Solidarity and Dignity

One of my colleagues woke up this morning to no heat in subzero wind chill weather. He escaped to a Starbucks with his family to get warm and to use the internet on a morning where a major project was due.

It reminded me of a Winter Service Break where we had to spend just one night in a drop in Center (by ourselves). We served a bunch of people at the center for dinner and fun in the late afternoon. Essentially the place is a living room atmoshphere where people can “drop in” to get a shower, a meal and some companionship. We served food, played cards and generally made conversation. After the guests left we locked doors and settled in for the night. It was then that we noticed.

One mouse.
Two mice.
Three mice.
Four mice.

I stopped counting at 12.

So sleeping on the floor was no longer an option. I propped myself up on two chairs in my sleeping bag and drifted off. My daring colleague called us a bunch of wusses and threw his sleeping bag on the floor and got inside throwing one arm outside of it.

“Those mice are more scared of you then they are of–AHHHHHHH!”

We jumped to attention at his scream as a mouse ran over his arm.

I looked down and saw about 4 or 5 of the critters circling my chair-bed as if I was in the mouse version of Jaws.

Ed, my aforementioned colleague said it best:

“Dude, I’m all for solidarity with the poor, but how about dignity?”

Wise words. And since then I’ve taken them to heart. It moved me to write to my colleague this morning: “Solidarity always leads to dignity. Use this experience to lobby for the poor.”

I’ve also noticed that in the more progressive Catholic circles there often are people who bend towards one pole or the other of solidarity or dignity. There are some who say, live in Catholic Worker homes in solidarity with the poor and literally pick people up off the street and treat people the way Jesus would. They live in relative squalor. Sometimes they have bedbug issues and cleanliness is not at an all time high. And they are willing to live like this because poor people often have to. There are volunteer communities who live in homes with broken appliances or other household issues because “poor people don’t get to fix their homes–they can’t afford it.”

Then there are those who are leaning towards the dignity end. Some go to the extreme of merely doing charity. They raise money, they promote advocacy, maybe even they do a habitat project. They recognize that people in the world have problems and that they can help. So they do so. But they never quite understand at a deep visceral level what the plight of the poor is like. It is always a “them” and “us” polarity.

The truth is that we need both of these drives. We need to have experiences of solidarity in order to remind us deeply that people are being robbed of dignity. We need to feel their indignity to see that we are not so different.

We need not abandon dignity altogether however. Experiences of solidarity need not result in choosing to live indignantly. Rather all of this needs to result in our living for one another joyfully. Can we look at our luxuries and live without them in order to more gratefully provide for others? “How little can we live with and retain our dignity?” is a great question to ask ourselves.

However, we can’t let our own dignity slip away. Everyone should have a comfy bed, shelter, enough to eat, access to health care. I’d argue that a computer and good internet access is getting close to being needed in order to keep up with society. I once chastised a student who said he saw a guy with a nice phone but he spent a lot less money on clothing for his kids. Certainly priorities need to be in order, but we also need to think about what that phone provided him with. A status symbol like a nice smartphone might get him a better job. What if he said that he doesn’t own a cell phone or didn’t have an email address? How would the person interviewing him regard him? What if he didn’t have an address? You can see the downward spiral in our elitist minds. Dignity is all too easily robbed in our developed world where Americans are clearly the 1% by global standards.

“Nobody should have to live like this.” I said to my colleague and indeed that experience has charged my energies in lobbying for the poor. It’s not enough to allow yourself to face day to day indignities and in doing so claim solidarity as your prize for being above it all. Rather, we need to experience solidarity and take steps towards restoring dignity. The reverse is also true. It’s not enough to recognize dignity is what’s needed and to throw money at the problem. What’s needed is solidarity as well. We need to see the other as ourselves and in doing so also see Christ in our midst. That should be enough to recognize that the other indeed can easily be ourselves. It’s not about how others are different but rather it’s about how we are all the same.

Solidarity needs to keep its cousin dignity close by. Otherwise we will always keep those who live in poverty on the outside. And dignity needs solidarity to keep providing all of us with the experiences of poverty, for that empowers us to feel for others and to treat them as we would like to be treated.

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Nun: I Had No Idea I was Pregnant

Fans of Discovery Health’s “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant” will love this: a Salvadoran nun gave birth in Italy this week, claiming she had absolutely no idea she was pregnant.

