I Baptize with Water

An update for readers who are not close friends: This past year I began study to become a Catholic Deacon. One of the things that many of the Deacons I have spoken with have noted is how much they enjoy celebrating Baptisms.

It’s not something I really thought about until the baptism of my Godchild, Noah, some time ago. His grandfather is a Deacon and he baptized him and I imagine that this was a special moment for him.

It made me think about John the Baptist today, who I’m sure knew many of the people who came to him for baptism quite well. He must have been quite touched to be bringing so many of his friends to renew their relationship with God and likely it was an affirmation of his preaching and his good work in the vineyard.

But this line from the Gospel stayed with me today:

“I baptize with water;
but there is one among you whom you do not recognize,
the one who is coming after me,
whose sandal strap I am not worthy to untie.”

I too, will one day baptize people with water–but God does the rest. John’s words here initially strike one as humbleness, but in truth, John just saw things as they are. “I Baptize with water.” God is the one who gives us new life in this Baptism. Our outward sign is nothing if not a sign of God’s presence and saving grace for us.

That’s for US…not merely the newly baptized who indeed becomes a sign for all of us through the experience of our seeing them Baptized. This is why many parishes are moving away from private baptisms and insisting that the sacrament happens at one of the Sunday masses, or minimally, more than one couple comes together for Baptisms monthly and sit together until all the children are baptized.

So in four years or so, I will be looking forward to witness these Baptisms. And in it I will be mindful that I will simply be an agent of God’s grace, leading those present and the newly baptized “to be a witness to a glimpse of God that we are allowed to catch.” (Henri Nouwen)

2017: Blogging Rebirth

It’s a new year and I need to write more. I find myself in a funk in terms of my writing and my commitment to that. So I’m aiming for a post per day in 2017 and hope you will join me.

A New Year always lends itself to half-hearted commitments and I fear this may be one of mine, as time and what I like to do often doesn’t link together. But one needs to start somewhere and mine begins here on this first day of a new year.

Rebirth lends itself to also thinking about motherhood, on this Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God. Mary’s own life, I imagine, went through a rebirth of sorts as she was told that she would be the “God-bearer” (theotokos). A Virgin, Mary is told of this miraculous birth that will come about with her assent. I imagine that this likely brought both excitement and fear, as most transitions do.

But here Mary goes anyway. Bravely. Knowing that God will literally be with her with every step.

Can we believe the same thing?

Is God with us with every step of our lives? Can we trust that no matter what befalls us in this coming year that God will indeed be with us? And moreover, can we trust that Mary understands the fear that we may feel in these days?

When our world is turned upside down, it is Mary who can mother us not merely into a calm and gentle journey. No! Mary jaunts with us down the rocky road, fraught with all kinds of trouble that might exist. But she helps us arm ourselves with God’s trust. Even at the hour of our death, Mary reminds us of God’s care for us, prodding us to accept that God’s love is stronger than our tragedies, God’s mercy destroys our sinfulness and that we can ease into the end of our humanity, knowing that God holds our own union with divinity in his waiting arms.

My own mother is now 88 and I am thankful to still have her with me, albeit far from me in these days. She needs mothering now in her golden years and finds it difficult, I fear, to accept that. What I have come to realize however, that both my mother and father (also, now 88) have made it to this age with very few resources. And so, perhaps their trust and dependance on God is far stronger than my own. So I have come to trust in their own faith, contributing when asked, but respecting their independence and moreover, enjoying their company when I am together with them.

Perhaps, that is what rebirth really means? We look at something in a new way and committing to move forward not in desolation, but in peace.

And with Mary mothering us into each new year.

If Deacons Can Do Everything a Lay Person Can Do, That’s News to Me

Fr Thomas Reese, SJ, someone I respect much, writes a column today on the Diaconate. As someone who has been a lay minister for the past 16 years and now is entering into a year of inquiry for the diaconate I really enjoyed reading this column and also would like to add my own comments to this:

Resse writes and I will annotate:

But the truth is that a layperson can do everything that a deacon can do.

