Sapientia Awards…a Grand Affair

So our evening at Fordham was a huge success. I was so humbled by the award and honored to share the stage with two great heroes of mine and many other great folks.

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.

What Does Home Mean to You?

So I’m beginning a third year here in Buffalo and it’s taken some time but Buffalo is starting to feel more and more like “Home.” I wouldn’t say that it’s completely there as of yet, but I began to wonder what people consider “home.”

I know an obvious place for me is where I live with my wife and dog. Just having them around gives me that warm feeling. But it’s taken us some time to settle into our first “real house” to the point where now it has really taken on our character and feels familiar. (and the dog has “claimed” a spot or two, now and again).

For some I think home is a childhood home. For me, Yonkers served in that capacity. But when I head (haha) “home” for the holidays, I almost never refer to it that way. I often say that “I’m going to my parents for Christmas or Thanksgiving,” but I never refer to that location as “home” anymore. After all it’s been nearly 15 years since I considered that place as my residence.

For others, a place that you’ve lived for a long time might be home. New York City, and specifically, Woodside, Queens was that for me. The roar of the 7 train (Elevated Subway), the nice tree lined streets, a burger and a beer at Donovan’s, St. Sebastian’s parish and a nice park to walk the dog in. All good things that I loved along with the excitement of Manhattan not far away and a diverse neighborhood with all kinds of people. On a recent trip to New York we passed the Long Island Rail Road stop for Woodside and I felt a warm feeling and the need to stop and just breathe the air in before the doors closed.

A former intern of mine, during the exit interview I had with him was asked what he really enjoyed about working at BustedHalo®. He replied very simply:

“Everyone made me feel welcome and a part of a team. My ideas were always considered and I felt cared for and valued. Coming to New York from California was tough. And whenever I came here it was, you know…home.”

That was unexpected as a description and certainly one that I treasured as his supervisor.

A college retreat once gave me another glimpse. We had spent the afternoon outside in the snow. Throwing snowballs, tackling each other, generally getting soaked to the bone. When we came in we all changed out of our wet clothes and sat by the fire with blankets each with a mug of hot cocoa.

One student replied:

“I used to do this as a kid all the time and my mom would wrap me in a blanket after a nice bath and we’d sit by the fire and warm up with cocoa. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time. It’s kinda like being home again.”

Could a church also be “home?” Each time I enter a Catholic Church the familiarity of the mass brings me to that safe place. I’m part of a family. At a wedding many years ago a co-worker who was Jewish was seated next to me at the mass. I told her to ask me any questions she might have. “How do you know what to say or when to stand or kneel?” was her main quandary. I replied, “It’s the same thing every week. Only the readings change for the most part.”

Then I reflected on that myself for just a few seconds and there it was….

Home.

Church had become a place where I knew exactly what was going on. Perhaps I didn’t know the people in this specific parish, but I knew they were there to pray for John and Kelly, who married that day. When it becomes a bit more familiar in a parish I attend weekly then it becomes more than a simple parish community, it becomes “home.” Showing others some hospitality welcomes them into that spiritual home, where we unlock the doors of the hidden riches that we all are given at no cost.

Perhaps that feeling of home needs some cultivation in many parishes. With the new liturgical translations upcoming in Advent the opportunity to give hospitality will be greater than it is right now. Will people know what’s going on? Will they be able to join in readily? Will they feel comfortable enough to worship freely without regard to feeling stupid or uneasy? How can we engender a sense of ownership in a parish to create a place that truly belongs to all?

In the slums of Managua, Nicaragua the people have very little. Some live in shacks with tin roofs. Children with special needs are put out to the street because those needs would bankrupt an already starving family. Many rely on the kindness of others in hopes that they can make it through the day.

But in the center of the city stands a Cathedral. It has beautifully manicured gardens and lovely candles all around the interior. The place needs a bit of work on the inside, but overall, the church building is structurally sound, a lot more than houses around the neighborhood are–if you can even call them houses.

As I walked around the Cathedral, I became annoyed. People are starving and begging just outside the door. Heck, people are begging for alms INSIDE the church itself. And here we are buying candles to pray and seeing some nice art and a beautiful gardens. Aren’t our priorities a bit out of whack?

A man with one arm came up to me and asked me for some money. I gave him about 5 bucks, which would probably feed his entire family for that week (the average salary is $1/day). He noticed that I was disturbed by the place.

“Haven’t you ever been in a church before?” he asked.

“Of course I have,” I replied.

He smiled and said, “Then you should know that this place is ours. Yours and mine. Here I am not so poor and you are not so rich. Together we have a beautiful garden and priceless paintings. And together we have Jesus here, not for ourselves but for whoever asks. Everything is taken care of here and it belongs to all of us. Some of us even sleep here. It is home for so many who have nothing and yet here, have so much.”

