Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Acknowledgments

I seldom read blogs. Nor do I update mine any longer with regularity. That said, a post written over by Resident Theologian spurred me to post the Acknowledgment page to my own dissertation.


Acknowledgments


I suffer no illusion: there is no way to express fully my gratitude to those who have made this project possible. I hesitate to name names for fear of missing someone. But, as I look back in a sort of Examen of my education, there are certain constellations of persons who simply must be named.
            My love of theology began at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland, Ohio. Six teachers in particular helped me to find my voice as a student and as a man: Tom Pasko, Joe Buzzelli, Kay Goebel, Jim Brennan, Jim Skerl, and Michael Pennock. As an undergraduate at Canisius College, Dan Liderbach, SJ and Ben Fiore, SJ were my go-to mentors. During my first stint of graduate studies at John Carroll University, Joan Nuth and Howard Gray, SJ were stalwart guides both of my head and my heart.
            At Fordham University, I had the great pleasure of studying with a number of brilliant minds. Brian Davies, OP introduced me to the study of Thomas Aquinas and Terry Klein gave me an appetite for Wittgenstein. Jane Dryden was a frequent coffee companion and guide in those early years of philosophy studies. Later, as a student at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, I was blessed to study with wonderful Jesuit scholars and exemplars of the type of priest and scholar I desire to become: Mark Massa, Jim Keenan, Tom Stegman, Randy Sachs, Dick Clifford, Jim Bretzke, Joe Weiss, Arthur Madigan, Jim Bernauer, Oliver Rafferty, Joe O’Keefe, Robert Daly, James Conn, Frank Herman, and Dan Harrington. The friendship of men I lived and studied with – John Nugent, Jayme Stayer, Paul Shelton, Cathal Doherty – has been one of the great joys in my life. Benjamin Dahlke, Bernhard Knorn, and Niall Coll: I will forever remember with great fondness our many long, cold, walks through the snowy streets of Chestnut Hill. 
            My most formative years as a Jesuit were the years I taught at the University of Detroit Jesuit High School and Academy. To the students and families I met, I say thank you for allowing me to learn how to be a teacher. To my Jesuit brothers – Brian Lehane, Karl Kiser, Jim Boynton, and Matt Wooters – I say thank you for your friendship. I want to thank in a special way Patrick Peppard, SJ for giving me hours of entertainment and teaching me more about hyperbole than he could EVER know.
            To my friends in Irish music and dancing: you have helped to keep me grounded over these years. I love few things more than playing and praying for you as a community. It would be foolish to try to name all of the persons – living and deceased – to whom I owe so much. But I want to say thank you to Tom Hastings for teaching me how to be a musician and to Anne Hall and Liam Harney for being great friends and travel companions I could ask for. My time playing Irish music for dancers has blessed me in a special way with the grace of disappearance: the better I do my job as a musician, the more I recede and disappear, the more the dancer can emerge on the stage. I hope as a theologian and priest to duplicate this lesson, to get out of the way so that others can do what they are called to do.
            Thank you to my parents Bob and Michele and my siblings and their spouses: Colin and Charity, Torrey and Brian, and my sisters Reilley and Hagan. You endured much over these years and even though you care little about Karl Rahner or William Desmond, you were generous with listening to me. To my aunts and uncles and legions of cousins: we are at our best when we are together as a family.
            To my advisory committee: no words can express how fortunate I feel to have you as mentors and guides. Dominic Doyle and Richard Kearney are exemplars as scholars and teachers. Dominic: thank you for guiding me through Taylor’s oeuvre and teaching me how not to be a cranky Thomist. Richard: your Wake of Imagination was the book that lit the spark of my interest in philosophy and your unparalleled ability to weave narrative and philosophy together in scintillating prose serves as the model I should most like to follow.
            To my brother Jesuits: there are no words to express what it means to stand in your company. Thank you for giving me the resources to follow my passions and to use what talents I have to help build God’s Kingdom. My greatest desire is that, when I meet Jesus one day, he will be able to say, “Welcome home, Ryan. I have seen something of myself in what you have done.” Over his shoulder, I hope to glimpse Saint Ignatius nodding in approval. Adam DeLeon and Denis Weber – we’ve hung in there since 2004: thank you for being constant companions. If I have come to know, love, and serve Jesus Christ in this life it is because you have formed me to do so.
A word to my advisor and guide Brian Robinette. From the day I met you in January 2013, I knew you were the one I had to work with. Your brilliance is matched only by your humanity and generosity which are boundless. Thus I must thank Krista for sharing her husband and Trevor and Austin for sharing their father with his students. Brian, I am so proud to call you my teacher and my mentor and it is one my heart’s joys to call you a friend. I hope you detect your trace what follows and that the conclusion of this project serves to mark the beginning of a long and fruitful friendship and collaboration.
            Finally, I want to acknowledge Emma, Quinn, Con, and the soon-to-be born nephew my family awaits. I have loved each one of you from the moment I knew you were to be born. Thank you for the gift you have been to our family. My greatest hope for you is that you will each open yourselves to the blessing and burden that is the life of Christian discipleship.

