Government Held Hostage

Art imitates life today with this scene from the West Wing.

Pope Francis has been calling us to mercy and it seems there are far too many in the government who are less than merciful. Placing a last second rider to end or delay Universal Health Care to the budget is simply wrong, unethical and it holds the government hostage to partisan politics. In the end, the poor once again get screwed and the loyal civil servants at the bottom of the ladder that simply want to go to work get furloughed, losing days upon days of pay. Oh and each day that we stay closed, costs the economy about $1 billion dollars a week.

Obamacare has nothing to do with this continuing resolution. The republican-controlled house has failed the American people by shutting down the government because they don’t like a health care program that is not even at the center of the continuing resolution. I don’t vote with straight lines. There are good and bad politicians in both parties. However, I think everyone should consider this the next time congress is up for re-election.

Saner voices need to overcome this stalemate. Lines cannot be drawn in the sand. What’s best for the American people is to approve this continuing resolution and to simply stop playing politics.

And so we pray, for those who are out of work today, we pray that you can support your family and can be back to work soon. We pray for our leaders, our President, our congress that they can get past the dysfunctional relationships that have developed and become all that we hope government can be.

Or that we can at least do better than this. May the Holy Spirit help these people discern what is truly just and best for our nation. Amen.

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For All That I Am, Lord

Written at the Collegeville Institute as our prayer to describe where the spirit is moving in our communities with regards to their own vocation:

Thank you God for calling me into this place
For the courage to be who you have made me to be
For the gifts I have that have gotten me to answer this call
For the strength to go on when I feel I cannot
And for those around me in this place
Who gather me up when I cannot move for myself.

Rekindle my soul; restore my enthusiasm
So I do not find my self saying
Who the hell signed me up for this?

When I am cranky and squeal like a first grader
Remind me of my first call
And place the cry of the psalmist on my lips
So I remember to call out to you in my deepest fears and lamentations
When I think even the dogs get the scraps that fall from the table
but here I feeling empty and alone.
In those dark times
Rekindle my passion and renew me into the person
You want me to become.

Finally, come Holy Spirit
Make me listen to the stirrings of my heart
call me into being while I am doing
And doing in my being
So that I might serve the world with all that I am
And be aware of the gift I am
Because of who you have made me to be.

Amen

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To Find the Sunrise Amidst the Rain

So I just spent two glorious days at the Collegeville Institute in Minnesota, which is one of my all time favorite places. Whether the lovely setting, the St. John’s Abbey, the St. John’s Bible, the amazing people who work there and the groups they gathered to talk about Vocation in Communities, I can’t pick just one great experience.

We discuss how we are helping people discern their vocation in community during these conferences. I do this for instance with a small group of young adults and then some people individually and it’s what brings me life the most in my ministry.

Each time this group gathers to talk about projects we might consider doing in our parishes and communities I get very excited and see dozens of possibilities. Our group, an ecumenical one, meaning a diverse group of different Christian denominations, are simply a group of pastoral people who like to think about these things.

But it also leads us into deeper discernment as well for ourselves. One female Anglican priest was moving from full time to part time status, another person was simply questioning where her community was heading, another was preparing for ordination.

And I’m always considering what it is that I do and how I’m doing it and how I might do it better.

And so I decided to get up early and pray in the St John’s Abbey with the monks. But I also got up earlier because I wanted to see the sun rise over the abbey. In fact, when I woke up I had a strong desire and felt called to go see the sunrise. This has happened to me before on retreats and it has never disappointed.

If you’ve never seen St. John’s Abbey:

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Now imagine what it looks like when the sun hits the honeycombs on the wall! I can only imagine it because it rained this morning and there was no sun to be seen.

And so rather than wallow in disappointment in the rain-soaked morning I had dragged my behind out of bed for, I decided to take a moment of opportunity for silence inside the abbey, one of the most beautiful places I know.

The starkness of the Abbey always moves me into a deeper place of contemplation and today was no different. The small lighted altar gave me a perfect setting in the darkness of the morning:

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After about 15 minutes of silent prayer, i asked God to more intimately remind me of the times in my life this year where I really felt like I was engaged with my vocation. All of these moments involved working with students and young adults on questions of vocation. Whether in spiritual direction or a small group or an alternative break experience or even in the Medical School’s simulation center, I found myself deeply engaged with others talking about who they hope to become.

And when that clarity hit me, I felt much gratitude. And then this happened:

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Coincidence? Perhaps, but I remembered that I had longed to get up and see the sunlight—and here was a much more glorious picture than I had imagined. God always gives us what we need—not always what we expect.

