Saturday, 6 October 2012

Homily for October 6th

 Dear friends,
For the few who have been following this blog at a distance, I apologize for my long period of silence. Part of me has simply lost the interest in blogging, but part of me is also just very busy. that being said, I don't want to give up on this blog, and have much to share with you. So don't give up on me quite yet! Here's a homily I will be giving to my community in about 15 minutes you get the preview!!

The one question that stays with me after pondering today’s readings, is how do we know God? Perhaps some here have been challenged by Atheist friends to answer this question in a different way ‘how can you know something that you can’t see’. We may dismiss the challenge by saying something like ‘I see him in my heart, and you can’t disprove anything I experience there…so shut up’. But the question is a genuine one of those who are seeking. I’ve shared in a previous homily that one of my fondest memories of Don Flynn was sharing a meal with him in a restaurant, and suggesting to him that it didn’t seem realistic for us to speak of knowing the infinite, that God would always remain mysterious to us, no matter how hard we tried to ‘know him’, to which he of course replied ‘but you already know him’.

And this is precisely what Job is confronted with today.  As we saw with a very short flyover the book of Job this week, this man KNEW God his entire life and  had always been faithful servant to this God that he thought he knew, and  yet even he in his righteousness would be challenged in his knowledge of God. In short, what we learn from his experience is that it’s possible to say that we know God while still admitting that we have no clue what he’s really up to.Leading up to the reading  of yesterday, what we did not see during this week’s readings, is that although Job was deeply trusting and faithful to God, he at the same time was ready to take God to court, in order to plead with him, convince him that he has never done anything wrong and always remained righteous, and is therefore highly undeserving of this rather harsh treatment he’s received. As we saw yesterday, God responded to that with what can only be described as taunting rhetorical questions. This is an incredibly dramatic point in the narration, and if they had made a soap opera out of the book of Job, after God’s speech, there probably would have been a dramatic zoom in on Job’s face, and before he ever got to respond, there would have been a fade out, and a voice over saying ‘will he grovel before god, or will he throw a tantrum. Tune in next week when Job has his final words on the last episode of “Yahweh, the God I never Knew’.

Well, as we know quite well, in the end, Job did know God. He knew him all along. Let’s not forget that he himself declares God’s qualities to his friends during his own response to their misguided commentaries. He had just lost sight of that knowledge in the heat of the confrontations and challenges from his ‘friends’. And yet, through his hardship, his relationship to God has changed in a way (the Psalm summarizes that sentiment perfectly with one verse ‘It was good for me that I had to suffer, the better to learn your judgements). The viewers of this Soap opera would have to be given an indication that nothing will ever be the same between Job and Yahweh. And then of course, Job gets his day in the sun again, receiving more blessings than he had before and yes, it’s striking that not only are Job’s daughters are named, but one is called turtledove, and another Mascara, but that will have to be the subject of another soap opera.

By the time we get to the Gospel, it seems that we move away from the theme of knowing God and his works. There is a great celebration of a rare win by the disciples, and an even rarer moment of Jesus overjoyed with their work. But we get one powerful insight on his work today, as he gives thanks for all the knowledge is hidden from the wise ones. He’s basically rejoicing in the fact that is going to spend the rest of days on earth misunderstood, or not fully understood by the whole world, even those who love and follow him.  How, in this moment he was able to feel joy around this, is beyond me.  My reaction would have been more like ‘you idiots will never get this, I’m out of here’. But he rejoices in this because he knows that even the little that the disciples do see and hear exults them, and brings them closer to God.

 As for us, our knowledge of God is limited as was Job’s, as what that of the Disciples…but what we do with that limited knowledge is what brings us into that loving relationship. Whether like our saints of the day, we chose to be a loving presence among the poor or to live simply  and poorly, or whether we simply open ourselves to receiving God’s presence in all that we do,  let us pray that this knowledge allow us  a deeper intimacy with God, and with his all his children.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Anne Marie

Today, I wanted to speak about encountering the soul of Venezuela. That was my intention. this past week, my quest for an experience  of that soul came to an fulfilment in the tiny town of Guasdualito on the border with Columbia. I want to talk about them and their amazing faith. But today, July 21st, another event in my past implores my attention.
 4 years ago today, I was leaving my apartment, roller blades in tow. I was heading off to work. Carla, My brother’s girl friend  (who shared an apartment with my brother right beneath mine) opened the door to their apartment as she saw me heading out:
 “ Where are you going?” she asked a little confusedly.
“ To work” was my meek reply.
“ You sure that’s such a good idea today? I mean…”
“I have to. I can’t just stay put.  I just…I gotta go…see you later”

I don’t remember the whole roller blade ride to work. I remember that on my path to work, there were something like 5 Churches, most of them Catholic. Every day on my way to work as I passed each one, I would cross myself, or say a prayer for those who needed it. This day was no different. I also remember listening to my music, and enjoying it so much more than usual that day. I think I felt like I was sharing it with her a little more. Maybe her spirit was already with me.
 When I got to work, I sat down and was ready for whatever God would grant me. Was it going to be a full day of work? I knew it wasn’t. Still, I wanted it to be. I wanted life to continue. I wanted…a break. My boss knew this was going to be a hard day for me. She and I stepped out for a few minutes. We sat together. She shared with me some of her experiences  (“ It’s never easy. You may even feel anger today. Don’t reject those feelings. Don’t be afraid to be emotional”) and the phone rang. I already knew it was going to be for me.  9am.
 a co worker: “It’s your dad on the line for you”. Damn it. No…couldn’t we delay this just a bit more…
“ Ya dad?”
“She’s gone. Your sister just passed away. Please find a way to come down to the hospital quickly.”

33  She was 33 years old.
 While many people in my family were breaking out of their usual agnosticism or atheism to blame God for this, I was angry at her for giving up so quickly. Did I have a right to be angry? Of course not, but I think my boss was right. Every emotion needs to be allowed on this day.  And like my sister’s fiancĂ© Keith, I was a little angry that she had given up her battle against Locked in Syndrome so quickly. But I let go of that anger. I don’t know if I would have the courage to face this condition either.

 Keith would be suffering much more than I this day.
My sister passed away in his arms. When my parents walked into her hospital room in the palliative care ward, he was lying next to her in tears, holding on to her for dear life, even though she had not been able to hug him back for weeks because of her condition. Can I say for the record: I am so glad I went into work and missed that scene. I would have lost it. I would have completely…lost it.
A few days later, Keith (an atheist) and I were standing in my parents' kitchen, waiting for our families to congregate for one last feast in her honor…
“ Danny, you have to tell me something man, because I just don’t get it. After all that your sister has gone through for 8 years because of the cancer, and then the Locked in Syndrom at the end, all this pain that such a beautiful person experienced…how can you still believe in God?”
 The bell rang as I was thinking of how to phrase my response. I never got to answer.
What would I have answered?
I could have been mean and said “ has being angry at God  helped you heal?”
 I could have dismissed him “ Keith, I could stand here all day explaining it to you, and you wouldn’t get it. What’s the point?”
In truth, at that time, I would not have had any answer for him…so it was for the best that the bell rang. Today, I would say that this experience helped me be more sympathetic to everyone else who goes through this kind of loss and pain. People have told me that they appreciate the expressiveness in my face when they share about losing their parents or siblings, that it’s almost as if I was sharing the pain with them.  I can honestly think of no better way of being Christocentric, of being loving to all…but I can’t do that without God.
That’s why I believe Keith…that’s why.
But I still miss her so much. 

Friday, 13 July 2012

Pizza, Prayer and the eternal fire (in the arcade)!

In the Arcade Fire song 'Month of May' there's a line that mesmerises me: "Just when I knew what I wanted to say, a violent wind blew the wires away". As it the case with many of their songs,  I don't necessarily have a perfect understanding of what is being depicted here, but there are 2  images that kinda stand out for me:
1) We depend so much  on technology to communicate our experiences to others (this blog would be living proof of that!) that if this technology were to fail - 'the wires being blown away'- we may be paralysed.
2)  " just when I knew what I wanted to say" to me implies that we don't always know exactly what to think or say or how to express our views. There can be a struggle behind finding the exact words to communicate our  experiences to those around us.

