This Puts My 50 Day Giveaway to Shame…


So some of you are asking…Hey what happened to the 50 day giveaway anyway, noticing that I had stopped at 35 this year with little or no explanation.

Well…the truth is that I got lazy and distracted this lent with travel and other matters. And of course, like any good Catholic I had some guilt associated with this.

But then while on a day of reflection walk I asked myself why I was doing this to begin with and I wanted to clean out the clutter of my life. So why the public nature of this? Was I just looking for a pat on the back? Look at Mike giving away things!

The truth is that I hoped to inspire others to be a bit more centered in their lenten experience. So what I ended up doing was taking all the books I have not read nor plan to read —amazingly 15 in total—and placed those on a “help yourself” table in our community room. Nobody knew where they came from except some of our staff. Within 2 days they were gone.

Now that doesn’t make for good video. But it helped me let go of these things a bit easier than the intentional giving away to someone specific –as rich as that experience was as well.

So we’ll come up with a new lenten practice next year. Maybe we’ll do 40 days of community service? Or 40 days out of my comfort zone? Or maybe you’ll come up with an idea.

Lenten Giveaway: Update

So lest you think I have slacked off in my lenten duties…I have not. I just haven’t had the time to write about it. So I will try to enumerate them tomorrow.

I will say that this has been much harder this year than last year. I haven’t found that much that I’m able to give away. And did a really good job of giving most of my clutter last year. However, there’s still more to go. Wait until I get to my closets. That’ll be a video worth seeing.

Regardless, things have been busy around the homestead, catching up from spring break and my body is still playing sleep tricks with me. Now that things are heating up for holy week I may have to do some abbreviated posts.

Stay tuned.

Day 34: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: The Good Franciscan

Dr. Bill Barba has been a real friend to me since the first day I’ve been here in Buffalo. He’s been an ear in times of troubled hearts and a joyful presence at celebrations. He’s even made me healthier by inspiring me to join him and Ben Woods at morning workouts. The guy has put years back on my life by helping me get in better shape.

He’s also been a fan of Francis of Assisi for years. A St. Bonaventure graduate and now a UB professor for more than 35 years, Bill is someone in whom I see Francis’ simple and yet profound spirit embolden.

So to Dr. Bee as I call him, I decided that he would get Thomas Merton’s journals called The Other Side of the Mountain. May it be as inspiring to him as he has been to me.

Days 31,32, 33: Admiration

Katie Nicole Revai with a child from Vive!
So I’ve been away from the blog doing a lot of other work the past few days. And at the same time, I’ve continued deciding on what to give away and I decided to highlight two students that I really admire and a woman who has been so helpful to me in the parish:

Day 31: Katie Nicole Revai was a student that I met on our Alternative Break Trip to New York several years ago now. To be honest, Katie and I don’t have a huge relationship, we just haven’t crossed paths as much as I would have liked. But the interesting thing is that when we have crossed paths it’s always been surrounding service. I went to Vive one day which is the largest refugee shelter in the country based right here in Buffalo. And I was taking a group of students there and who was already there—you guessed it Katie. Playing with refugee children and helping in any way that she could. She didn’t need anyone to go with her she just took it upon herself to make a dedication to do service to Vive and each Saturday she’d make her way over there without being prodded or even asked. I was quite impressed.

I ran into Katie in her dorm the other night when we hosted a social event in the lounge and we caught up. She talked to me about her recent trip to Puerto Rico and then I told her that my second book should be out in the fall. Her reply: “I haven’t even read the first one! I’ll have to buy two book now!” I blushed and offered her a free copy of Googling God. So she gets a giveaway just for being someone that I can admire.

Day 32: My friend Jen Reis has been so supportive of the things I am involved in here at the University Parish. She’s made meals, and hors ‘derves and chocolate covered pretzels and red velvet cupcakes. Martha Stewart’s got nothing on her. We recently found out that her husband Matt and her are going to have a baby. So I’m giving her a delightful book called 4AM Madonnas: A spiritual guide for Christian Mothers. Blessings on the new kid!