I’ve heard this argument before and it’s not really the case and I know this first hand. The issue here is that a lay person MIGHT be able to do most things a deacon can do but they cannot do them regularly, rather they may only preach or baptize by necessity, as in when nobody else can do it.

A layperson can preside over a Scripture service or a funeral, things that deacons commonly do.

True. But this would not happen all that often in most places.

True, a layperson cannot give a homily after the Gospel at Mass. But that is simply a rule of canon law, which can be easily changed. There is no need to ordain people so they can give homilies. Just change the law.

Good luck getting that to be changed, but I agree with Fr Reese that what we really need is a ministry called “preacher” and that could in fact, come from the laity. It’s a big reason why I want to be a Deacon. I am unable to preach often and almost completely restricted from preaching on Sundays.

True, deacons can baptize, but so can laypeople. I was baptized by a Sister of St. Joseph in the hospital when they thought I would die shortly after birth. That is why my middle name is Joseph. Baptisms by laypeople have always been recognized by the church.

Again, necessity only. Not a regular preactice.

True, deacons can witness weddings, but in Catholic theology the ministers of the sacrament of marriage are the two people getting married. The priest or deacon simply “assists” (Canon 1108). There is no reason a layperson could not perform this function, in fact Canon 1112 permits it under certain circumstances.

Yes, but if this were a regular practice, you’d get slapped by your Bishop for doing so. And if this was the case, gay people would have their marriages witnessed all the time by their fellow lay people, which ironically, they mostly do.

The truth is that we have deacons for the same reason we have auxiliary bishops, because they get more respect. Clericalism is so engrained in the Catholic soul that people will give greater deference to a deacon than a layperson; priests and people will give greater deference to an auxiliary bishop than to a priest, even if the priest is a vicar general. Ordination gives status beyond the actual competence of the person.

I take some umbrage at this comment. Albeit I would say that Fr. Reese is mostly right at times here. I think it depends on the minister and on the people he serves. As the director of Campus Ministry and a lay person, I have had to to work harder to get the respect of others in some cases, where it might be automatically granted to a priest and maybe to a deacon, who I often think don’t get the same respect as priests do. Many people think that one of the Jesuits here is my “boss” when in fact, I supervised him and another Jesuit last year.

I don’t think it is necessarily respect that is granted here—-but it’s a visible credential that we value. And while I have a credential with my Master’s Degree and my experience, I don’t have a Roman Collar or a diaconal stole to be a sign of visibility to others of why they should respect my credential.

In many ways I would say Fr Resse misses one indispensable part of the diaconate in his column, which is the call they have to service to the church in the world. Deacons have a regular job and witness to others by their ministry to those beyond the walls. Deacons are servants and tied to social justice initiatives and are in fact required to do service as part of their ministry by design. But they are also people who live in the world as other lay people do. They are not cloistered. They often have families and they almost all have non-ministerial jobs along with their diaconal assignments of preaching and service.

There is, however, one way to save the diaconate. Give it a ministry that serves a real need, one that laypeople cannot do — anointing of the sick.

I’d argue that we should allow them to hear confessions as well. And I agree with Fr Reese on the Anointing of the Sick point.

But the truth is as a layperson I am suspect. Many do not buy that I am a minister of the church and I often have to prove to others that I am so. I take advantage of every opportunity I have to do anything liturgical, where 99% of the people will have their only witness of a “minister of the church” be they priest, deacon or lay minister. It is exhilarating but also exhausting to be a lay minister some days and to try to explain what it is that we do as lay ministers. It is one of the many reasons that I feel called to the diaconate. My preaching gift is limited. I have been asked repeated times to preside at weddings. I read scripture well and make the Gospel come alive for others and was once told that “I should only do that and nothing else. If the scripture was read that way every Sunday, I would be there every week.” The truth is that I minister to smaller pockets of people as a lay person often, but the larger groups of people who come to the church for regular mass and the sacraments are seeking me out! And often I have to refuse those requests. And five years from now, when God willing, a Bishop will lay his hands on my head and ordain me to the diaconate, my ministry may not change all that much per se and yet, it will change immeasurably.

