Googling God http://googlinggod.com A Campus Minister and Spiritual Director Muses on All Things Catholic Tue, 24 Jun 2014 20:58:38 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Who is Harder to Mourn: Dogs or Humans? http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/24/who-is-harder-to-mourn-dogs-or-humans/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=who-is-harder-to-mourn-dogs-or-humans http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/24/who-is-harder-to-mourn-dogs-or-humans/#comments Tue, 24 Jun 2014 20:58:38 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7149 Jayme Stayer, SJ over at The Jesuit Post, recently lost his beloved Basset Hound, Tristan Xavier. The pain, I assume was twice as bad as when he had to choose between his dog and joining the Jesuits. I can remember a friend described a conversation he had with the members of his religious community when they discussed the possibility of getting a dog.

Priest 1: “Hey, we should get a dog!”
Priest 2: “Not just ‘No” but “Hell, no!’”
Priest 1: “What? Why not?”
Priest 2: “Because we all say that we’ll take care of the dog and nobody will and then one day we’ll look in the corner and say ‘OMG! The dog died!’ That’s why!”

True enough and Jayme ponders whether religious communities could have pets considering their mobility every few years. But as you know, I have a deep fondness for my own Chihuahua, Haze Hayes, and recently went through a tough time where he very nearly did need to be “put down” because of two major infections that antibiotics didn’t seem to be able to kick. In the end, Haze bounced back mightily with the help of the fine folks at the Blue Cross Animal Shelter, who I will be nominating for sainthood one day. It came at great personal expense to my wife and me to have the dog go through surgery. But we indeed are glad we did so, even if it means we are broke and that we’ve discovered the evils of our Pet Insurance Company who did not deliver on their promises.

I too, was very grateful for my work colleagues. They covered things for me in my absence and I’m sure that the urgency of a dog’s care, for some, is less a priority than saying financially solvent. My dog is still a young Chihuahua, so we made the effort. One of our vets said that many people would not have made the effort that we did. That many consider a dog more utilitarian, fine to own, but not the equivalent of a relationship. Simply put, it would be cheaper (much) to get another dog than to have a surgical procedure performed on a pet. One vet noted:

“That’s indeed true. But the new dog won’t be THAT dog. The one you have a relationship with and that you have raised all these years.”

And indeed that was the deciding factor for me. Difficult though it was, my dog lives and I pray he will live for a long time post-surgery. Call me crazy, but I love the dog and when the dog finally died, I know it will be a hard time for Marion and me. Jayme points out the difficulties in mourning a beloved pet.

The beloved, if ill-defined, place of a dog in our affections makes the problem of mourning for a dog complicated. It is easier to expect sympathy from others when we are grieving a friend or relative. But most people avoid the melodrama of announcing to acquaintances that their dog has died. John Homan, in his book What’s a Dog For?, notes: “Caring for a dog at the end of its life and grieving after it’s gone is in some ways more complicated than grieving for a person, because the question of what a dog is is far from settled.” I would press Homan’s point further. It’s not just a problem of essence (what a dog is) or function (what a dog is for). It’s a question of relationality: what our relationship with a dog means. The problem of mourning for a dog is bound up with the problem of believing that we love a dog. And love can mean lots of different things. The emotionally traumatized may find that it is a dog’s love that brings them back to life; the relationship that epileptics or the blind have with their dogs enables them not merely to survive but to flourish. Nevertheless, while dogs might offer us practical skills as well as something resembling unconditional love (they will play with us even if we’re ugly, insensitive, or sarcastic), dogs never challenge us when we’re being stubborn or petty.