Day 33: Vineet Aguiar is one of the many international students that I’ve enjoyed meeting. He’s from India and he’s hysterically funny and dedicated to his studies and his faith. I was really glad to get to know him better on our alternative break trip to Kentucky. We give people crosses to wear on the trip and by the end of the week we ask them to give them away to someone else; someone they’ve seen Christ in that week. For example, in Cleveland I gave my cross away to the head of the Cleveland Food Bank after hearing how supportive he has been of his volunteers and donors, always showing much appreciation for them. This year in Kentucky, Vineet decided that he was going to give his cross to me. I wear it every day and I had been looking for something simple to wear as an outward sign of my ministry and it fits perfectly. His gift was totally unexpected and it came at a time when I wasn’t feeling so good about my ministry and renewed my own faith in myself.

Vineet has a deep and introspective faith and I admire that much. He reminds me much of St. Paul in that he has a welcoming spirit to all that he sees meets and is always willing to invite others to things that we do at St. Joe’s. So I’d like to give him a book that’s special to me called “The Life of St Paul.” It’s written by Fr. Lawrence Boadt, now deceased, but what a guy he was! He published my first book, Googling God, and I’m forever in his debt for taking on the project after hearing about it from Fr. Michael Hunt and getting Fr. Mike Kerrigan to help me with finalizing the manuscript for publication. It’s a nice coffee table kind of book with beautiful illustrations and Vineet always illustrates beauty to others by the way he lives his life. So the book, a reflection of him, is now his. Enjoy.

Day 30: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: Now Say Thank You…

Laura Trice, talks about how we don’t know how to say thank you or receive thanks either.

It’s graceful to both give and receive thanks. We often muffle that. We do something marvelous, something we should be proud of and when we are praised for that and thanked for our efforts what do we say?

“Oh, it was nothing.”

It’s not nothing. And by deflating ourselves we hurt our egos and turn ourselves into unworthy people.

God wants more than that for us. God listens for our needs and often provides them by the grace of another.

Today, thank someone for their work. But more importantly be thanked by others.

Today’s gift is for you. Thanks for reading. It’s not nothing.

Day 29: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: A Deacon’s Daughter

So Cousin Carolyn came to visit us this week in Buffalo. Carolyn is one of my favorite people in our family and we’ve been blessed by her presence and her hospitality often.

Carolyn’s dad was Marion’s Uncle Andy and Andy and I would sometimes call him for advice about ministry and just to talk shop with him. He would call me and chide me when I’d send him an announcement about one of our upcoming BustedHalo┬« retreats.

Andy: “I hear there’s some heretic from the city invading Oak Ridge, NJ to give some kind of crazy retreat. I ain’t publicizing that retreat that’s for sure.”

Me: “Yep. It can’t be more heretical than some of your homilies though!”

Andy: “That’s for sure. It’s in the bulletin. Thanks for letting us know you were coming our way.”

Andy died much too young and he inspired so many people. Carolyn and I were both really moved by a young man who was openly weeping uncontrollably at Andy’s wake. Both of us, at separate times went over to him to comfort him and we learned that Andy had served as his spiritual director, a ministry that I got much more involved in as a result of this meeting. Drawing on Andy’s inspiration and fine work with this young man, I realized that we all meet God at some point in our lives, but we might not understand what to do when we find God working in our lives. How do we pray? What does this relationship mean? How might we be changed by this relationship?

Andy helped this young man do that. And Carolyn has done the same with her children and others that she meets in her work with her parish and even in our own relationship.

The word Deacon really means “servant” or even better, “one who provides hospitality” or even a looser translation might be “one who brings relief to others.” It’s a kind of spirit of diakonia that Carolyn has been gifted with from her father, a Roman Catholic Deacon.

And that’s what I think it means to be a Deacon. To inspire others in the world with our own lives so that they might also be changed. The spirit of diakonia is not only possessed by Deacons themselves but they are gifts for the entire church, gifts that we are called to model and share ourselves.

So I’m giving Carolyn a book called “The Emerging Diaconate” by Deacon Bill Ditewig. He’s the authority on Deacons today in my opinion, but more importantly his own graceful presence on his blog has invited all of us to think about what it means to embody that spirit of diakonia in our lives.

So enjoy the book and I know we will enjoy each other’s company while you are with us in Buffalo, Carolyn. And thanks for always being such a joy to be with as our family continues to grow in love together.

