Monday, March 10, 2014


Well, Asia-Pacific Tertianship 2013-14 formally concluded this past Friday with a final mass & dinner. Dado & Michael departed first thing Saturday (teaching, retreats). Priyono & Chanh yesterday. Johan back to Korea this afternoon. Norlan heads to Mindinao crack of dawn tomorrow morn; Suyt, Alis & I are Hanoi-bound in the afternoon. O-myun Wednesday, Tu to Saigon on Friday. Mon brings it to a close up & heads to Kuala Lumpur Saturday.

So it goes. Two shots happy, one shot sad.

So it goes, Billy Pilgrim.

In a final conversation with my spiritual director, the word was sated. Like one of those dinners where everything is dead-on perfect: astounding menu & table providing the forum for engaging & unanticipated conversation & friendship. Or a live rock gig where you spill out afterwards into the street dazed... not quite sure what just happened, but that it was good, and that you've comehow been set on fire to take it all to the streets & change the world...

(it happens. really.)

So much to pray & reflect upon. And more ink will be spilled on this, to be sure.

Allow me to return yet again to that one little but all-important word, brothers & sisters.


Where it all ends & where it all begins.  Alpha & Omega.

And it never, never, occurs in a vacuum, in isolation.

It's always in relationship. In community. In friendship. Cor ad cor.

Friends in the Lord. 

                           He uttered a triumpant cry: IT IS ACCOMPLISHED!
                           And it was though he had said: Everything has begun.
                           - Nikos Kazantzakis, The Last Temptation of Christ

Friday, February 14, 2014

a little less conversation.

Silence is so accurate.
             - Mark Rothko

main chapel, Sacred Heart Novitiate

The Grand Silence has begun.

This week here at Sacred Heart, thirtysome women & men entered into the stillness & quietude of the thirty-day Spiritual Exercises. A privilege & gift to be back here amongst them, a few months after my own experience of the Exercises this past November.

I brought along my own journal from my November retreat so as to accompany the retreatants each day by taking time with my own journal from November, aligning my own prayer with theirs. What has emerged in rereading my journal entries is how meager, how limited my words are in attempting to seize all that Christ was doing in the midst of those thirty days (and continues to do). The metaphors, the similes... way too many words, way too insufficient.

But a picture can indeed be worth a legion of words. At the end of each of the thirty-odd days of the Exercises, I picked up crayons & chalk pastels (the simple tools from childhood!) and played with colors & shapes. I allowed myself a maximum of 45 minutes each night in what became a daily attempt to capture, to sum up & somehow visualize my hours of prayer for that day.

I know I'm no artist, but those crayons & chalk pastels went a long way. It's astounding how I can now gaze on any of these drawings & recollect that day of prayer & the movements whilst in prayer. Not just a head-knowledge recollection/recognition, but a more crucial heart-knowledge... a return to that day's experience of Christ uniquely laboring for, with & through me.

And while these scribblings may have been borne of my own intimate, personal prayer, I refrain from attempting to "explain" them for a couple of reasons. First off (as mentioned above) words ultimately fail in the attempt to explain an experience of prayer (except maybe for mystic poets like Teresa of Avila or Hafiz - heck, crayons were effort enough for me). Kinda like trying to explain a Far Side cartoon. And secondly, what the colors, shapes, composition elicits in/for me might be quite different than for you. That's one of the many the cools thing about art. We bring ourselves to the experience of art.

So - for your consideration, provocation & amusement, I give you a few days worth of prayer depictions from my November experience of the Spiritual Exercises...

(disclaimer: any similarity between my feeble journal drawings & the work of the astounding mid 20th century abstract expressionist quoted up above is knowingly, emphatically & unabashedly intentional. the more abstract, the better to express the ineffable. besides, i cannot draw people or trees.)

Pictures must be miraculous.
                          - Mark Rothko

Monday, February 10, 2014

friends in the Lord.

main entrance, Sacred Heart Novitiate
Ignatius of Loyola used the phrase but once - in a letter from 1537 to his old friend Juan de Verdolay in Spain. Writing from Venice, Ignatius shared with Verdolay the beginnings of a company of - in communio with -  Jesus:
In mid-January nine friends of mine in the Lord arrived here from Paris...
It was Pedro Arrupe who retrieved the expression over 400 years later from one of the volumes of the Monumenta Ignatiana. Since then, friends in the Lord has come to epitomize the animus of the Society of Jesus - it's even been incorporated into the Society's official documents. Decree 26 from the 34th General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (entitled "Characterisitcs of Our Way of Proceeding") states that
We are not merely workers; we are friends in the Lord.
An apt phrase to designate all of those sharing in the communio created by God between Ignatius & the very first companions. A blessing that it has been rescued & so widely integrated in the contemporary life of the Society of Jesus.