There is no risk in loving a dog. And so what it means to love a dog is necessarily limited. There is something pathetic about Leona Helmsley—wealthy, tyrannical—clutching her dog and grinning at the camera. What does her love for a dog mean when she was so monstrous to the humans around her? It’s generally clear what we mean when we say that we love our parents or friends, because that love participates in, and derives from, divine love. It’s also clear what we mean when we say that we love nature, a movie, a book, or a sport, because that love is reverence for divine creation or the human genius that is its reflection. But when we say we love a dog, we’re not referring to a point that exists on a continuum somewhere between human-love and object-love. We seem to be referring to some other category altogether.

True enough, with one glaring exception in my opinion. There is risk in loving a dog, (or anyone else for that matter) and the risk is this. That the receiver of your love may in fact, one day no longer be with you. We all die, eventually. We don’t like much to focus on that, but we do. Death is indeed, is sad for us, but it is also a part of life. The love shared by those in life is never killed by death, but rather it is transformed into what is everlasting. I believe that is true for the love we share with creatures who are not human as well, of course, as those we share with our family, friends and colleagues from whom we risk, not receiving the response of love we get unconditionally from our pets and ultimately from God.

In tribute to “Tristan Xavier Stayer—the dumpiest, doofiest, dim-wittedest, and dearest basset hound that there ever was” I will share his dulcet tones, now silenced.

And I pray that when Jayme and his family meet the end of this life’s journey, they will find themselves led into God’s Kingdom by a bounding, jowl dripping, dear basset hound, who will be one of the many reasons that evidences that their reward in heaven awaits.

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/24/who-is-harder-to-mourn-dogs-or-humans/feed/ 0
Coffee With Meg http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/18/coffee-with-meg/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=coffee-with-meg http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/18/coffee-with-meg/#comments Wed, 18 Jun 2014 15:30:42 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7137 images-1

So for most of my life I have not been a coffee drinker. I can remember drinking one large cup of coffee when I was an undergrad pulling an all-nighter (By the way, it didn’t help).

In general, I just haven’t acquired the taste. Mostly I don’t like the taste, or I should say I haven’t liked it.

On my recent trip to El Salvador, I decided to look into what Salvadoran food we would be eating. Pupusas are the most famous. These are essentially stuffed tortillas (some with cheese, or beans, or pork). They are amazing.

But a big export in El Salvador is coffee. I decided that I would at least try some coffee while in El Salvador.

So on our first day, we immediately were taken to an inner city daycare center. And lo and behold, we were welcomed with sweetbreads (again, delicious!) and coffee.

Meg with a Bunny at Casa de Solidaridad, a study abroad program through Santa Clara.

Meg with a Bunny at Casa de Solidaridad, a study abroad program through Santa Clara.

One of the students who travelled with me was named Meg. I didn’t know her well, but she’s pretty active on campus in student government and so I knew her mostly by her reputation as a hard worker and her commitment to women’s issues. She’s also a lover of good coffee. She looked at me as I started to pour my initial cup of Salvadoran coffee and said:

“Your life is about to get so much better!”

Turns out she was correct. It was indeed delicious. Two spoonfuls of sugars was all it needed. Later in the week I added some cream and realized that what I don’t like is cream in my coffee. Black is fine with just a bit of sugar.

But coffee for Meg is more than just coffee. It makes one feel warm and comforted and allows conversations to linger over a second cup. The caffeine makes one a bit more alert during times of dreariness. I really enjoyed hanging out with Meg and listening to how important women’s issues are to her. As a man, I need to understand what women are facing and feeling and perhaps how I’ve even been a part of misogyny and the oppression of women. Meg helps me see more clearly what I cannot often see for myself. We heard some stories of devastation from the Salvadoran people, who lived through the long civil war. Meg was often quick to point out how women were targeted in several cases and how a “macho culture” played a role in the continued oppression of women in this still-poor country.

Meg, much more than coffee, opened my eyes further, to see a bit more clearly what was really present. She allowed me to be more present to the women that I companioned and because of her, I was able to be more present for these students throughout the week.

And within those coffee moments with Meg, i found grace waiting for me as well.

