Why Do Campus Ministries Have “Permanent Communities?”

In New Mexico a story came out this week that the Archbishop of Santa Fe has asked the Dominicans to leave the Newman Center at the University of New Mexico. He will replace them with younger priests from the diocese who have no experience in Campus Ministry, but the guy who will be the pastor is also the Vocation Director.

UnknownIn the interest of full disclosure, I’d offer this. I spoke at a conference to the West Coast Dominicans and found them to be a hoot. I also have done a lot of work alongside the Archbishop of Santa Fe, the Very Rev. Michael Sheehan and he’s a great guy and far from ideological one way or the other. As he puts it himself, “A bird needs a left wing AND a right wing in order to fly.”

Many people at the Newman Center are upset that the Dominicans are leaving. I haven’t had the pleasure of being there, but I could imagine that their homilies are well done and that they speak to the experience of a University community well. I’m also sure that counted among the regular mass attendees include faculty and former faculty who would not go to mass at all if it were not for the Dominicans.

So why the change, you might ask?

Like any good reporter, I looked at the facts and came up with what I think is happening here.

Newman Centers often become places where people come when they are dissatisfied with what they find in other parishes in their area. And let’s face facts, there are some places where liturgy can in fact, be performed so poorly that it kills faith. Bad homilies certainly abound. Rigid adherence to rubrics often drive some people crazy when it gets in the way of pastoral care or local tradition. Badly performed music or music that tries too hard to be “cool” kills many a spirit. And there are some parishes that are simply unwelcoming.

So at times, people flock to Newman Centers or local Campus Ministries to find some young energy and vibrant liturgies. The truth is that often these places are hallmarks of what liturgy should be like. Excellent music and preaching. Strong hospitality. Loving communities involved in working with the poor. Etc.

But…at times, all of the good parts about Newman Centers and Campus Ministries obscures the fact that these places are supposed to be centers for college students and not parishes. The focus wanes away from the students of a given University and gets placed on all the parish “services” that are needed for parishes to serve their parishioners well. Before you know it, there’s a Sunday School program for kids, a parish council gets formed and social events start to happen, weddings happen, funerals, baptisms…all the things that take time away from the student community.

And it all happens because older parishioners choose to make this place their parish.

Hear me, correctly, now. I’m not saying this is always a bad thing. Some places do this very well. There’s a permanent community based at the Center and they support the students who come there as well. The FOCUS of the community is on the students, not on the parishioners. The staff is focused on welcoming students and the permanent community is a happy afterthought.

But this is few and far between.

These centers often become places that are a bit more “liberal” for lack of a better term. Sometimes it’s where everyone who doesn’t like more traditional liturgy comes to worship and that might be the only reason they attend.

So I might muse a bit here about the situation we find here in New Mexico.

1) My guess is that the Newman Center is a bit of one of these liberal outposts–but not very far left. The Dominicans I know are a bit more centrist than anything else. But for the staunchest traditionalist, it’s too liberal for them.

2) My guess is that there is a significant number of people who have been attracted to the Center by the Dominicans and have been spiritually fed by them for many years now.

3) My guess is that the Archbishop has received complaints from some more traditional students saying that they don’t feel welcome there and that they have chosen to travel a few miles away from Campus to attend mass elsewhere.

4) My guess is that the place is really more like a University Parish where the permanent community gets more attention than the students do. But where the permanent community also strongly supports the students with their dollars, with meals, with mentoring. A quick look at their website shows that the Campus Ministry page hasn’t been updated since October but the permanent community has plenty of current happenings listed.

5) My guess is that Archbishop Sheehan would also like to have a crack at getting seminarians from the University instead of them going to the Dominicans.

So that’s all conjecture to be sure. But it’s an educated conjecture. And I do have a strong opinion about these places. In short, it is as follows:

“If you want to attend mass at a place dedicated to Campus Ministry, you should first realize that you are a guest there and that this place is not aimed at you!”

Newman Centers need to engage STUDENTS. There should be a number of student masses, on the weekend, not just one. The students should be the lectors, eucharistic ministers and hospitality ministers. There should be a bunch of programming run by students for students. The students should be in the center and have priority when it comes to the center’s use for activities.

Too many of these places are run by the permanent community. Granted, they are a great source of financial support, especially at a secular university who provides no funding as they would if it were a Jesuit University, let’s say. They become vibrant parishioners and may very well serve as great evangelizers for people who feel uninvited elsewhere.