 This blog  entry is in part inspired by that 2nd idea. This would bring the total of number of blogs where I wrote about, or was inspired by this band, to 3 in the last 3 months! In another blog I contribute to (,) I wrote about how Arcade Fire (AF) has this eerie ability to write songs that become spiritual for me. The music allows me to transcend the world, but their  lyrics bring me back down with powerful images that don't always make sense but that somehow manage to make some reflections on the world we live in. In that particular blog entry, I mentioned a rather abstract, spirtiual experience generated through the music of their most recent album, 'The Suburbs'. Today's entry may be a little abstract as well, but it relates to a more concrete experience that had a strong impact on me.

Before I describe this experience, perhaps a little context: One thing my readers should know about my faith is that  although I support the Vatican and love the wise words that can emerge from that sacred place, I'm not one of those Catholics that blindly agrees with everything Rome says.  Nor am I the kind of Catholic that is a radical liberal Catholic who assumes that everything that our society is fighting for is always right, and that the Church is always wrong. My middle ground is the following: I am committed to following Christ till the end of the earth and beyond. I am eager to  fight for a heavenly cause -justice, peace, tolerance-  in the name of love, so that God's Kingdom may triumph over the evils of our world. However, I do not do any of this without questioning my faith. Especially nowadays: There are many out there who are making a mess of this Church of ours by reducing it to a community of people whose main concern is to  stand against the world and it's liberal values, rather than being a community that tries to love this sinful world as Christ did. Loving it does not imply agreeing it, but nor does it imply judging it. God alone is judge. Unfortunately, what triumphs in the Church these days is a mentality of criticising without loving the sinful world we're in. There continues to be much craziness done in the name of the Church, and there are moments when I feel it would be easier to just give up everything and quit this community.

But I don't want to. In fact, even if I sort of half wanted to, I wouldn't. I belong here more than I've belonged anywhere else in my life. The problem is, I don't always remember or understand  why that is. I get so wrapped up in wanting to defend my beloved Church from the angry  ( at times justified, at times, just plain uneducated) cries of the mob in the secular (and Catholic) world, that I forget to stay close to the heart of this Church, which is the heart of Christ. It's that easy for me to find the right words to express why I love Jesus, and why I chose to follow him in the Catholic Church: Go to the heart. If I did, I may understand why it is I'm willing to put up with all the craziness, and even expose myself to more! Well, those of you with faith know how God works: You may not expect solutions or answers from the big divine, but God will provide them nevertheless.Last Friday, that is exactly what he did for me. He used a seemingly unspectacular event, to help me gain perspective. It was a simple I experience almost every day: Mass.

                                                    "In the Suburbs I learned to drive.."

Prior to mass, I had just spent the last 3 hours preparing pizza for the night's supper. With the wonderful inspiration provided by  AF's the Suburbs album, I prepared the dough( which we made the night before), put it in pizza shape, and covered it with tonnes of sauce, meat and veggies. It was a labor of love, but with the music, it almost became a prayerful act. By that time I was done though, I was pretty exhausted and really really not in the mood for Mass .Then our guests for the evening arrived. 5 sisters from a neighbouring community and their mother superior (no she did not jump the gun!). Just being with these young women of faith alone was inspiring enough, but there were other moments that absolutely blew me away.  You're probably thinking " why would it 'blow you a way'? You experience Mass everyday don't you?" Certainly. But the mood was different this time.

   I realized, as we were all saying the same responses together, with great synchronism, how united we become, how much of a family we really are because of our prayers, our faith, and our walk with Jesus. Here we were, men and women, First world and 3rd world people, Canadians, Venezuelans, Columbian, Puerto Ricans and others...united in prayer, the same prayers that each of our ancestors had been saying for more nearly 2000 years, and the next generation of Catholics will continue saying thousands of years from now. My heart was indeed on fire with joy over this. To know that I was part of something great because the man we were following was the greatest thing that has ever happened to this little planet of ours (next to this planet's creation of course!).It's strange though. Our hearts can catch the eternal fire, and then forget that it ever experienced its divine warmth in the first place. That speaks not to the ephemeral quality of the fire, but to our own weakness as humans, our struggles to contain or understand it.

 Meditating on this eternal fire did allow me to find those elusive words that explain why I remain a Catholic despite all the messiness: What is it that generates this warmth in me when I think of the Church? Continuity, unity, but especially...diversity. This is what was expressed by our group that night, and this is what inspires me about the Church. There is so much working against the Church these days, from  angry secularists who are eager to dismantle the church, to defensive traditionalists, who are so desperate to preserve the faith they've always known that they'll protest everything that may mean change in the Church. Both groups upset me, but neither group is strong enough to overcome this unity we have in the Church through our prayers, and the Mass.  We may be divided, but God only sees our unity. The eternal fire transcends all our conflicts, all our struggles, and leads us to a greater experience of joy and freedom every single time. Wow, it sounds like I finally found what I wanted to say about this faith of mine! And the wires haven't been blown away yet (-;

 Peace to all of you, and blessings on your journey, your quest to finding the right words that capture your experience of life!

Saturday, 30 June 2012

Faith Renewed?

 Last Sunday,was the feast of John the Baptist. This is a figure that's been an inspiration for me over the years for his ability to call us out of our comfort zone, and call us to a life of radically following Jesus. June 24 therefore is more important for me because of  it's religious and spiritual connotation and not so much for it's cultural political ones in Quebec. It has a way of renewing my journey in ways that only Easter and Christmas usually can! Last Sunday was no different as I found myself in a bit of a 'rut' that day, and was in the end rather renewed in spiritual energy because of the Mass at the local parish. Some of you may pick up on  the  "renewed energy" bit, and may wonder " were you in need of renewal?  That" , you may conclude " might imply that you weren't doing so great to begin with. What's wrong?"

Not a heck of a lot is wrong, but something is a little off. To put it mildly, I feel a bit disconnected from reality here. My entire world consists of studying, a language -which is a process I find frustrating to begin with- and visiting great Jesuit works without really being involved in them. So I'm part of the community simply as a student and as an observer of the culture. I'm comfortable with the 2nd role more or less, but not with the first, which often leaves me frustrated. I always swore as a Jesuit that I would never be 'just' a student, and usually, our vocation would not permit it. We have apostolates and encounters with people that permit it us to be Christ to the world while we busy ourselves with studies. Here, my blogging and responding to people's blogs has helped me do some 'ministry' but I'm not in my element.

    And this is to be expected. Part of language learning and immersion is that you need to feel like you don't belong for a little while until you fully adapt to the language.  And that won't happen soon for me. This means that very often, there's a lot going that I'm missing out on -jokes, cool conversations, good  homilies during Mass etc..). At first, I was rather  inspired by the language of the Mass, which is  so strongly oriented on Justice. It still inspires me,however, the general feeling is one of disconnect. Logically, if one is surrounded by people that he doesn't understand, the disconnect is kind of inevitable. There's all kinds of conversation that go on around me daily that I know I won't understand, so often, the reflex is to just stop listening. Which is a shame.

 It's only this past Sunday that I realized the negative influence this 'disconnect' has had on me. The thing is, I'm still very social, and have friends both inside and outside this community. And I am committing myself to the task of language learning as much as my little heart will allow me to ( I'm doing my best, and I'm not completely miserable doing this, but I'm not thriving either). That's not the issue. The issue is what happens to me when I start not caring  about the conversations happening  around me, or even the words during the Mass. My tendency is, the moment a word is said that I don't understand, I just go into my bubble and stop caring about what's being said. For someone who derives inspiration and joy from the Mass, this is indeed dangerous. I'm afraid it's even affected my prayer life a little. Although I'm a bit disconnected, I am still spending most of my time in a Spanish environment, trying to wrestle with what people are telling me and to learn crazy verb tenses. It's exhausting, and at the end of the day, it's easier for me to 'watch my tv shows' than pray.  Thankfully, it doesn't happen too often that the former usurps the latter, but often enough that I was starting to feel concerned about the negative way I've responded to this challenge to my Jesuit life.