Upon my return to the United States, I decided to try some coffee from the various coffee chains. I’ve discovered a few things:

1) Coffee in the United States clearly has more caffeine in it. Or at least it has a greater effect on me. If I have two cups of “American” coffee I’m up later than I’d like to be.

2) Salvadoran coffee is AWESOME. So far the closest to it is Tim Horton’s.

3) My coffee rankings so far are:
a) Tim Horton’s
b) Spot Coffee
c) Family Tree (a local diner)
d) Dunkin Donuts

I have yet to try Starbucks. There’s just not one near my house.

3) My single serve coffee maker makes a damn good cup of the Salvadoran stuff.

4) On our trip the first Finca (the plant where they grow coffee) that I sampled was by far the best. That day care center should open a coffee bar with coffee from that place. Angel, who I stayed with in El Sitio made a nice cup of coffee. And Sr. Peggy, who we stayed with in Suchitoto had coffee that was also pretty good. But that first Finca was awesome and I bought their coffee to take home with me.

My last discovery is that a cup of coffee shared is much better than a cup of coffee solo. So thanks Meg, for teaching me how coffee serves a larger purpose at times and helps us get to understand each other a bit more.

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/18/coffee-with-meg/feed/ 0
Being Led http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/17/being-led/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=being-led http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/17/being-led/#comments Tue, 17 Jun 2014 13:44:49 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7135 Looking through an old retreat notebook I dug up a morning offering and thought I would share it today.

Where O God, am I being led
by Your love?
By My love?
By Your pulling and pushing,
prodding and pestering?

Teach me my heart’s deep desires
These moments that awaken me
To my truest self
Bring me to those moments
With an open desire to meet you
in the eyes of others.
Others who do not merely need me
but rather others who I need to be able
to see your presence within
and to whom I can offer a hospitable word or two.

Where O God, am I being led?
It matters not where
Nor to whom
Instead all I desire
Is to be led by your love
To know you more
And to never desire anything more
Apart from that. Amen.

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/06/17/being-led/feed/ 0
To Live, With Risk http://googlinggod.com/2014/05/22/to-live-with-risk/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=to-live-with-risk http://googlinggod.com/2014/05/22/to-live-with-risk/#comments Thu, 22 May 2014 14:00:56 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7118 I’m not a missionary. That is clear. I look at people here in El Salvador and admire them, but I know myself enough to know that I am not called to this work long term. I am instead a “provider of experiences” for young, idealistic college students, many of whom are indeed going to be called to this work.

But that’s not to say that this is not a transformative experience for me, nor do I not feel the call to do more for the poor in my own life. To be more conscious of what I buy and what I do. To be more grateful and to give more of what I have and earn in a very life-giving career. To offer myself more to my students and my colleagues and to the many that I often avoid and don’t offer myself to frequently enough.

While I’m not called to risk in the way that many of the people we’ve met here have been, I am nonetheless called to at least be more risky in order to touch the lives of students and my own more regularly. A good question for me to ask myself is: “Who did you risk for today?” Or even, “How did you stretch your comfort zone today?” Or more tenderly stated, “Who does God call you to stretch the boundaries of your heart to and for this day?”

This of course, does not come without much discernment. To be called to one thing or one person means that we are also not called to another. What are the evil spirits in my life that lead me away from my call. We did a good deal of discernment as a staff recently and came away with some good full discernment decisions. But there’s always more to do.

And always more to risk.

Oscar Romero knew this well. He knew that he was going to be killed. And he went to say a mass that he didn’t even have to say that day. It was a celebratory mass for a journalist and the death squad leaders planned his cold and calculated death. Yet, Romero went a celebrated mass joyfully, knowing the risks and living in the freedom of his call anyway. The freedom to live as he was called by God to be, come what may.

Today I pray that I have the courage to risk a bit more freely. To live as I am, but as all that I am. Nothing more, but most importantly, nothing less.