Day 28: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: Ending Bitterness & a Mets Hat

So as many know, I used to be a beat reporter in radio…well sorta. I was a producer mostly but they’d let me go to ballgames and gather sound and cover the team, but there was little or often no money in it. It was however a cool atmosphere to be in and I learned a whole lot and got to cover some very cool events like the 1996 World Series.

Now a bit more background on my baseball obsession. I grew up a fan of the New York Mets. Everyone in my neighborhood was a Yankee fan, so I decided to be different at the age of 6 or 7 and root for the other team. Actually, what happened was that I turned on the TV and Steve Henderson, hit a home run and so I wanted to root for him and for his team–namely the Mets. Neither one of those things was too smart. Hendu was an OK player but never panned out to be the star that the Mets hoped he would be and these Mets were cellar dwellers. So for the first few years of my fandom in Mets world they simply stunk.

Then came 1986 when all was wonderful, the Mets won it all that year and haven’t won since. Fast forward to 1992 when I began to cover sports for WFAN and then later for WOR in 1995. I didn’t travel with the team, merely covering the teams when they were home. So while my Mets were on the road I’d head to the Bronx and cover the cross town Yankees.

Now here’s a real irony: The Mets treated me awful. The Yankees treated me very well. That may be because the Yankees were winning again and the Mets were awful. There’s nothing like winning to make someone a nice guy and nothing like losing to make you a cranky jerk. Some of the crankiest were in the Mets locker room. The owner, Fred Wilpon was the crankiest of all and today he paid a not-so-small fortune to settle his end of the Bernie Madoff case. Guys like Jeff Kent and Bobby Bonilla were always jerks in the locker room and made it easy to hate this team known by at least one writer, Bob Klapisch as: The Worst Team Money Could Buy.

So all that made it easy for me to make a vow. I stopped rooting for the Mets and said I wouldn’t root again until they were sold by their current ownership. Which looks like that might not happen anytime soon unfortunately as Wilpon seems to have dodged a bullet.

Today I root for the Cubs because I can’t really justify rooting for the Yankees after being a Mets fan. You’ll never hear me say a bad word about Derek Jeter, a classy guy or their now deceased owner, George Steinbrenner who always made time, even for small time guys like me.

So at some point during my time here in Buffalo, someone thought I was a Mets fan and they gave me a Mets hat which I have never worn once. I’ve decided to give it to one of my favorite medical students C.J. Cancino who is a huge Mets fan and who I know will appreciate it. C.J. has also taught me the value of gentle invitation and of breaking down barriers that lead to greater cohesiveness in relationships. He’s always finding out new things about his classmates and if he finds out that you’re Catholic he’ll gently let you know that he comes to the 8PM mass here and he’ll invite you to come along. He’s helped us increase our medical student participation greatly and I am indebted to him for that. We’ve even got a great number of people working as lectors and eucharistic ministers at mass.

But the lenten lesson for me is to remain in relationship with others, to reach beyond keeping people out of my life and even if bitterness exists, to see the value of relationship over all else. C.J.’s commitment to his classmates has inspired me. It would be easy for him to simply be a student who really competes against his classmates for grades or honors. But instead, C.J. simply chooses to relate to others as himself and helps others when he can and keep conversation going. He’s a great student and his class is one of the best that the school has ever seen. They’ve impressed not merely me, the rube, but also the medical school faculty with their openness and their brilliance. They’re a tight knit group and they’ll be great doctors. C.J. is considering pediatrics and he’d be great at that and he’s always planning events around children–a recent endeavor was to put together a Halloween party for kids with diabetes. Ugh! No candy! Well C.J. found sugar free stuff and created a Haunted House and a lot more fun stuff with the help of his class.

Today, his gift reminds all of us to stop being self-concerned and to simply let go of resentments and to remain in relationship. I’ve come to love the Cubs, but I no longer hate the Mets, nor their owner or anyone else. Life is too short and there’s more energy I need to not waste on bitterness that I can use in better ways.

So pray for our medical students, that they might not stress out too much in their very difficult studies. And pray that I might be able to help them when they need someone. May God bless their hands and their hearts so that they might stay in relationship with their patients to bring them to a better sense of health and may they be bearers of light to the world by their vocation.