Maybe our priorities are exactly right? The question here is whether or not we are willing to make our churches as much of a home for others?

And in doing so, might we find a home ourselves?

Refugees in a 9-11 World

BustedHalo has a great story up on a Catholic Volunteer’s experience working with refugees last year. Full disclosure: I was one of her support people. Her experience can teach us all a thing or two about what they face when they come here and how we are called to welcome the stranger.

Early on in my work with refugees, a woman from Burma came to get assistance applying for her two daughters and husband to join her in the United States. She told me she was very sad without her family. It made her sick to her stomach, and she thought she made a mistake leaving without them. The woman was about the age of my mother, and her older daughter was only a year younger than me. She could apply for her husband and younger daughter, but not the older daughter since, without permanent residency, you cannot apply for a child who is 21 or older.

I thought of my own mother and how it is to be away from her. I live a 13-hour car drive away from home and I know what it’s like to be alone in a new city, but not in the way a refugee is alone in a new city. Though I could relate to this woman, my desire to be closer to my family must be small compared to hers. And unlike her, it was my choice to move away from my family.

Ariana, playing with student volunteers from UB
Read the entire article and learn. Here in Buffalo we are taking on the President’s interfaith service challenge and our focus is on Refugees in a Post 9/11 world. We met a number of children who are housed at Vive la Casa which is the largest refugee shelter in the United States. Their stories, a fraction of what their families have faced are indeed harrowing. Arianna, a 5 year old who befriended me and made me answer a lot of questions (How old do you think I am? What do you think my sister’s name is?) told me that she misses her dad who is in Uganda. “But I’m Canadian! I was born there. But my two sisters were born here and my Mom and Dad were born in Uganda!” I can’t imagine the immigration nightmare that her family must go through and the fact that they now live at Vive makes me wonder how soon it will ever get figured out so that they might all be together again.

Today, let us pray for refugees, who flee their land in haste to find safety on our shores. May we care for them as our own and lovingly bring them peace.

Who’s Caring for My Baby?

Barbara Wheeler is, that’s who.  

Who’s Barbara Wheeler, you ask?  She’s the new editor in chief at BustedHalo.com®, the web magazine that I started and continue to contribute to now nearly 11 years later.  I’m excited to see someone young at the helm and also excited to see someone with such a rich spirituality leading the way in exploring the spiritual conversations with other younger people.  Barbara posted her first reflection on how her own spirituality led her to BustedHalo®.

I was beginning to see two paths — stay home and start a “career” or move away, taking more time to figure out what I wanted out of life. And the decision wasn’t easy. It always takes me an incredibly long time to figure out what to eat for lunch or what outfit to wear, so how was I supposed to decide which direction to take with my life? I spent hours making “pros vs. cons” lists and talking with friends about what I should do, but ultimately I had a campus minister give me the best advice, advice I still give myself and others in times of deliberation. Looking at the two roads before me she said, “You can’t make a bad decision.”

And I didn’t. It’s because of that choice that I would eventually find myself living and working in New York City. My decision to come to Busted Halo was rooted in a desire to be part of the spiritual journey of young adults — a journey I’m on, too. I think in the life of the Church today, young adult voices need to be heard and their stories need to be told. Young adults who are seeking to make sense of their spiritual selves want to make a difference in the world and often want to make a difference within their own church too. Busted Halo should be a place where young adults find equal parts support, challenge, humor, encouragement, inspiration, and spiritual growth.

Amen!  That’s certainly the direction I hoped BustedHalo would move in way back when it all started.  We wanted to be a voice for young people to discuss their own spiritual issues of the day.  What was it that excited them, that got them out of themselves and brought them into a rich sense of their own sacredness and gave them a sense of wonder that the whole world was a reflection of God working through each one of us and each experience.

Barbara understands that well.  Read for yourself:

My ideas about faith and spirituality aren’t limited to spiritual practice. I identify as a young adult seeking a meaningful spiritual connection in all parts of life — vocational, political, economical, environmental, and social. I connect with the lives of other women who made these connections, specifically Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa. Both women saw great need in the world and responded to that need with faith and conviction. Their outreach to the poor exemplifies the role the Church and individuals can play in reaching out to the marginalized in today’s world.

These two women led movements that not only continue to work with the poor, but also engage people of all (economic) backgrounds in common goals of sharing hospitality and showing God’s love to those in need. And when I think about today’s Great Recession and the economic despair shared by people in the United States and around the world, I know that Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa’s work is not finished.