So Lord, keep me risky…to stay awake for the moments you call me to be more than I think I can be.

To risk and not count the cost,
to seek and not ask for rewards or honor. To give and find grace waiting there for me and for it to be enough.

And to be all that I am, for you alone.

Amen

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/05/22/to-live-with-risk/feed/ 0
Those Who Restore Dignity http://googlinggod.com/2014/05/21/those-who-restore-dignity/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=those-who-restore-dignity http://googlinggod.com/2014/05/21/those-who-restore-dignity/#comments Wed, 21 May 2014 17:32:21 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7116 I’m writing today from San Salvador on an immersion trip with my students. We’ve been here for three days now and it’s been fantastic and a nice stretch for me. I speak just a little Spanish but enough to grab some phrases here or there. About half of our students are fluent speakers (out of the 9 women here with myself and my Jesuit Colleague). So I’ve felt like my Spanish should be more proficient…I haven’t made it a priority and should make a better effort when I return. I’m getting better as I stay here and it reminds me how much immigrants have to work to learn English (a much more difficult language to master).

So this is an immersion trip. We spent out first day going to Centro Hogar/Programa Velasco, a day care center in a very poor part of town. We learned about how they care for the kids there but also how they’ve started some women’s empowerment work there as well.

We visited the homes of two people who have benefitted from the work of the center accompanied by two of the workers, both former students from Santa Clara’s study abroad program “Casa de Solidaridad”. They lived in very meager homes and their whole families lived there. This is clearly what poverty looks like and often we Americans, know nothing of it.

I’ve spent time in Nicaragua as many know and I mentioned to the students that the poverty there was about the same although the main area of the city looked a bit better here than say, Managua does in my opinion. It’s interesting to watch these students see this with their own eyes after I have already had my eyes opened to such poverty in the past.

Even with such poverty, people have shown us great hospitality. They have learned through the various programs that they have been part of that they are not “nothing”. The real work here is not ending poverty, but rather it is restoring dignity. We will probably always have poverty here, but teaching people that despite poverty, they are still children of God is indeed a great stride forward. Often people believe that God has cursed them and that is why they are in poverty, so dissuading them from that idea is paramount and the folks here who have worked for this are indeed amazing.

I’ll be back tracking on our adventures for a bit. So stay tuned for more. But know that the presence of God is here and it is rich indeed.

And so please pray for us as we go forth to experience more, to be with those in poverty and to try to see the other as ourselves. Amen.

20140521-113156-41516818.jpg

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/05/21/those-who-restore-dignity/feed/ 0
When I Look at the Cross http://googlinggod.com/2014/04/18/when-i-look-at-the-cross/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=when-i-look-at-the-cross http://googlinggod.com/2014/04/18/when-i-look-at-the-cross/#comments Fri, 18 Apr 2014 16:07:28 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7111 20140418-120708.jpg

My dear friend, Fr John Cusick, invited his Facebook friends to meditate on what they see when they look at the Cross of Jesus.

And so I have spent some time in silence contemplating the scene at Calvary. And have come away with many words rushing at me: love, fear, sacrifice, for me?, commitment, horror, pain, glorious.

But I think what I most see when I look to the cross is an example of self sacrifice. I see what I am called to be. I literally see the body of Christ.

And then the questions come.

Can I be someone who sacrifices this much for others? How about even a quarter as much? Can I do that while being silent and not complaining or whining? Can I give to those I have not personally encountered?

How about forgiving? Can I be forgiving of those who have done horrible things to me, far less than what people did to Jesus? Could I forgive friends when they have not been there for me? Could I look on those who revile me with love? Could I forgive a best friend who denies even knowing me?

How about offering? Could I continue to offer myself even when I am too tired and weary? Could I promise the good thief that I would always remember him? Could I give someone hope when things seemed hopeless? In the face of death could I have enough faith that God would take care of me? When it feels like God has abandoned me could I offer my spirit to God, letting go of my own humanity?