However, and this is important…

Ordination or lack of ordination should not limit the ministers of the church.

We do what we do. We have heard confessions far too often without the ability to offer sacramental absolution. Our tears have baptized people that we have cried with when they’ve lost a child to suicide or just heard about the death of a grandparent. We’ve sat in hospital rooms visiting the dying when nobody else would. We’ve lived our marriage vows as sacraments together, especially in difficult times when stress gets the best of us. And most of all, we have been the body of and blood of Jesus….who stretches forth to us from the altar of grace each week, if not each day for us and that has allowed us to become Christ for all those who need us, pouring out our love for others at inconvenient times and in strange places where many priests, nuns, deacons and brothers would balk at finding themselves despite their rank in the church hierarchy.

Despite the lack of ordination, I, along with my colleagues changed the conversation on how to minister to young adults in the church and created a call to action to make that a priority. Many of us lay ministers to young adults have done more to change the church, especially here in the United States, than most will do in a lifetime. I’m pretty proud of that and I didn’t need ordination to do it. And the help of the ordained in this matter was crucial. Collaboration is a whole other article.

And yet, more work needs to be done. More need to be served. Babies need to be baptized, marriages need witnessing, Gospels need to come alive, the dead need to be buried and yes, the sick need to be anointed and forgiven. And the word needs to be preached well. Truth be told, the best homilies I often hear are from Deacons. One deacon I know once said that there were Sundays pre-ordination for him where he wanted to scream “SAY SOMETHING INTERESTING” when local pastors and priests could not reach the bar.

And therein is the call. Why not me? Why not you? Why not use your gifts as the church calls them into being in the way they presently are used. Not to say that they should be limited by these rules, but that they are right now. A Paulist father who is a good friend reminded me recently that if one doesn’t “get in the game” they simply leave those gifts on the sideline. And so he encouraged my vocation and I more eagerly applied for the diaconate.

So pray for me. As I discern whether the ministry of a deacon is right for me in this upcoming year. Pray for me as I discern whether I am reading the signs of the times well and hearing my students and others say that I am in many ways, already doing things that a deacon does, and that the credential is merely five years away to let others see who I already am.

Amen.

All We Need Is Just a Little…

Patience..

I need it more than ever with stubborn and strong people who are set in their ways and think they know everything.  I need it when, I disagree with people about caregiving and when matters of beauracracy take center stage.

I went to confession some time ago and I summed up my sins as honestly as I could.  A former colleague once remarked that most of us have only one main sin.  And that most of our sins stem from this seminal sin.  For me, impatience tops that list.  I get impatient and then get angry with a staff member or a student.  I get impatient and lash out at people.  I get impatient even for good things like justice and rush a decision that would be better thought out more carefully.

I especially have little patience for those I most love.  I expect more from them often and my expectations often bite me squarely on the tuckus.

My confessor, a good one, remarked that this was an honest admission of my faults and then asked me a question:

“Mike, what is one of your biggest strengths?”

I paused for a brief moment and then said with little hesitation…

“Patience.”

I am an incredibly patient spiritual director.  One directee once remarked, “How do you calmly sit there and not scream at me when you listen to all the stupid things I do over and over?”  

I’m the guy who you want sitting next to you when you have an unruly child on an airplane, because I’ll entertain them with videos of my dog until they calm down.

One my staff members routinely praises me for my gift of being incredibly patient.

So at times, our largest sin, is also one of our biggest strengths.  And Ignatius would remind us that we are able to overcome the enemy with the cunning and shrewd gift of our own gifts.  

And we need nothing more other than God’s love and God’s grace which gave us these gifts in the first place.

May God today bring us all awareness of this gift and more ever more readily.  And allow us to persevere when we think our gifts are lacking.

Ignatius Comes with Stress

So I’ve had a stressful few months.  Most recently my father, who is 88, had to be intubated after having trouble breathing.  He’s bounced back nicely, but not after a lot of family stress.  