Yet it's astounding how often & how easily I can take compelling & central tenets such as this - as well as their realizations - for granted in my life.

Jesuit cemetery, Sacred Heart Novitiate, Novaliches
A little ways from where I sit writing this is the Jesuit cemetery for the Philippine Province. Part of my daily prayer routine while making the Spiritual Exercises here at Sacred Heart Novitiate last November was to visit the cemetery late afternoon before mass.

Most of the names I did not recognize... but I would come to learn that Horacio de la Costa, SJ was a gifted writer, historian, and the first Filipino Provincial of the Society in the Philippines. And I learned that Richie Fernando, SJ was the 26-year-old Jesuit regent killed in 1996 when he saved his 32 students from a grenade while teaching in a technical school for the disabled in Cambodia. Some of the names were vaguely familiar - Lynch, Delaney, McFadden, Doyle - names I had heard mentioned over my years in Jesuit rec rooms before dinner, when the conversation would turn to the guys who went to the Philippines during their formation back in the 40s & 50s and remained there (here!). 

Other names are just that - mere names of men about whom I know nothing, other than what the grave marker tells me:

his date of birth,
his date of entrance into the Society of Jesus,
his date of their entrance into eternal life.

Some had been robbed of even the remembrance of their names & dates due to wartime devastation..

Chaplains, writers, pastors, martyrs, scholars, bishops, spiritual guides. All who spent their lives with & for others, ad majorem Dei gloriam.

My brothers. My friends in the Lord.

Lest ye think this a nostalgic, saccharine, Proustian madleine-inspired swagger down Jesuit memory lane, please hold up. I need to say something I surely don't say often enough, and something my actions might not exclaim as boldly & as loudly as I'd like:

I love being a Jesuit priest.
I'm proud to be a Jesuit priest.
I'm humbled to be a Jesuit priest.
Y'see, God has provided a much-needed & greatly desired grace these months of tertianship. Abundantly so. And rather astonishingly too.

God has provided the extraordinary gift of a deeper appreciation & affection for this least Society, these friends in the Lord. A greater love for Our life, our mission, our way of proceeding.

I have been blessed to have such wondrous companions - past & present, acclaimed & anonymous with time's passage. Each, in his own unique way, with his own particular gifts & joys, along with equally unique trials & crosses.

Friends in the Lord. Friends whose names I have mentioned here before: Ignatius himself, Xavier, Saint Pierre Favre (thank you, Papa Francesco!), Egide van Broeckhoven, Alphonsus Rodriguez, Alfred Delp, Pedro Arrupe. And the countless other friends with whom I have journeyed these past 17 years.

Allow me to here defer to one of my dear friends in the Lord, Tom O'Neill, SJ. I first met Tommy while I was in theology in California & he was just returning from his own tertianship program. He's a remarkable priest, artist, teacher, spiritual director, superior. He's also a model Jesuit in countless other ways. A truly great friend in the Lord.

Falstaff & Prince Hal: with Tom O'Neill, SJ
The following is Tommy's most timely online posting from a few days ago. As he mentions, it's from a homily that he gave on the Feast of St. Ignatius (31july) in 2007, as he commenced his six-year term as Superior of the St. Ignatius High School Jesuit Community in San Francisco. I had the privilege of hearing it then - and it's a gift to have it now in print.

His eloquent & heartfelt words sum up (far better than I could) the reason that I am a Jesuit priest and, to paraphrase Alfred Delp, SJ, the reason I choose each day to remain a Jesuit.

You wanna know why I love being a Jesuit? Why I am humbled & oh-so grateful to be a Jesuit? Why this immense grace during this tertianship means so much?

Take your time & gently read on...


I was in South Dakota last week. Saw an old friend. Little Gold Toyota, SD Lisc. S4513

I talked about this little car in the homily I gave on St. Ignatius Day in 2007. The beginning of my time as Superior of the Saint Ignatius Jesuit Community:

There is a little gold Toyota in the middle of South Dakota
Well, it really isn’t gold anymore
After some adventures on roads made up of mud – they really looked dry – it’s more of a speckled shade of Dakota brown
License plate S4513
Cracked windshield
In two places
One windshield wiper that worked
The other that just kind of waved at me from time to time
Four doors
Three working door handles
Two little red lights on the dash – one for the air bags and the other for seat belts
That kept blinking at me, each at their own pace, and in their own rhythm…
And a tape player that ate tapes

My car
My faithful companion for four months of a Tertianship Experiment
6783.8 miles in four blessed months
Faithful all across the Pine Ridge Reservation
On nicely paved State Highway 18
And across the ruts, potholes and bumps of countless other trails and trials
Including, on the first day it snowed, one icy ditch along the side of the road

My little old companion on the road
Blessed and broken
Blessed and broken
Blessed and broken on the road