She said she was in her convent in Campomoro when she felt stomach cramps and was rushed to a hospital in the nearby city of Rieti, AFP reports. She ended up giving birth to a boy.

Italian news agency ANSA reported that the 31-year-old nun named her son Francesco, which also happens to be the name of the current Pope.

I’m not buying this. The Nun in question is 31.

Her superior said “It seems she was not able to resist temptation.”

Apparently. I’m glad they are caring for mother and child. Hoping that we don’t find out that the nun was assaulted.

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Shepherd Me, O God

Well, 2014 is off to a fantastic start.

Sarcasm will get you everywhere.

It’s been a wild ride to the start of this year. I’ll spare you most of the details, but let’s just say that I’m not exactly feeling 2014 yet. I’ve also taken note that years ending in a four are often simply craptastic years for me.

But here’s hoping that this will change. Just because the year has started bad with some weather issues, traveling challenges, a need now for vocational discernment for my wife, the death of two friend’s close family members and some trepidations about other issues that I shall keep close to the vest for now…does not mean that the year must go the way of the Tidy-Bowl-Man.

And regardless of the fact that crap happens to all of us, the great Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, has given me a mantra by which to live my life. Simply put:

“Life is hard. Get over it.”

To add to that…I would say that because life is hard it indeed is a reminder that we do not journey it alone. That we have need of God. That we are not God and that on occasion we need some help along the way.

In fact, we need it often.

Psalm 23 is often read at funerals. It should probably be read each day because it reminds us of God’s shepherding love for the world.

So today let us pray:

That God will indeed shepherd us in troubled times and that we will be able to see God’s guidance in our lives and feel the tender embrace in our painful times.

For it is in faith that we walk, comforted by the fact that God never leaves us alone, makes a way out of no way and always can redeem our suffering, even in the face of hopelessness and death.

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If You Haven’t Been Watching Hoops Star Billy Baron

You’re missing something. He’s been amazing here at Canisius.

And his dad is also the Coach at Canisius and is a great guy. I’ve forgiven him for breaking my heart when he was the coach at St. Francis of Loretto in PA and he beat Fordham to stop their run for the NCAA tournament.

A side note: This year in Campus Ministry we launched a new initiative collaborating with the Lutheran Churches here in Buffalo called “Feed Hungry Kids” where we put together 10,000 meals for kids at risk in a few hours. We invited several members of the Canisius College community to come out and the basketball team came out in force that day, including Coach Baron and all his assistant coaches as well. A great show of support for the event and for Canisius.

Keep it up, Barons. I’ll be using the #baroned whenever Billy leads the Griffs to another win. As in “You just got Baroned.”

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School prayers

Today the diocese of Buffalo will announce the closing of many grammar schools. For many children this will be a sad day. For many teachers and school employees this will be a day to start scrambling for a new position.

My wife is the after-school
Coordinator at a local parish in Amherst and she loves it here. It’s taken her some time to find a place where she really fits in. So I’m hoping she doesn’t have to start looking for a new place to work.

A dear friend is going through a similar situation in NYC and it’s just no fun at all. While he’s confident that he’ll find work, he’s sad for the girls who attend his high school, especially the Juniors who have to start at a new high school for their final year. Imagine having to go to a rival high school for your final year? I remember when some friend failed out of my high school and then went to another school to continue. It seemed weird to me to see them sitting on the opposite sideline at football games and to see them have to cobble together new friends.

So this morning, let us pray for healing for those who will undoubtedly be hurt today. Let us pray for those who lose jobs and those who make hard decisions. Pray for parents and students and teachers and principals. Pray for custodians and cafeteria workers and librarians.

And pray for Bishop Malone who is going to look like the bad guy in this situation, no matter what. This is tough on him and it needs to happen to right-size these schools before they all go broke. So keep him and his colleagues in prayer today.

Lord, pray for our educators, and allow them to bring knowledge and insight to our young students. And pray that all those who will find themselves unemployed will find work they enjoy soon. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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The God of Old Friend Surprises

I’ve been catching up with old friends since my students left me and while I usually have to come down off of the mountain top after a week with students this year I’ve had a few experiences after the trip that took me on a higher climb.

The first, of all things, was a funeral. My best friend’s 90 year old grandmother who we called “Oreo”, because her gray hair had a big spot of black right in the middle of her head died this week. Her funeral was moments after my students checked out so I was able to get there albeit in grubby clothes from the week’s service trip. She was an amazing woman who had a rough childhood and an amazing marriage for 68 years to her now grieving husband.