But the focus all too easily can be taken off of the Campus. The Director ends up being the pastor of the community and can no longer focus his energy on the students who need him. The end result becomes a place that doesn’t engage students well.

In fact, it may very well drive them away.

At one Newman Center that I will not name here, a student arrived for a Sunday Evening mass. He turned to one of my friends and said “I thought this was Campus Ministry? What’re all the old people doing here?!”

And that is not a good vibe for a college student to feel. They want to be with others their own age for worship. They want to see others their own age serving at the altar. And they want to know that this experience of worship is meaningful to their friends. And furthermore, they want to be included in this experience of worship because far too often they are ignored in their own parish.

I think these communities can co-exist and I’ve seen it happen in certain places. It seems from what I can read that the Newman Center in New Mexico may have in fact, been pretty good at the balance. But I would say that the balance may have tipped too much towards the permanent community for Archbishop Sheehan’s comfort. I also believe that the Bishop is listening perhaps to a few too many traditional minded students and should ask, how the Campus Ministry staff might expand to evangelize those on a secular campus who just plum forget about God from time to time?

My thought is turning the place into a University Parish may have been a better plan and keeping the Dominicans at the helm might have solidified it a bit. They could then split responsibility between a parish staff and a Campus Ministry staff and would be able to pay attention to both entities with great care. That would take money and commitment, but I think it could have been well worth it. If the liturgy was too non-traditional, well then, there are ways to work with that. St. Dominic’s in San Francisco is a huge Dominican Church that I always find to be very traditional, but also very young adult centered. It reaches that happy medium often and perhaps that’s what the Dominicans could have strived for in consort with the Archbishop.

In short, two sides fail to talk, compromise and reach consensus. One of them has to go and the Bishop is the one who has the authority.

This is sad but what is sadder is that the students now have inexperienced Campus Ministers who I believe will only focus on vocations and traditional students. Parishioners will uproot and head down the road, perhaps not even to a Catholic Church for worship.

For me, the bottom line is the students need to be served and the permanent community took too many liberties with this Newman Center and tried to turn it into their parish. They may have very well done so.

And now it belongs to nobody who helped build it.

A Prayer for Sarah

This morning my friend and colleague, Sarah Signorino will likely give birth to a daughter, whom she has already named Clare. So I’ve dedicated my morning prayer to her and her family, Jarrod and her little girl, Mary who is going to be the best big sister ever.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s sometimes hard for me to be happy for people when they have children because I have none myself. With each new birth, I revisit the feelings of not being a father and it has made me weary at times. Ignoring the feelings isn’t going to help. So I have met them head on and prayed with them often this week.

Sarah is very clearly called to motherhood. One moment spent with her and her daughter, Mary betrays her vocation to motherhood clearly. A glance at her Facebook page shows literally hundreds of “Mom and Mar” pictures.

As she often notes, there are people who “live to work” and others who “work to live” and she is seemingly the latter, while I am very clearly the former. She’s one of my best workers on this staff and she makes us all look unorganized with her own sense of being hyper-organized, as only a working mom can be. I am grateful for her work and she does a great job for us. But she very clearly works in order to provide for her family. And when she is home with her family, work is very clearly in the background. She’s the mommy for Mary and now Clare and that is primary in her life.

Not being a father, provides me with the opportunity to really thrust myself into my work and my marriage. Sure, we have a dog, but he can be alone for stretches at a time and he gives us some of those “parental” feelings, but he is far from a human child. I love him dearly, but it is clearly different. I get to be as one of my favorite students, Kaitlyn calls me, “a campus dad” a surrogate of sorts, someone who is there when parents cannot be there. Someone who gets concerned when students seemingly make bad choices and helps to guide or pick up the pieces for someone else’s kid.

When people ask if Marion and I have children I usually say “Yes, 5000 of them and they are all in College.” That comes from a friend who noted that it is good that we don’t have children because indeed I have a bunch of students who depend on me, often at a moment’s notice.

I now also have a staff that depends on me. Fathering a group of people in a new way. Deciding what is best for us and negotiating for what I think the ministry needs with great colleagues who are often eager to help us.

As I sat an meditated on my feelings of loss an overwhelming feeling of joy came to me this week. I realized that the pain of not being a father has in fact led to understanding how great my life has become. How I wouldn’t have half the joys that I have discovered if life were indeed different and how God has shown me my vocation more clearly in reflecting on how well Sarah and other parents live out their lives.

I am grateful to those who parent and work. They do that balancing act with grace and with care for all they meet. But I am also great that there are those of us who have a different energy–who can dedicate time and effort in other ways. It is our way of being “life giving”. And for me, it is more than enough.