   Sunday started off  as an example of a day spent resting, kind of half wasting away. Not a very inspiring day. Even going to Mass in the afternoon was kind of a drag. But the parish here is not. It's a parish with a pretty solid youth group that does all the music. They're only about 15-20 youths involved, but they carry the Mass on their collective young shoulders. There were so many lovely songs that spoke about being present to God in the moment, making ourselves available to his loving grace, allowing his freedom take over our life. This is all stuff that I know I should be doing, but like I said, I'm not necessarily in my best element these days. So what this youth group, this parish and it's energy gave me that day, is the courage to face my demons, and overcome them, by returning to the basics: The simplest elements of my faith teach me to always be praying, no matter what I'm doing, but to always reserve a good hour or so for God, so that the bond between us can grow. But in order to do that, I need to be open. And not just be open to God. To the whole Venezuelan experience. To see where how God appears at many levels of my daily life. In a way, THIS is how I become more loving, and more open to justice in our world. This is how I heed John's call, and  prepare the way of the Lord. It was nice to hear that call again, and to understand what it means for my life.

  This is the greatest grace of the moment for me: Yes, I know I've been struggling with prayer, and with my work here. Nevertheless, though I'm not 100% committed, I see every day as an opportunity to give more and more of myself. Rather than looking at my struggles as opportunity for defeatism, I see it as an opportunity for growth. One might almost say, I thrive on the struggle, because I know it will bring me to a better place. Again..nothing new. However, as I've learned time and time again in my Jesuit life, every experience reminds us of old lessons that we need to re appropriate for ourselves. Re appropriate. I hope y'all know what I mean by that. It's one of my favourite words, but I'm not so good at explaining it!! I can, reclaim would be a synonym. We're never done learning something, as the lessons need to be adapted to new experiences, and can help  us become more free with every new challenge we face.
 Poco a poco, nuestras luchas nos llegan a la libertad. (little by little, our struggles lead us to freedom! I was almost able to say that perfectly. Didn't conjugate the verb well! There's a shocker!!)

Peace to you all

Friday, 22 June 2012

Life and Death in Venezuela ( Part 1)

One of the advantages of our program in Caracas is that our hosts are eager to show us as much as possible of the city and of Jesuit related works -either run by  Jesuits, or by their partners-. As I've said in previous posts, because of this, we've met many people. We even last week went into the home of a 'housing project' (for lack of better word) and talked with the families there. It was a moving visit. We heard about the troubles in the country, most of which revolve around violence. They kept talking about the tragedy that shaped their community: 3 kids killed by drug related violence. The community's response was to get together, as often as possible, and try to move forward, to look at ways to improve their standard of living. They cleaned up the neighbourhood, built new houses and tried their best to provide support for those in need.
 The result is that they're living in a community where people are fairly friendly and close. It's a like a large family. Quite impressive. But it's how they responded to the violence that impressed the most. I have heard of communities coming together during times of crisis, but never like this. The violence has all but disappeared from this part of the city, and this group probably has a lot to do with that. This kind of violence remains an integral part of Venezuelan life. It's the reason we are encouraged to stay put during the week, or at least, to not leave the house unaccompanied. For that reason, for the first month that we were here, the violence remained an almost abstract thing for me. It didn't have a personal dimension. Then we met Cathy.

  Cathy is the Scientists that was our guide when we visited another part of the country. Jhozman and Adam coordinated the effort. They got in touch with her and expressed interest in visiting the Observatories, located high up in the Andes. For 4 hours, Cathy took us around from one station to the next, visiting various telescopes. Not only that, she did it all in flawless  English (at my request). A lovely woman full of life. Lots of passion for her field and for explaining what they do at the observatory. The next day, in gratitude for her time and energy, we took her out for lunch. She told us a bit of her story. As it turns out, she had a boyfriend for many years. He was killed probably by a robber on the streets a few years ago.  It kind of amazed me to hear this person tell us her story, because she was indeed someone was full of life. I know many who would have been emotionally and perhaps psychologically drained by such an incident. But she seemed to have the tenacity to keep on going. It was inspiring. Just as there is much violence and death in this country, there are also  many life giving moemnts, people and places.

 One  such place was a community we met today (June 22). In the heart of the Caracas, amidst all the run down houses and garbage, is a house for Catholic men who are students at the university level. Not unlike Fe y Alegria, they are a community of men that are from poorer backgrounds, and are being given a chance to do  their studies with a little financial help from the community that they live in. It wasn't an inspiring encounter with the guys, but it was a warm one, an intimate one. We met, we chatted, we asked about their lives, they about ours, and we 'bonded'. It was a special (and truly life giving) encounter for me.It's comforting to know that amidst the poverty are little stories of hope that are unfolding in each one of their lives. One guy is studying to become a manager, an other is a Music student, others are doing more technical stuff. All, are being given a chance to make something out of their lives, rather than succumbing to the violence that surrounds them. Truly beautiful, and heart warming to see.
 On the rather unpleasant ride home - I'm not going to lie. Caracas is not one of those cities that I find charming.I don't hate it, but it takes some getting used to. I'll be writing more about that in another blog- we got to a corner where there were many police bikes, and  a big crowd of people gathered on the side walk. I assumed it was just a traffic accident, or maybe an altercation. Yet like everyone else on the bus, I was peering, to try to see what had happened. Then I saw 'it'. 

  In fact, it sounds like we in the bus, all saw 'it' at the same time, as quiet groans were heard and people turned away in shock: A body. Covered by a blanket, with a pool of blood around it. The people on the side walk -there must have been hundreds of them- stood quietly, and just looked on without saying a word as the police tried to direct the traffic until the ambulance arrived..  How many of these happen every day in Caracas?  I actually don't know. One guy told me probably about 5 people a day die in drug related violence across the country -so not just Caracas then-.  This, not unlike the life of the Barrios is SO far removed from my own sheltered little life, that I don't know how to respond to it. That's not true. I'll do what I always do when I feel powerless and small...

 I'll pray.

Friday, 1 June 2012

A Venezuelan Pentacost

 This is a blog which you can also find on the other blogsite I contribute to, but slightly longer than this other version:

Last Sunday, the Church celebrated the feast of the Pentecost. This is not usually a big celebration for me. It may inspire some prayers to the holy spirit, but not much more. Things are a little different in Venezuela. Across the city of Caracas, all night vigils were being held for young people to come celebrate this feast which helps us see how the Spirit can transform our hearts into a missionary heart, one more in union and harmony with the heart of Christ.

  Perhaps the idea of a Pentecost Vigil is not that new to many of you out there, but I had never even heard of such a thing, and due to past experiences with all night vigils and resurrection parties, I was quite excited about this vigil. I should also add, I was also a little crazier than my other Jesuit Brothers who are with me in Venezuela: They attended a vigil where they would be given the freedom to go to sleep. I would not have this freedom, and this point was made perfectly clear to me time and time again by the ones planning it to make sure that I knew what I was getting into.  For some reason, staying up all night celebrating God and his Awesome presence in my life sounded awesome, so I didn’t even hesitate about this. Even the language barrier would not deter me from the not so pleasant prospect of an all-nighter.
  In the end, it turned out to be quite lovely. It was not the spiritual explosion that I may have hoped for –partly because of the aforementioned language barrier. I manage well in Spanish, but there’s still a lot of obstacles along the way- but it was still prayerful and invigorating in many ways. See, despite my struggles with the language, I recognize that the Latinos have a very powerful way of communicating God. Their language, their whole experience of faith and the divine is so immensely rich, that one’s faith can’t help but grow when surrounded by this world. Every day, the language of the Mass inspires me, the spirituality of the people lifts me up, and my heart is filled with the ‘esperenza y allegria’ (hope and joy) that comes with the way they live faith.
   With regards to the Vigil itself however, there is actually quite a lot I could share that is not necessarily related to rich spirituality of the people: this was not just an encounter with God: it was also an encounter with youth, with some aspects of the culture, with ministers and their work, with a behind the scenes look at Jesuits at work in their apostolate  -I was mostly left in awe of the amount of energy the Venezuelan men have for their work- and with other religious communities active in Venezuela. Most of it would be worth sharing, but I would need more than one blog entry to do so.
  In what little space I have left, I’ll say how moved I am by the faith of the people in this country. It’s not uncommon to be walking on the streets of Caracas, and see people cross themselves as they walk past a church. Last weekend, one young lady I spoke to told me that all of this was very superficial, that she wished Venezuelans were more committed to Jesus and to their Catholic faith. She herself rather openly labors to achieve this enthusiasm for the faith among the young by getting them to be publicly excited and joyful in their practice.  Still, I am moved at the expression of people’s faith here –I assume it’s the same across the continent-. It’s refreshing, considering the situation in Canada, especially in Quebec.
I obviously got a taste of that open enthusiasm for the faith during  the Vigil: These 50 or so students were all there on their own volition, not because they had to for school or because their parents forced them, but because of their desire to deepen their faith and to get closer to God. I think the most moving expression of that desire came in the first minute of the vigil or so when all the young people were gathered in a circle, and the animator said something to the effect that they were gathered here to come to praise the gifts of the Spirit given to them by God. The response was a very warm, yet solemn applause. It was one of the loudest applauses of the whole night. Not one with cheering or whooping…just an expression of their gratitude for  God’s greatness.