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Calm Before the Storm

It's hard to believe it's now two months since Christmas. A lot has happened since my last post: I completed the dissertation (born on 7/15, final chapter sent off 12/15, intro and conclusion written and submitted for defense on 2/13), interviewed for teaching positions at Marquette University and Santa Clara University, and had a bit of a botched eye procedure that made it really rough to see for a few days and very difficult to read anything at all for about a week. Fear not: the eyes have healed and, at the moment, I'm just about to board a flight to New Mexico for a feis weekend. 

I feel a bit rudderless without the dissertation dictating my daily schedule. It's nice to read fiction again and I've been able to catch up on some movie watching. I'm actually really grateful things rapped up in time for Lent, as I want this to be a real season of prayer...Lord knows, I've relied on God's grace for a long time now and I want to let the Holy One know I do not take it for granted! 

Sadly, I write this with a heavy heart as our country is shaken yet again by the tragic loss of young life in Florida. I can't say I've much to add that hasn't been said. I'm sad and I'm angry. Once upon a time, I would have written something here...but I don't have it in me to add anything but a steely resolve to work against this sort of violence. 

I defend the dissertation on March 22nd. I hope, sometime before then, to know where I'll be teaching next year. Other than a lot of music to be played over the next few months and the defense/graduation, my time is very much my own for the first time in a very long time. I'll be glad to use this as an opportunity to re-ground myself spiritually and to open my heart to where I'm being sent to teach. 


Monday, December 25, 2017

Christmas Vigil Homily

One of the best parts – well, at least one of the important parts – of being a priest is being with families in times of crisis. Often enough, this means I attend a lot of wakes. Especially if I have to do the funeral the next day, the wake is a privileged opportunity to learn about the deceased and the family who mourns them. Seeing how others grieve gives you an appreciation for the deceased…and, as it turns out, it helps you to realize how your own family isn’t as crazy as you previously thought.
Sometimes as I lead the family in the Rosary, or as I eavesdrop on the conversations, I hear the things people say: “Her make-up is awful.” “Oh my, she’d be appalled to meet Saint Peter wearing that dress.” “Ah, he looks better dead. It suits him.”
But sometimes, when you’re at an especially tragic wake or funeral – a teenager’s suicide, an overdose, a young parent dying of cancer – you’ll hear people say, “There but for the grace of God, go I.” I get the meaning of the phrase: at heart, it’s an expression of gratitude, thanking God for sparing one from the calamity one sees. We say it because we sense how fragile and precious life and how we should not take for granted the blessings in our lives.
That said, I think it is the power of Christmas to turn this phrase on its head. This is not because the message is wrong, or bad, but because it doesn’t go far enough.
            When Mary was found to be with child, Joseph knew what neighbors would say:He knew they’d judge her, that they’d cluck their tongues and comment about “young people these days.” He knew sympathetic people would say, “Ah, there but for the grace of God, go I.” Their hearts would be moved, they’d say things like, “poor dear” and “bless her heart;” he knew they might do something nice for her, but they’d be glad it was happening to someone else and not in their family.
Joseph’s dream of marriage, his plan for the future, seems to be thrown into chaos. And then he has a dream. The Lord comes to Joseph as his world collapses and with a simple message: Do not be afraid. “Do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. For it is through the Holy Spirit this child has been conceived in her.”