That is what we celebrate today
A blessed and broken road

What is it to be a Jesuit?
Our documents formed this answer recently:
“What is it to be a Jesuit? It is to know that one is a sinner, yet called to be a companion of Jesus, as Ignatius was…”

Blessed and broken, on the road…

Ignatius called himself a pilgrim in his autobiography
I’ve always been fond of that image
Trudging and trusting on the open road
Covered in dust and grace
Our Founder

A pilgrim who once dreamed of the Holy Land
But left us instead visions and images of an inner journey
Formed in a cave: winding deep in the recesses and caverns of his own heart and soul

A blessed and broken road
One that each of us, touched by the spirit of Ignatius Loyola, have sought to follow

For me, my own pilgrimage – in many ways – began right here
In this room
Where I started to go to daily Mass as a junior at S.I.
I didn’t go to my prom, but I went to daily Mass

And before long, I joined our Company…
And set out on the road
A young pilgrim on a pilgrimage

And here I am
Back here in the fog, after a few years

And a long journey
Some of it was outside, on the road: Montecito, L.M.U., New York, Boston, South Dakota, and, of course, 1901 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles

But most of the adventures have been within my heart and soul
It is in here where the road truly is
It is in here where the road lies:
And broken

Deuteronomy tells us:

“It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us…
nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us…
No it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts…
You have only to carry it out…

What we celebrate this day
What we share this day
What we share is this blessed and broken road
That is our sacred
And so very human pilgrimage

Sacred and human
Blessed and broken

We are both
We need both

We need both our sacred call
And our fragile humanity to do what we are called to do
And to be who we are called to be

Back on the Rez, my faithful little companion, S4513, broken in so many ways like its driver
Took me to some broken places
And broken hearts
To Jesse Bear Robe, 111 Belt Village, Oglala
Almost blind
Wheelchair bound after a stroke
Waiting for someone to drive her to church on Sunday -- while her kids and grandkids instead sit on the sofa and watch yet another video on TV

Broken and blessed
Waiting to join her mother in the Spirit world, she hopes soon
She cannot get to church
So she waits for me – and the Holy Communion I will bring
We became friends
And in time, she recognized me and was happy to see me
But she was waiting for Who I brought with me
Her God
The One who became for us – one of us
Like Jesse
And for Jesse
As broken and blessed as she is

We are called into companionship
On to our pilgrimage path
We are called onto this pilgrim path to bring Jesus to our world

We are called on to our pilgrim path:
Not because we are talented – although we are
Not because we are educated – although we are
Not because we are any of the things that we are blessed to be:

On the cutting edge

We are blessed by all of these
And many more

But we are blessed more than anything because we are human
We are blessed because we are broken

We can carry Christ within our hearts not because they are strong enough to
But because they are human enough to
But because they are fragile enough to

We are companions not because we’ve earned it
But because we are loved

Paul tells us this afternoon to imitate him
Which means to imitate Christ

Ignatius wanted us to carry not his name
But that of Jesus

To carry Jesus into our broken and beautiful world
And more: to be the image of Jesus in this broken and beautiful world

This is what we seek to do
And who we are called to be

His name is bound onto our own
Society of Jesus
His name is our name:

His life must be our life:
And that is fragile
And honest
And vulnerable
And fully human and fully alive

If God was willing to embrace all that it means to be human
We can do no less

And this is where we will find our brokenness – and our salvation
How do we live?
How do we love?
Not in theory
Not in ideology
But in fact and in flesh
Incarnate, just like Him
Along His path, along His Way – to the Cross, and beyond

So, how do we carry a Sacred trust in fragile human hearts?

In my over 30 years since I first prayed in this sacred place
So filled with zeal
And knowing all the answers
Even if I didn’t yet know the questions
In these years in your company
Over the many pathways and ruts, potholes and bumps

This has become my question:
How do we carry a Sacred trust in fragile human hearts?

Companions of Jesus
With cracked windshields – or cracked spirits
And wipers – or dreams – that may or may not work
Ravenous appetites for tapes – or whatever
Muddy and dented, as we are

Like any good pilgrim

How do we carry this Sacred trust in fragile human hearts?
To be images of Jesus
And muddy as we may be

How do we do it?

I don’t know
And in all honesty, I don’t know if I – or anyone – ever will

Except for this:
And it’s been the same for every companion who ever was, is or will be

It’s what those first companions of Jesus heard that first day
It was His voice and His forever invitation:

“Come and see.”

Sunday, January 5, 2014

a shepherd's welcome (Tabuk)

The bishop's email was spot-on... the bus dropped us off right across the road from the cathedral and in front of the statue of a big white caribao.

Love begets love. How these words were to unfold this Christmas season...