And then…when I thought I could not find any more beauty in this:

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These monks really thought about this place. If you look closely, the lights hit the tiny wires they have attached and it looks like sunbeams emerging from the altar of God! God stretching Himself farther than I asked for to show me just a bit more of what God wants from me in my life, that is simply to be myself, nothing more, but most importantly nothing less.

As we prayed with the Monks I was introduced to a new favorite Psalm:

Psalm 143
Lord, hear my prayer,
listen to my cry for mercy;
in your faithfulness and righteousness
come to my relief.
2 Do not bring your servant into judgment,
for no one living is righteous before you.
3 The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
4 So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
5 I remember the days of long ago;
I meditate on all your works
and consider what your hands have done.
6 I spread out my hands to you;
I thirst for you like a parched land.[a]
7 Answer me quickly, Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me
or I will be like those who go down to the pit.
8 Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love,
for I have put my trust in you.
Show me the way I should go,
for to you I entrust my life.
9 Rescue me from my enemies, Lord,
for I hide myself in you.
10 Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God;
may your good Spirit
lead me on level ground.
11 For your name’s sake, Lord, preserve my life;
in your righteousness, bring me out of trouble.
12 In your unfailing love, silence my enemies;
destroy all my foes,
for I am your servant.

I began the trek back from the Abbey to the Institute fully refreshed for the day ahead. But mostly, grateful for the opportunity to hear God’s voice speaking to me loudly in the silence of the Abbey, leading me to a deeper sense of my own vocation where I work with people in discernment. People who have deep decisions to make often turn to me to companion them. And that’s a special gift that I have for allowing people to more intimately see who they are becoming and who God has already made them to be.

And that is worth everything.

For God has made it so.

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Can One Experience Change Us Forever?

Heather Mallick has a haunting article in the Toronto Star today that several colleagues have forwarded to me today. The mother of one of the children in the Newtown shooting insisted on an open casket. She hopes it will change people’s attitudes about gun violence.

Noah Pozner, 6, was one of the 20 child victims in the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. All the dead were shot between three and 11 times. Tiny Noah took 11 bullets. His mother, Veronique, insisted on an open coffin, Naomi Zeveloff reported in the Jewish Daily Forward.
You’ll probably remember Noah. He was a happy little guy with beautiful heavily lashed eyes and a cheerful smile. In his coffin, there was a cloth placed over the lower part of his face.
“There was no mouth left,” his mother told the Forward. “His jaw was blown away.”
She put a stone in his right hand, a “clear plastic rock with a white angel inside.” She wanted to put a matching stone in his left hand but he had no left hand to speak of.
Parents of the dead children were advised to identify them from photographs, such was the carnage. But every parent reacts differently. Veronique Pozner did the most difficult thing. She asked to see the body. Zeveloff asked her why.
“I owed it to him as his mother, the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “. . . And as a little boy, you have to go in the ground. If I am going to shut my eyes to that I am not his mother. I had to bear it. I had to do it.”
When the governor of Connecticut arrived, she brought him to see Noah in the open casket. “If there is ever a piece of legislation that comes across his desk, I needed it to be real for him.” The governor wept.

Seeing for one’s self indeed can change us for life. For myself two incidents in my life changed me for the better:

The first is growing up in Yonkers in a working class neighborhood. When I was about 12 or 13, a young man was shot in my neighborhood, three houses away from my own apartment building. Ricky, who I didn’t know personally, had broken up a fight between two kids who were arguing over a baseball bat. The kids went home and told their father what happened and the father came out with a shotgun and killed him. It was horrible. From my window I watched them lift the stretcher into the ambulance. Ricky, still alive, barely, lay there mouth agape. I looked at my dad and said, “What the hell? This guy is going to die over a baseball bat. And why does this guy have a shotgun in his house anyway?” The guy beat the rap. Got off on self defense and received community service. I made a decision at that point of my life that I wanted to make sure that nobody would ever be robbed of justice again, if I could help it.

And sometimes, I feel…well…powerless to help those caught in injustice.

The second was my experience of Nicaragua. I made four trips to Managua, to work at an orphanage. We also went to a place called Chureca, the garbage dump. People lived in Chureca and I have never imagined such poverty. Cardboard used for walls with the word “Basura” on it. Animals roaming free, dogs, chickens, pigs in people’s houses. Many died of malnutrition and stomach cancer was also prevalent. I thought to myself, “I’m trying to live in solidarity here, but nobody should ever have to live this way.” It robbed everyone of their dignity, and they grasped on to whatever they could to retain it. We brought supplies, baby formula, foodstuffs and more…but it would never be enough.

