cover: “Gosh, blue and yellow don't really go well together unless you are Argentinian, Ukrainian or from Kazakhstan; then they look wonderful together.”

Monday 20 May 2013

What the Devil? A Brief Introduction on the Evil Spirit

By Edmund Lo, S.J.


The Catholic media have recently picked up on a theme that Pope Francis has mentioned on several occasions. It is about the devil. This has been rightly attributed to Francis' upbringing as a Jesuit: in the Spiritual Exercises (SE), St. Ignatius of Loyola refers to it as “the evil spirit”, “the evil one”, “the enemy”, or “the enemy of our human nature”. It would be quite impossible to discuss this spiritual teaching of St. Ignatius in detail in a short blog entry; nevertheless, I shall try to highlight several main ideas.

As some of you are aware, the SE are divided up into four stages, or “weeks” as St. Ignatius calls them. There is one major section in the SE where he discusses the evil spirit in some detail, and it is called “Rules for the Discernment of Spirits”, which is divided up into rules that are suitable for “the First Week” (SE 313–327) and “the Second Week” (SE 328–336), respectively. Here, I shall focus on his discussion on the evil spirit from the Rules for the First Week. While discussing these Rules, spiritual consolation and desolation will inevitably come up, and I would recommend you to my brother Jesuit's excellent blog entry on this very topic.

Friday 17 May 2013

The Pursuit of Purity: Organic Foods and Souls

By Artur Suski, S.J.


A somewhat recent phenomenon that has surfaced in the society is the pursuit of purity when it comes to food. It can be seen most clearly in the preference towards organic food and non-genetically modified organisms (GMO), a movement which has been gaining momentum. This is especially apparent when it is viewed within the context of the state of the food industry today: on the whole, more and more chemicals and GMOs are being used in farming to produce the highest yield possible, thus maximizing the profits. On top of this, quick-to-make, or quick-to-purchase foods – such as junk food – are quite popular for the busy bees who do not have time or the energy to prepare meals for themselves. These meals, as we all know, are filled with preservatives and other chemicals that either produce a certain texture, or make the food taste a certain way.

Yet, in the midst of all of this, we find a small and steadily growing group that has shied away from commercially farmed or processed foods, and is steadily striving to return back to the “original” way of preparing food: food that has been farmed without any chemical additives of any form or without any GMOs.

Wednesday 15 May 2013

To the Wonder: A Love Song

By John O’Brien, S.J.

A mere two years after his metaphysically audacious and resplendent film The Tree of Life divided viewers but won the Palme D’Or at Cannes and new cohorts of admirers, Terrence Malick has made another – only his sixth in 40 years – called To the Wonder. This time the critics have been less effusive, as if one Malick picture per decade was quite enough, the investment of existential effort being too costly. Yet this follow-up is no less grand, and although it is without cosmic creation scenes, it manages to do what few other films can do: cause us to meditate on the questions that matter most. Where The Tree of Life asked about the origins of suffering, and the mysterious interplay of nature and grace, To the Wonder focuses on the human experience of love.

It begins in France, on the sandy tidal plains surrounding Mont St. Michel, where Neil (Ben Affleck) and a young Frenchwoman, Marina (Olga Kurylenko), have fallen in love and cavort in various poses of embrace and shy discovery. This is love in all its newborn glory, as Marina’s voice pays homage:

Monday 13 May 2013

Evangelizing Justice in the 21st Century: A Foundation

By Brother Daniel Leckman, S.J.

Last Fall, the Catholic Church had the important Synod of Bishops on the New Evangelization. Bishops, lay people and other leaders – both within and outside the Church – gathered to explore an important question: How do we communicate Jesus to 21st-century-people, to a world full of complexities? We need to revisit this question on a regular basis. This is not a question that will be answered by a single synod. Nonetheless, this Synod was an important moment that explored the language we use to proclaim Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen, and tried to deepen the impact of that language on our world.

Upon the completion of the Synod, there was great enthusiasm about what it accomplished, but there was also some frustration. One of the most pronounced criticisms was that very little was said about the Church’s commitment to social justice. A possible response to that criticism may be that there’s no need to learn how to evangelize justice. If we learn to communicate our faith more effectively, people will learn a faith that also teaches and does justice, and they will practice that justice.

Friday 10 May 2013

Downton Abbey and Human Goodness

By Adam Hincks, S.J.