And neither is the work ever going to be finished, please God, for BustedHalo®.  So, I raise a glass to my new colleague, Barbara Wheeler.  You’ve got a good foundation to build on (I say with a smidge of arrogant pride).  I know you will take good care of “my baby” as your predecessors have.  It’s a big job, but I know you are more than up to the task.

So today, let’s offer a prayer for Barbara and for those who use the media to bring just a glimmer of God’s love in our world to others.  May Barbara’s work bring her joy and give us all much to think about and consider as we read each posting.

Barbara, my door is always open to you.  And I hope that others also welcome you with open arms in the world of young adult ministry.

One of your many deadlines is approaching, so off I go.  Slavedriver!

 

 

Silently Guiding Her Home

Hospice.

The word sounds ominous enough when it’s spoken in reference to an older person, but when it’s used to describe the dying months of a 37 year old woman, they breathe dreadful words to my ears.

I was just informed that one of my all time favorite people, Elizabeth Bonwich, or “EEEEEEEEEEEEE BEEEEEEEEEE” as I would call her in my best “Public Address Announcer” voice whenever I greeted her, has been in hospice for the past few months. She’s had (at last count) five different kinds of cancers for nearly 20 years. Cancer robbed her of her ability to walk without a brace and a cane, caused a constant ringing in her ears and in general, gave her lots of reasons to be angry at these injustices.

I would often remark to her, “EB, aren’t there things in this world that we SHOULD be angry at? Like the fact that people go to bed without food or homes, or that evil people often get rewarded for bad behavior, or the fact that people have horrible diseases?”

Elizabeth would sheepishly agree but would also challenge me. “Being angry doesn’t help. But using anger to motivate you to action, that’s another matter entirely.” Elizabeth’s anger also gave her reason to pause and reflect. It never defeated her and she always moved into a more self-reflective place, finding God in the peace of simple pleasures, acting on stage, working for justice and simply laughing with good friends over a meal.

EB was one of our retreat leaders at Busted Halo, back when we still did retreats. She found solace in sharing her story of finding some peace in the midst of tragedy and even of trying to find God in the “dry places of prayer” as she would call them. I invited her to write for Busted Halo from time to time. My favorite reflection that she offered detailed a romp in a school yard playground, a quick go on a tire swing on a crisp winter’s day.

This was the most peace I’ve had in a while. My anxiety began after Thanksgiving and is only now beginning to simmer down. I decided against any vestiges of Christmas this year in my home, feeling overwhelmed by performances and obligations. My walks in the local park had gone by the wayside as well. I used to count on these for times of spiritual revitalization, but haven’t been able to seek them out recently because of a physical disability which leaves me with little energy for long walks in the park. I’ve been telling myself that God is still there and I just can’t see it. But somehow that hasn’t been enough.

Having gained confidence in my swing, I unhinged the brace, bent my knee and snuggled down into the circle of the tire. Looking out west over the expanse of the Hudson River and the brown cliffs of the New Jersey Palisades, I wondered what I must look like—a 30-year-old woman in a long brown coat, swinging in an empty children’s playground, crutches given up on the ground.

I thought about God and the stillness in which God assures us God is present. As I floated in that tire swing I realized that in this stillness and in this reverie, I was letting the Spirit do its work. I realized that the sloth of the spirit may be the action of daily life. The more activities that I pack into my daily life, the more lazy I become in my spiritual life. The more I feel that I have to do, the less I listen for what God wants me to do. But when I listen to the little clues about what step is next to take; my life, my world, and my spirit seem like a better place.

When I last spoke with EB, we talked about a move she made to spend time in Maine. Working with the National Theatre Workshop OF the Handicapped (note: not FOR, but OF). It’s founder, a Jesuit Brother named Rick Curry, who was denied a National Mouthwash Commercial because he lacked a right forearm, gifted Elizabeth (and others with disabilities) with opportunities to perform on stage several times in many different productions. My wife and I attended two such shows in New York and were treated to some great drama and singing on those evenings. I always saw Elizabeth’s smile grow a bit wider after those shows. It gave her dignity when she grew frustrated with her limitations.

Soon God will call her a final time on earth to give up her heart, the last vestige of this broken body that was often enough to carry her weak legs to the Catholic Worker to serve the poor, to retreats to inspire her peers, to the stage to shine in the limelight and to my own heart where she will always hold a special place as a very dear friend and colleague.

Thank you for blessing me with the times we shared, my friend. And since we always left each other laughing, I hope that the church considers naming St. EEEEEEEEE BEEEEEEE the patron of eternal silliness one day.

Prayerful request: Elizabeth’s mother has been caring for her and recently she just lost her sister in an accident as well. She can use a prayer or two if you have a chance.