My journal entry as I travelled home, said a simple phrase,

“Poverty shouldn’t exist. And in a country as rich as ours, we don’t come close to knowing real poverty.”

I took pictures that day in Nicaragua, like the one above and the picture of Ricky burned in my mind continues to remind me of the senselessness of needless death and destruction.

St Ignatius reminds us that we need to revisit “the pictures” of our previous day and then let those moments lead us into deeper contemplation over the consolations and desolations of our lives. Then, and perhaps only then, we can make a firm amendment to change for the better.

Today we pray to remember the pictures that change our lives. May those who see the violence have their heart changed, especially as we remember these children, Noah in particular. We remember those who die needlessly in war, war that our country has sanctioned and continues to destroy peace. And we pray for the poor, who suffer needlessly because of greed. May God teach us to solve the problems of peace and justice because we have seen injustice. May that experience bring us to work harder for the dignity of humankind. Amen.

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Sandy in Long Island

I just returned from Long Island where 8 of us from St Joe’s took some time to help people effected by Superstorm Sandy. We were hosted by Fr. Ted Brown, the director of Campus Ministry at LIU Post and a LaSallette priest (His nameplate on his desk just reads Ted Brown, Friend) and he and his colleague Jeanette, arranged our projects and provided our housing and a few meals making this an affordable and awesome trip.

We headed out to Long Beach where the sand on the beach is now piled high. Know those snow piles you see in winter. They have sand like that. See for yourself.

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We helped a great guy named Bryan who has been putting his own needs far behind the needs of the community. He opened his realty office to be used as a donation headquarters. “Basically anything you can get at a CVS!” he said to us. At the same time he arranges volunteers to go help residents who have lots of damage to their homes.

He sent us to rip out flooring and sub flooring in two different homes and then Jeannette, LIU’s community service coordinator suggested that we help him get his business back on its feet as well. Bryan’s office was also damaged by the tons of water that flowed ashore, but Bryan was too busy helping everyone else to take care of this. So we ripped out his walls and insulation and got two rooms ready for rehab. Here I am crowbarring out his drywall.

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Val, one of my favorite students, had an insightful remark during reflection about the experience. “Outside these homes look fine, even beautiful. But inside! They’re ruined! Do we look carefully enough at the needs of others, because they might look OK, but on the inside, they may be in need of help.” Here we see Christine ripping out rotted floor boards from a home.

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That young lady will be a great occupational therapist!

So pray for the people in these areas, who are still recovering. They need our prayers and now that the CNN cameras have gone away, many feel isolated and alone and quite a bit desperate.

As we get back to our lives, let us remember to look more deeply at the needs of others and know that what we see may not tell the whole story.

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Are You on Rich Soil?

St. Ignatius reminds us to never make decisions when we are in desolation. Today’s Gospel reminds us of that in the parable of the sower and the seeds. Because you just have to feel for the sower, huh? He scatters all these seeds and only the ones who fall on rich soil–the soil that has been readied for the seed’s planting are the ones that take root and grow.

Isn’t it the same for us? Some of us wish to make a change in life but the world talks us out of it. Some even think about doing something creative and maybe even have resolved to do it but then someone places some doubt in our mind or naysays our ideas. Some of us are too overwhelmed to grow up our faith and instead choose to ignore developing an adult relationship with the Lord.

And some of us are like the seed that has no root. It is all new to us and nobody bothered or cared to give us any kind of fertile spiritual soil, but we long for it anyway. I notice that some of our atheist students on campus gently come to me to discuss things when they are in this period of desolation and it’s hard for me to discuss things with them because we come from two different perspectives. Some even show jealousy towards those of us with a faith-base. One student quipped years ago, “I’d really like to believe and see how others would find much rest and relief in believing, but I just don’t believe.”

Faith arrives for many when they are indeed ready for it. A crisis might necessitate thinking more deeply about one’s life, but we all long deeply for an integrated spiritual life—something beyond yourselves, that takes us past our experiences and into deep thinking about where we truly belong and to whom we belong and therefore who is also judge of our lives, the lives he has given us.