Some of the other highlights of the Vigil: a) There was one moment of solemn prayer that really drew me into God's presence It was a scary moment though, where I felt that Jesus was personally inviting me to join him on a special journey during this prayer, and that I kept resisting, declining the offer, saying "maybe later". This is a reflection of the mood I spoke of in my last blog, this feeling of being in a rut here in Caracas. It was depressing a little, to know that I would be saying yes to Christ with my religious life, and still be able to say no to him like this, but in my prayer, he just lovingly came back, encouraging me to join him, and if I said no again, I knew he'd be back the next day. There's something both disturbing and comforting around that.  I can take comfort that he is patient with me, but should be disturbed that I'm still capable of this, and be worried how often I can expect this to happen. Many Christians believe that if you keep declining to follow Jesus, eventually, you'll be 'left behind'. I absolutely hate this way of seeing things. It's probably more how humans would behave than how God would.  Still, a part of me recognized that even his infinite patience may have limits, and that scares me a little.

 b) There was something quite magical about being in this tropical country and to experience the sounds one can hear at dusk, in the middle of the night, and at dawn. The sounds all around me with incredibly exotic. Especially in the morning. The birds we heard we so loud, and filled the entire square with their song, yet were probably no bigger than the ones we usualy hear in the morning in Canada. In fact, I hear those same (sparrows and robins and others) here as well, those that gently chirp, as the sun rises, but the college where the Vigil was held -this was actually where we were on our first 2 nights here!- for some reason had more exotic birds around, maybe because of the giant palm trees that populate the campus!. It was quite beautiful, and a little surreal.

c) I really had nothing to do...honestly. So I just walked around took pictures, talked to the brothers. Prayed a very little (like I said, it wasn't the most spiritual experience). And noticed a lot of things. One of the brothers at one point told me he would not be sleeping for a while, that there was too much work to do. And then he quoted the Scripture passage about the apostles that slept while the Lord was calling them before he faced his passion, how he didn't want to be like that. I can relate (-;

  Still, at one particular moment (I photographed the moment in question, but don't have my USB cable with me so I can't really transfer pics yet) near the end of the vigil which really was a bunch of seminars for the kids to attend, one of the girls decided she wouldn't join her group for the last session. The brother who was staying awake despite his exhaustion sat there and watched play her acrobatic game with a string and a rolling plastic object (don't quite know what to call it, but she was essentially bouncing the object off of the string and catching it again. It was quite cool to watch). You can tell he wanted to discipline her, but that he was torn between doing that, or just talking her, or just ignoring her. So he just said " Tu Grupo?" which was meant as a whole sentence: " Why aren't you with your group?" and when she ignored him, he proceeded to just stare at her for the rest of period. It was a little weird, but it was also a lesson  for me as well. There are certain things that are out of our control and we should just let go off.  If he didn't have the energy to discipline her, or even talk to her, he should have just stayed  quiet. In other words:

  The problem with the apostle who stayed up with Christ in the end, is that he has no energy to do much with his presence. It's a noble gesture to do so, but it may not be necessarily what Christ expects from us. I should add, this last segment was by no way a criticism of the the work of the Jesuits scholastics here, simply a reflection of this propensity we have to want to give all to Christ, without thinking of our limitations But I will  indeed repeat that I have nothing but awe for the labours and  mission of the men in this province. They give a lot, and they're never afraid to give more. It's inspiring. These guys have an incredible amount of energy for their vocation and I admire them with all my heart.Through them, many young Venezuelans will encounter God time and time again!! One of the brothers in particular, who was the MC for the evening was the energizer Bunny, he kept going throughout most of the evening and was the heart of the operation. But all of them had so much to contribute, I felt pretty useless next to them, but it was to be expected. I was here as an observer, not a worker.

I should wrap this entry up with my favourite moment of the vigil. As is usually the case with these things, what I long to do most of all is connect with the youth. However, in this case, I felt a little overwhelmed due to language barriers and not knowing what to say to them, so I stayed with being the strong silent type that made eye contact and smiled at people, but not much more. At the very end of the evening, as people were preparing to leave, one group of youth came to me as a group. One girl wanted to speak English to me, the others to ask questions. It was a moment I wished I had captured on film, but my camera had run out battery by that point. We had a cool conversation, which culminated in two of them giving me an example of their freestyle beat boxing -a guy and a girl. They were pretty good!-. It was a conversation that reaffirmed my impressions of the middle class here:  that they're good people with a wonderful sense of the  'Latin American Soul' (some of these kids were extraordinary dancers!), and many of them remind me of young Canadians, but in general, they also have a poor sense of justice in this country, and are a little apathetic towards the people in the Barrios, parts of the town these kids would not be caught dead in.

As I asked in a previous blog, "are we that different?" Sure, there's a great movement going on in Montreal right now, and many people are optimistic of the social change this can bring, but in general, we are just as apathetic as the youth in this country are. I should say, I was quite moved and encouraged when speaking to young people involved with religious communities -either as religious or as lay- who had seen the same movie about the young people in Caracas that I had seen, and were utterly disgusted by their selfishness. In other words, even when there are many who apathetic towards the plight of the poor, there is a rag tag group of people ready to give their lives to them. So long as this continues to happen, I think there will be reason to hope in our world.


Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Going through the motions? (VC)

In the epic Buffy the Vampire slayer musical episode "Once more with feeling", Buffy, who has been recently resurrected from death by magic, notices that she's lost her passion for the fight against Vampires, that she's merely going through motions of the day to day grind. Of course, this being the musical episode, she actually sings about this predicament of hers, giving a rather light and amusing tone to this complex feeling. You can watch/listen to the full song on youtube:

 However, the idea of going through the motions is not one to be taken lightly. I suppose there are many out there who do this without losing too much sleep, but for those of us who go through this process and are painfully aware of it, this type of  moment can become a crisis . In a way, it's my realization that I was more or less going through the motions as a lay person that helped me begin considering that I had a vocation with the Jesuits. I never wanted a career or a profession, but something that would be a passion for me. Something that I could define with my character, rather than having it define me. Something I could dedicate every ounce of my energy to. With the Jesuits, that something became a someone in the presence of Christ, and through my love for him, I'd like to believe that I could be full heartedly committed to whatever task or work I'm assigned or asked to do.

  At the end of my first 2 weeks in this country, I could not be more far removed from that state of mind. One of the reasons I was reluctant to come here for the summer was that I have no desire to be a full time student of anything except social justice and theology. These are two things that I imagine I'll be doing for the rest of my life. Being asked to study anything else is a challenge for me. I lost the patience for being a full time student who spends his days memorizing stuff a long time ago. It's why I've appreciated the degree I'm doing in Toronto: There are no exams so far, so the learning is entirely done by a process of lots of readings and writings. I seem to be more in my element in this format of learning.

 Despite my not so subtle reluctance, I plunged into to the Venezuela experience not half heartedly at all. I realize that this is an opportunity to really perfect my command of this language, and the prospect of having a 3rd language that I have a good command of  is quite exiting, plus imagine all the great authors and poets I would be able to read  in the original language if I dedicate myself to this process of learning! So I definitely got into this. However, as the days went by, and our experience became a bit more taxing -lots of visiting, interacting with people in a foreign language, community time, classes and the overall process of dealing with this new place..- my will to study this language dropped significantly. I lost the energy to learn I seemed to have in the beginning , especially when we we learning more heavy duty theoretical Spanish stuff, like the linguistics of the language, or the more technical bits. Our professor was keen on making us name parts of speech, function of a word etc...It's not the part of language learning I'm so fond of, so  my mind kind of  shut down when we were dealing with these last week and the previous week.Studying a language -after almost 10 years of a rest from doing that! I'm  definitely rusty- was challenging enough without this stuff. So my response to it was to enter a kind of a rut. Even in my prayer life. I either began skipping or shortening prayers. This was sometimes out of laziness, but often out of exhaustion. Not being able to wake up early enough to pray in the morning, too tired to do it in the evening (Our masses here are usualy at 5:50 am. My body has gotten used to being up in time for Mass, but it still is exhausted during the rest of the day, and siestas often take the place of prayer and work!) This for a Jesuit is not uncommon, but I feel  it's one of the worst things that can happen to us. It takes us  away from God and turns us inward. So as I saw my study habits going down the drain, and my prayer life was being negatively affected,  I realized it was time to bring the wisdom of our founder, St Ignatius.