UPDATE: Elizabeth died on Saturday Dec. 18th in the late evening. Eternal rest grant unto her and let perpetual light shine upon her. May EB’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

Missing Bill McGarvey

I’m all a mix of emotions today—from sadness to undying gratitude.

It’s official…the end of an era at Busted Halo. Bill McGarvey, the site’s editor-in-chief for the past five years has decided to move on to new adventures.

That’s a huge loss for Busted Halo. An irreplaceable component in the wingnut that holds together a web magazine that has spoken creatively in the Catholic landscape. I know Bill will continue to be a huge voice in many intellectual circles and I for one, am better for working with him over many years together. I added this to the comments section in his “swan song” article that was posted today on the site.

As one of the founders of Busted Halo, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude to what Bill McGarvey has been to Busted Halo, the Catholic Church and to me personally in our own professional endeavors and in friendship.

Bill brought the site to new and exciting places. I think I speak for everyone who writes for the site that Bill McGarvey made all of our stories more exciting, more readable and in a word, better.

Thanks, Bill for making us all just a bit better…not just as writers and creative people or even as Catholics! Rather, we are better for having known and worked with you.

Peace Brother,
Mike

Bill would’ve caught the grammatical error in my sign-off too. =)

I’ve been reminiscing about the times I spent with Bill prayerfully today and I remember the first time he walked into our offices for his interview.
It was his passion that always drew me into a deep respect that I continue to have for Bill. He has a deep concern for justice, a love of the intellectual life and a sensitivity that I often find expressed most eloquently in his music. I make it a rule to live by that I listen to one Bill McGarvey song per day. Here’s a great sampling of his music:

If you’ve never seen him play the drums live, you should get that on your bucket list.

But Bill’s music is only one creative outlet for a man of many talents and I’m glad he chose to bring his talents to Busted Halo. One of the more difficult decisions that I think I had to make was choosing to go to part-time status at Busted Halo and concentrating more on direct ministry. And a big part of that came from working with Bill and receiving the gift of Bill’s guidance and leadership. He encouraged me to continue with Busted Halo by editing the Googling God section and I’m glad that he did that because I really enjoy working with our team of online catechists. He also valued my gifts as someone who can catechize effectively and was humble enough to know that he had different gifts. Bill was also quick to point other strengths to me, supporting what he saw as gifts–for ministry, for preaching, for spiritual direction. I always thought that those were good qualities in a leader and I am again grateful for that. I hope I was able to point out his gifts to him as often.

Mostly, Bill was and is someone I consider a valued friend. We’d occasionally grab a movie or a bite to eat together and we’d often laugh half the night. Editorial board meetings were never boring, always filled with Bill’s rye wit and maximizing potential. He could take the germ of an idea and turn it into something remarkably creative.

Which is exactly what I believe that he did at Busted Halo–my germ of an idea (well, mine and Fr Brett Hoover’s)—that Bill turned into something remarkable.

And because Bill loves to bust chops, here are three things that I won’t miss about Mr. McGarvey:

1) The sound of a tennis ball hitting the wall on the other side of my office.
2) HIs bland Irish taste buds. The guy eats a lot of turkey clubs and God forbid we go for Thai food.
and 3) His gloating over the Phillies and occasionally over the success of his Georgetown Alma Mater on the basketball court as well as their academic prowess. As a Fordham guy and a lifelong New Yorker, that was a personal hell. I remember when U.S. News and World report named Georgetown as the 20th best school in the nation–a huge deal. I opined, perhaps too loudly, “That’s nuts! I can name 20 schools better than Georegtown!”

I think I just got glared at by Bill who simply said: “1) Harvard. 2) Yale. I’ll give you the other Ivies and M.I.T. and then tell me who you’d pick after that?”

I think I got to maybe 6 more before I said, “Damn.”

It takes a lot for a Fordham man to honor someone from that illustrious school in Washington, D.C., but I hope that Bill can feel honored today for a long career with us at Busted Halo. I know, I will miss his strong voice guiding us. And I pray that whatever direction Busted Halo takes into the future that we remain open to the Holy Spirit and remain open to searching for gratitude for all those who have contributed to the site for so long now.
So as Bill leaves, pray for all of us that he leaves behind and for the Paulists as they guide Busted Halo into a new direction.

I think this is how I’ll choose to remember Bill during his time at Busted Halo the most. Fun and goofy. But creative and simply remarkable. Check it out, especially, Bill with his guitar in this video. Hysterical.

http://blip.tv/play/gsgU4ft%2BAg%2Em4v

Thanks, Bill…for everything. Know that Marion and I wish you much love and peace for your future and that we keep you in prayer always.