When I look to the cross, I see the body of Christ and then I see how far I am from it. How afraid I am to come nearer to the body of Christ and how I need 40 days of Lent to even take only one more step towards it.

When I look to the cross I see those that sacrifice their own lives in Central America, these days especially in Honduras, where death is all around. I see those who have lost their lives in the struggle for justice as the Jesuits in El Salvador did along with Archbishop Romero. I see those crucified again in places like Libya and Afghanistan. I see the poor in Africa with ribs showing begging for food and clean water as Jesus says “I thirst.”

In the cross, I see the commitment of married people who struggle to make ends meet and who stay together through it no matter what comes. They continue to get up again and again when they fall under the weight of what overwhelms them, but they continue on nonetheless together for this is what happens when you love too deeply.

The cross. When we love too radically, when we count everyone, when we forgive those who we don’t think deserve our forgiveness, when we offer more that we think we have to give….

When we stretch our hearts farther than we think they can go….

When I see the cross of Christ, I see the Body of Christ and it beckons me to become more than I am. It calls me to become all that I am, to give everything I have not just for those I love, but for all those I am called to love, or even love better.

It is this love that even defeats death, if we are brave enough to embrace the cross with all that we are.

Today, let us pray that we have enough patience and fortitude to love better than we think we can. Let us live and love with abandon so we might know what it is to be the Body of Christ. And may looking to the cross on this Good Friday be enough for us to become all that Christ calls us to be.

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/04/18/when-i-look-at-the-cross/feed/ 0
Presente! http://googlinggod.com/2014/03/24/presente/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=presente http://googlinggod.com/2014/03/24/presente/#comments Mon, 24 Mar 2014 19:45:52 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7107 Today marks the 34th Anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero. A sad day indeed. Today nobody has ever been brought to justice. And while he has been often talked about as becoming a saint, he remains short of that title. Recently, however the Vatican has placed him on a track for sainthood.

What I loved about Romero is not that he was fearless, rather, that he was afraid and he overcame fear with faith.

“I do not believe in death without resurrection,” he said. “If they kill me, I will be resurrected in the Salvadoran people.”

And that friends, is always more than enough. To believe that God will always make a way out of no way is a sign of true faith. St. Ignatius’ first principle and foundation essentially belies this fact:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.
And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and that they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.
From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

Or in short: No matter what; God will always have our back, even if the worst thing happens–even if we die, God will redeem our suffering and pain.

And that is a tough truth to accept, but it is comforting and freeing when we do so.

The final words of Romero were from a homily:

“One must not love oneself so much, as to avoid getting involved in the risks of life that history demands of us, and those that fend off danger will lose their lives.”

Sr. Peggy O’Neill, SC, who runs the Center for the Arts in Suchitoto in El Salvador has lived her life for the Salvadoran people. She has hid from the government and lived the danger of which Monseñor Romero spoke. She often chides students who visit her and tells them:

“If your dreams aren’t scary, then you’re not dreaming big enough.”

Amen. Romero dreamed of a world in which governments would not brutally oppress their people. In standing up for the dignity of his people, Romero found Christ within his heart for the poor.

Today let’s pray for the cause of Romero’s sainthood and for the people of El Salvador.

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/03/24/presente/feed/ 0
If Jesus had a Look Back http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/19/if-jesus-had-a-look-back/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=if-jesus-had-a-look-back http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/19/if-jesus-had-a-look-back/#comments Thu, 20 Feb 2014 02:09:13 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7104

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/19/if-jesus-had-a-look-back/feed/ 0
NYS Bishops on Care for the Mentally Ill: “Our Duty Is to Welcome Them with Openness and Affection” http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/17/nys-bishops-on-care-for-the-mentally-ill-our-duty-is-to-welcome-them-with-openness-and-affection/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=nys-bishops-on-care-for-the-mentally-ill-our-duty-is-to-welcome-them-with-openness-and-affection http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/17/nys-bishops-on-care-for-the-mentally-ill-our-duty-is-to-welcome-them-with-openness-and-affection/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 21:53:17 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7102 In 1980, New York State decided to take a look at how the mentally ill were being treated in society. They found some horrifying news as they looked at the state psychiatric hospitals. All it took for one to be “committed” to a state run psychiatric institution was the signatures of two psychiatrists. Obviously that system was abused and many people suffered because of it.

