All We Need Is Just a Little Patience

So I’m not the most patient person. I want things yesterday, I want to see the fruits of my efforts faster than they often come and I don’t have time for people who don’t do the things I think they should be doing.

Last night I found my dog eating a cocoa powdered treat. He somehow broke into a plastic pin under my desk and found a box of “candy praline cigars”. I don’t know where they came from and I don’t remember someone giving them to me and neither does my wife remember these. As you might reckon, dogs aren’t supposed to eat chocolate and cocoa powder is among the most toxic things that dogs can eat. Haze is only 9 pounds, so even small amounts of toxins could have a big effect.

My patience was tried when poison control took a long time to answer their phone. I initially gave up and picked Haze up, put him in his crate after bundling him up and then proceeded to drive him to the 24 hour animal emergency care. When I arrived there was a sign on the door:

We Have Moved

AAAAAAAAAHHHHHH! And their new location wasn’t exactly nearby, but it wasn’t that far either. So off I drove, glancing at Haze periodically to make sure he wasn’t wigging out. He was fine. His usual self. Before I pulled out I redialed poison control thinking they might get on the line while I drive there. There’s a small fee for the service to keep the line going as it is a non-profit. So I also took my wallet out and my credit card and placed it nearby in my cup holder. When I hit my breaks to stop for a light the credit card ended up somewhere else sliding off into the nether region of my car.

Still no answer at poison control.

I make a wrong turn, unfamiliar with which way the numbers run on the street where the hospital is. My patience is now at an all time low.

Finally the ASPCA agent gets on the phone and apologizes for the wait (It was 1AM after all). They ask me a bunch of questions and then inform me that I should proceed to the animal control anyway as they were concerned about him ingesting the cocoa powder.

I arrive and ring the bell at the animal control.

No answer. There was a young girl sitting with her dog also waiting who was kind enough to break the beam and let me in.

“I don’t know where they are.” she replied.

Someone came over and took my information. I had a case number from the poison control people but I left it in my car in my phone. Ugh. Back out to retrieve it. Still can’t find the credit card. The folks at poison control were nice enough to take my information and I told them I’d call them back.

The good news is that the vet came in and said that Haze was fine. He was well below the toxin level for his weight and cocoa powder was the 4th ingredient down so it was mixed with a bunch of other things.

Patience restored. Then I began the trek home and a deer darted out in front of my car. I swerved. Haze’s crate slid off the seat –the belt didn’t hold his crate properly. My only thought was that I was heading back to the animal hospital with a dog with a broken leg and a deer.

Thankfully I missed the deer (expert driving!). I pulled over and checked on Haze who was fine. Not even a yelp. I caught my breath and regained my composure and returned home.

My impatience was thin the entire night and I knew that today I was going to be with kids at a refugee shelter with my students after a night of getting in at 3AM.

But what good did my impatience do? It didn’t make my dog better. Perhaps I was a bit more patient today with the children at Vive who love to run and climb and wear me out all too quickly.

The truth is I consciously prepared myself to be patient with my students and the young adults of the parish as well as the children we served today.

And I had one of the best days there in some time. I played most of the day and listened to the experiences of the refugees without much of a care for anything other than the present moment.

So tonight after a long day, I pray for refugee children, for children who need to be patient for freedom, for a place in the world. May they soon taste freedom and be able to not worry in their present moment. Amen.

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Hungry Already?

So it’s Friday and that means I skip lunch and have an early dinner of hearty soup and bread with my students around 5pm.

And it’s not even noon and I’m already hungry.

Fasting and dieting have never been high on my list of practices, always doing the minimum. But I’m really considering the dignity aspect of not being able to find food when one is poor. I can go to the supermarket or my pantry and find something to nibble on most days and naturally choose what I like to eat. How many people don’t have that luxury?

So today I will be in solidarity with them today and only eat what is given to me. Relying on the sustenance that God will provide for my mere day of hunger.

We fast because we can. How many more would not be able to fast because they already are fasting…each day?

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Violence Begets Violence

I was 13 and was sitting by the window in my parent’s apartment. I walked away and then I heard that sound.

Gunfire.

It has a unmistakable sound, especially when it is followed by screaming.

A young man was shot on the corner of my block, in suburban Yonkers. By no means was it a great area. Often I lived in fear, especially when you had to walk passed a group of people who you just knew wanted to mess with an easy target like me.

Ricky was one of the Park guys. A group of young men who hung out and drank beer together in Sullivan’s Oval, the neighborhood park. He worked and was generally an upstanding citizen. I remember him once trying to teach a developmentally disabled guy to not be afraid of his friend’s large and intimidating Doberman. He was patient and generally wanted to keep the peace amongst neighbors.