There is some soul of goodness in things evil, / Would men observingly distil it out.
–Henry V (Shakespeare)

Period drama is one of my favourite genres of film and television. When I was in graduate school I had a group of friends that would get together on Sunday evenings to watch fare of the Brideshead Revisited and Merchant Ivory variety, though we would sometimes branch out to Ingmar Bergman or other “haut” cinema. That being said, I am never up-to-date on the latest culture even when it comes to this genre, and it was only earlier this year that I began watching episodes of the wildly popular Downton Abbey television series. I was sceptical at first that it may be over-rated, but quickly discovered that the accolades are well-deserved. It is a very fine production.

A Jesuit companion who recently lent me his library copy of the second season (which, sadly, I had to return only a couple of episodes in) commented to me that the show’s strength is its depiction of human nobility. Each of the characters, whether “upstairs” or “downstairs”, has an opportunity to behave nobly, and, no matter how small the action itself, to do something great. I think this is a real insight. Indeed, I might go a bit deeper and say that it shows us something about human goodness.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Hopkins Continued: What is Beauty?

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

What is it that makes something beautiful? I'll be using some images I've created along with the insights of Gerard Manley Hopkins to explore this idea.

People have differed greatly on this topic. From antiquity, some have argued that beauty is based on symmetry, number, and proportion. Others argue that beauty comes from a creative spark, the inspiration of genius. In our contemporary context, many dismiss beauty as relative, purely a matter of cultural norms. The rule is de gustibus non disputandem: there's no accounting for taste.

Monday 6 May 2013

Cura Personalis: Incarnate Teaching

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

(Photo: William Mbugua, S.J.)

The phenomenon that is massive open online courses (MOOC) was recently brought to my attention by an acquaintance. These are courses being offered online by different universities, and most importantly, they are free. You do not have to be a registered student from the university to take them. It means you can take free courses on your own time through prestigious educational institutions such as Stanford, Columbia, or Case Western Reserve. As I have been assigned to post-secondary classroom teaching at this stage of my Jesuit formation, this seemed to hit a nerve.

It is quite impossible, nor is it my intention, to give a comprehensive review and critique of MOOC in a short blog entry. Furthermore, I want to acknowledge some obvious positives that MOOC literally brings to the table on which rests one's computer: it creates learning opportunities for those who would otherwise not have access to such resources due to geographical, temporal or financial reasons. It is possible as long as internet access is available, and that one is willing to diligently persevere through the course. I merely focus on one issue: what clear advantage does a teacher-student interaction in a physical space bring?

Friday 3 May 2013

No Man is an Island

By Artur Suski, S.J. 


A couple of recent guest lectures in a Grade 12 Philosophy class on “the Self” have prompted me to do some reading on the topic of “Human Nature”. In the philosophy curriculum, the unit on “the Self” mostly focuses on the philosophy of Réné Descartes and that of G.W.F. Hegel. There’s no such thing as pretending to know what Hegel was writing about; I tried my best, and I had my hands full. Nevertheless, the discussion on these two philosophers is rather fascinating.

Wednesday 1 May 2013

Eric McLuhan on The New Culture - Part II

By John D. O’Brien, S.J.


Last year I had the pleasure of meeting Eric McLuhan, son of the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and a communications scholar in his own right. Eric and I later corresponded on a few questions concerning the new digital technology that is becoming pervasive today. In the course of this exchange, he told me about a talk delivered to a group of university rectors at the Lateran University in 2009, in which he discussed certain pressures that students face today. Dr. McLuhan’s points from his unpublished 2009 talk continue from Part I as follows.

Part II

5. The aesthetic of these circumstances derives from manipulations of being. Each new medium brings with it a new mode of group being, a new WE … Each new medium collects older ones as “features” even as it becomes included in others as a feature — a process that will continue until all have become features of each other. Their future is features. Gadgetry. Narcissism for the self-less.

What did Eric McLuhan mean by this statement? It seems to echo, in part, two classic points from Marshall, that 1) electronic media will restore “tribal man”, and 2) that each new medium contains its predecessor. Manuscripts contained the previous “oral accounts”, just as radio “contained” the newspaper story, and television “contained” the radio report, while the Internet contains all previous media as a pole around which they gather and converge. Since the dominant medium in a society determines the nature of our social being, the Internet will eventually consume us or become an endless reflection of ourselves, which is essentially the same thing.