·      Do not be afraid –Mary carries the one who will save his people from sin.
·      Do not be afraid – though there may be times of uncertainty and struggle, times of fear and doubt, know that I am with you.
·      Do not be afraid – my grace does not keep you out of the muck and mire of the world, but sends you headlong into it. You are to embark upon the adventure of faith because of my grace, because my Son, is with you.
·      Do not be afraid – these words Joseph heard so long ago continue to speak to us, reminding us how anywhere we have been, any chaos we confront, God is with us because He has gone before us. At Christmas, we celebrate how God doesn’t just watch our struggles; God is not apart from us and our history but is a part of it, as our companion.

I say this because Christmas cards and Hallmark moves offer us tempting images of what the “ideal” Christmas season looks like.  Perfectly groomed and behaved children, a delicious dinner, laughter and merriment as gifts are exchanged. Everyone is happy, no one wants for anything, and all hearts are free and easy. But, as we know all too well, the real is usually quite far from the ideal. How many of us face

·      Family squabbles and rivalries
·      Hearts heavy with grief as we miss those we have lost
·      Anxiety about gifts, fear about whether one has done enough for one’s family, uncertainty about what the future holds

This is the messiness of Christmas. This is our messiness and confusion, and it is this messiness God claims as his own. This is the reality, our reality, Jesus is born into.
Sad to say, Faith Hill’s song about Christmas totally misses the point: Christmas is not a feeling, it’s not a sentiment, or an emotion. It is an event and a challenge to people of faith. It is an opportunity to open up and look at our lives as they really are, to see where we are in need of a savior, and to take the risk of allowing Christ to be born in the midst of our lives.
Thus, instead of saying Instead of saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I” our motto and mantra ought to be: There because of God’s grace, go I.

·      When you find the strength to forgive old hurts and try to build a new relationship – there is God’s grace guiding you.
·      When you seek help for an addiction, or step in to help a loved one who is struggling with addiction – there is God’s grace guiding you.
·      When you play with your children and grandchildren, when you laugh with your family, when you propose marriage, or shed a tear for the spouse, or parent, or child you miss– there God’s grace is guiding you.  
·      When you speak up for the oppressed, when you refuse to sit idly by when others are mocked, or denigrated, or told they don’t matter – there God’s grace is guiding you.
·      Wherever you open your heart and your life to the Lord, whenever you open your heart in silent prayer – God is with you, loving you and guiding you, because our God is Emmanuel, “God with Us.”

God’s grace does not, and will not ever, keep us from getting dirty. This is the exact opposite of the prosperity gospel which is a terrible lie told to people. Following Jesus in our lives will not bring us profit, but peril; one cannot be a friend of Jesus and an enemy of the Cross. God’s grace plunges us into the confusion of history and gives us the strength to be ministers of the Gospel.
            Consider how we come forward to receive the Eucharist. How do we saw Amen? Do we meekly raise our hands up and mumble an Amen? Do we meander back to our seats and go back to the same old, same old? Do we saw Amen out of habit without thinking of who it is we are allowing to enter our innermost selves?
            Or will your Amen be said with courage and conviction? Maybe you will lift your shaking hands and think, “I am afraid to say Yes to you, Lord, but I feel you moving within me. I feel your call to me and, though it scares me, I say Amen to it. I invite you into my chaos and I will allow you lead me, step by step, out into the world to proclaim and help build the Body of Christ. I will risk myself in my own word Amen as I welcome your Word and let this Word guide me in a new direction.”

-->
Allow me to extend to all of you my wishes for a happy, holy, and courageous Christmas. We do not need God to visit us in our dreams because we receive Jesus Christ into our hearts and our lives every time we celebrate the Eucharist together. In times of darkness and doubt, in grief and anxiety, may the light who comes into the world on this Holy Night be your guide. In times of joy and laughter, may you be a light of hope and consolation to others. Where you hear your name called into places of discomfort and uncertainty, where you feel your heart moved to respond with your whole self, I pray you open yourselves and find the courage to say yes to the truth of Christmas: There because of God’s grace, go I.

Acknowledgments

I seldom read blogs. Nor do I update mine any longer with regularity. That said, a post written over by Resident Theologian  spurred me to ...