Ricky saw two kids fighting over a stickball bat. He stepped in and broke the fight up. Told them to stop it and sent them on their way. That decision cost him his life. The father of one of the boys came out and shot him in cold blood.

He would die later the next day.

Friends thought of how they could plot revenge. The police did their best to calm the neighborhood down. But I was determined at a young age to never get involved with violence. I was tired of seeing people afraid and tired of being afraid.

BustedHalo’s FPG Calendar asks us to

FAST from watching violent movies or television today.

PRAY for those who have lost loved ones to violence.

And GIVE $5 or more to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a national bipartisan coalition of mayors working to make America’s communities safer by keeping illegal guns out of dangerous hands.

So today I won’t watch any TV and will pray for Rick and his family and all those effected by violence. I’m on a spending budget so my five dollars will need to wait until another day. But suffice it to say that I support the initiative and will give when I can.

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One Word: Respect

Day #6: of the Fast, Pray, Give Calendar:

So I’ll be honest, I forgot to look this morning at the FPG Calendar and I was cranky for most of the morning because I wasn’t exactly mindful.

But at the end of the day, I was able to spend some time in mindfulness and offered the day to God anyway.

In hindsight the calendar asked of me the following:

FAST from being disrespectful to anyone you encounter today.

PRAY that every experience today is an opportunity for you to exercise respect, grace, and charity.

GIVE unconditional love and kindness to someone who challenges you today.

Well, it turns out that I was able to do this anyway. And a few times during the day I was tempted to disrespect a few folks and I didn’t take that opportunity. So perhaps, God whispers to me anyway and I’m becoming more mindful despite the morning busyness that I had today.

In fact, a student I was with in the afternoon was quite disrespectful to one of my colleagues and we all noticed it and were surprised to see his classmates call him on it.

My opportunity to give came with many friends and colleagues today when I was able to show them appreciation and love for all they do for me. We spent many hours today really listening to one another, our challenges and our solutions in overcoming obstacles in our lives and jobs.

My friend, Fr. Steven Bell, CSP also called me today to discuss an upcoming trip I’m taking to visit him and speak at St Paul’s. I noticed that when I said something self-depricating, Fr. Steve would immediately debunk that thought, turning my negativity into a positive. I was able to hold that with me for most of the day and it was my moment of gratitude during my evening examen tonight.

I also began to self-depricate thinking that the Theology on Tap event we hosted tonight might not have many attendees. Instead, we had many more than we expected. Not a huge crowd, but better than we had thought.

It seems, more often than not, that the one I least respect just might be me. And perhaps lent is God’s time to nudge me away from that and into a more wonderful space where God can show me all that I am and know that I am more than enough.

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Change Me, Lord

Prayer doesn’t change God, prayer changes us. Kathleen Norris, the great spiritual writer was featured in the BustedHalo Fast, Pray, Give calendar today and she mentions that when we pray we ask to be changed as opposed to asking God to change something with no effort on our part, as a kind of magical being who performs at our beck and call.

Lent indeed is the stuff of this attitude. What is it that needs to die in order for us to move into a new way of being. To change for the better is what lent calls each one of us.

For myself, I have a tendency to jump to negative conclusions. I often move into the half-empty mode before gathering enough information or clarifying what others say to me.

When we begin to change attitudes, we start to see healthier options and options that lead us to more greatly respect ourselves as well as others. We begin to see how wasteful some of our energies are spent. The people we failed to forgive our of our own vainglory, the ideas we held onto too tightly that were inventions of our imagination, the times we misjudged or failed to give another the benefit of the doubt and the times we just failed to bother to care at all.

Prayer, listening to the quiet parts of our innermost being, where God resides in our hearts, closer to us than we could imagine, brings us into a place where we not only can hear what God is really trying to tell us, but where the truth can no longer hide from us.

Or rather, where we can no longer hide from the truth.

The truth about us is that God loves us more than we could imagine. And that truth is enough to change us. It can make the most hardened criminal become a proverbial good thief, asking only for Christ to remember him, even the bad stuff and trusting that God could look beyond that into forgiveness to see more than the evil that he has committed.

Can we see the same in ourselves, seeing beyond our darkness, our most vulnerable parts to see what God sees in us? In fact, can we see that God touches all of who we are, even our most vulnerable pieces of our darkness, changing it, but only with our cooperation.

Prayer invites us to change. To see what is true about who we are and who we most hope to be. Today, I tried to be most satisfied with the person that I am. To know that I am enough as I am. To not assume the worst about myself or that others assume the worst about me. Fasting from the negativity that I most often entertain.