 Ignatius teaches us (Jesuits) that  in our daily life, we must discern our actions very carefully. We may come to a moment in time when we are drawn to a certain action that is bad for us, or drawn away from one that is good for us. In such moments, our founder encourages us to act against our impulses or desires (A process he calls Agire Contra. This is a term we heard all too often at Novitiate!), something I need to start doing in a very serious way here.  Oddly enough, one of the answers to my struggles was that...I needed to go through the motions. Yes, learning Spanish grammar, and spelling rules, and remembering where the accents go on words (and the names of each type of accents) can really suck, and yes, the time table here is a little rough sometimes, but if I don't think about that, and go through the motions, the hope of me learning something more concrete here will be much stronger. So, in other words, in order to survive this rut, I need to enter into a different kind of rut, where there may not be as much passion for the work, but at least the work is getting done.
 I've tried to avoid this way of doing things all my life. Throughout my academic years, I'd hear people talk about our student years as a job, where you have to get the work done, and move on to the next task. that's very efficient and practical and it works well for many things in our world, but that's not me. My McGill years were about the learning and the passion for it. IN THEORY, my Jesuit years have been about that as well. The problem is, after  almost 10 years of being in the day to day grind, I've developed many bad habits that interfere with my true love and passion for my growing faith and the increase of knowledge that this entails.
It's a work in progress I suppose. As for Venezuela...Poco a poco -little by little-. That's all I can hope for.  I have another 4-5 weeks to really commit myself to this language learning process through our classes, and another month of living in a community after that, so this experience is only still begining. And I can't deny that there are frustrations and obstacles, but nor can I let those shape my entire experience here. That's also very Jesuit: We must accept our shortcomings, and continue our journey with them, knowing that God embraces us so completely and lovingly, not despite these shortcomings, but in a way, because of them. Because through them, we are made meek and small, and hey..that's a good thing. The goal is that we don't run away from that meekness, but accept it as a gift from God and continue turning our loving hearts towards him and towards the world. Amen.

Friday, 25 May 2012

the reality of Venezuela (VC)

For a while since I've been in Venezuela, it's been striking me crowded Caracas is. Never mind the barrios, houses pilled on top of one another in an extremely unsafe way  -though nothing has happened yet it seems-, the city itself, seems to always have tonnes of people in the street. Even the Metros. If you were to take a subway in Toronto or Montreal at 7 am on a Saturday, there's good chances that you'd be one of the few people doing so. The cars wouldn't be empty, but there wouldn't be THAT many people around. It's definitely no rush hour, which can be insane in both cities.
   This past Saturday, I was travelling to another part of the Venezuela with one of the guys for a conference on missionary work. We hopped on a fairly crowded subway train -couldn't find a seat- at 7am. I was stunned by this. I also told my colleague that everywhere we went in Caracas, things seemed crowded. He said something to the effect of it being a city with a lot of people in a fairly regular sized spaced. Consider these numbers courtesy of Wikipedia:

My home town of Montreal:  The city itself is 365square Km , or 140.98 square miles, with a Metro area of 1644 sq miles, and a population of  roughly 1 million, 700 thousand.

My adoptive city of Toronto, is a bit bigger, with 240 sq miles, with a metro area that clocks in as unbelievable 7125 km square, or 2751 sq miles, and an urban( i.e non metro) population of roughly 2 million 600 thousand.

Even my favourite city in the World, New York, stands tall at 783.8 sq mi and a population of  a little more than 8 million.

And Caracas? In an area of 167square  km ( so a we bit  bigger than montreal, but smaller than Toronto and miniscule compared to New York) it has a population of roughly 6 million.  There are more people here than in the cities of  Montreal and Toronto...combined ( again, that's not counting the Metro area). Obviously, this is a phenomenon  you hear about in Mexico and Brazil, but it's my first encounter with it. This makes life here a little unbearable for some.

 In fact, I was quite surprised when we watched a video this past Monday about the youth in Venezuela entitled "Venezuela, a city one was meant to leave".The purpose of the  documentary was to  explain the lives of young people in this country, and give an expression to their fears and frustrations. For the record, when I say young people, I mean young middle class people. Those that could have an impact on the future of this country.  Many of them were the type of people that I recognized, people I may meet in Canada, young people with an artistic mind, a desire to spread their wings and be creative, but people who could not be more far removed from the reality of this country, the oppressive poverty that rules this place. Quite the contrary, these kids want nothing to do with the majority of the population and its poverty. I didn't get very much from this video that our community was watching together. I mean, I guessed that many of them were eager to leave Caracas to go build a life for themselves elsewhere, but beyond that, I couldn't quite decipher their accent, or hear much of what they were saying. One young lady in particular reminded me of many of my friends back home: Artistic, kind of bohemian looking, very intelligent sounding but cute, in a down to earth kind of way. I definitely got nostalgic for home watching her speak, even if I couldn't understand her.

 However, when we were discussing the movie over lunch,  one of my new friends here -Manni-  when talking about her, started mentioning Hitler. I did a double take and asked him to clarify this rather ludicrous comparison. How could a young  Venezuelan woman of the 21st century be compared to Hitler? Apparently, what I didn't get from her words, was that she often spoke of the thing that 'disgusted' her the most about Caracas was the presence of those 'other people' that weren't like her, that weren't of the same 'race' as she was.  She never used the word 'pure race' but according to Manni ( I feel like he needs a descriptive, like one of those Mafia types. Manni the Fish, or Manni the Hammer!!) what she was saying implied it.

 Should I be surprised that in a country where poverty is omnipresent, that some of those who are from the middle or rich classes would be so quick to dismiss the poor in their country? That they really couldn't care less for them? That the young even want to run as far away as possible from these problems? I mean, I can be upset that it's happening, but not surprised. Don't we do the same? Don't many  people in our part of the world focus solely on their careers, on making money, on striving for what's best for them and very often ignore the sufferings of people around them?  It's one of the reasons I turned to religious life:  The society we live in not only encourages us to live like this, it practically forces us to do so. There will always be some that will be strong enough on their own to live beyond this selfish lifestyle, but that wasn't me. Put me in an environment where I have to struggle to find work, pay bills, and worry about the future, and I'm incapable of channelling the same  divine love that continues to transform and improve me everyday.

 But in the end, I am sympathetic with these kids, but proud of the work the Jesuits are doing. Sympathetic because I feel the situation here is beyond hope. Jesus once told us there would always be poor. To me this implies that we shouldn't take it upon ourselves to want to eliminate poverty. that being said, Jesus spent all his time with the poor, treating them with dignity and love, and I feel the Jesuits here are doing the exact same. Even these intimidating Barrios are a step up from having millions of people living in the streets starving. The Jesuits were part of the effort to create a better life for the poor and continue to do so, and that's what makes me proud of their work here. I don't think any of them realistically believe that the poverty of their countrymen will ever be eliminated, but they remain close to them and work with them whenever possible, improving little things in their lives.

  Take for example the Faith and Joy schools -fe y allegria-. They educate thousands upon thousands of poor people in this country, all the way up to the university level. Thanks to them, many from poor backgrounds can have a career, earn money, have hope for the future. This is the most powerful expression of Hope I have seen in a long time. No wonder it plays such an integral part in the Jesuit lingo here.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Justice is to deepen love and freedom: Part 2 (VC)

 As a preface to my more spiritual account of last week -there's already a lot happening this week, so I have to get moving on so I can document that as well!- I'd like to give my readers a little context by sharing one characteristic of my own Jesuit vocation. I put the emphasis on the my, to remind all who read this page  that this is indeed my account of Jesuit vocation, and not what every Jesuit experiences. The struggles I will describe is something many of my brothers will relate to, but others ignore the struggles, or are able to  quickly resolve them or move on. The beauty of our vocation, as with anything in our human experience, is its diversity. We all share the same charism, but we all live it with our own brand of uniqueness.Some are ambitious guys that are convinced they can fix all of the world's problems by being involved with all kinds of projects,  and still have time for their community and their own personal spirituality. Others make themselves a priority once in a while and take it a bit more easy. I'm too much of a dreamer for the first lifestyle, so I try to find the middle ground.

