Thursday, December 31, 2015

Christmas Club

When I was a boy with my newspaper route, I used to put a dollar a week into my Christmas Club special savings account, in the savings bank downtown.  Come Christmas, I would have some money to buy presents.  I think this idea speaks well to Spiritual NewYear Resolutions.  If you want to grow spiritually, you need to do something each day.  This way, when there is a crisis or a need to act in a loving manner from within, you will have the bank of resources from your daily practice.  I seem to act better in difficult situations when I have been working a spiritual program on a daily basis.  Try it.    Happy New Year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015


How do you know that you are on a spiritual path that is making you a better person?  Some people think it is if you are going to church or synagogue.  Some think it is if you are avoiding being bad or "sinning."  Some think it is if you follow rules.  Some think it is if you have peaceful meditative experiences or enjoying nature.  I have found that I am on a spiritual path when I become useful.  My life is changing for the better when I am useful to others.  I am not concerned about the outcome.  I have no control over that.  Usefulness is not about control.  It is about getting out of my self-referential attitude, or my sense of entitlement.  I have found it so.  Maybe this is a good idea for a new year resolution?

Tuesday, December 29, 2015


When Christian leaders decided that Crusades were a good idea, it put us into a bind, that redounds to the present day.  Islam ruled the Holy Land.  We sent a big European, Christian army over there to get the Holy Land back for Christian rule.  There was lots of slaughter.  Christians were seen as the invaders, since they came from somewhere else.  They were not Christian Arabs.  Now what if, after the slaughter by all sides, some Christian was to announce to Islam that Christianity is a religion of peace. Would it be believed by Islam?  Our Western armies are mostly made up today of baptized or bar mitzvah people.  Being a religion of peace is a tough sell in some places.  Now Islam has the same problem with ISIS type believers getting in the way of a message that says Islam is a religion of peace.   I am not so sure you can have it both ways.  I try to tell people that religion is of peace, but I can see in many cases that I am not very convincing.

Monday, December 28, 2015

The Light

Whenever I get too full of myself, I must remember that I am like the moon.  The moon has no light of its own.  It reflects the light of the sun.  If the moon is to shed light upon some part of the earth, the moon has to rise up.  So it is with me.  I am not God or the light.  God is the light and I can reflect it onto others who feel in some darkness.  But I have to get up, rise up, each morning and sit in meditation to allow the light of God to shine upon me and then be reflected from me to others.  God uses me to point to God.  When my work points to me, I am in trouble.  When people say that I am wonderful, and one or two actually say that, I must remember that it is the power of God who the source of Light.  I am but a reflection.  My moon image keeps my ego right-sized.

Sunday, December 27, 2015


It seems that people like being "chosen." I think of the TV show, "The Voice."  If you are chosen the winner, then comes money, fame, and attention.  You are no longer a nobody.  You are recognized.  Our escapist fantasy is to be "chosen."  But being chosen in a spiritual sense means that you have a responsibility.  It can be a burden to be chosen.  I think of those addicts for whom the desire to use/drink loses it power as they get into recovery.  They are supposed to pass on their experience, to mentor newcomers.  Only 10% seem to stay recovered, and one of the reasons is they take no responsibility to pass on their experience of recovery.  They stay self-focused and selfish.  The gift of finding a spiritual center, a power, a God within, is not meant to be hidden away in a cave.  The Way, the experience the wisdom is to be shared.  Those who "get it" in business are to mentor others.  The chosen have a job.  Success is not self-referential.  It is meant to develop a communal world.  It starts with one person.  That person may be you

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Lord, Lead Me

I try to begin my day of prayer with a phrase such as, "Lord, lead me."  Prayer is a dance with God.  God leads.  I follow.  I have found that, in dancing, if both people try to lead, there is chaos and stumbling and not much dancing goes on.  There are all kinds of dance steps and rhythms.  I went to Ballroom Dancing classes.  It takes a lot of practice, as does prayer.  Don't expect proficiency right away.  Dancing is like prayer. There is all kinds of prayer.  It takes practice.  It takes knowing your role in the dance.  You get used to your partner and sense what to do and not to do at any one time.  God is my partner and leader.  I have prayer class every day.  My sister Maureen took dance class too, as a young girl.  I was better.  Just sayin'

