Friday, March 31, 2017

Art Awards Lecture at BC High

Art Awards Lecture at BC High

During retreats, Ignatius of Loyola asks the one who is praying to keep sight of the larger picture. With that in mind, I begin with a quote from Mary Oliver:

When life is over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular, and real. I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full of argument. I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

I want to echo the words of Mary Oliver by saying: I try to live fully engaged in all things so that I can say: I have really lived well. I want to celebrate what is right in the world.

As a young boy, I became excited about history and geography projects because I was able to devote time to drawing maps. To my astonishment, years later I found out my grandfather was a map-maker in World War I.

I enjoyed arts and crafts, but I had an older brother who received great acclaim for his drawings. He won awards and was good, so I never even bothered to spend any time developing my artistic skills because the family already had its artist. I had to find another purpose, so I devoted myself to intellectual pursuits, which I found fascinating, but I was not creating through art. I found new ways to create. I decided for myself that I would never be good enough as an artist. I gave myself poor advice and I listened to it.

I became a successful manager of technology projects at Eastern Bank, where I received affirmation upon affirmation, awards upon awards. I was mostly happy that the trajectory of my career was unfolding admirably, but I kept trying to find something deeper, something that would provide the proverbial cherry of meaning on the top of an ice cream sundae, what we call the magis, in my work.

Christ continued to speak to me to say: Come along. Let’s take a detour on this path. Mary Oliver again captures it well is this poem from West Wind:

Have you ever tried to enter the long black branches of other lives --
tried to imagine what the crisp fringes, full of honey, hanging
from the branches of the young locust trees, in early morning, feel like?

Do you think this world was only an entertainment for you?

Never to enter the sea and notice how the water divides
with perfect courtesy, to let you in!
Never to lie down on the grass, as though you were the grass!
Never to leap to the air as you open your wings over the dark acorn of your heart!

No wonder we hear, in your mournful voice, the complaint
that something is missing from your life!

Something was missing from my life. Entering the Jesuits was a crucial step for my life’s purpose and greater meaning because I received the privilege of entering into the long black branches of other lives, and I learned how to behold the person before me the way that God does. I continue to find my soul’s fulfillment as a Jesuit priest to give my life in service to others, but a funny thing happened along the way.

As Catholics, we are both a “now and not yet” people, meaning that we live fully for today but in realization of the world that is to come, and we are also a “both and” people. Choices do not have to be mutually exclusive. Christ showed me this during my ministry as pastor to the English-speaking people of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.

Since I was in a foreign land and I wanted something familiar, I sought out a chorus since I sang in the United States. I wanted to maintain work-life balance by finding a singing group that was English and Arabic. My attempts to find something was frustrating, so I asked a parishioner if she knew of any places that taught oil painting, an idea I had never entertained previously. What was I seeking?: a way to express my real self. I was in an unfamiliar culture and my ability to relate to others well was going to take some time, however, my art interests were about helping me relate to myself. I was challenged by demands all around me, but I was intrigued. I thought of the continuation of the quote from Mary Oliver.

Who can open the door who does not reach for the latch?
Who can travel the miles who does not put one foot
in front of the other, all attentive to what presents itself continually?
Who will behold the inner chamber who has not observed
with admiration, even with rapture, the outer stone?

Well, there is time left -- fields everywhere invite you into them.

And who will care, who will chide you if you wander away
from wherever you are, to look for your soul?

Quickly, then, get up, put on your coat, leave your desk!

I had to leave my desk and my adventure was just to begin. My priesthood has always been about hospitality and moving the Gospel outwards to those who doubt that God has any time for them. Partially, this is developed because my older sister was born with profound mental retardation and I always sought to have her voice heard. She deserved to be loved as a person just as you and I deserve to be honored and respected. Because of what she taught me, I want my priesthood, through my artwork, to help convey something meaningful. Art is real when it is attached to meaningfulness within our souls.

An Iraqi art teacher gave me drawing lessons, and after a short while he demanded that I learn to paint. Dipping my brush into oil paint felt real. I was part of a co-creating process, though I had no skills or knowledge. It was secretly fun and a little scary. Why scary? Because art exposes a person’s soul, just like a solo singer cannot hide from his or her voice. In the end, it is all you’ve got. Art communicates something essential and fundamental about a person’s perspective and vision. Art is truth, beauty, and it is real. Art is personal. An artist cannot hide from his or her work.

As I applied my first brush strokes to a blank canvas, I also stepped onto a theatre’s stage for the first time. Priest’s are typically reserved about they physical world, but I was asked to sing and to dance and to act on stage. This was more than I was seeking. I wanted to hide within a chorus.