Such was our dawn arrival in Tabuk. The five of us (Chanh, Alis, Johan, Suyt & I - the valiant ten tertians now divided into two groups for our Christmas ministries - we in Tabuk & the others in Bontoc/Lagawe) were all a bit weary from the nine-hour bus ride from Baguio, kept sleepless by such sparkling cinematic fare as Blood Shot ("HEY! that's the guy who played the robot in Aliens!") screened on the bus with volume on LOUD.

St. William's Cathedral, Tabuk.

Bishop Prudencio "Jun" Andaya,
Vicar Apostolic of Tabuk
Were it not for the pectoral cross & episcopal ring, none of us would have guessed that the man greeting us upon our arrival at the pastoral center for the Apostolic Vicariate of Tabuk was none other than Bishop Prudencio "Jun" Andaya himself. Casually dressed (how I love the Philippines!), Bishop Jun was (quite literally) all smiles and open-arms as we arrived, immediately ushering us into his modest but comfortable home (yes, home - not merely residence) for an awaiting breakfast.

Our Christmas ministries commenced & concluded in Tabuk proper, as the guests of Bishop Jun. During our brief days with him, Bishop Jun revealed himself to be a remarkably down-to-earth, pragmatic man. Born in nearby Lubuagan, Bishop Jun's deep-rooted love of family & friends spills over in his role as Bishop of Tabuk. Hospitable, funny, exceptionally candid & a natural raconteur, Bishop Jun shared countless tales of family, friends, joys & challenges as we sat around the dinner table, while grocery shopping at the local market, or watching the National Geographical channel during our brief evenings together.

Tabuk or Milledgeville? Bishop Jun's garden.
Flannery O'Connor would be most at home...
except for the wild dog that ate the peahen.
As a member of the CICMs, Bishop Jun was novice director in Rizal when in 2003 he received a call from the nuncio in Manila to come down at his earliest convenience for a conversation. The gist: pray over the possibility of becoming the next bishop in Tabuk. All delivered in a lighthearted tone but revealing a man of great depth & prayer, Bishop Jun shared with us his experience praying in a chapel (before a painting of Christ's agony in the garden, no less!) over a possibility he didn't necessarily want... but recognized a greater call to serve was being asked of him.

From these anecdotes emerges a man who lives the virtues of a shepherd & of a peacemaker.

The day before his episcopal ordination in July, 2003, Bishop Jun slipped into St. William's Cathedral in Tabuk to attend mass unnoticed. As mass began, he noticed a small crying child lost in the back of the cathedral. Picking the child up to console him, he kept the child with him through the liturgy, even carrying the child in his arms as he went up for communion. It was then the child's mother saw her lost son with Bishop (to be) Jun and gratefully received her lost child. "And that," Bishop Jun told us, "confirmed and revealed for me who I was to be as a bishop." The one lost sheep...

Bishop Jun (center) with family, Christmas night, 2013.

A common practice in Northern Luzon is to place offerings upon the altar before the preparation of the gifts - notes with parishioners' intentions written. The presider might then read off the intentions - offerings made in thanksgiving, for a sick family member, for a friend or family member's birthday. Bishop Jun shared the tale of a time recently when an older woman placed a small note upon the altar along with the others. As he read aloud through the intentions, he reached her note, paused, and then read her intention aloud to the congregation - she was asking that the mass be offered for the individual who murdered her son.

Like all of us, Bishop Jun's personal experiences have formed who he is. Out of such experiences - a lost child, a mother displaying the desired grace of forgiveness - Bishop Jun shepherds the people of the Apostolic Vicariate of Tabuk in a spirit of love, compassion, and a desire for peace & forgiveness. Next month, on February 13, Bishop Jun will be hosting "Night of 1000 Gongs", bringing together the many tribes throughout his vicariate (covering the provinces of Kalinga & Apayao). Tribal conflict & violence are still very real obstacles to peace in the provinces of Kalinga & Apayao. It is Bishop Jun's hope that this gathering will bring together the various tribes as one people, fostering unity in a spirit of peace by an evening of playing the traditional gangsa.

Love begets love.

All five of us were bolstered by Bishop Jun & his passionate, loving way of proceeding as we prepared to head off on our individual Christmas missions. As our local ordinary, Bishop Jun assigned each of us the locales for mission - all done at the table over lunch. Over the course of that lunchtime, it was decided that Chanh would go to Tinglayan, Alis to the mountainous Tanudan, Johan to the pastoral setting of Naneng along there Chico River, Suyt the furthest north to Kabugao... and I would head to Conner (that's right, send the American to the town named for the American WWII soldier).

Bishop Jun filled us in with a few details on what each place was like. So, what can you tell me about Conner?

"You're heading for the creche," he responded.

What does that mean?

"You'll see when you get there," he said with a smile. "Perfect place to meet the Holy Family."

And so I would. On both counts.