It’s made the prospect of hiring two new employees a lot less stressful.  

But when stress comes, Ignatius becomes my constant companion. When it overwhelms me, Iggy taps me on the shoulder and reminds me to listen to myself and to calm down, to pray before I speak.

Ignatius reminds me that we need head and heart, and that reading about situations and using great spiritual writers like Joyce Rupp, are both healing and rejuvenating. He even points me to hospital meditation chapels and pamphlets that I would readily point others towards.

He also reminds me in Examen of how I am doing and to enjoy time with others instead of stressing about things.  To appreciate the well-meaning efforts of others, even when you disagree with them.  

And he reminds me that prayer is more important than ever.  To pray as I can, not as I can’t.  Some days the rosary is all I can muster, where the church gives me words when I am all talked out.  Other days, I am chatty with Jesus to the point of his patient listening, modeling for me the patience I need for the number of people who need me.

But I also need a place to be the Pieta.  To simply rest and do nothing.  To be God’s child and Mary’s and to sit with love’s perfection.  

Looking carefully at these days is Ignatius’ constant call to me. And to make a firm purpose of amendment to be just a bit more for others.  To find where God calls me to be, even to places I don’t want to go, but need to go anyway.

Scalia’s Timeless Wisdom

Thinking a lot about Justice Scalia today…who at the very least was a great character and charmed the likes of Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who was his best friend) and Elena Kagan (who really liked him in their short time together on the court). The world needs more “brilliant characters.”

His philosophy that we should always look at the constitution as the founders intended seems short-sighted to me but not without merit. There is many a Bishop who looks at Canon Law and the Catechism in much the same way, not a living documents, but ones frozen in time, to which allegiance must adhere. His honoring of the founders, in this way, to me, meant that he found all the wisdom necessary in those great men. Again, perhaps short-sighted but a philosophy nonetheless.

I respected his dedication to this philosophy and could predict his reactions often to the cases that would come before the court and there was some comfort in that and it brought it’s own sense of wisdom to balance out those who would bring damage to the constitution by amending without legislation.

His thoughts that we should not “amend” the constitution as the wind blows is also laudable. It should take a lot to overturn the “wisdom of the ages”, no less than an entire legislature considering this, a law changed or a constitutional amendment passed. He often found genius in our system, leaving certain matters to states, federal legislation and even local authority. Needless to say, Justice Scalia thought the Supreme Court should be a last resort for cases, not a political test case for ideas already offered by great thinkers whose thoughts are reflected in present laws and followed by our local courts all over the country.

For those of us who believe the constitution to be an evolving document, as I do, we would well to listen to Justice Scalia’s hesitant nature about paying attention to the limits of the federal constitution and interpret for the present where possible, but also require nothing less than amendment where needed today. We must not merely to change the law to suit our needs, but rather to also uphold the wisdom we have come to know with certainty, wisdom not yet, available to the founders in their day. This may have been Scalia’s one downfall in not honoring future wisdom, but staying trapped in the past of the founders’ wisdom alone.

The truth is that we need both, the wisdom of the past and the wisdom of the present age. Honoring wisdom and putting that into words and laws that we can direct others towards is not only a way to seek truth, but also a way to love wisdom, not merely the nostalgic past that Scalia loved a bit too much and that too often we love not quite enough.

Not merely our lawmakers in congress, nor just those on the present courts should heed this love of wisdom, but so should those in church governance. While God alone is the source of all wisdom, the writers of scripture, though inspired by God, are also limited by their time. So too, the writers of Canon Law. But we also need careful balance to these matters. Ones who seek both the wisdom of the past, the wisdom of the present and the wisdom to uphold, well…a merged wisdom, honoring both past and present. We too need to rely on the church, that is the people of God to raise the issues of the day, and not merely to say “who cares about the past” but to say what in our past still honors our present and what in our present is capable of adding to, not subtracting from, our ageless wisdom.