So today, I pray for Sarah and am filled with gratitude for her motherhood. She mothers many of us with her great skills of organization and with how she cares for our students and our colleagues. But that is only a shadow of her love for her daughters. And I find God deeply in witnessing that experience of her motherhood. It gives me the opportunity to find my own deep love for the campus, for my wife and for a furry puppy and I find that life is better than I would have designed. Somehow God knows what he is doing and Sarah and I have great trust in that.

So welcome to the world today, dear Clare. You are in good hands with your mother. She will care for you with great love and it will fill you with gratitude.

As Sarah “the mom” has done for us all.

Solidarity and Dignity

One of my colleagues woke up this morning to no heat in subzero wind chill weather. He escaped to a Starbucks with his family to get warm and to use the internet on a morning where a major project was due.

It reminded me of a Winter Service Break where we had to spend just one night in a drop in Center (by ourselves). We served a bunch of people at the center for dinner and fun in the late afternoon. Essentially the place is a living room atmoshphere where people can “drop in” to get a shower, a meal and some companionship. We served food, played cards and generally made conversation. After the guests left we locked doors and settled in for the night. It was then that we noticed.

One mouse.
Two mice.
Three mice.
Four mice.

I stopped counting at 12.

So sleeping on the floor was no longer an option. I propped myself up on two chairs in my sleeping bag and drifted off. My daring colleague called us a bunch of wusses and threw his sleeping bag on the floor and got inside throwing one arm outside of it.

“Those mice are more scared of you then they are of–AHHHHHHH!”

We jumped to attention at his scream as a mouse ran over his arm.

I looked down and saw about 4 or 5 of the critters circling my chair-bed as if I was in the mouse version of Jaws.

Ed, my aforementioned colleague said it best:

“Dude, I’m all for solidarity with the poor, but how about dignity?”

Wise words. And since then I’ve taken them to heart. It moved me to write to my colleague this morning: “Solidarity always leads to dignity. Use this experience to lobby for the poor.”

I’ve also noticed that in the more progressive Catholic circles there often are people who bend towards one pole or the other of solidarity or dignity. There are some who say, live in Catholic Worker homes in solidarity with the poor and literally pick people up off the street and treat people the way Jesus would. They live in relative squalor. Sometimes they have bedbug issues and cleanliness is not at an all time high. And they are willing to live like this because poor people often have to. There are volunteer communities who live in homes with broken appliances or other household issues because “poor people don’t get to fix their homes–they can’t afford it.”

Then there are those who are leaning towards the dignity end. Some go to the extreme of merely doing charity. They raise money, they promote advocacy, maybe even they do a habitat project. They recognize that people in the world have problems and that they can help. So they do so. But they never quite understand at a deep visceral level what the plight of the poor is like. It is always a “them” and “us” polarity.

The truth is that we need both of these drives. We need to have experiences of solidarity in order to remind us deeply that people are being robbed of dignity. We need to feel their indignity to see that we are not so different.

We need not abandon dignity altogether however. Experiences of solidarity need not result in choosing to live indignantly. Rather all of this needs to result in our living for one another joyfully. Can we look at our luxuries and live without them in order to more gratefully provide for others? “How little can we live with and retain our dignity?” is a great question to ask ourselves.

However, we can’t let our own dignity slip away. Everyone should have a comfy bed, shelter, enough to eat, access to health care. I’d argue that a computer and good internet access is getting close to being needed in order to keep up with society. I once chastised a student who said he saw a guy with a nice phone but he spent a lot less money on clothing for his kids. Certainly priorities need to be in order, but we also need to think about what that phone provided him with. A status symbol like a nice smartphone might get him a better job. What if he said that he doesn’t own a cell phone or didn’t have an email address? How would the person interviewing him regard him? What if he didn’t have an address? You can see the downward spiral in our elitist minds. Dignity is all too easily robbed in our developed world where Americans are clearly the 1% by global standards.

“Nobody should have to live like this.” I said to my colleague and indeed that experience has charged my energies in lobbying for the poor. It’s not enough to allow yourself to face day to day indignities and in doing so claim solidarity as your prize for being above it all. Rather, we need to experience solidarity and take steps towards restoring dignity. The reverse is also true. It’s not enough to recognize dignity is what’s needed and to throw money at the problem. What’s needed is solidarity as well. We need to see the other as ourselves and in doing so also see Christ in our midst. That should be enough to recognize that the other indeed can easily be ourselves. It’s not about how others are different but rather it’s about how we are all the same.