Friday, December 25, 2015


When family members die or are away from me on Christmas, I have come to realize that one cannot recreate Christmas past.  It saddens me and that is not what Christmas is about.  We have to find ways, new ways, to enter into the joy.  I have found that the Family Christmas and friends is replaced with more quiet time for memories and reflections.  Christmas has become more prayerful in an interior sense.  I have stopped trying to make something happen.  Parents have that pressure on them for their children.  There is a lot of traveling to close the geographic gap separating people in this big country.  If this is your Christmas this year enjoy it.  I recall those days but they are in my past.  The initial sadness and feeling of loss will not be filled up by activity.  It was a unique time.  Christmas past is like that.  I ask myself what is Christmas for me today?  What is God's plan?  I try to be useful, in service, and prayerful in a meditative way.  I count my blessings both past and present.  Some of the past never goes away, nor is it meant to.  A gift of presence is a gift forever.   Merry Christmas.  No humbug.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

New Gifts of Life

One of the reasons I don't much care for abortion is that the fetus to be born might have gifts for which the world is waiting or needing.  On this Eve of Christmas, I think of Joseph  and his decision, once he found out that his betrothed was with child.  He could have had her stoned to death, rocks crushing her head, and then the fetus would have died with her and Joseph would have been over his problem, yet within the law.  Then we would have had no Jesus.  Even the most non-believing must admit that without Jesus our economy would be tanking every winter and December 25 would be just another cold dark winter day to endure.  For us believers it is so much more.  Thank you Joseph for seeing more than a problem with Mary and her pregnancy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

After Life

When we die we leave this world and have no need of it.  We go on to the next world.  But wait.  Maybe we don't quite leave?  It seems that there is are two Vatican bank accounts still in existence with funds in it for Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul I, (who died in 1978).  I assumed that they both went to heaven.  Now I want to go to heaven too where I thought I would have no more need for the things of this world.  Maybe I should go back into my will and hold onto some money in a bank account for after I die.  I could put someone in charge, to dispense money to people who say nice things about me.  How to get money into the account after death?  Easy: "In lieu of flowers, deposit money in Fr. Ryan's after death account."  OK.  I am being really bad now.  But the accounts still exist for those two popes.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015


I just finished reading a book about Gandhi and his years in South Africa before he went to India as the Mahatma.  Gandhi was a middle class lawyer in India before he went to South Africa, and then stuff happened.  He gradually changed.  It came from his breath of reading and from all the different people he met and befriended.  He was a Hindu, but found friendship among people of other ethnicities and religions.  I think this is how we grow.  Read beyond books that simply support your present views.  Meet people from backgrounds not your own.  This can expand you.  The Pope says we Catholics are supposed to be doing this.  It counters prejudice and narrow-minded thinking.  I recently heard a priest say the problem is not ISIS.  It is Muslims.  It is Islam.  He has no Muslim friends nor reads much at all outside of his comfort zone of pious Catholic books.  Education and indoctrination are two different entities.  I am not sure I have much of either, but I do have interesting friends who challenge my notions.  How about you?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Butch McGuire's

I was back in Chicago recently.  I had lived there as a bachelor in 1967-69 with my first job right out of MBA school.  I showed my two sisters where I had lived.  The apartment building is still there, 33 East Cedar Street, but it is now condos and not apartments, with an improved decor lobby.  My sister were surprised that I lived in such a nice, upscale neighborhood.  I guess they see me as a poor priest.  Then I took them three blocks to a bar I used to visit frequently, Butch McGuire's.  It is still there. Though it was early morning, the bar was open and they let us in.  I told them I was an alumnus!  Some of the same decor is still there, but it has expanded to become a place where families can eat breakfast, and still have a pint.  My sisters took a picture of me inside, sober.  Both the bar and I have changed.  Alleluia!  If I had all the money I spent there, I could have purchased one of those condos.  But don't you like me better as a poor priest?

