Risking Woundedness

It is better to have a Church that is wounded but out in the streets than a Church that is sick because it is closed in on itself. – Pope Francis

A colleague once reminded me that 75% of the time his parish is in “maintenance mode.”  This means that they’ve established programs like religious ed for kids, marriage prep and the regular Sunday liturgy schedule.  The other 25% at best allows for a “looking outward” to see how we might engage with the world.

This needs to be reversed according to the Pope.  We cannot merely be focused on our parish programs and administration.  We need to look outward 75% of the time and then 25% should focus on maintaining the programs we have.  Easier said than done–and I know I do a pretty bad job of this most days.  I can get caught up with the stuff of routine and not give much thought to evangelization and engagement with the margins.

So what are some ideas about doing this?  What have you done to try to stay out of maintenance mode in ministry?

Discerning the Semester

Greetings from a long lost blogger.  When I’m not writing, you should worry.  Well…maybe not that much, but enough to consider that I’m not taking enough stock of what I’m doing to wish to share it with you, dear readers.

I just finished my second year as Director of Campus Ministry and this 2015 Spring was the best of the four semesters for me.  I’m starting to feel more at home and engaged and ready to begin to really direct the ministry now that I’ve been able to take a good inventory of the plant for the past two years.  Change is difficult for people and even minor changes can upset the apple cart.  But we are beginning to change and to consider what we are doing as a ministry and how we might look at doing things better, or at least, differently.  I’ll share some of our results as we move forward into the light of summer and a new fall semester.

But the end of a semester always brings mixed emotions.  I do an extended examen and find all that I have learned and offered.  Truly Jesus is present here and asks me the tough questions in my colloquy with him.  Have I been present enough to students?  Have I been gentle enough with my staff?  Who are we not reaching out to feed?  What were the major flaws over the course of the year?

Then after I stop beating myself up, Jesus asks me if I’m quite done with the pity-party and points me in the direction of the light.  The students who sought me out on retreats to talk about serious issues, good moments of preaching, understanding moments of sympathy with staff, collaborating well with colleagues, laughing with my Vice-President about a host of subjects, being moved by our President when he tells us that we’re doing well.  Looking to see where the campus ministry staff works most effectively and finding that balance of staff contributions and student engagement has been a good stretch and allows us to see more clearly where God calls us.

But mostly, listening has been the most important thing and learning to listen and then to speak my truth has been a good management style for me.  I think others got to understand my point of view a bit more, but at times, I’m still feeling misunderstood, or simply not understood.  And I find it difficult to strike a balance between being “Campus dad” and “Manager dude.”  But in general, this has gotten better over the year, with the Spring bringing many new waves of consolation.  I settle into a calm now as baccalaureate mass is over and graduation and alumni anniversary masses are now complete as well.

The campus suddenly much more silent allows for deeper introspection and planning.  The students are missed, but the time allotted now, gives us the opportunity to serve their needs far better.

Some highlights from the year included much in retreat work:  Kairos #50 was an amazing retreat, a new men’s hiking retreat and seeing folks in various one-on-one settinSacristansgs.  Managing the staff was often a good opportunity for me to listen to their joys and sorrows and to help direct them into deeper spaces and more efficient ways of working.  My real joy this year was working with our sacristans (pictured right), who I really enjoyed being around and who flawlessly served at our masses and weddings and who make it all look easy.  They were a great team this year and it was always joyful time and an opportunity for all of us to create calmness on campus.

So what has been your highlight of this year?  Your deepest struggle?  A new insight or learning?  Where did God lead you this year?

Of Grandmothers, Wives and Guardian Angels

So my beloved wife, Marion, is home today while I attend a funeral for the grandmother of a student who was in my small group on retreat. Since the college has been shut down, I didn’t have plans to get to the office where we keep our Mass cards, so I opted for a sympathy card, and figured I would follow up with a Mass card when we return.

My wife, however, who adored her own grandmother dearly, handed me a card with a small coin on it, that she got from Catholic Relief Services and said “Here, put this in Beth Anne’s card.” The coin and accompanying card refers to one’s guardian angel. Now, in a million years, I probably would not have thought to do this, but Marion is very tied in to showing sympathy for people when their grandparents die. And so…

There were a number of eulogies for Cecelia, the deceased. And she was a very devout woman, who her grandchildren called “Baci”. And it turns out that she had a number of devotions, but perhaps none moreso, than to her guardian angel. She even taught people a prayer to their guardian angel.

And now, Cecelia is a guardian angel as well, not that she wasn’t already in this life for her children and grandchildren and all those whom she loved dear.

It is my belief that there indeed are angels amongst us, my wife being one of them. I’m sure her grandmother placed that coin into her hand this morning and said “Here, this will make her feel better.”