Solidarity needs to keep its cousin dignity close by. Otherwise we will always keep those who live in poverty on the outside. And dignity needs solidarity to keep providing all of us with the experiences of poverty, for that empowers us to feel for others and to treat them as we would like to be treated.

If You Haven’t Been Watching Hoops Star Billy Baron

You’re missing something. He’s been amazing here at Canisius.

And his dad is also the Coach at Canisius and is a great guy. I’ve forgiven him for breaking my heart when he was the coach at St. Francis of Loretto in PA and he beat Fordham to stop their run for the NCAA tournament.

A side note: This year in Campus Ministry we launched a new initiative collaborating with the Lutheran Churches here in Buffalo called “Feed Hungry Kids” where we put together 10,000 meals for kids at risk in a few hours. We invited several members of the Canisius College community to come out and the basketball team came out in force that day, including Coach Baron and all his assistant coaches as well. A great show of support for the event and for Canisius.

Keep it up, Barons. I’ll be using the #baroned whenever Billy leads the Griffs to another win. As in “You just got Baroned.”

One Semester Down

Apologies for the lack of blogging over the last few months. To be honest it’s been a whirlwind lately. I’m getting used to new job responsibilities and balancing family life and other part-time gigs. I should have all of this down by Mid-January and then I can work out some kind of daily blogging schedule again.

But regardless, you may be asking: So just what the heck are you doing lately, Mike?

Well, I’m the Director of Campus Ministry at Canisius College, which is a Jesuit College in Buffalo with about 2800 undergraduates and some more graduate students–but I would say I primarily work with the undergrads.

My job is primarily management of the Campus Ministry Staff and being the public face of Campus Ministry. So if there’s a public prayer to be said, I’m usually the one doing the praying–although I often ask one of the staff to pray from time to time. (More on this later). I have a staff of 7: 2 Jesuit Priests, 3 married Campus Ministers who are women, a single male campus minister and an administrative assistant. We also employ 5 student workers and several interns for a variety of things. They’re a great staff and I’ve gotten to know all of them pretty quickly and I really like supporting their work and helping them to execute the ministry well.

Campus Ministry at Canisius is central to the identity of the school. Essentially, we animate the mission and accentuate the educational experience with spirituality and service programing. We obviously have mass and confessions on campus (in a beautiful chapel–our Sunday night 9:30PM mass is especially moving with great music and candlelight often). We also have a major retreat initiative called “Kairos” which is kind of the thing to do for many of our undergrads. And service is a big component of our experience-based ministry. We do that in many forms: Local, Domestic and International. For example, I will be heading to El Salvador in May for an International immersion trip (and I totally can’t wait). I’m also leading a domestic trip to New York City in January and then I participate in local service from time to time with the students when my schedule allows.

We also give people a full experience of the Ignatian Exercises, if that’s something they want to do. I direct 3 people in this as their spiritual director and Fr. Tom who heads up the program, has about 27 people doing some version of the exercises this semester!

As the director, I also have to attend a bunch of meetings. We’re in the student affairs division, so I attend the divisional staff meeting with colleagues like the residential life office, student support services, public safety, counseling and athletics, just to give you the scope of things. Some other meetings I go to are the Senior Operation Team, Long Range Strategic Planning, Students of Concern and College Level Assessment. I’ve learned a lot from these meetings and it’s been amazing to see how the college operates.

I also pitch in on a variety of ministerial initiatives. This brings me a lot of life and gets me to interact more deeply with the students. My favorite thing from this past semester (no surprise here) was to attend my first Kairos retreat. I gave a presentation and assisted in leading a small group amongst other things–but mainly just being present on a deep spiritual retreat was life-giving in so many ways for me. I also attended my first Ignatian Family Teach-in for Justice. This is a large conference that the Jesuits run where Jesuit Colleges, High Schools, Parishes and Jesuit Volunteers all get together and discuss social justice issues that are of concern to us and to our members of congress. We end the conference with a public demonstration and then we actually go to lobby congress! Exciting!

I try to assist in some of the local service initiatives, but try to do this when they really need help as students are always beckoning to do some local service during the semester. This week, in fact, I’ll be doing some work at St Luke’s Mission of Mercy who does a lot of vital work in one of the poorer sections of Buffalo. I’ve done meals on wheels, our sandwich ministry and the burrito project. Feeding the hungry is a primary goal for us as a ministry.