If judge is too strong… Friends who are judges always complain that the image of God as judge has unjustly been demonized–after all some, if not most, judges are good–they uphold the law. They have no control over what the criminal did, their actions violate the law and the law tells us what should happen next. Of course they don’t like it when I tell them some laws are unjust. =)

But if judge is too strong how about compass? When you are walking in a direction the compass moves and tells where you are walking. It doesn’t make suggestions, it just indicates the direction. Where you choose to walk is all your idea.

And so when we are walking in the shadow of darkness, it’s probably not a good idea to make rash judgements ourselves. It’s there that we need more appropriately for God in our lives. We see God lurking and we often push God away or ignore God. Until we can again see God guiding us, consoling us, leading us out of this darkness, we should simply wait out these storms in our lives until we can see the sun more clearly.

We need to be on rich soil to make solid decisions of growth. We leave no stone unturned to belabor a gardening metaphor in getting our soil ready for God to grow something wonderful in us.

So today let’s pray for that grace to be led out of desolation–to see God’s love lurking for us, finding us in the doldrums and having the faith that consolation is sure to always follow when we are unconsolable.

If we do that…we will be able to grow immensely with God’s guidance.

Without it…we choose faithlessly. Thinking that God offers no hope. Leaving us for dead. Unwanted and unloved.

The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock. (Jeremiah 31:10) The words of today’s psalm give us the hope that God will indeed give us everything that we need. We might find hardship along the way but that love that God offers us to too immense for us to be overwhelmed.

May we always feel that love of the shepherd…and may we wait for him to come again and tell us more when we feel like we are all alone…

In the darkness.

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Pre-Order Loving Work…my Second Book

In November, my second book, Loving Work will hit the presses and I couldn’t be more excited. The folks at Orbis Press, especially the famed Mike Leach, have been great to work alongside.

This is a book on career discernment. It is slightly auto-biographical where I tell my story of how I transitioned from radio into ministry and then a bit on the move from Busted Halo® to Campus Ministry. Mostly though it’s a self-help book on how to discern what you might like to do with your career as you move forward through life. It’s a great book for young adults discerning first careers but an even better book for those of you who have a career and are looking to move forward but can’t seem to know how to get there. Think of this book as the 2012 version of “What Color is My Parachute.”

How’d I decide to write this one you ask? Well…it’s the book I wanted to write for some time now and it sprang forth from a workshop I’ve been doing called “Does God have a plan for me?” you can check out that workshop out on you tube.

So some of the stories are repeated in the book and others are brand new. We all learn by story and much like my first book, the stories are at the heart of this book.

So pre-order this and drive up my Amazon rating and then rate the book when you get it in November.

Oh and if you’d like me to come and do a workshop on this or a retreat–or perhaps you’d like to start your own discernment group but aren’t sure how to do that, then email me and we’ll talk. Let’s make a deal.

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Are We Certain That We Are Certain?

A recent video showed a nun stating that she knows that she’s doing the will of God in her life and that because of her vow of obedience she “doesn’t live with any uncertainty” and that brings her joy.

I’m sure this sister is a great and holy woman and I hesitate to criticize because I’m sure in her heart of hearts she loves being a sister and her commitment to her vows have led her to discern that this exactly where God wants her–just as I’m sure that God wants me to be married to my beautiful wife and to be a lay minister in the church.

But living without ANY uncertainty? C’mon, sister, let’s not overdo it.

As Thomas Merton says:

The fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

I often say that anyone who makes any kind of certainty claims is someone who is probably dead wrong about whatever it is that they are so certain about. It seems to be a bit haughty to claim to know God’s mind and many young people today struggle with living within uncertainty. It’s why they are tied so much to black and white thinking—frankly, it’s easier to live that way and less complicated. But faith is never certain. It’s actually not faith if it is certain. Faith is always risk. It’s even a gamble to choose at all. Our response is: “This may or may not be true, but I’m going to believe in it anyway because of how I have experienced God working in my life.”

Nobody has a stranglehold on certainty. Usually when you think you do, something happens to upset that little applecart and crisis looms large. While I hope this particular Sister never faces a “dark night of the soul” as did almost all of the great saints in our tradition and Jesus himself from the cross, I do hope we can keep each other in our prayers.

Perhaps that’s one certainty we can always count on.

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Are You Welcomed at Your Church?

The good folks at the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston put this together and it expresses the idea of welcome so well. Is your parish like this?

Tell us if you feel welcome in your parish.

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Loving Work now available for Pre-Ordering

My new book with Orbis Press is now available to pre-order from Amazon. See a non-finalized version of the cover below.

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