While Guardian Angels may seem saccharine to some, I can say that today they don’t to me. They are likely made up of legions of grandmothers and they all told God that they already knew what their job was in heaven, thank you very much, Lord. They would be watching over their families and anyone else who just needed a grandma.

So today, I pray the prayer to a guardian angel and pray for the repose of Cecelia’s soul and pray in gratitude for my own living guardian angel, my wife and her grandmother who watches over us and reminds us how to best minister to others.

Angel of God, my guardian dear
To whom God’s love commits me here
Ever this day, be at my side
To Light and Guard, to rule and guide. Amen.

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Love the Squirrel

So this summer the four spiritual interns here at Canisius asked me if I could approach my colleague, Fr. Tom Colgan, SJ about delivering his “squirrel homily.” Turns out that he gave this homily on their freshman retreat about a squirrel that fell out of a tree and nearly landed in his head, it startled him, but he received much grace from this incident, because indeed life often throws us unexpected things–things that can startle us.

“But…” he said, “You have to love the squirrel that is in front of you.”

A great insight! And a memorable homily for our students. And it draws from St Ignatius’ first principle and foundation. It matters not, what we will face in life–what matters is that God will face those matters with us and never leave us alone. And that with God’s grace in our lives that gives us the opportunity to love others and to overcome the obstacles that are put in front of us. A bit like this critter:

So, to our dear spiritual interns, Kaitlin, Ben, Darby and Alison…and to Fr Tom Colgan…Keep loving the squirrel that is in front of you. For you all have received the grace from God to overcome anything with God’s help.

Intentional Giving

I’ve been surprised to hear a bunch of hullaballoo about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, which, by the way I did. I’ll get to the windstorm in a second but, I’d like to say in hindsight that my friend and colleague Kathryn Heetdirks has a father with ALS and so I’m glad I could honor him with my dunk yesterday. Here’s the video in case you missed it.

Over at Patheos there’s been a lot of talk about how the ALS foundation uses embryonic stem cells in some of their research which is immoral in the eyes of church teaching, and I’ll add in my own. There’s only one study that uses these by the way.

But here’s the thing: You don’t have to support such research with your donation and can direct your funds to other studies.

I mean, who doesn’t know this?

Am I alone in the fact that when I make a donation I do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions about how my funds will be used? I always do this. I do it with my Alma Mater (directing funds to Campus Ministry and the Graduate School of Religion at Fordham). I do it at Canisius (directing funds to the President’s fund who has supported our office tremendously during his tenure here). I do it with other charities/ministries that I fund as well. I ask always “So how would you use my donation?” People like to fund specific things and projects. One of the rules of fund raising is to try to give people some reason to give you money. I suppose some folks just throw their money into a slush fund and let it be directed however the foundation chooses, but I don’t do that.

So I decided that I would direct my funds away from the one fund that uses embryonic stem cells and also give some money to another organization that supports people who have ALS instead of going to research, because that gets ignored. It’s called Compassionate Care and you can find them here.

So here’s a quick lesson in giving. Direct to where you want and don’t let the naysayers drive you away from doing something good. Instead be careful with every donation and ask a bunch of questions, but in all things…be generous and giving.

Desolation, Robin Williams and St. Ignatius

Desolation is the feeling that nothing matters, nothing can ever be set right again. God has no redemptive power and the world is meaningless. Desolation is the great abyss and Ignatius knew that we will all face it.

Sometimes desolation is so severe that it takes over our minds to the point that we cannot push it away. We need others during these times to remind us of the light, to remind us of our consolations. Ignatius reminds us that during our consoling moments we should really relish them, to prepare ourselves for desolation.

As one Jesuit, quipped, “He must have been a joy to live in community with!”

But Ignatius wasn’t being a killjoy. He’s on the mark when he claims that consolation is the only thing that helps us avoid desolation. God points and pushes us towards our consolations, those times we were really feeling alive and charged with the power of God’s creative energy in our lives.

Robin Williams somehow lost sight of that consolation–be it because of biological chemical imbalances, addictions or simply hopelessness that springs from any variety of factors, consolation eluded him and led him into the darkness of despair.

We know that when it comes to suicide, that people aren’t in control of their actions. The finality of suicide is not realized by the one in too much pain to see clearly. God now redeems the suffering that they could not face, could not get past. Cradling the hurt one in His arms God entrusts mercy and redemption to those most in need.

I think it’s a bit like this:

I wish that Robin Williams, who often made me laugh, cry and resonate with his characters deeply could have been embraced by another in the same way he did here in this movie.

The older I get, the more I realize that evil does exist in the world and it longs to keep consolation at bay. To make the problems we face irredeemable and everything ultimately “our fault.” Ignatius knew that evil’s power was enough to drive any one of us to suicide, if we but allow that call to embed in our consciousness too deeply.