Instead, I sang the Messiah in Arabic and I spent nights training my ear to listen to Arabic so I could perform in an improvised musical performance with a dreaded microphone taped to my mouth. The show, which was performed before a live audience a dozen times, was to be aired on Roya’ TV to be shown year after year. As a Catholic, I was part of a group that brought the first Christmas musical to the Muslim nation; we sang Hallelujah at Christ’s birth in a language similar to his native language – to a nation that never heard it performed before on its own soil – the very same soil where Our Lord walked, healed, and prayed.

You cannot run from art.

Art seeks the true self. You, like the Arts, have to find that true self. Only then can you be given and received as gifts. Ignatian spirituality teaches us that we are gifts to ourselves, gifts that are to be shared fully.

I discovered that being a priest and artist are entirely compatible. The theme of my priesthood is to celebrate what is right in the world. As a photographer, my camera captures the beauty I find in the common parts of our day, even in places of neglect and disregarded places. Everything has inherent beauty and the smallest details, the most overlooked parts, have a story to communicate. Sometimes I will go on a photo shoot with friends and when we share our photos, they ask, “Were we on the same walk? I don’t recognize anything about what you captured? Why did I not see this beauty?”

Whatever art we produce, it has to communicate a greater meaning. It is terrific to show a beautiful flower, but does it tell a larger story? If not, then it is merely a beautiful image, but it becomes art when it communicates a mood, a theme, when it makes people wonder, when it is given a title, when a tiny nearly-undiscovered detail brings meaning to a person’s consciousness, which causes them to say, “I want this.”

God speaks to us through our physical senses, which touches our heart and mind, which invigorates the imagination that gives meaning to our experiences. How do I choose? How does my art reveal my fundamental way I see the world? Can my pursuit of art express my vision of God’s world as richly as possible?

My new art career is taking me to places I never thought possible. I teach art and theology at Creighton University in Omaha, and in two weeks I am giving a creativity retreat in Stockholm, Sweden to those who want their prayer life to be enhanced from their traditional prayer devotions. The world is about unfolding who you are – gently, slowly, patiently, and letting the world behold you.

Parents, you have already blessed your sons by supporting their creative endeavors. You are launching them well. Do not forget to invest in yourself, for it is not too late. Come on a photo shoot with us, let’s plan a night of painting or making zen-tangles, join a local chorus, and watch how you discover a new gift. It is frightening. I’ve been asked to sing a solo and a duet for a Mendelssohn concert and it terrifies me, and what an exciting feeling that is. Let yourself feel once again. God may be inviting you on a new adventure. Give yourself over to it, and your life will be enriched.

I’ll conclude with another portion of Mary Oliver’s poems, called “A Summer Day.”

I don't know exactly what a prayer is. I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass, how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day. Tell me, what else should I have done? Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Care for Our Common Home: Protect Clean Air and Clean Water

Care for Our Common Home: Protect Clean Air and Clean Water

Yesterday, the President signed an Executive Order attacking the Clean Power Plan and other critical environmental and climate change safeguards that protect our common home and public health. This Executive Order not only reverses previous efforts to address climate change, but also promotes the further extraction and production of fossil fuels on federal lands. This represents a significant step backwards when it comes to protecting clean air and water, addressing worsening climate change and protecting poor and vulnerable people.

We are calling on elected leaders to take courageous actions to care for our common home.  Take Action!

In his groundbreaking encyclical on ecology, Laudato Si', Pope Francis makes clear that climate change is one of the principal challenges facing society and the global community. The pope reminds us that our care for one another and our care for the earth are intimately connected, and that humanity is not faced "with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental."

  • The Clean Power Plan represents one of the most significant steps taken by the U.S. to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, our country's single greatest source of climate pollution. Dismantling the Clean Power Plan severely limits the United States' ability to reach its international climate goals at a time when U.S. leadership is crucial. These standards sought to protect the health and welfare of all people, especially children, the elderly, and poor and vulnerable communities, from harmful pollution emitted from power plants and from the impacts of climate change.

  • This Executive Order also reduces the consideration of climate change in government decision-making. The President calls for a reconsideration of the social cost of carbon, a measurement that puts a real-world price on the harms caused by carbon pollution damage, including impacts on human health, property damage from increased flood risk, ecosystem losses and agricultural productivity impacts. This reconsideration will likely lead to a lowering of the value of the social cost of carbon, thus making it more difficult to enact policies to cut carbon pollution.