I spent time in prayer hoping to see and hear others as they are. To hear their concerns and be able to be there for them, to be present in the way that Christ is present to me in prayer, revealing to me what I most need to see and hear.

And I was able to spend some time to help another see God a bit more clearly in their lives, hoping to see a glimpse of God in them myself.

And it was more than enough.

It always is.

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One Meal Offered

Day #4: Fast, Pray Give:

So I checked into BustedHalo this morning and found that they were asking me to give up one meal today. And it’s a morning that I was particularly hungry. So skipping breakfast was not going to happen. I was also trying to finish the egg beaters before they went bad.

So I chose to skip dinner. And I’m cranky already. In fact, I’ve been cranky all morning and very nearly fell asleep at my desk a while back.

I’m trying to practice what I preach. Each Friday I’m starting to gather students and young adults together for a simple Friday meal of Soup and Bread, an early gathering on their way home from school or work. This week we talked about what we needed to fast from, emotionally or physically. I talked about under-confidence, others talked about other things that weigh them down.

And to rid ourselves of these things we need to suffer, even if just a bit.

It’s hard to lose a few pounds, to get healthier when we have bad habits, to not eat when we’d like to gorge. But we need to keep in mind that this is actually a luxury for us! How many people would relish the opportunity to be able to say that they can fast from one meal? Most people in the world only get one meal a day–if they’re lucky.

And so for one day, I will be among them. I’ve put lunch off for a bit and will eat that soon before forgoing dinner. I’m trying to keep my energy up with other engaging things. Exercise usually makes me hungry if I do it in the afternoon, so that’s not going to happen for me today–and I’m working on a bunch of projects as well.

Keeping busy, isn’t the point though—mindfulness is. So I began to remember the hungry today–those who seek out food pantries and soup kitchens, those who won’t eat anything today and those far away who may not eat for several days. I watched the movie Hunger the other night about Bobby Sands who went on a Hunger Strike to protest the treatment of Irish republicans who tried to regain political status when it was revoked by the British government in 1976. Sure, ’tis a fine thing for us to be free in America and have the power to try and create change. For many, that is a pipedream.

We indeed do have much to be grateful for and many to pray for who have much less. Today let us keep the hungry in mind and recall that we can always find food somewhere. Others may not have that luxury.

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Fast, Pray, Give: Day 3

There’s a difference between being hungry and being homeless. Whenever I do some kind of community service I find I’m more drawn to working with the hungry, but not so much with the homeless. Hungry people get their needs met by getting a meal, a temporary relief from the pangs of hunger. Even students who get a free meal from campus ministry are easily satisfied with a free meal from someone.

But it’s a lot harder to satisfy someone without a home.

What’s worse is that a good deal of the time the homeless can be nasty to us when we try to serve them. Dorothy Day even told Catholic Worker volunteers once that they should prepare themselves for that. “If you’re going to work with the poor, be prepared to work with ungrateful and hard-headed people.”

But aren’t we also a bit like that? I know this week I’m looking at a home I own in Queens that I’m having a hard time selling and I’m cursing my home. I have a leaky faucet in my house in the Buffalo suburbs and sometimes when there’s drama at home, I’d rather be somewhere else.

Home is not always where the heart is.

Perhaps therein lies the problem. We are not always satisfied with what we have, but rather are consistently and constantly searching for more.

And there are many who don’t even have the minimum, and we believe they should be happy with just getting that, when we’re not even settled when we have close to the maximum.

At Christmas one year I was on a subway with my then, roommate. We met a homeless man on the D train in the Bronx in New York City much too late at night. He smelled, he was a bit drunk, smoking a cigarette and the conductor could do nothing with him,

“Put that cigarette out!”

“Sorry, can’t hear ya,”

And it’s not like too many cops are around at three in the morning.

Eventually the conductor gave up his argument. And moved down the cars. It was then that the homeless man looked at us and said:

“Guys, I’m tired. I’ve lost everything and they’re trying to take more away from me. They took my house, they took my kids, they will probably even take away this old bottle soon enough. But they can’t take away what’s in my heart…they can’t take away my talent.”

Then he told us that he liked us and that he wanted to sing us a “tired song.”

And in that Christmas Season “Chestnuts roasting on an Open Fire” had never sounded better than when that man sung it for his heart. We laughed when he said “from kids from one to ninety-NINE” (the correct words are 92, to rhyme with the final words Merry Christmas to you”) but it was no matter. We were satisfied with that and so was he. He never asked for money, or even a bit of food. What he sought most of all that night was dignity.

And perhaps, just by listening to his song, we restored a bit of that to him that night. A tip of his cap as we left gave us a warm good-bye as if we were leaving an old friend of the family, and perhaps we were as 24 years later I still remember him.