It’s tough for individuals who suffer from mental illness to sometimes rely solely on self-care. Especially, when medication is something they need and they cannot bring themselves to find chemical therapy palatable. Some enjoy mania so much that they refuse meds. Others wallow in depression so deeply, that they don’t believe meds can help, because in their mind nothing can cure them. This is evil’s big hand and the deck is stacked and it becomes up to communities to care immensely for those most in harm’s way. We, as community, need to take on suicide like a prize fighter behind on the cards with only a round or two left. We need to come out swinging.

And we need to point people towards consolation. As a spiritual director, it is all too easy for people to throw all their consolations away when they head towards desolation. And that’s just “headed” towards desolation. When one is actually in desolation, those consolations are not just thrown away, they become illusions, just a ruse, not even consoling anymore. My job is awaken people to their own truth of being in union with God in the precious times of their life and to remind them that a loving God is not far off and if we but look for God, even in the rough times, desolation is sure to subside and consolation will allow us to lift the sun back up into the air for a final day of summer–or perhaps the truth is that even in the rain, one can find something beautiful.

We need to help others discover consolation and desolation and the circuitous path we find on the way towards these extremes. Most of the time, I don’t lean one way or the other, rather I find myself not in complete consolation, but also not close to desolation even though I hear it’s call. Like when I do something great at work I can feel good about my achievement, but then I can hear the negative “Well, it wasn’t all that good.” Get behind me, Satan! I will not let you talk me out of owning my achievement. I will look self-critically, smoothing rough edges at times, and I know mistakes will be made, but that doesn’t mean that my mistakes and flaws own me and capture me in desolation’s grip. For those with chemical imbalances that work hard to find a good balance of meds along with talk therapy, you will simply need help in finding this balance. A good therapist, group therapy or support groups are essential, not optional. Those fighting addictions need 12 step programs, detox and rehab. One day at a time is still another day sober and we cannot rush into years of sobriety–it takes work. For those of us who drift into milder depressions from time to time, a good therapist or even a spiritual director can help us find our way back to the border line.

The truth is that we probably all need a little help (a lot?). And we need to take it. For some, all the help in the world is not enough. Evil has used desolation to keep them hopeless. Our prayers tonight are for people who have given up trying to find help, that they may find it and be healthy again, embraced by God’s love.

Amen.

If you are someone who a feeling depressed or anxious, please know there is help. If you’re on campus the counseling center, campus ministry and a host of others are there to help or call Suicide Prevention at 1-800-273-8255.

Do You Have the Time?

Time..don’t run out on me.

It’s a phrase that I’ve mentioned often in ministry as being an element that is essential to the development of faith. I challenge spiritual directees to prioritize their relationship with God by dedicating at least 20 minutes a day to prayer with the hopeful development that 20 minutes will turn into 40 and 40 will turn to 60 or more. What I find is that most people fall between two extremes: they don’t pray at all, or they find that they crave more prayer and end up exceeding my minimal requirement.

Prayer for me, is also a time-consuming matter. I need to brush out distractions and simply be–but also learn how to mix prayer into the rhythms of my day. For example, after lunch each day, I find myself energized by my colleagues in the student affairs division, who I often eat with close to daily. It’s the one time a day that our paths cross and it gives me insight from other seasoned directors and insight into the tone of the college. As I rise from the table each day, I say to myself, “Thank you, God for these people who fill me with joy.”

To become our prayers, to immerse ourselves in relationship with God, we need conversion–we need to be changed and to be constantly asking for change in our lives. But then also to have some constants that we remain dedicated to in order that they might call us to be critical of who we are becoming. For example, when I write I find myself more awakened to the joys in my life: the students I serve, the colleagues I enjoy, the wife I love, the dog warm on my lap, the sunshine on the water or a good hearty laugh. Writing for me is often a form of prayer and when I dedicate time to it, I find myself centered and relaxed and better able to get through the day–or better put, excel at work and be more open to relationships with others.

One of our graduate students, Matt Gorczyca on his blog, Gorc Meets World (which you should be reading if you are not) had a similar experience regarding writing that sums up my own feelings of getting back into the swing of blogging.

For the first time in a while I was fully immersed in my writing. I was filling pages with ink and typing blocks of text into blog posts. I felt like a machine – but not the kind that I have been the past few months. No, instead of being programmed by the day, with circumstances of an alarm clock, a boss and a pillow dictating how I spent my time, this time I was in control. It was as if I was a transformer. I’ve never seen the movie, but from what I’ve heard it’s basically when machines take over the world. Well I was my own writing machine taking back my world.