We know the effects of climate change are borne by the most vulnerable people, whether at home or around the world. Increasing floods, droughts, food and water insecurity, and conflict over declining resources are all making the lives of the world's poorest people even more precarious. Pope Francis in Laudato Si', laments the widespread indifference to "a tragic rise in the number of migrants seeking to flee from the growing poverty caused by environmental degradation." Catholic Relief Services echoed this concern in a recent report noting, "As arable land and water become increasingly scarce, conflict looms, along with the potential for migration from the most affected countries and a repetitive cycle of costly emergency response."

Today, we cannot remain indifferent to this global challenge confronting the human family.

Let us stand with Pope Francis in calling on our elected leaders to take courageous actions to care for our common home, protect public health and poor and vulnerable people most impacted by climate change. 

Take Action : Urge your Member of Congress to oppose the recent Executive Order, and instead to work together in a constructive way to enact policies that reduce our country's contribution to climate change, protect poor and vulnerable people, and care for our common home.

The United States must take a leadership role in reducing our contributions to climate change to protect current and future generations and vulnerable communities. Let's stand together to move forward to achieve cleaner air and water, healthier communities and a sustainable future!

In hope,
The Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States

Friday, March 24, 2017

Holy Land Pilgrimage: Nov. 6-17, 2017

The Holy Land Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) is sponsoring a pilgrimage to Jerusalem/Bethlehem/Galilee from November 6-17, 2017. The pilgrimage is led by Fr. John Predmore, S.J.

Throughout our spiritual pilgrimage, we will experience the holy places in which Jesus was born, ministered, crucified, and rose again. Through this spiritual journey, we will remain open to God’s message and will return home with a new and deeper understanding of the living history of this incredible place and of those who inhabit and keep it—the “Living Stones” of the Holy Land.

Day 1 – Monday, November 6th: Departure

We depart to the Holy Land on an international flight. Meals and in-flight entertainment provided.

Day 2 – Tuesday, November 7th: Travel & Arrival in Tel Aviv

Arrival Ben Gurion International Airport. An HCEF Representative will guide us to Bethlehem for dinner and rest.

Day 3 – Wednesday, November 8th: Bethlehem

An HCEF representative welcomes us on our spiritual journey. A visit to Shepherd’s Field in Beit Sahour, where angels announced the birth of Jesus to the shepherds. Afterward, we visit the Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Jesus. Our tour continues to the Grotto of St. Jerome to celebrate Mass, and then to nearby Milk Grotto, where the Holy Family took refuge during the Slaughter of the Innocents.

After lunch at Al Karmeh restaurant, we will tour the Bethlehem Museum to learn about the history and culture of Palestine since Pre-Roman times. Afterward, we visit Bethlehem University to dialogue with students about their experiences.

An afternoon visit to the Bethlehem Carmelite Convent, founded by the Palestinian Carmelite saint, Miriam Baouardy of Jesus Crucified. Then a light walk through the path taken by the Holy Family through the old city of Bethlehem until we reach Nativity Square. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.

Day 4 – Thursday, November 9th: Jerusalem

Depart for Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives to visit the Churches of Pater Noster and Dominus Flevit. We celebrate mass at the Church of All Nations, in the solemn Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed before his Passion.

After lunch, we visit Mount Zion and the Upper Room, the scene of the Last Supper, and the Church of the Assumption (Tomb of Mary). Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.

Day 5 – Friday, November 10: Dead Sea/ Jericho/Qumran

After breakfast, we visit the Tomb of Lazarus, located in the West Bank town of Al-Eizariya, traditionally known as Bethany. The tomb is the site of a miracle in which Jesus resurrects Lazarus. Prayer and Mass.

We continue into the Jordan Valley to Jericho, where Zacchaeus climbed the sycamore tree and healed Bartimaeus’ blindness. We ponder the temptations of Jesus at the summit of the Mount of Temptation. After lunch, we will visit Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, and will then enjoy the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.

Day 6 – Saturday, November 11th: Birzeit and Ramallah

We depart for Birzeit, located in the outlying hills of Ramallah. Birzeit is also known as ancient Berzetho from the Greek –Roman period, to meet the local parish who will teach us about the history of local Christians, and the church’s archeological significance, which houses artifacts from the stone and bronze age. We celebrate Mass in the church.

We then visit HCEF’s the elders at the Birzeit Senior Citizen Center, hearing their stories and breaking bread with them. We then visit Jifna, a small scenic village that was an important Roman-Byzantine city. Previously known as Gophna of Josephus, Jifna was the region’s capital during the first century AD. Afterward, we travel to Ramallah to visit the Church of Hope, opened in 1954 to support those seeking refuge from conflict. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.