 But part of being a dreamer is that I ask big questions for which I often don't have answers. One of those questions for me since I've entered the Society was, revolving around the Jesuit passion for justice and freedom for all. We use these words a lot in our language. It 'makes sense' but at the same time, it's sometimes hard to discern what it is that we can do to serve the justice of God in our world. Serving and making food in a soup kitchen? Working on 5 social justice committees? Being missionned to a 3rd world country? Joining the socially conscious young people in their outrage against the world's complacency?( A quick note here: I'm talking about the Occupy young people and the Indignatos of Spain, not the Quebec students. I don't think protesting for your right for cheap or free education makes you socially conscious.) To make matters worse, as I've expressed in the past, is that I feel that because of my studies, I am very distant from any justice related work that could help me find an answer to what this justice is supposed to be.

 Last week, I was finally able to 'taste' the beginnings of an answer. I mean metaphorically of course -unless my account was about eating an Arrepa or burrito made from the hands of a poor farmer whose family was starving which could have given me an all to poignant taste of what injustice is!!-. Being in Venezuela has been very helpful in that department. What's special about being here, is that the Jesuits don't just talk about justice, or injustice. They live it. Firstly,  some of the guys come from poor families, and so they understand the struggles of the poor all too well. Secondly, unlike most Jesuits in the north, they live right in the thick of poverty. I mean, granted, their house is gated, they have internet access, each guy has his own cell phone, and the community employs people to cook, clean and do certain tasks around the house. However,  like many Jesuit communities, they need this staff because they give every ounce of themselves to their studies and their ministry, to being close to the poor, understanding their needs, and working with great minds to help heal the injustices in their country. The biggest problem some of them have with Chavez, is that he talks socialism, but doesn't do much to back his big talk. He speaks about the workers, but the slums of Caracas as still unsanitary, people are still unemployed, families are still broken and the social condition of the poor is not improving.. I don't know enough about the situation to know what Chavez is or isn't doing(and furthermore, the country IS divided over him. Many Jesuits support him as well. So maybe it's not so black and white), but I can get the frustration they're expressing.

 Thankfully, the frustration is not all they're expressing. All week long, during mass, or in my talks with them,  I realized how strong their hope for justice was, how much they believed that the justice of God would find it's roots in Venezuela and grow. So much so, that it became something for me that was concrete. Not some abstract notion of right and wrong, or some distant fantasy of a world where all are equal, but a healthy, balanced discernment of the problems of our world, and a genuine desire to work to solve these problems, a desire rooted in love of the people and closeness to them.

 What I heard in their prayers during the Mass, I would see with my own eyes during the week  when we visited their apostolate. We saw 3 organizations: JRS -Jesuit Refugee Services-, Fe y Alegria (faith and joy. A Jesuit school for the poor that has some of the highest standards of education in the country) and el Centro Gumilla, a social analysis center that somewhat resembles the Justice and Faith center I worked with 2 years ago. In all 3 centers, we were given presentations by the directors or volunteers about what kind of work was done, and with all 3 groups, I felt so inspired. All of them work directly with the poor, the marginalized in ways that I can only dream of right now. Even the school inspired me. I say 'even' because I wasn't expecting that. My vocation is not to be a teacher, but an activist for the faith and for the poor. Still, as I heard about how they made education accessible to all the poor with dozens of schools around the world, and how they supported these students through thick and thin, until they found their calling,I remembered why it was I became a Jesuit. We're not just charity or social workers. we're not just well intentioned individuals. We get our hands dirty baby...and we don't shy away from going to the margins, where no one else -whether religious or not- dares to go.

 Maybe in the end, this is justice: To ensure that our love for God and God's people deepens everyday; to give our lives to help others discover that love, and the freedom it offers us; to be present to the broken, and  always be there to remind them that they are so loved, and that in the hands of God...they are so free.

Friday, 18 May 2012

Justice is to deepen love and freedom: Part 1 (VC)

 I was quite shocked that my last entry received 64 views in a single day, but then I figured many of them  are probably junk sites, and not actual people reading. Still, I appreciate those of you who do!!
 I'm probably breaking the rules of blogging by making these entries as long as I do. So I'm going to mix things up a little here and write this blog in 2 parts. The first one,  shorter, will be an account recounting the events of the past week, and the 2nd one recounting how the events have impacted me.
   In the last entry, I talked about our very first night in Caracas, and hanging out with the guys. The next day, our guests insisted was  day of rest for us. I was looking forward to sleeping in a little, but that was not going to happen here. The residence is adjacent to the Jesuit school, which is hub of sports related activities. There's a whole section of the campus dedicated just to sports, with 2 or 3 baseball diamonds, a few soccer fields,tennis courts and many other  places for sports. It turns out, they're usually all full at the same time, so you can imagine the noise that emerges from this place!  I was rudely awoken  the next day by loud cheerings, wondering why this country was crazy enough to have a championship game going on at 8 am on a Saturday! Turns out it was just the kids playing, but there were so many of them going on at the same time that it was made that much louder! We eventually got to see the various sports fields, as one of our hosts (John)  took us to the campus, and we took in one of the baseball games for a short while. We also stopped at the Jesuit infirmiry attached to the school, which was a lovely experience on its own. Finally, we went to the shopping mall that bears the name of our founder " The Ignatius center' which the guys claim has nothing to do with them. It was a nice part of town to be in though. Reminded me of the Annex back in Toronto. Very pleasant, but very distant from the poverty that is the principal reality of this country.
  After an evening in Los Teques (an hour or more south of Caracas) where  we got to meet many of the  Provincials from Latin America that met together over the weekend, we returned to the University complex in preparation for our next day, when we would be in various apostolates that our Philosopher brothers are involved with in the city. My experience was with one of the guys here, named  Johnny, in a poor neighborhood called Carapita. I was lucky enough to hang out with the people afterwards, and to really experience the reality of the people in a real way. It's also the place where I realized how little I knew the language, and how little I could follow conversations which made things challenging.
   After this experience,  we packed up, and headed for the philosophy house, our real residence during our stay in Venezuela.  In a way, I could say that the only downside to our stay here so far, is that we are literally  in lock down mode unless somebody takes us somewhere. They don't really encourage us going out for walks in our neighborhood, and even if they did, we have enough to do, that there isn't always time for that. So we end up being 'stuck' in the house a lot, but it's not too depressing because of the amount of work and learning and the living experience, to be so close to our Venezuelan brothers. Thankfully, we do have a wonderful host in the person of Jozhman, who although a little strange in his methodology of teaching, is the best host you could hope for, and serves as our guardian angel,  body guard, and bridge to the Venezuelan culture. so far this week, we've had a bit more openness in our schedule to go out, so he's taken us to visit two of the apostolates of the Society in Venezuela: the Venezuelan office of Jesuit Refugee Service, and the office of Faith and Joy. Both exepriences were rather powerful and I shall describe the impact they've had on me more extensively, in part 2.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

The Venezuela Chronicles (VC)

I was debating  whether I was going to create a 2nd blog around my journey to Venezuela which started today -Friday, May 11th-. But I decided that wouldn't be worth it. Instead, I'll put the Initials VC at the end of every entry to indicate that these are entries that are part my Venezuela Chronicles.

 Not too much events around the first days.  I am currently in my mosquitto infested space in Caracas -or as our American pilot half called it, "Crackas"..- The little buggers are everywhere, but they're so small, that I don't really feel them. Just little pricks here and there. That's almost bearable. I hope this keeps up! We had a wonderful first meeting with the guys in Philosophy here.  Through a mixture of English and Spanish, we were able to celebrate this joint vocation we all have as 'young' Jesuits ( one of them reminded me I don't quite fit that description by saying " Tu es muy Viejo" -you're very old-). Otherwise, we had fun with them, had lovely conversations. Poor Eric has not had his first Spanish lesson yet, so he'll be struggling for a bit there, but Adam and I tried to keep the conversation flowing. Not always easy!But the men are so welcoming, they make it look easy.