Day 26 and 27: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: Gifts from Abroad

So I just returned from Hawaii after a lovely week. I donned my new Aloha shirt and returned to the office where I greeted my co-workers with Kona coffee and my pastor received chocloate covered macadamia nuts from Honolulu which he graciously shared with the staff. (see the giveaway is contagious).

To be honest, Hawaii was wonderful, but it is also good to be home especially after 25 hours of straight travel. That sounds horrible but it was a lot easier coming home than getting there. I was greeted by a loving dog who was very well behaved for his sitter and who he kept company with while she was under the weather, something he’s quite good at. I even forgave him for peeing on my comforter in his excitement to see me last night.

Hospitality is a wonderful thing and I’m very grateful to the folks at the Diocese of Honolulu who are doing a great job with theology on tap there. Their new young adult minister, Makana, is outstanding and Lisa Gomes the director of youth and young adults is wonderful. I had a great time touring the island with them on Friday along with my wife and Malcolm a young adult who I met the other night at the theology on tap event.

And then there’s the Marianists who co-sponsored the trip and who I did the majority of my speaking engagements with…I can’t imagine more hospitable people. They even gave my wife a small (or really not so small) birthday party on her big day. Fr. George Cerniglia was a joy to work with and spend a good deal of time with. He’s new at his job as Rector and director of mission and he’s got things moving in a great direction. All of the guys in the house, especially, Frs Tim and John and Br. Ray who made a fabulous Halibut dinner on Friday night for all of us, were just a joy to be with all week. They were gifts to us and because we were so loved we now return home ready and refreshed to love anew.

The students are back from break and our Catholic students were off on an Alternative spring break in Philly. I haven’t heard much news about it yet and am dying to find out how great it was. My colleague, Greg Coogan, now of the Camden Diocese, met up with the group and had great things to say.

Soon we’ll be back to the grind full-speed. I’m kind of half-speed today as my body slowly adjusts back to East Coast time.

Lots of pictures to share on my Facebook page

Day 25 Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: No Booze

Today is St. Patrick’s Day and it is my last day in Hawaii. Each St. Patrick’s Day is a time for me to call my Irish father and wish him well on the special day especially for Irish Americans.

My gift to him is a simple one. On St. Patrick’s Day I refuse to have a drink. Drunkenness was always a source of embarrassment for my family and while we don’t have an alcohol problem in our immediate family we’ve seen the detrimental effects that alcohol can have on others.

St. Partick’s Day has become a complete embarrassment for the Irish as we glorify drinking–giving credence to the stereotype that we’re all a bunch of drunken fools.

My dad, an Irish immigrant is much more than that and deserves to have his tradition and heritage honored. So I’ll lay off the sauce today and seek to honor the great saint and my father by speaking at the Diocese of Honolulu today in their honor.

Recently, I was able to have my dad attend the award ceremony at Fordham where I received a Sapientia Et Doctrina Award for my work in young adult ministry. That award would not be possible without his support and love. So thanks, Dad for always being an Irish gentleman who worked hard for his family despite many obstacles.

That gift to me has been more than enough and I hope my life is gift enough back for him and for others.

Day 24: Lenten 50 Day Giveaway: Ignatian Spirit

For the last three years I’ve spent a significant amount of time with one of my students, Matt Crawford. He’s been very active at the Newman Center and in our alternative break program and we share a love of Ignatian Spirituality.

He’s a Canisius High School graduate where he met the Jesuits and now as he graduates he’ll begin to discern where God will lead him with his life’s choices.

I, for one, will miss Matt. But I have a feeling that I’ll be seeing him from time to time down the road.

As he finishes up a final spring break, I’d like to give Matt a book from an old Jesuit who I knew well at Fordham, Fr. Bill O’Malley, who dared to live in the dorms amongst us students, sharing a dorm mass with us and simply being a joyful priest. His book is simply called “God: The Oldest Question: A Fresh Look at Belief and Unbelief – And Why the Choice Matters. It’s a fairly easy read but yet it provides much challenge.

I hope Matt has a nice experience on the Alternative Break this time out and that each day forward is most challenging and rewarding for him. It’s been fun, Matt. Keep the faith!