Lastly, I do the call to worship at most masses and I’ve been doing many of the public prayers (invocations) at campus events. In fact, I do almost all of them in verse. You see, often the invocation is what keeps everyone from the program they are attending or a meal. So I always believe you need to be either serious and short, or somewhat innovative and fun (Who says prayer can’t be fun?). People are responding to this and I’m kind of proud of this as I think it brings morale up a bit and has sort of made me the “Dr. Suess of the Campus.”

I also get to write a column in the student paper each week. So much of my writing efforts have gone towards that end along with my BustedHalo responsibilities. You can check me out at Canisiusgriffin.com

So, yes, this was a good move for me. I’m enjoying my work immensely–but then again, when have I not enjoyed my work? I get to do ministry and any day I get to do that, is a good day indeed! Perhaps over the break, I’ll tell you about my colleagues and my lunch table and some of the students I’ve met. They’re all great.

It’s still hard and time consuming work. So this blog often takes a back seat. I’m looking to fold my private prayer time into writing more and more (one of my resolutions). I will also be having hand surgery for “trigger finger” in January (a minor procedure) so I may need to break from the blog around then (Or learn to type with one hand!).

In short, life is good. As we head from Gaudete Sunday into our final Sunday of Advent and then Christmas, I hope that your life is filled with as much joy as mine has been this semester.

For All the Saints

“Saints are ordinary people who have done extraordinary things.”

So said, Sr. Caroline as I grew up and attended CCD classes at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in the late 70s. Far be it from me to disagree with this lovely woman, but I think Saints are much more than that. They are ordinary people who do some extraordinary things, but mostly they are ordinary people who do ORDINARY things, but do them with great love, perhaps extraordinary love.

images-3Take Pedro Arrupe,S.J., one of my favorite Jesuits, who I believe is a saint, even if he is not officially recognized as one. In the horror of the Hiroshima bombings, Fr. Arrupe cared for the dying, the dying who did not die right away, but who suffered horrible burns from the madness of the atomic bomb. When he had cared greatly for the needs of so many and nursed them back to health, many simply died from radiation poisoning without much warning. Seeing those atrocities up close and caring for the needs of so many and continuing to be a priest and leading the Jesuits through the unchartered waters of the Second Vatican Council is enough for me to say that he did what some would consider extraordinary, but Arrupe would say that he did what was needed to be done—ordinary things with great love.

Campus Ministers I believe are in the saint-making business. We try to enable people to see themselves as doing whatever they are called to be, but doing that with great love. It frees people from the anxiety of possibly “missing their calling” and instead invites them to see the world with great love and trying to bring love to the work they do, even if they don’t think their job highlights their “first gifts.” I’m sure Fr. Arrupe didn’t think his first gift was running a triage unit in Japan, but he did it with great love. Sometimes circumstances indeed place us in the crosshairs of doing 3-4 things that we really would rather not do. Fr. James Martin, S.J. often talks about caring for elderly men in Jamaica and having to clean them and clip their nails was not something he looked forward to, but he did it with great love regardless.

What we as Campus Ministers need to do is to show students that including God in their vocational decisions invites them to ask the questions:

How does what I’m doing right NOW, make me more loving?
How might I be willing to change just a smidge to try to love better than I do?
Where do I see myself doing ordinary things with great love?
Where is God calling me to see my life in light of what makes me feel more alive with God’s love pouring out to others and to myself?

All good questions. To be saints means that we ask these questions and more importantly we LIVE this questions. We become all that we are, nothing more, but most importantly, nothing less.

But often we are afraid to be saints. Fear, as you know, is the opposite of faith. We’re also afraid to try to make saints–to awaken people to their best possibilities. It’s too hard, or too demanding, or even too tiring. There are other things we’d rather do. The truth is that life IS hard and we need to get over it. Doing the right thing is often a pain in the neck. But saints are able to do so because they know that doing this with love not only brings them great joy—but it also enables them to find God lurking there, pushing them just a bit harder on the journey to become all that they are.

It is time to begin a journey to sainthood. We do that by taking one step towards that goal each day in so many different walks of life. We do that by becoming all that we are.

And saints are not perfect. Rather saints admit that they are not God, not perfect and it leads them to do what they can—but to do that well and with love.

St. Peter became all that he was, even though he denied Jesus three times. St. Joseph was a simple carpenter called to take an unwed mother into his home and care for her and raise her son as his own, protecting the Son of God in an age where infant mortality and poverty took the lives of many. Dorothy Day housed the poor despite the fact that they made it difficult for her to treat them as Jesus would.