 Of course, all of this took place only at the end of the day.  Our travels from Toronto to Miami and Miami to Caracas were rather uneventful. I ended up buying 'The Hunger Games' in our layover in Miami because it's a movie that really  inspired me, so I wanted to follow up with the book. As of the early stages of this novel, I feel like it could be used as a tool to talk of the social justice issues of our era. I may turn to it again to teach justice to future generations. Very inspiring.
    Equally inspiring was the ease with which the 3 of us travelled together. It's reminded me how much of a family we have truly become. I say this because I almost expect that the more time I spend with community, the more tired I get of it. There are days when this can be true. Especially on a long voyage like this one, you'd think there'd be issues or problems that would emerge, that we'd be tired of being together all the time Nothing like that: I guess we understand that we're lucky to share this mission together, and that we'll be growing in oodles together for the next few months. So we have been 'working together' to get through customs, dealing with the delay in our flights, filling out documents for the customs people etc... it's been wonderful to have my 2 brothers around. I'm sure my stay here will be made all the more interesting because of them.

The sense of the Ignatian family would only grow.  We know that wherever we go in the world, we’re usualy very well received by other Jesuit communities.  I definitely experienced that in New York and Boston during my pilgrimage.  Still , last night, we were so delayed in our flight, that we were concerned our hosts may not have been there when we arrived. However, once our baggages were retrieved in Caracas, we were greeted  by some frantic whistling from enthusiastic young men, 2 of our Venezuelan Jesuit brothers:  Allesandro (-nicknamed, Chivo, which means goat- was our driver for the night. A young man interested in Engineering, but has been in Jesuit schools his whole life so the vocation was an obvious one. A very amicable guy –as many people are in this country.- ) and the man who would end up being our main contact in this country, Jhozman.  He is the only one who regularly speaks in English with us. There are fewer linguistic barriers between us and him -i.e.he  can navigate eloquently from one language to the next- and is essentially the bridge between the two cultures, though he probably has much still to learn about our language and culture. It was nice to have him and Alex as the first two faces we meet in Venezuela.

   Actually, the first exciting thing I saw in the country, was one Adam pointed out.A tiny little cross on the top  of a very high mountain close to the center of Caracas. Besides the fact this mountain is way bigger than our little Mount Royal in Montreal, it’s hard to not think of home in this circumstance.  The cross definitely brought a big smile on my face.The next thing we would see on our way home, was the city of Caracas at night. I had heard of the vast city that climbed up the hill with its houses for the poor, but when you see it at night, I guess you’re a little detached from the poverty. It just looks pretty! More than pretty,  there was a childlike sense of wonder that just overtook me, and all I could say was 'wow'. This was a scene that brought me much joy!!  The irony of it’s beauty wasn't lost on me…Christ always tells us to turn our hearts to a simpler existence, that we will find the true divine nature of God  by  staying close to the poor. I get that, but it's not always easy to live in Canada!

  The other moment of joy was the conversation we had with Allesandro on our way to  our residence for the night. –we have since moved to the philosophate, the residence of philosophy students- It was a test on my own command of the language, but we managed to communicate. Not sure how much I understood, but it was basic, and when I didn’t understand, we found some other way –with Adam’s help- to express an idea.  I guess I realize how much work I have to do with the language, but suddenly, it’s not as daunting.

 This comfort with the language continued as we arrived at our residence for the weekend, a place we'd stay at before moving to the Philosophate or house of philosophy students. Our first residence, the Centre Javier is next to a Jesuit run school, in a much nicer part of town than the philosophate, but just as noisy as the latter. The difference is that the noise we get at the philosophate is that of sprawling neighbourhood around us, where as for the other residence had the noises of clubs! A world of difference.  It was in this setting that we first met and were warmly welcomed and received by the guys. It was a little intimidating to be in conversation with a room full of philosophers in a language I don't yet speak, but we managed beautifully and the bond between us has only continued to grow...praise be to God!
I look forward to sharing other aspects of life here!!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

A year gone by

It's time for a brief report on my academic year:

  It has already been 8 months that I have left my beloved Montreal for Toronto and a life of studies.
I've expressed time and time again how and why I was reluctant to embark upon even more studies.
Maybe a part of me still is, but in general, I have no regrets, and am in fact very appreciative of the learning and the growth that has taken place over the past year and figured it would be a good time to look at some of the learning that has taken place this year.

 In my first term, it was Bernard Lonergan -great Canadian Jesuit  theologian of the 20th century- that challenged, and confused me, but also forced me to accept a much broader understanding of my faith and this journey we're on. What excited me about him was that he not only challenges his readers and constantly pushes the envelope in terms of main stream thinking about theology, but he has an uncanny ability to piss people off as well!! The reason for this is that he asks people to examine their  framework from which they operate, revisit how they see the world. In some ways,  he forces people to re evaluate their world view..and this angers people sometimes. One of my classmates was rather setin his liberal interpretation of the world, that he was offended that Lonergan used a hierarchy of ideas/values in his system.  Bernard takes ideas like culture, science, development, and faith, and places them in terms of importance, with of course, faith being at the top. This offended my  liberal friend because he believes in a world where nothing should be ranked above anything else, where everything is equal.  A little naive, but a lovely sentiment just the same! .

 People like this dude were not the only folks who weren't big fans of Berny. I used a quote of his in a discussion  with an Atheist. The quote was a reflection Lonergan was making about Science and a the scientific method he uses to tackle theology:

" If we assume the universe is meaningless-  a mere collection of inert dead matter- then we also assume that we can expect to find no ultimate meaning. Even scientific inquiry about the universe loses its value and significance. On the other hand, history has shown that a belief in the ultimate order and intelligibility of the universe promotes scientific inquiry."

  You can see why this would enrage any atheist, and my  friend was no different. To this day, the individual is still angry about this quote, and what he considers as Longeran's distortion of science. I am in no position to defend Lonergan or to defend his spiritual view of science since I'm neither a scientist, nor a formed theologian (yet!) fact, I  barely understand the guy at all, which makes me even less qualified to defend what he's saying. But what I do understand is that through his book 'Methods in Theology' he is trying to offer the world a very useful method with which one can understand truth and reality in a more intellectual way. Non Christians would be shocked that an adherent of the Catholic Church would be using a theological method based on reason, but he does...and goes beyond the norm of logic. He doesn't just seek for truth that can be proven with facts..he seeks to deepen his understanding of facts, and to discern how can he live his new truths in his daily life. It's complex, heady stuff that I can barely understand, but that still inspired me a lot this year.

  In the non theological realm, there was other courses on Ethics, and Pastoral practice which are crucial courses for one interested in Pastoral ministry like me. However, this past term, the major highlights were 3 fold:
1) A course in Spiritual direction with one of the Gurus in the field, another Jesuit. I learned a lot from him, but was mostly challenged in my efforts to write papers for him. I was one of the few Catholics in the classroom, and the only guy, so it made for an interesting wonderfully diverse environment filled with people that were eager to turn to faith, to help people find answers to their problems in the world!! One of the lessons I learned here was that the reason why many broken people of our world turn to religion is not because they're weak,  but because the secular world  either doesn't care for them, or has no answers to their problems, other than prescribing pills or labelling them as 'crazy'. As this wise man who taught the class would probably say 'we're all a little crazy inside. The sooner we all realize this, the better the world will be'.

2) Origen. Yes yes, Church father Origen. The same guy that was condemned by the Church  as a heretic and is still seen by many as having heretical ideas. I do agree that some of his ideas may go against what the Church teaches today. But there are a few things to consider when we're looking at Origen:
a) We must remember  that when he was writing and thinking about the faith,  the Church was still in its phase of experimenting and trying to figure out its central doctrine was.  So many silly things were said in this process. Not all of it would  be retained by the Church, but that doesn't make the person saying them a heretic, at least, not in this stage of Church History.
b) Heresy aside, Origen is one of the most influential figures in Catholic History, as he not only help establish the central doctrine of the Church, but was also able to respond to many attacks on Christians from various sources, and thanks to his incredible academic skills, was able to read the Hebrew bible in its original language, and bring a whole new interpretation to the text by using his knowledge of the language and using an allegorical interpretation of the Bible.

It's that latter part that I mostly encountered in my patristics class this year.  First off, his influence from the Greek world caused him to be less literal in his biblical exegesis, and more focused on allegorical. He obviously has limits as to where he uses allegory. He doesn't see the story of Christ for example as allegorical, but he sees certain parts scriptures as better understood as an image for something else, or a material image of something more abstract -thus, an allegory.. This is controversial at times, because there are many who prefer to read the Bible more literally. But the problem is we can't always do that with scripture. There are moments when his type of exegesis - bible study- reveals more truth about the passage than a literal reading could do.  Furthermore, his ability to work with Hebrew gave him the ability to read scripture from a rich new perspective. So much so, that I find myself tempted in studying Hebrew next year.