Testing the Spirit

images“Beloved, do not trust every spirit
but test the spirits to see whether they belong to God…” (1 John, Chapter 4)

St. Ignatius often talks about the term presupposition in the spiritual exercises. This means that we pre-suppose that someone is good-intentioned. That we give others the benefit of the doubt without pre-judging their intentions.

And I’m pretty bad at that.

I often go into discussions thinking I know exactly what someone else is going to say, or what someone’s intentions are. Now at times, I am right, but often enough, I get surprised. Recently, I thought a friend was being snarky when I made a comment, when in fact, she was sympathizing with me. I read her intentions completely wrong and it ended up ruining my day until I found out otherwise.

Talk about stupid, wasted energy.

Today’s Gospel reading also reminds us to be wary about intentions. At first glance it sounds like the opposite of Ignatius’ presupposition remark. But actually, it is not coming from a suspicious, paranoid place. Instead, it reminds us to test everything!

If you want to know the truth, shed some light on it. Someone’s whispering in the room, ask what they said. If they lie, then that’s on them. Want to know what someone else is feeling, don’t assume you know what they are feeling. Ask them and then move from that place.

Many years ago, a colleague of mine was frustrated by another co-worker. She felt like he wasn’t taking her job seriously, so she told him that.

“Bob, I don’t think you take my job seriously.”

“Well, I don’t think you should feel that way!”

“Bob, but I DO FEEL THAT WAY! Don’t tell me how I should feel.”

Lesson learned. But on the flip side, Bob did take her job seriously and made efforts to stop doing things that made her job a lot harder. So presuppositions were lacking all around.

Today, let us make an effort to be better listeners, to shed light on situations and to give others the benefit of the doubt. But let’s also be wary, as not everyone has our own best interests at heart. So test everything and allow that test to open our hearts to see the truth and then and only then can we understand those around us in that light of truth.

Who Do You See?

IMG_0787Who do you see?

It’s an easy question, when you are looking merely with you eyes. But often we keep our eyes at least partially closed, remaining blind to the things that lie beneath the surface.

Often I think I do this because it’s simply too much of a bother to do otherwise. If I really look at someone, I just might have to get involved. I may have to take their needs, their hurts into account and decide what role I might wish to play in their healing.

But the truth is such that it is in fact easier to BE bothered than not to be. God’s saving power lies in this fact that we can see the great power that we have in simple acts that we do with great love.

Nobody expects us to turn everyone’s life around in an instant with one giant act of kindness. Our tendency towards instant gratification leads us down that path to think that each act needs to be one of grandiosity or it doesn’t matter.

My colleague, Campus Minister, Mary Matunis, once told me a story that a young man came up to her at an alumni event and said, “MARY! Oh my God it is amazing to see you. You told me something my sophomore year that CHANGED MY LIFE!”

Mary was shocked and honored and so she asked, “Really, thanks! What did I say?”

To which the young man replied, “I don’t remember! BUT IT CHANGED MY LIFE!”

And the truth is that it likely did—and it was likely something simple that turned around a bad period in that person’s life by offering a different perspective. And in that, lies the saving power of God.

Mary was able to see that young man and she also allowed herself to be bothered by him. She doesn’t even remember this, but it seems to have been a moment that helped this person find meaning for a moment.

Each day we are presented with moments. The key to each one is finding God lurking within each one to allow us to bother with them. To be just a touch kinder, just a second more patient, just a moment of gentle listening, just a second more present.

But the bigger challenge might also be our willingness to let others see us in our own vulnerability.

John the Baptist reminds us of this. How many people came to him to simply let him see them in all their sinfulness, to be baptized, to find, through John, the saving power of God’s sacramental love. How many, would come to see John later and perhaps told him that he changed their life!

And much like my friend Mary, perhaps John dampened that experience by pointing not to himself, but to Jesus. Who offers salvation to us, if we merely allow ourselves to be seen in all our vulnerability. And then because of that saving love, we too, are called to see others and offer our own mercy. To see them with a new perspective, to restore dignity to those who are alienated.

