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 (-;

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

My Homily, April 3rd

 Readings: : Isaiah 49:1-6, John 13:21-33, 36-38


  I love Isaiah, there is truly no one from the Old testament more up to the task of leading us into Holy week than he.  here’s a dude who truly gets it.  Yesterday, in one of my favourite passages of the Bible, we heard Isaiah prophesy about how the Son of God, who would be so loved, and cherished by God, that the Lord would place upon him his very spirit, which would empower him to faithfully bring forth justice.. That particular passage, 42:1 is the centre piece of the Matthew’s account of the Baptism of our Lord (it’s referenced twice during the passage). We can see the similarities between the two passages, as Jesus   not only gets baptised, and receives the spirit of God, but gets a public praise and affirmation from  the Great I Am, who lets the world know how special this Jesus of ours really is.

Today’s account continues to develop this theme of being the son, and servant of God and everything  that special relationship to God entails. Obviously, any exegete who looks at this Text will say “clearly, he’s talking about Jesus’ , and clearly he is, speaking about the one who will bring all people before God, who will reconcile to Him all those who have fallen away from  The Path that God has set for them, and who will bring to God many new people. But for us Christians, there is another way of reading Isaiah. Yes, we understand that this is about Jesus, but if we’re brave enough, we can also see that this passages is a call to all of us. For we too, have been called from the womb and have been known intimately by God. We too have been blessed with his spirit which does an infinite amount of great things within us.  We too, have had the almighty look upon us  and say with delight “truly, this is my child.”
    Why should the analogies between Christ and ourselves end there? We too, are being called to bring forth justice into the world; we too are called to  be a light to the nations, that God’s salvation my reach the end of the earth.  For what Good is our faith if all we do is recognize that God loves us, takes care of us, protects us, and saves us from evil, if all we do is lead a good  decent life  of comfort?  We are not adopted as children of God so that we can take comfort in our salvation, but so that we can become Men and Women of the world that are taught and formed by God, and will go to the ends of the earth to proclaim God’s wondrous deeds.

But before we get to our own special vocation before God, we must accompany our Saviour, as he walks through his passion. This is why Santiago was urging us to spend more time with Jesus yesterday…not so we just ‘chill out’ with the lord…but so that we may share with him, as we did during the exercises, the very core of his experience of the passion. The rejection, the mockery and humiliation that is to come, the pain, the hatred of others… this is the heart of our faith this week. For having accompanied our Lord through his passion, having felt the pain and darkness with him, we can then accompany many others who have been forsaken by the world, the same way Jesus would be forsaken by his friends.