Sad, though it was, my friend told me one amazing story. In his grandmother’s final hours her roommate was another woman who was much younger but also awaiting the end of her life. My friend’s mother, Camille, sat by her mother as she began the final journey home and a man came over. He was the son of the younger, dying woman. He spoke broken English and was Hispanic. He looked and asked Camille, “Your mother?”

She replied, “Yes.”

He then pointed to the other bed and said “My mother.”

This was a “I know how you feel, my mom is also dying” communication.

Not long after this, Oreo passed on. The man comforted Camille and said “I’ll wait here with her.” While Camille went to fill out all the paperwork needed.

She returned and the man was still tree and not long after Camille returned, the man’ s mother also died. And so, Camille did the same waiting for him.

Beautiful. They have both attended the wakes of each other’s parent. Death somehow unites people across cultures and don’t think moms are not smiling.

On a more lighthearted note, I went to the Hockey game with my college bud and former radio colleague John McDermott and his son, Jack. John’s a great dad and he let Jack bring a friend along. Two well behaved kids who were great to be with. John was great to me in the business and even tried to persuade me to become the program director of the Catholic Channel on Sirius radio one time. A nice night catching up. We bag on each other often in a good natured way and for years I was clearly the foil that he and all our other mutual friends would ruthlessly rip on. I think it’s how I developed a thick skin and still retained my sensitivity for others. A great game capped by an overtime goal with one tick left on the clock also made it a very memorable night with an old friend in the cheap seats. He even treated! A blessing on your house, sir! John has also inspired me as he just completed the NYC marathon this past year and has gotten so much healthier. Gotta stay healthy for those three great kids, loving wife and two cool dogs!

We plan to solicit the NHL to change overtime rules. No more shootouts just one period of “endless overtime” and NO line changes. You put five guys out there and a goalie. Some caveats. You can rest one guy on the boards for two minutes (do you also rest a guy or take a power play opportunity if you’re the opposing coach?). You commit a penalty and you’re ejected. Now your team plays short handed for the rest of the game. Most of these ideas are John’s and I think they can be implemented. Shootouts are fun and dramatic but kind of anti-climatic. Hockey should be the antithesis of fast technology in this case. I can hear it now: “In the 92nd minute of overtime….still tied between the sabres and the devils at 3.”

My friends Jeff and Beth and Paul and Eric and Fr Dave Dwyer are also to be commended for letting me crash at their various places throughout the week. Jeff wen went the extra yard and chauffeured me around on my final day in the city after a tough day of service and situations. (The whole story is more than bloggable, but we’ll save it for down the road).

Who would have thought that my two favorite moments of this week would have been a funeral, getting locked out and hanging out with a guy who bags on me? But it was and there was God in the midst of it all, reminding me of the gift of good friends.

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Brooklyn

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I made a wrong turn on Eastern Parkway today and got a nice tour of the area for myself before righting my route.

Some New Yorker I am.

But while my wife is from Brooklyn, it’s never been my favorite borough. I don’t really know why. It is quite an impressive place and people are nice and streets have character. Brooklyn is indeed a fine borough.

The subway is a mish-mash of people. Old, young, white, black, the occasional Hasidic with his hat and curls. Crown Heights is certainly the melting pot it has always been.

Over the bridge we go, the mighty Brooklyn Bridge. A landmark like no other. Amazing! We plan to walk over it on Friday night.

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I visited Brooklyn Jesuit Prep today which indeed was an impressive place. Small classes with lots of individual attention for students who need it. Students from low income areas whose parents probably work two jobs to make ends meet. They rose and shook my hand and welcomed me…each student in the class I visited. My students love them, worry for them, tutor them, and show them much care. They think about whether they are getting enough attention and what they can do in this short term to make that happen.

It’s a very Brooklyn thing to think about such matters. Brooklyn folks stick together…families, friends, neighborhoods binding together as no other.

Maybe it could become my favorite borough one day, if like Brooklyn, I just accept everything as it is and help it become all that it can be.

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Harlem

Harlem has changed so much.
I remember friends
getting off Metro North commuter rail at 125th street
by mistake
and being told
that they should
get on the next train immediately.
A hulking fearsome figure
Looked out for them then.

Now, Harlem’s grand avenue looks
Much like the Times Square of old.
Character in it’s veins
And energy in it’s working class bones.