They decided to reform the law and they released many people from these institutions without much of a community-based plan to assist and care for them.

34 years later, the mentally ill still need attention. The stigma of mental illness still exists in society and we often deem people with mental illness as dangerous and unstable.

The truth is that “one in four adults, some 61.5 million people suffer from some form of mental illness.” For some, talk therapy with a psychologist is enough treatment needed to bring them back up to the borderline of good mental health. For others, medication is needed to correct a chemical imbalance. In either case, treatment works and is desperately needed. It is a serious community issue that needs community-based health care workers and much commitment to help people care for themselves and to seek whatever treatment might be necessary.

I am proud to say that our New York State Catholic Bishops have taken up this cause with a pastoral letter called “For I am Lonely and Afflicted” that I encourage you to all read in its entirety. They wrote a similar letter in 1980 and I am glad that they have re-affirmed this as a social justice issue for all Catholics to be aware.

Here’s a highlight that I found both touching and challenging for all of us:

“…with regard to developing “attitudes of acceptance and compassion” in our Catholic population. Let us be clear, it is our duty and the duty of every pastor, every chaplain, every religious education director and Catholic school principal, and all others in positions of Church leadership at every level to welcome with openness and affection those men, women and children who are afflicted with any form of mental illness and to integrate them into the life of the Church to the fullest extent possible.

Furthermore, all Catholics are called to be welcoming of this population in their churches, schools and communities. We must ask ourselves, have we always been as charitable as can be when we encounter those with mental illness? Have we sought to include them and make them feel welcome? Have we avoided the temptation to shun those who are different? Have we been open to residential housing or community mental health centers in our neighborhoods? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then we must again look to the example of Jesus given to us in the Gospels, repent for when we have failed, and resolve going forward to mirror His love and mercy for all God’s children.”

This is a call to all of us to ask “What are we doing for those with mental health diagnoses in our parishes, campuses, hospitals and neighborhoods?” How might we lobby as Catholics for greater care for those with mental illness? How might Jesus be calling us to stretch our hearts just a bit farther to care for those who may desperately need help and for those who have sought treatment and find themselves still ostracized by society?

I know quite a few people who have faced these issues either personally, or because they know someone with mental illness. Mental illness is no different chemically, than having a cholesterol imbalance that needs medication to regulate it. Treated properly, most people live rather normal lives with few, if any, issues surfacing. Gone untreated, severe problems occur that often go beyond the individual and can effect whole communities.

We need to be open, more open, to people with mental illnesses. We need to work with our communities in order to help people get treatment that they need. At Canisius, we work closely with our counseling center and have set up several days where they use our conference room for screenings for depression and anxiety. We’ve walked students at risk over to the counseling center and have been met there by caring and wonderful people who do life-changing work for so many people. The pastoral letter points out that “About 20 percent of youth experience severe mental disorders in a given year.” I would suspect that number is higher on any college campus.

As a spiritual director, I often refer people when I notice the signs of mental illness, most often depression. I’m glad that younger people are a bit more open to professional counseling and the need for medication when it warrants it. I hope that trend continues because we need to Stop the Stigma of mental illness in our society.

Today let us be grateful to our Bishops, in this case, those in my home state. Bishop Malone is my own Bishop here in Buffalo and I’m proud to call him a friend and also proud that he is but one of the authors of this document along with his brother bishops and the staff of many at Catholic Charities who know all too well, the need for the stigma to end and for community-based mental health care.

