Fr. Greg Boyle regaled us with stories of the homies that he serves in his ministry to gang members. My favorite story was the one he told of two gang members who were texting insults to each other. “Yo homie, I’m in jail. They arrested me for being the ugliest man alive. I need you to come down here to show them that they’re wrong!”
It’s juvenile until you know that these two men were from rival gangs. They previously shot bullets at each other, now through Homeboy Industries, they shoot funny texts instead. Bagging on each other is a sign of kinship, one of our themes for the evening.
My other hero is Fr. Joseph O’Hare who was my president when I was an undergrad. A great man who always had time for me. I would serve the 8PM mass with him as an acolyte and we developed a friendly rapport. At a homecoming mass years ago, Fr. O’Hare referred to me when he mentioned to the alumni, “We all come back, perhaps balder, perhaps fatter, but we always come back to Fordham.”
That encouraged me to drop 20 pounds. As I walked in tonight I caught sight of “Papa Joe” behind me. I waited for him to catch up and said, “I graduated 20 years ago. I’m getting a nice award tonight and yet, here I am still holding a door for you!”
He laughed and said, “You look great! What are they feeding you in Buffalo?”
I replied, “Nothing but vegetables and a huge trainer that watches me like a hawk.”
He laughed and then spent a good deal of time with my father. My dad, as many know, is an Irish immigrant with less than a high school education. For a man of Fr. O’Hare’s stature to know my dad by name, says a little something about both of them. Fr. O’Hare can talk with Rhodes Scholars and Noble Laureates and still talk with the lowliest freshman or a school custodian and the feeling is the same…He makes you feel like the only one in the room.
My dad is a lot like that too. He was the life of the party tonight. He’s a beloved figure in our family and for 30 years he was a beloved chief custodian for the Yonkers Schools System. I still haven’t been to as big of a party as the one they threw him when he retired. The firemen down the block threw him a separate party and I thought they’d never stop cooking for him. I’ll always defend my dad, but there’s actually never an opportunity to do so because nobody has a bad word to say about him.
Our theme tonight was “Awe came upon everyone: Compassion Beyond Judgement.” There was a lot of that tonight. Alumni and faculty, outsiders and insiders, Priests and laity–welcomed and eating together and all was sacred. We are all God’s people. I hope in some small way I’ve been able to treat people I minister to with the same kind of love that Fr. Greg Boyle has for the gang members he serves. He buried his 118th one this past Wednesday and yet he keeps right on going, undeterred in his enthusiasm to love without measure and without judgement.
I think that’s what St. Ignatius would have loved. For all the award winners are in many ways unsung heroes. We serve for the Magis, the greater glory of God. We hope that we hold God’s people in our hearts when their hearts are too weak to see their own worth. We try to provide a vision of God’s love for those who often feel unloved and unwanted: struggling students, mentally ill people, children in poverty, immigrants, the son of a custodian, an old Jesuit, gang members.
Our hearts can see much more than our eyes can. It’s what enables ministry and what strengthens our resolve. I think I needed that reminder tonight. So thanks to all those at Fordham who made tonight necessary–as Yogi would say–especially, Fran Rossi Szpylczyn and Rosemary Azzaro who traveled in to be with me. Fr. Dave Dwyer, CSP and Vince Quinn who represented BustedHalo.com. Donna Spigarolo who nominated me and Linda DeMarkey and Ann Heekin who chaired tonight’s event so elegantly. Dean William Madden from the grad school of religion and especially Msgr. Joseph Quinn who represented our President were so inspiring with their words as well.
As we move forward into tomorrow, Lord, we recall the words of St. Ignatius:
Take Lord, Receive all my liberty,
My memory, understanding, my entire will.
Give me only your love
and your grace.
That’s Enough for me.