St Aloysius is here
And my students are working there
Among the small ones
Of a still mostly
African American community.
They teach them science and math
And play with pre schoolers
and I watch them come alive.

Harlem is alive with much life
And I pray it offers their children
Even more than they hoped for
And that my students are touched
By the students so much
That they look forward to Harlem
Where they can return
To have their hearts
Changed all over again.

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Bob’s Mets

When I was a kid, I played little league baseball and loved it. I wasn’t very good, but I had my moments. I blossomed a bit more as a player as I got older. But I did learn how to be a gentleman on the field from our coach, a wonderful man, named Bob Hornbeck.

Coach was a great guy and always kept his cool. He was always graceful to the other coaches and would thank the umpires afterwards. Even when he argued I don’t think his voice ever raised, even when we once had a major beef when someone nearly tackled one of our base runners.

In short, everyone said he was the nicest of all the coaches in the league.

He has two kids who were my contemporaries, Kim and Bobby. He lost his wife several years ago.

Kim asked for some prayers today because coach isn’t doing too well these days. He’s hoping to make his next birthday in a few months but it’s not clear if that can happen.

I remember one strong memory with Coach. I had a great tryout that year smacking a ball over the Center Field wall in a makeshift school gym. So they threw me with the older kids but I was the last one to be cut. So I went back and nobody had told Coach that I was coming. He wasn’t sure if I was where I was supposed to be. So he got the other guys registered and told me to hold on. I thought there would be no chance of getting a spot on the team. But coach made sure I had a spot.

“Nobody’s playing third.” He asked me, ” You think you can play third?”

The thought of this now makes me laugh. I had no arm, but coach put me there anyway. I did OK, I guess. Coach always found a way to let me play.

He also let his daughter play on our team, which was unheard of in those days.

He took us to the championship that year and I woke up that morning and couldn’t walk. I still don’t know what happened, but my knee was in pain and buckling and I missed that game. We lost. And I really felt like I let him down. He assured me that I hadn’t later in the week and was just happy that I was OK.

Coaches have always been influential in my life. But Coach Hornbeck taught me how to be a gentleman. And that was a lot more important than learning how to hit a curve.

So today, if you’ve got a prayer pray with me for Coach Bob.

Lord, bring peace and comfort to my coach. Who brought peace and comfort to me and to his fine family. Give him the calm that he always exuded. And allow him to rest easy in these remaining days for him. Bring comfort too to Kim and Bobby. Allow them to recall wonderful memories with their father as they visit and to embrace him and feel the love that families have to offer each other.

But mostly Lord, let us be grateful for all that you made Bob Hornbeck to be. And as we gather around your table, you unite all of us together from across the ages. Bob was strengthened by that. May we too be strengthened by that as well. And may it bring all of us peace as we pray that Bob be free of pain and peacefully live out these days with his family. Coach him, Lord. Root for him. Console him in the small losses of old age.

And Lord, if you call Bob home in these days, welcome him into the glory of your kingdom and grant him forgiveness, peace and consolation.

We ask all of this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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The South Bronx

The name once sent shivers
Up my spine
A place I wouldn’t be caught dead in
I once said
My sister and I went there once
With Sr Ruth Rosenbaum,
A Jewish nun! A convert
Who in turn helped many others
Running a home for youth.
I liked it there
Playing cards with Miguel
Who liked to play WAR.
But who was really escaping from the war
Outside the haven of Ruth’s home.

It’s changed now
Not a yuppie haven
Of co-op apartments
And trendy eateries.
Like Harlem.
The Bronx always has retained some
Of it’s toughness
It’s vitality
That raw New York grittiness,
Not a dangerous way
As it once was
When I played war with Miguel
Who escaped wars that would make any child shudder.
But in a way that unites us
Powerfully so
Like a tough mother
Who will fight for her children.
Like a Bronx cop
who won’t take no shit
From nobody.
Like the ferocious tigers and the apes
At the best zoo in the world.
And Reggie’s swagger
And Jeter’s tenacity
And Mariano Rivera’s walk in from the bullpen
In a deafening Yankee Stadium
Which should always and forever be in the South Bronx,
even if just on the edge of it.

Brooklyn is a bit too sweet
Staten Island is too sedate
Queens is nice, but almost suburban
And Manhattan…
Don’t even get me started.
Disney changed that place into a playground.
For tourists.

Give me the Bronx
Any day of the week
And we’ll always win
In 7 games or less.

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