Sunday, December 20, 2015


When we are challenged to share such things as common space with others (two blogs ago) we sometimes think this  a great loss of our space to do as we want, when we want.  Why is having less seen as some loss or sacrifice?  Cannot having a little be a blessing, and even beautiful?  There was a book once, "Small Is Beautiful," that had this vision.  Why is a big house better than a smaller one, or a big smart phone better than a simpler little phone?  I am hearing about young people just out of college or whatever schooling, who are opting for small rather than larger, less rather than more, and do not see it as something forced upon them by big debt.  They have less expensive cell phones, smaller apartments and less stuff.  Many do not bother to buy a car.  We church people decry them for not going to church, but praise the suburban church going family with big cars, big homes, big consumption of energy, and lots of stuff stored in various places of ownership.  In suburbia, small is to be pitied.  The economy likes the spender.  Did you get or give a lot of presents this Christmas?  As a child I always liked a bigger pile of gifts.  When I finally grow up, smaller will be fine.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Radical Suggestion?

I was at an MBA graduation this past weekend at a leading business school.  The Dean got up and blew my socks off.  She suggested that Corporate America make less profit while they focus a bit more on developing product or practices that help to better our society.  She said that to maximize profits and the give to charity does not solve a lot of issues or even address them.  This is the present model of "good" corporations and good rich people for that matter.  When I got my MBA back in the Dark Ages of the 1960s I recall that the focus was on maximizing income per share of stock.  I think that I would have stayed in business if this Dean's vision was being followed.  Then you would never have heard of my sister Maureen.  

Friday, December 18, 2015

Common Space

We have begun to lose the sense of sharing a common space.  I first saw this with the transistor radio in the 1950s.  Some people would walk around in common space with the radio blaring out whatever, as if they were in their own room or home.  Ear plugs helped to end that somewhat.  Now I find the same problem with other gadgets.  People use common space that we all share, as if it is their private office or room.  They carry on business or personal conversations in libraries, terminals, airplane and public transportation.  Wherever they are is their office, when in fact it is not.  It is common space and their is too little of it.  It needs to be shared with others who might be reading, thinking, meditating or even carrying on a one on one conversation with a real person in front of them.  This is the season for sharing.  Many people go out and get gifts for others.  The gift I would like and therefore try to give, is quiet in public places, if not talking to a real person in front of me.  My cell phone has an auto message that says, "I cannot talk to you now."  End of call.  I put my phone on buzz all the time.  It is a way of sharing something that is more and more rare.  Quiet.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Mercy Door

In my church this is supposed to be a year of Mercy.  A symbol of this is to seal a church door and then on December 8, the beginning of the year of Mercy, you unseal the door.  I see it as a symbol that you are going to be merciful by inviting through that door,  people that you had  previously judged, castigated, or labeled as somewhat unfit for entry and/or communion.  You will be merciful.  So who will these new people be who come in? Who are these new people?  I suspect we will have to drop some labels and relax some rules as part of this mercy we are supposed to show.  The Pope seems to want the door more open for those who don't have annulments and for gays and lesbians, and those who advocate corporate spending to cut pollution, from what I read.  The question is, will this trickle down to each diocese.  I am waiting to see.  So far, one focus of mercy seems to be you going to confession to enjoy God's mercy.  It may be to get more people to go to confession, since if you already go you have been coming in the door and are not a new person.  I think the Pope has in mind that the local churches be less judgmental and more merciful to those who see themselves as outsiders due to rules or categorization. We will see.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fighting The Reformation