Day 7 – Sunday, November 12th: Jerusalem

We depart very early for Jerusalem to walk the Via Dolorosa (Way of Suffering) through the narrow alleys and bazaars of the Old City, ending at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Tomb of Christ where we will celebrate Mass. Afterward, we visit the Church of the Redeemer, and meet with a representative of the Christian Religious Leaders of Jerusalem.

After lunch, we will enjoy free time in Jerusalem. We visit the Dome of the Rock, the Golden Gate, the Western Wall, and the Temple Mount. We continue to the Jesuit Pontifical Biblical Institute before we return for a farewell dinner with the HCEF staff during our final night in Bethlehem. Dinner and overnight in Bethlehem.

Day 8—Monday, November 13th: Nablus/ Jenin

We depart for Nablus (Neapolis), founded in 72 AD by the Flavian Emperors on the northern slope of Mount Gerizim. There, we visit Jacob's Well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman who offered him water, and celebrate Mass in the church. Afterward, we tour Nablus’ Old City and Mount Gerizim, a revered mountain by the Samaritans. After lunch, we travel to Sebastia, associated with John the Baptist, and we view the Roman tombs, a Hellenistic Tower, and the Herodion Gate Towers. We head to Jenin to visit the Church of Burqin, considered the third oldest church in the world, situated where Jesus cured the ten lepers. Dinner and overnight in Jenin.

Day 9—Tuesday, November 14th: Nazareth/Mount Tabor

We depart for Mount Tabor, the site of the transfiguration to enjoy the Valley of Jezreal. We visit the Church in Cana, the site of the first miracle, changing water into wine. Married couples may renew their wedding vows. We travel to Nazareth to visit the Basilica of the Annunciation where the Angel Gabriel first told Mary that she would give birth to Jesus. Mass at the Basilica of the Nativity.

While in Nazareth, we will also see Mary’s well and Joseph's workshop. Dinner and overnight in Nazareth.

Day 10—Wednesday, November 15th: Ibillin/Mt Carmel/ Haifa

We depart for Ibillin to tour Mar Elias schools, known for educating children of all ethnic and religious backgrounds based upon peace, reconciliation, respect, and justice. We meet with representatives from the 3,000 students and faculty of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Druze heritage who work as one community. After lunch, we go to Haifa to visit Mt Carmel, where the prophet Elijah performed miracles, and the first Carmelite monastery was developed in the thirteenth century. The city of Haifa sweeps up the slopes of Mt. Carmel and is home to many cultural and educational institutions. No visit to Haifa is complete without touring the restored Templar Colony, the Bahá’í Shrine and Gardens, Elijah’s cave, and Stella Maris Church and Monastery. Dinner and overnight in Nazareth.

Day 11—Thursday, November 16th: Sea of Galilee

We depart for the Sea Galilee, to the Mount of Beatitudes and read the Sermon on the Mount. Prayer and Mass. We continue to Tabgha (Heptapegon) to the Church of the Multiplication of Fish and Loaves to admire a well-conserved 5th Century Byzantine mosaic.

Afterward, we visit the chapel of the Primacy of Peter and continue to Magdala Synagogue. We travel to Capernaum, the town of Jesus to see the ruins, the remains of Peter’s House, the “Insula Sacra,” and the White Synagogue. During a boat ride on the Sea of Galilee, we will reflect on Jesus’ calming of the wind and the waves.

Dinner and overnight in Nazareth

Day 12: Friday, November 17th: Return home

After an early morning transfer to the airport, we fly home, however our faith journey will continue in a new, invigorated way. We will have met the descendants of the first disciples of Jesus and witnessed how the people of the Holy Land strive to build bridges of justice, peace, and reconciliation. They will enable us to interpret contemporary news from the region in a different way. A Living Stones pilgrimage will enrich and permanently change your life.


Itinerary is subject to change without notice.
Itinerary includes interactions with the Living Stones
Meeting with church leaders may be changed depending upon their schedules.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Tall el-Hammam Archeological Dig

During my recent trip to Jordan, I stopped by an excavation project near the Baptismal site in the Jordan Valley. I was fascinated with the work of the archeologists and volunteers. It would be terrific to volunteer for a week or so at one of these digs.

This particular site in unveiling a large city, covered over many times and rebuilt city upon city, dating back to the time of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Take a look at the site and discover the rich offerings of this dig.