I felt revitalized and back to my old energized, creative self. It all came back to giving myself time. All I needed was a few hours in a coffee shop and I was back in my mode of writing. I didn’t have the distractions of a TV, a workload, chores or even people. I was retreating to a world that I could feel like myself again. And boy do I feel more alive than I have in a while.

Amen, brother! Thanks for waking me up as well. It is often difficult to dedicate some real time to all the things we want to do. But it is not impossible to dedicate regular time to the things that give you life. This is the Ignatian Examen at its finest–where we move towards consolation, all that brings us life and away from all that lands us in the dumper.

So some New School Year Resolutions are forming for me:
1) Write–just write. Often, if not daily.
2) Connect with someone new each day.
3) Invite people into opportunities with Campus Ministry often.
4) Exercise daily, even if I just stretch and then vigorously at least three times a week.
5) Rejoice in our retreats, spiritual direction and the things I get to do that bring me more life, bring to me the MAGIS.
5) Identify consolation intentionally twice a day, if not more often and write about it as much as possible.
6) Enjoy a good laugh, good times with friends and love and appreciate my wife better than I already do.
7) I’ll get killed for this but, write about the dog more. The Hazehayes blog may return!

And thanks Matt, for reminding me who I should be more often and what I am called to do.

Coffee With Meg

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So for most of my life I have not been a coffee drinker. I can remember drinking one large cup of coffee when I was an undergrad pulling an all-nighter (By the way, it didn’t help).

In general, I just haven’t acquired the taste. Mostly I don’t like the taste, or I should say I haven’t liked it.

On my recent trip to El Salvador, I decided to look into what Salvadoran food we would be eating. Pupusas are the most famous. These are essentially stuffed tortillas (some with cheese, or beans, or pork). They are amazing.

But a big export in El Salvador is coffee. I decided that I would at least try some coffee while in El Salvador.

So on our first day, we immediately were taken to an inner city daycare center. And lo and behold, we were welcomed with sweetbreads (again, delicious!) and coffee.

Meg with a Bunny at Casa de Solidaridad, a study abroad program through Santa Clara.
Meg with a Bunny at Casa de Solidaridad, a study abroad program through Santa Clara.
One of the students who travelled with me was named Meg. I didn’t know her well, but she’s pretty active on campus in student government and so I knew her mostly by her reputation as a hard worker and her commitment to women’s issues. She’s also a lover of good coffee. She looked at me as I started to pour my initial cup of Salvadoran coffee and said:

“Your life is about to get so much better!”

Turns out she was correct. It was indeed delicious. Two spoonfuls of sugars was all it needed. Later in the week I added some cream and realized that what I don’t like is cream in my coffee. Black is fine with just a bit of sugar.

But coffee for Meg is more than just coffee. It makes one feel warm and comforted and allows conversations to linger over a second cup. The caffeine makes one a bit more alert during times of dreariness. I really enjoyed hanging out with Meg and listening to how important women’s issues are to her. As a man, I need to understand what women are facing and feeling and perhaps how I’ve even been a part of misogyny and the oppression of women. Meg helps me see more clearly what I cannot often see for myself. We heard some stories of devastation from the Salvadoran people, who lived through the long civil war. Meg was often quick to point out how women were targeted in several cases and how a “macho culture” played a role in the continued oppression of women in this still-poor country.

Meg, much more than coffee, opened my eyes further, to see a bit more clearly what was really present. She allowed me to be more present to the women that I companioned and because of her, I was able to be more present for these students throughout the week.

And within those coffee moments with Meg, i found grace waiting for me as well.

Upon my return to the United States, I decided to try some coffee from the various coffee chains. I’ve discovered a few things:

1) Coffee in the United States clearly has more caffeine in it. Or at least it has a greater effect on me. If I have two cups of “American” coffee I’m up later than I’d like to be.

2) Salvadoran coffee is AWESOME. So far the closest to it is Tim Horton’s.

3) My coffee rankings so far are:
a) Tim Horton’s
b) Spot Coffee
c) Family Tree (a local diner)
d) Dunkin Donuts

I have yet to try Starbucks. There’s just not one near my house.

3) My single serve coffee maker makes a damn good cup of the Salvadoran stuff.

4) On our trip the first Finca (the plant where they grow coffee) that I sampled was by far the best. That day care center should open a coffee bar with coffee from that place. Angel, who I stayed with in El Sitio made a nice cup of coffee. And Sr. Peggy, who we stayed with in Suchitoto had coffee that was also pretty good. But that first Finca was awesome and I bought their coffee to take home with me.

My last discovery is that a cup of coffee shared is much better than a cup of coffee solo. So thanks Meg, for teaching me how coffee serves a larger purpose at times and helps us get to understand each other a bit more.