One of the criticisms I have heard about my church is that some of our leaders are still fighting the Reformation of which Vatican I in 1870 was an extension.  The Reformation fight is in part about we are right and everyone else is wrong.  You can put whatever "we" you want into the equation, one Christian denomination or another.  In my case it would be the Catholic Church.  Well, if we are right and you are wrong, then we cannot change our answers.  Can we be right if we change our answer?   Regardless of new information be it historical, scientific, cultural, or psychological, some people just will not budge.  A rule is a rule.  Forget mercy.  This group or person is this, and that is that.  Whenever I do not want to change in relation to someone or something else, in spite of overwhelming evidence pointing to a change, it is usually because I am still fighting some old battle, memory or hurt.  Have you ever found yourself refusing to change your attitude or opinion of someone in  spite of concrete, evident change in their life?  I have heard a person say that they do not like someone because "all those people" are this or that, usually having to do with color of skin, language, or ethnic origin.  Jesus was very probably a dark skinned short fellow, losing hair, a Jew, with a big hook nose.  Still like being a Christian?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015


You can usually tell when people are "in love."  They seems to want to be alone with one another, even in a place where there are other people.  As Madeleine Delbrel says, "When you are in love, it is tedious to have a lot of people around you.  You like to talk to each other without the irritating background of other people's voices."  This is why I go to a monastery each summer.  Though I don't always feel like a God-Lover, I know that I have a love for God that wants to be away from background noises, other voices and media sounds.  I drop my cell phone in a bag in my closet when I arrive at the monastery.  The quality of silence in a monastery is conducive to God-Lovers.  My words are few, but I listen better, and enjoy the sheer being with of God.  When I leave at the end of a summer, it is shocking to get back into the daily life outside the monastery.  It takes some getting used to.  It is definitely faster and noisier to me.  Even though there is talking in the monastery and in town and in social occasions, it is of a different feel when I have the monastery to go right back to.  I have respites from silence rather than silence being respites from busy activity.  Even the busyness of the monastery has a more tranquil taste to it.  I am blessed to have my monastery each summer.  Come visit.  Leave your cell phone in your bag.  There is no tower or signal anyway.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Suicide Prevention

I met a fellow recently who thought he had lost any reason to live.  He said he had nothing to live for.    He had lost all interest in "the pursuit of happiness."  I suggested that when he goes to work that day, and when in a store, or his neighborhood, he try to be kind, and available to help others.  Try to be a listener when people talk to you.  I have found that when I am down, instead of wallowing in it, I look for ways to be useful and helpful to others.  Opportunities seem to abound when I am open.  I inevitably feel better after taking action to be helpful or useful to others whether they know it or not.  The best happiness is not when I try to grab it directly, but rather when I am useful and connected to others through service.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Spiritual Not religious

I suspect all religions of dogma, writings, rules and rituals began as a spiritual way of being, seeing and living in this world.  Jesus did not do more than write in the ground once.  I don't know of any writings of Buddha.  But how do these spiritual paths get transmitted by mere followers over a period of time?  They become a religion.  This means that all religion has within it the core of its spirituality.  Some teachers, who have experienced this center, try to transmit it through the religion.  I often hear in our post-modern world, "I am spiritual but not religious."  The dilemma for religion is to make the connection, the spiritual with the religion.  An alternative is to fill our worship spaces with people who are "religious but not spiritual."  I think that there is plenty of holiness in people who worship and pray in communal settings.  The laity keep religion going.  But that spiritual center is so elusive.  I know my catechism.  I seek to know God, the Unknowable.  Silence, stillness, solitude.  These are verbs.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Bye Bye Mind

I was looking forward to a supper date.  But my supper date informed me that we do not have a date because she was going elsewhere and I was supposed to be at a church service with some other priests.  Now I have three problems.  One is that I don't have a nice supper date.  The second is that I have no church service written in my calendar and I was the one who told her I did, some few weeks ago.  So wherever I am suppose to be will be upset.  My third problem is that I am losing my mind.  It is times like this that tell me so.  Gluten must be the problem.  Too much gluten in my life all these years has rotted my brain.  How we love to blame someone or something for the inevitable diminishment from what we were or thought we were.  I did remember to write a blog though.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Quik Prayer

Staying with yesterday's blog theme, I realize that people want the easy way to fitness, even if the data lies.  So maybe they want the easy way to transformation, a sort of "Soft Spirituality" if you will.  I will write a book with a title such as, "Quik Prayer."  It will give you easy ways to get holy, transformed or just become a more even balanced person.  Now it will be a lie, since this kind of change is hard work, takes patience, and fortitude.  These are all in short supply in today's world.  I am sure that a lot more people will invite me to give these soft talks since my spiel will be in line with the general interest in things spiritual.  Of course, you won't actually become transformed, but then you won't become fit with all the inaccuracies of the fitness apps.  If more truthful apps won't sell than a more truthful me won't sell either.  Truth is: change is hard work.  Maybe that is why Jesus did not do so well in his time on earth?