So today, let us pray for those with mental illness, that they may be able to receive the treatment that they need. Let us pray for those who care for those who have mental health diagnoses that they might be good advocates and be patient during the tough times. And let’s pray for each one of us, that we might have the courage to stand with those who are most often ostracized in society, to call for greater care and a greater need for quality intervention, when others cannot speak for themselves and need care. Let us greet these people with love and with dignity. As the Bishops point out, this is what Jesus did. And so let me close with the words of the psalmist:

Turn to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
Relieve the troubles of my heart;
and free me from my anguish.
(PS 25: 16-17)

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/17/nys-bishops-on-care-for-the-mentally-ill-our-duty-is-to-welcome-them-with-openness-and-affection/feed/ 0
Why Do Campus Ministries Have “Permanent Communities?” http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/17/why-do-campus-ministries-have-permanent-communities/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=why-do-campus-ministries-have-permanent-communities http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/17/why-do-campus-ministries-have-permanent-communities/#comments Mon, 17 Feb 2014 06:35:57 +0000 http://googlinggod.com/?p=7096 In New Mexico a story came out this week that the Archbishop of Santa Fe has asked the Dominicans to leave the Newman Center at the University of New Mexico. He will replace them with younger priests from the diocese who have no experience in Campus Ministry, but the guy who will be the pastor is also the Vocation Director.

UnknownIn the interest of full disclosure, I’d offer this. I spoke at a conference to the West Coast Dominicans and found them to be a hoot. I also have done a lot of work alongside the Archbishop of Santa Fe, the Very Rev. Michael Sheehan and he’s a great guy and far from ideological one way or the other. As he puts it himself, “A bird needs a left wing AND a right wing in order to fly.”

Many people at the Newman Center are upset that the Dominicans are leaving. I haven’t had the pleasure of being there, but I could imagine that their homilies are well done and that they speak to the experience of a University community well. I’m also sure that counted among the regular mass attendees include faculty and former faculty who would not go to mass at all if it were not for the Dominicans.

So why the change, you might ask?

Like any good reporter, I looked at the facts and came up with what I think is happening here.

Newman Centers often become places where people come when they are dissatisfied with what they find in other parishes in their area. And let’s face facts, there are some places where liturgy can in fact, be performed so poorly that it kills faith. Bad homilies certainly abound. Rigid adherence to rubrics often drive some people crazy when it gets in the way of pastoral care or local tradition. Badly performed music or music that tries too hard to be “cool” kills many a spirit. And there are some parishes that are simply unwelcoming.

So at times, people flock to Newman Centers or local Campus Ministries to find some young energy and vibrant liturgies. The truth is that often these places are hallmarks of what liturgy should be like. Excellent music and preaching. Strong hospitality. Loving communities involved in working with the poor. Etc.

But…at times, all of the good parts about Newman Centers and Campus Ministries obscures the fact that these places are supposed to be centers for college students and not parishes. The focus wanes away from the students of a given University and gets placed on all the parish “services” that are needed for parishes to serve their parishioners well. Before you know it, there’s a Sunday School program for kids, a parish council gets formed and social events start to happen, weddings happen, funerals, baptisms…all the things that take time away from the student community.

And it all happens because older parishioners choose to make this place their parish.

Hear me, correctly, now. I’m not saying this is always a bad thing. Some places do this very well. There’s a permanent community based at the Center and they support the students who come there as well. The FOCUS of the community is on the students, not on the parishioners. The staff is focused on welcoming students and the permanent community is a happy afterthought.

But this is few and far between.

These centers often become places that are a bit more “liberal” for lack of a better term. Sometimes it’s where everyone who doesn’t like more traditional liturgy comes to worship and that might be the only reason they attend.

So I might muse a bit here about the situation we find here in New Mexico.