To see and to be seen so that the world might see, through us, the saving power of God.

Who Else Was in the Manger?

386097_10100277295624250_1163952968_n When I put together the manger scene in our house, it has the usual cast of characters: Shepherds, Wise Men, sheep, cows, donkeys, a dog and of course, Mary Joseph and the baby Jesus (who we argue about the time he gets to go into the manger).

But our gospel today tells us that the Shepherds went in haste to find Mary and Joseph and the child in the manger. It was there that they let everyone know the message that the angels gave them.

“All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the Shepherds.”

It occurred to me that perhaps the stable was already inhabited by other people. After all, I’m sure there was no room in the inn for plenty of other people who were in town for the census.

My friend and colleague, Fr Jack Ledwon, reminded us recently, that “when God comes to us, He never comes alone. He always brings someone with him.” Here in this scene he brings shepherds and animals but who knows who else?

We too, are a manger. Housing God in our hearts. Opening the doors to suggest to us that we need to let more than God into our hearts. Each time we let God into our hearts we might just find that God calls us to open the door to our hearts just a bit wider to let someone else inside as well.

Who in your life is knocking on those doors this day, this first day of the year? Might we start the year out by letting someone that we often choose to keep out into our lives more readily? Is there someone who has hurt us that we now have shielded ourselves from in an unforgiving fortress? Does someone make us uncomfortable and we react by pushing them out? Are there lonely people, neglected, that are all too easy for us to ignore and not care to be be bothered.

This day, God calls each of us to be blessed by the presence of another. And each time we do, we find that we are blessed by God as well–who opens our hearts to help us find that we have a greater capacity to love than we think we do.

The Truth of My Life

In my daily examen, I often ask God to simply show me “the truth of my life.”  I hope to be able to see things as they really are, and not as I might think they are.  I might think I’m being a great friend, but in reality I am needling someone unnecessarily.

So I need God.  I need God to reveal to me what the real situation in my life is.  Not what it might be.  What it is.  What exactly did I do today?  How was I with myself today?  Did I give things my best effort?  Or did I languish?

I need to remove my own biases and pre-judgements of people in order to see them as they are and not as I suppose them to be.  I can only do this confidently when I see the events in my life as they are.

I can remember sitting at a lunch table back in my radio days with people and having what I thought was a grand time with colleagues.  But when I asked God to show me the truth of my life, I found that I often would get sucked into the drama of office gossip and found myself horrified by what I saw.  I very nearly screamed “STOP!” as I saw the events unfold.

Or I can remember teaching a little boy how to shoot a basketball.  I was a summer day camp counselor and this little kid, Mark was so afraid of the ball.  We practiced and got him to throw and catch.  Then we got him to start to try to shoot a basket underhand.  Up and miss.  Up and miss.  “A little harder!”  I bellowed with a smile.  “C’mon Mark!”  Then it happened he hit the front of the rim!  He gasped!  “Almost!”  I said!  “See, you can do it!  Just a bit more oomph!”  The next shot he chucked toward the rim!  I watched it’s trajectory moving upwards, looking right at the center of the basket and SWISH!  Right into the net!”

I turned and looked at little Mark and his eyes grew wide and this huge smile fell upon his face.  He ran and hugged me and I lifted him over my head like the Stanley Cup!  Both of us in pure unadulterated joy!

Talk about progress in meaningful work!  And re-watching this revealed the truth of my life to me!  Mentoring and coaching this child in fear of even a basketball, would speak to me for the next 25 years.  What other fears might I help dispel in people?  How might God be calling me to help people overcome fear so as to be free to see joy.  Mark’s face was clearly the face of God calling me to pay attention to the truth of what I wished to become.

What is the truth of YOUR life?  How might you look to engage understanding this?  The Ignatian Examen is a clear way to begin to understand the patterns of our days and more importantly, can lead us into finding God in the center of our occupations waiting for us with a smile after a swish, but also with a look of love after gossiping prodding us to change mercifully, if but only for our own good.