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I purchased my first "Fitbit" watch over Thanksgiving weekend.  My sister Jane has one and seems to be happy with it.  No wonder.  In my calculations, my new Fitbit tells me I have gone a greater distance, and used up more calories, than I think is so.  I tried it out this morning on a run/walk.  It seemed way over whatever I did.  Now if I believed the results given by my Fitbit, then I would think I had used up enough calories and gone enough distance to now spend the rest of the day sitting and eating treats to "replenish" myself.  No wonder people like these devices with their measuring apps.  I prefer the app on my cell phone that gives me next to nothing for a workout.  Somehow, I think it is fairly accurate.  Anyway, I seem to be more motivated to avoid treats, sugar, bread after doing a workout with this tough app.  But I have to carry my big cell phone around with me.  There must be a solution.  I'll pray over it.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Spiritual Winters

There is a difference between complacency and humility when we are in one of our spiritual winters, as Caryll Houslander would say.  Complacency says that when we are messing up, we might as well continue to mess up because we cannot change.  This is acceptance that fosters continual bad behavior.  On the other hand, humility agrees that we cannot change.  In each case we have self-knowledge.  We cannot change.  But humility says that we can be changed by some outside or inside help, of the spiritual variety.  I call it the "Sacred Enoughness."  There is enough of that power and not enough of my power.  I will never be the enoughness I need.  But I do have my days of grand illusion.  Such days are never good for me nor others around me.  I try to keep them few and far between.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Immaculate Conception

In my church, today is a big feast of a person named Mary.  I won't go into the theology of this feast.  What interests me is that at one point in her story Mary was a middle school girl.  She was already engaged.  Talk about being in over your head!  Then God comes along and tells her she is supposed to get pregnant by some Spiritual force.  She says OK.  Was she frightened? You think.  We are talking middle school here.  So it gets found out, morning sickness and such.  All she has is this fantastical tale as far as anyone knows.  The neighborhood is probably glad she leaves with her witless, accepting husband, and goes off to Bethlehem for a census.  She does not have to go but I bet everyone begs to be rid of her.  She is a survivor.  This Mary is not a normal girl.  She gives birth and tells her son that she went through a lot to do so.  He says thank you, hangs around for a few years, gives her no grandchildren, and goes off to save the world.  Whenever I feel that I have it bad or the going is rough, or I don't understand what is going on, I like to think that this lady, Mary, is in my corner.  We all need some help.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Other Plans

When I was living a life of much misery I finally gave up and asked God to help me to change, to be rid of misery.  Well, God did.  Now my goal back then was all about me.  I was quite selfish at the time, so my motives for change had to be self-serving.  God seems to have accepted that, but then I found out God had another plan as well.  I came to realize that my change for the better was not so that I could be happy, but so that I could be helpful to others who were miserable as I had been.  For that matter, I look back on my motive for becoming a priest.  I wanted to save my soul, and I seem to be an all or nothing guy!  God wanted me to be of some use to others.  Do that and my soul would be fine.  If in the beginning of all this God had said change to be helpful I would never have changed.  God takes us where we are, be it gutters or penthouses.

Sunday, December 6, 2015


A sadhu is someone who travels about sharing spiritual wisdom attained by the life that the sadhu is living.  The sadhu has no permanent home.  I sometimes feel like a sadhu minus great wisdom or deep spiritual life.  I have OK wisdom and spasms of spiritual fitness.  But I do not have a permanent home.  To be in one permanent place, one home, less air travel, strange living situations and foods, seems to be enticing.  But then I would  be sharing with a narrower audience.  To stay in one place might deprive another place.  I try to stay open to invitations to move on to a new vista, a week here, a few days there and then come back to one of my places of rest.  I have been doing it for over ten years now and will try to carry on for the near future.  In some ways we are all wayfarers on this earth.  I am just getting a head start.