1) My guess is that the Newman Center is a bit of one of these liberal outposts–but not very far left. The Dominicans I know are a bit more centrist than anything else. But for the staunchest traditionalist, it’s too liberal for them.

2) My guess is that there is a significant number of people who have been attracted to the Center by the Dominicans and have been spiritually fed by them for many years now.

3) My guess is that the Archbishop has received complaints from some more traditional students saying that they don’t feel welcome there and that they have chosen to travel a few miles away from Campus to attend mass elsewhere.

4) My guess is that the place is really more like a University Parish where the permanent community gets more attention than the students do. But where the permanent community also strongly supports the students with their dollars, with meals, with mentoring. A quick look at their website shows that the Campus Ministry page hasn’t been updated since October but the permanent community has plenty of current happenings listed.

5) My guess is that Archbishop Sheehan would also like to have a crack at getting seminarians from the University instead of them going to the Dominicans.

So that’s all conjecture to be sure. But it’s an educated conjecture. And I do have a strong opinion about these places. In short, it is as follows:

“If you want to attend mass at a place dedicated to Campus Ministry, you should first realize that you are a guest there and that this place is not aimed at you!”

Newman Centers need to engage STUDENTS. There should be a number of student masses, on the weekend, not just one. The students should be the lectors, eucharistic ministers and hospitality ministers. There should be a bunch of programming run by students for students. The students should be in the center and have priority when it comes to the center’s use for activities.

Too many of these places are run by the permanent community. Granted, they are a great source of financial support, especially at a secular university who provides no funding as they would if it were a Jesuit University, let’s say. They become vibrant parishioners and may very well serve as great evangelizers for people who feel uninvited elsewhere.

But the focus all too easily can be taken off of the Campus. The Director ends up being the pastor of the community and can no longer focus his energy on the students who need him. The end result becomes a place that doesn’t engage students well.

In fact, it may very well drive them away.

At one Newman Center that I will not name here, a student arrived for a Sunday Evening mass. He turned to one of my friends and said “I thought this was Campus Ministry? What’re all the old people doing here?!”

And that is not a good vibe for a college student to feel. They want to be with others their own age for worship. They want to see others their own age serving at the altar. And they want to know that this experience of worship is meaningful to their friends. And furthermore, they want to be included in this experience of worship because far too often they are ignored in their own parish.

I think these communities can co-exist and I’ve seen it happen in certain places. It seems from what I can read that the Newman Center in New Mexico may have in fact, been pretty good at the balance. But I would say that the balance may have tipped too much towards the permanent community for Archbishop Sheehan’s comfort. I also believe that the Bishop is listening perhaps to a few too many traditional minded students and should ask, how the Campus Ministry staff might expand to evangelize those on a secular campus who just plum forget about God from time to time?

My thought is turning the place into a University Parish may have been a better plan and keeping the Dominicans at the helm might have solidified it a bit. They could then split responsibility between a parish staff and a Campus Ministry staff and would be able to pay attention to both entities with great care. That would take money and commitment, but I think it could have been well worth it. If the liturgy was too non-traditional, well then, there are ways to work with that. St. Dominic’s in San Francisco is a huge Dominican Church that I always find to be very traditional, but also very young adult centered. It reaches that happy medium often and perhaps that’s what the Dominicans could have strived for in consort with the Archbishop.

In short, two sides fail to talk, compromise and reach consensus. One of them has to go and the Bishop is the one who has the authority.

This is sad but what is sadder is that the students now have inexperienced Campus Ministers who I believe will only focus on vocations and traditional students. Parishioners will uproot and head down the road, perhaps not even to a Catholic Church for worship.

For me, the bottom line is the students need to be served and the permanent community took too many liberties with this Newman Center and tried to turn it into their parish. They may have very well done so.

And now it belongs to nobody who helped build it.

Post to Twitter

]]>
http://googlinggod.com/2014/02/17/why-do-campus-ministries-have-permanent-communities/feed/ 2