We often hunger for more than food and the homeless often seek more than four walls. We get misguided in not being satisfied with what we have when others are deprived of the basics. In restoring dignity to all, we give other people an opportunity to be renewed, to see themselves as God does.

And it is more than enough.

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Fast Pray Give: Day #1

Last night Phil Fox Rose inspired me and invited the 20s and 30s group at St Joe’s to take more seriously the tenets of Lent, namely: Fasting, Praying and Giving or Almsgiving.

So I thought I would take his words to heart. One line in particular struck me. Phil answered a question from Dawn, one of our PhD candidates in Geology at the University. She asked: “Is it OK if I just do one of the tenets really well and the other two a bit less?”

Phil’s response struck me: “I’d say we should try to whatever we can do thoughtfully as opposed to all three superficially.”

And so I thought that I’d try to keep up with the BustedHalo Fast, Pray, Give Calendar for Lent this year and to try to do each of these things as mindfully as I can.

I’ve embedded the calendar to the right so you can play along at home.

And so here is my first attempt:

I was asked to FAST from my biggest worldly vice today. I took this under the “Catholic” ideal of fasting which is to only have one full serving per day, but instead of food, I substituted WORK and began to fast from that. I’m clearly a workaholic at times and often my wife has to compete with my ministry. So I shut the computer off after a morning of answering some necessary emails and this is the first time I reopened it today. Today happened to be a day off for me—so that was a good day to try this and make it a true day off. My thoughts were still occupied with work thoughts but I also was able to put a nice Valentine’s Day gift for my wife together and send some early birthday cards and take the dog on a longer walk. I did a bit of exercise and watched a relaxing show on Netflix and read a bit for pleasure.

I was also asked to PRAY for humility and so I need to realize the the world will not fall apart if I just take a breath and not work so hard. If it were totally up to me, that would be unfortunate because there’s no way I could do it all. So I’d be trying to do the impossible.

And lastly I had to GIVE others the benefit of the doubt today. This morning I read a local news story and immediately jumped to certain conclusions about some involved who I’m familiar with. I caught myself early and was able to offer not judgement, but assistance to those involved. I was then able to pray that collaboration can continue for all those involved. It was really freeing to not jump to the horrible thoughts immediately and I’m hoping more fruit can be borne from this.

I’m off now to a Valentine’s Day dinner and a play at the Irish Theatre here in Buffalo with my bride. She’s great and I know sometimes I don’t give her the benefit of the doubt either, pre-judging her before giving her a chance to contribute to the conversation.

So day 1 is nearly done. How about you? What might you be doing for Lent?

I’ll be posting on this each day, probably towards the end of the day, along with of course news on the Pope and much more. Hope you can join in the fun—fun you say? Indeed! Lent needs not be an awful experience. We may very well need to fast or to pray or to give something away in order to be truly free.

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The Bad News: You’re Gonna Die…The Good News: It Doesn’t Matter

So I hate to start out this post with some bad news, but here goes…

You are going to die.

That’s the central message of Ash Wednesday. It’s why we tell people to turn away from sin or we remind them that they are dust. We say so because it is a simple truth. Our lives have a limit and one day it will all be over.

The worse news is that some of us will get there much faster than the rest of us. Some of us will die young, some will die middle aged, some will die as elderly people.

But we are all going to die.

And many of us are not exactly thrilled with that notion. We’re afraid of what might come next, or that we’ll be shortchanged on our life, or that we’ll be forgotten all too quickly.

But here’s the good news.

It doesn’t matter.

We mark ourselves with a cross of dust on our heads to mock death, because we believe that death is the beginning not the end and no matter how we die, tomorrow or in 50 years from now, God will take care of us anyway.

Because we believe and because we are unafraid to live our lives as Christians.

So we mark ourselves and we do so because we want to be recognized as Christians, so that others might “call us out” when we don’t live up to our values. We want to be true to who we proclaim to be and who we hope to continually become.

Are we afraid to die? Or does death no have it’s grasp on us because we know the one who changed death into life and have faith that the same will happen for us, despite our sin and because of Christ’s redemptive love?

Today, may we remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return and therefore let us turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.

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Looking for Daily Lenten Reflections?

So if you’re looking for something to do in Lent that’s a daily reflection online here are some that I’ve enjoyed thus far:

Spiritan Campus Ministry is offering these daily ritual reflections that offer much to introspection.

The Lunchtime Examen: Jim Manney at Loyola Press has put this together and I really like the simpleness of this.

The three minute retreat: Also from Loyola Press.

Praying Lent: From Creighton University

Check em out. And by all means, find one that works for you.

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