Saturday, December 5, 2015


This season before Christmas is often referred to as Advent, as in coming.  Something or someone is coming and we are supposed to get ready for it.  But it is not just a Christian idea.  All people who are on some spiritual path or trying to get on one, are Advent people.  They wait for some spiritual force to come to them either from within or from without.  If you believe the power is already within you, then its coming is from the depths of yourself into a consciousness that can direct your day.  No matter where the power or force comes from, it cannot do much good if it cannot get through the door.  We all have a door.  Over the years of not so good behavior the door gets heavy and rusty with faults, bad habits, cynicism and selfishness, not to say general fear of losing power, control and esteem.  Lots of rust.  So, getting started on the spiritual journey can be slow going at first.  Meditation, inspirational reading, some silence and solitude, are the oil can.  I guess prayer is kind of a squirt each day on that door.  Gradually, it will open wider and more easily.  A squirt in the morning and a squirt later in the day can let that spiritual force come into play.  I have found it so.  Stay oiled.

Friday, December 4, 2015


The scene is Jesus on trial before Governor Pilate.  Pilate asks two questions: "Who are you?" and "What do you do?"  Jesus gives no answer that satisfies.  Why not?  Well, Pilate is asking catechism questions or informational questions.  Pilate is not asking so that Pilate will change.  Pilate has no interest in changing his way of life.  Pilate is into power, control, self-esteem, all to deal with his fears.  So Jesus gives him no answer.  If you really want to change or be changed, you cannot google some information or simply memorize a catechism answer.  Lots of us were given catechism answers whether we asked or not.  That alone won't lead you to truth or a way or a life that is deeply peaceful and Christian.  When people want to join my church, often the pedagogical method is more informational than transformational.  They are not taught how to meditate or read into the scriptures beyond the intellectual.  I think that religions can make sense without meditation.  But it won't transform you.  You have to get in touch with your interior mess for that to begin to happen.  Only then will you be open enough for change.  A Ph.D in religion won't get you there on its own.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A Start Over

I have heard it said that when you mess up during your day, instead of wallowing in guilt, shame, or disgust, just start your day over.  I have always liked this.  I have those days where I have good intentions, start out with prayer, and then stumble and mess up.  The day is not wasted.  I can start it over. Move past the past.  The present is all I have anyway.  I find that when I start over during the day, I tend to have a better time of it.  Even in life, if you feel you have wasted your life, living out your personal whims, don't give up.  Now is a good time to start that change.  Better to begin again or start anew than to live a life of "never." Time is limited.  "I can never change," is something you can change by a new start.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Our Jewish Roots

We Christians sometimes soft pedal our Jewish roots.  Take Christmas for instance.  I have heard that we chose December 25 because the pagans had a feast for the winter solstice that came around that time.  Darkness was beginning to turn into light.  Well, there is more to our Christmas roots than that.  When the Israelites, the Maccabees, defeated the Greek nonbelievers, some hundred plus years before Jesus, the Maccabees reconsecrated the temple and burnt candles for eight day in joyful celebration of victory.  They did it from the twenty fifth day of the ninth month, Chislev.  Since the year began with March back then, Chislev would turn out to be our December.  Their feast became Hanakkah and ours became Christmas, which we celebrate with an eight day octave.  Thank you my Jewish friends for the roots of a really good idea.  Now if we could only get some spirituality back into our religion at Christmas.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015


I resonate with this Tolstoy quote: "Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself."  I hear people from every economic status, race, religion, talk about what needs to be changed in the world for life to be the way it should be.  Their solution requires that other people change, be it their neighbor, or their leaders, or people outside their group.  Most of my resentments and critiques about the world ignore my need to change.  I want to change everyone else, but not me.  I have no power to change others.  Unfortunately, I seem to have no power to change me!  This is why I pray.  I need a strength other than my own.