3) Perhaps the real inspiration to my wanting to learn hebrew comes from  my class on Wisdom literature.  A few things happened in this class. The Professor, a Jesuit became my Mr Keating -the proff from Dead Poets Society. But also, the subject matter was quite intense. What makes Wisdom literature so potent for our time is that all the authors -from Job, to Proverbs; from Wisdom to Ecclesiastes- struggle with their faith and are quite open about their anger towards God. The language used is incredibly relevant for the people the people of the 21st century.   It was so wonderful to see this Wisdom come alive in class.

 And THAT was the highlight of my semester: In January, I started taking some medicine to help me deal with my sleeping disorder. Within a week of when I started, I began to feel an impact. My focus was increasing, I yawned less. But it was in this particular class that I experienced the most magnificent experience I had ever experienced in my life: In a two hour lecture, with a 10 minute break in the middle, I didn't get bored a single time. I didn't lose focus. I didn't day dream. I was 100% concentrated on what the Prof was saying...and I could feel the verses of the text come alive. At one point during the class, I realized that I had not lost my concentration one bit, and I came rather close to shedding tears of joy. My entire life, it's been the same story. I fall asleep during movies, talks, classes, I lose focus, I get bored. Whatever.  That's always been with me, and I assumed it always would be. Suddenly there was a different story being told. Suddenly, I was attentive and hungry for more.

 Hopefully, that will continue into next term! I know there's still much work to do with my focus, my presence to people...I'm working on it. One day at the time, with God in my heart and on my side, I'm working on it!

blessings to you all!

Thursday, 19 April 2012

April 19th Homily

Where is the spirit of God in our Church today?  It’s rather easy to see it thriving in the works of charity, in the apostolates we do, even in the people meet, and how we are able to engage with them, not out in a spirit of jealousy or competition, but one of love and respect, one that recognizes the dignity of the people we meet. But even in our beloved universal Church, we all too often get embroiled into respective camps, trying to defend our understanding of what the Church is, how God works through our vision of the great apostolic mission.
   I saw some examples of this phenomenon while reading the New Catholic Reporter this morning as I was trying to catch up on news about a conflict between the Vatican  and women religious in the US, more specifically, a Catholic Social Justice lobby founded by American nuns called NETWORK. Despite all the noble work this group have done in the past 40 years, including taking their fights to Capitol Hill, and Being Christ to the poor on the great stage of American politics, NETWORK has come under scrutiny  and criticism for various reasons in recent years. The main criticism they've received is for their support of the Obama  health plan, and allegedly , for publicly supporting abortion. ( I say allegedly because it's unclear that they have. They've been silent on the issue, but have never spoken in favour it.  I believe the main issue is more Gay marriage and women's ordination)   


So, as is the norm on the internet (and one may argue, in the human experience), once the news about this crisis broke out, the few dozens of individuals who dedicate their days to publishing their responses and complaints on the NCR websites, went nuts: Lines were drawn; gloves came off; Criticism continues to rage on both sides: Some rushing to the defence of the nuns, others to the defence of the Vatican Hierarchy. Not very much is achieved, and the great animosity that exists within our Church is only nourished even more. And yet, both sides are convinced that they are doing what God has called upon them to do, or worse, they believe they are doing exactly what Jesus would do. Both sides claim to have right on their side. I think such a debate would have preoccupied me for days in the past, and perhaps have even chipped away at my faith a little. It doesn't anymore, because I understand that this is how we function as humans....and this has nothing to do with God, for one simple reason: In this angry debate, the individuals are not diminished in order to make way for the Grace of God to work in them. Their issues and agendas, becomes God's issues and agendas. This is problematic. Consequently, I still need to hear them out and understand where they're coming from, but I do not need to accept that God's will is in their angry divisive words. For if they were filled with the spirit, they would act like the disciples in the book of Acts, and would obey God,rather than obeying men and women. They would allow the spirit to guide them in efforts to be Christ to the poor by helping deliver them from their afflictions, and would focus on healing the brokenness of our world not with a righteous anger, but a deep and profound forgiving love. It's that very same love that allowed John the Baptist to humble himself before the Messiah. To recognize that the work John had committed his entire life to, was merely earthly work that would meet its divine completion in the labours of another. To understand that while the presence of the Spirit may be limited in his own body, that there was no limit to that divine presence in Jesus. It seems that John is still trying to pave the way for Christ in our own lives. He understands that we get preoccupied by earthly issues that divides our world and creates dissent even within our own beloved Church. However, he reminds us to leave all of that behind, less we get preoccupied by them, and fail to receive the testimony of Christ in our world....less we fall short of obeying the Divine Will, in order to fulfil our own human desires to serve God...these are noble, but they are imperfect, and when we commit our lives to these as opposed to God, we sometimes miss the mark.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

From darkness to light

 Happy Easter to one and all!! And what a beautiful season it's been.
 This has also  been a heavy couple of weeks for all students I suppose. It ain't getting any easier for me, with 2 big papers and one smaller one due next week. Unfortunately, being in a non religious university means that they don't give a damn if it's Holy week  or not, they still expect people to be in class, hand in essays etc...c'est la vie.
    Anyways, Matthew (my  brother Jesuit  and the guy with a room next to mine)and I were talking this week, as were slaving over our papers, and at one point, he just said rather bitterly "It's HOLY WEEK..I SHOULD NOT BE DOING THIS. I SHOULD BE PRAYING". Definitely a sentiment I felt as well considering how prayerful my holy week was in Wiky last year...I didn't feel as connected to the holiest season in our calendar this year. Instead, I locked myself in my room and did lots of research.  The plus side of course, was having the opportunity to do discover the wonderful library at the University. Apparently, the main library at t he U of T is one of the largest in the world... but the building itself is freekish:

I guess you can't see it too well from this picture, but it's supposed to be some kind of giant turkey, or peacock. A monstrosity of a building in the eyes of many, but I'm not complaining. First off,
I don't need to use that library that often. The ones from the Toronto School of theology -there are maybe 5 theological libraries-  serve me very well!!  This means, I've never had trouble getting the books I needed for research so far...and this week, I got to spend some time in the rare books library and even took a picture of it. Quite stunning, compared to the rest of the library!!  I got to spend the afternoon of Holy Thursday reading a book there -you're not allowed to take books out of the Rare books have to read them there!-

But despite academia being at the centre of my life, as a Catholic (and even more so as a Jesuit), it's impossible for me to avoid the movement of holy week. Even though my prayer was not as rich as last year, I still was incredibly inspired by the services -especially the Easter Vigil one on Saturday night, which lasted almost 3 hours, and ended around midnight and was incredibly moving.-.  But the most symbolic moment for me was on Good Friday at night, when we celebrated what is known as Tenebrae. In the timeline of the Triduum, -the 3 days before easter, so Holy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil on Saturday- this is a powerful prayer, where we celebrate Christ descending into Hell, or Sheol or whatever you want to call it, and conquering death.  This is not necessarily a celebration that is scriptural, but the idea of Jesus descending among the dead is part most Credes in Christianity.

 I've probably celebrated this before, but I had no recollection of ever having done it was a very powerful service for me. The picture I took is from behind our chapel window in our house. The way it works is that there are 7 candels that our lit on the altar. As we read various passages from the bible together, after each passage, one of the candles is extinguished....until we're in complete darkness. We stay there for a few minutes, meditating on what we've heard, on what it means to us to proclaim in our Crede every Sunday that Christ went into hell to conquer death on our behalf.

It may not seem like much, but to me this is the most extraordinary part of the hole Easter season. We contemplate darkness, so we can receive the light that Christ will bring on Easter morning.  And we do need to enter the Tenebrae in order to appreciate the glory of His light even more. Of course, we don't celebrate the light till 24 h ours laster, but maybe that's the whole point. Easter gives us an opportunity to contemplate the whole passage from darkness to light over a period of time, so that we can understand that there will be tremendous darkness in our own life at times, and that we need to receive it with the hope that it won't last foreever. That Christ's light triumphs over everything...even our struggles with paper writting (-;