And some days it’s just hard to get up in the morning and get to the office when we know it’s going to be a difficult day–a challenging day. But God calls us to think more of ourselves, to know that we are indeed gifted and talented and have some opportunities to make a difference.

In doing so we become saints in the making. And when we unite with the divine in the beatific vision beyond this life, we will find it was more than enough.

More than enough for the world, more than enough for God and more than enough for us in becoming all that we are called to be.

So today is our day, All Saints. Let us celebrate who we are and enjoy being ourselves, but most importantly, let us love, even when it is challenging.

Lessons From Retreat

1395404_10100533951114590_1284310010_nThis past weekend I attended my first Kairos retreat at Canisius. It was a big chance for me to get to know the students well here. Many of whom I already had a good relationship with I was able to deepen that relationship and that really touches my heart deeply.

I can’t divulge much of what happened on the retreat but let’s just say that the spirit was alive amongst us and we were able to share much with each other that ordinarily doesn’t get shared in casual conversation. As an adult leader on the retreat, one would think that I have little or nothing to learn, but these students somehow always teach me a thing or two. Here’s just a few lessons:

1) Fatherhood has nothing to do with reproduction and everything to do with being life-giving to others: That’s a long title and deservedly so. I don’t have children of my own and that sometimes makes me sad. The dog helps in this regard, but a dog is not a person, much less a child (although some days I wonder). But not having children gives me the opportunity to spend more time with these students. I become like a surrogate father for some of them while I am here and that makes me incredibly joyful and it’s something I take incredibly seriously. I’ve been able to meet some of the student’s parents and I always thank them for giving me the responsibility for the care of their child. They have not merely touched my life but they have also given me much, changing me into something new with every experience. They allow me to give life in a different way, a way more suited to my personality and to who I am and who I wish to keep becoming.

2) A Full Day is one where you think, laugh and cry.
Jimmy Valvano, the old NC State Coach, once said this when he started a foundation for cancer (See below) and darn if he’s not right. When I think deeply about my life there are things that make me laugh uncontrollably and things that move me to tears. There are experiences I have with my students that do the same thing to me–whether that’s a retreat experience or an alternative break trip or simply praying together at mass.

3) Christ is Alive
OK how much do we really believe this? But through the gift of one another we find that the living breathing God is indeed amongst us. We see that when we open our hearts just enough for one another to really see who we are without games or pretensions. It is there that we can see one another as God does.

4) You Never Know What Someone Else is Carrying
I learn so much about what people are dealing with the more I have conversations with them of real meaning. When I see their stresses and note that they are not much different from my own, I’m impressed that they are able to do this while getting a degree. I hope that they are able to use me to support them so that they can succeed academically and more importantly, be healthy and whole as people.

5) Students Realize that I Care
Students just want someone to care. College can be a lonely place and having advocates and people who they can rely on make that experience just a whole lot easier. Because I’m one of these people along with my staff, who the students are really happy to be in touch with because they know we care about them.

Retreats often are a moment for me to reflect and take stock of all that I am and all that I can be. What do I fall short on? But also what brings me great joy?

This is an opportunity for me to see where God is moving me and leading me. And the one thing that I know for sure.

God has led me exactly to where I belong. And I couldn’t be happier.

Help Petey and Canisius Win a National Championship!

So in case you missed this…

Canisius College’s Mascot (who is really cool!) Petey Griffin has advanced to the finals of the Catholic Mascotology Contest on BustedHalo.com.

It’s been a long road to the finals. First we beat local rival the St Bonaventure Bona Wolf. Then it was a major upset for us over the popular Boston College Eagle. Then onto MAAC Rival The Iona Gael and then Petey pulled off a squeaker against the Fordham Ram.

Today, it’s the big championship against the Loyola Greyhound.

Now let’s really take a look at this. I love dogs as much as the next person…but take a look at the Greyhound:


And now look at Petey…


He’s a much cooler Mascot. Come on a Half Lion-Half Eagle against a pretty fast dog? Even my beloved Haze the Dog doesn’t think that’s a good matchup for the dog world.

So go vote!

Addendum: Paulist Father Tom Gibbons is a Loyola Grad and we have a nice side bet going on. The winner carries the loser around Niagara Falls for a day. And I really want to visit the caves that day!

Petey Griffin vs. The Fordham Ram

So I’m a proud graduate of Fordham and now work at another Ignatian institution, Canisius here in Buffalo. World’s are colliding as my colleagues from BustedHalo.com put together the Catholic Mascotology Contest this week, featuring all kinds of Mascots from various Catholic Universities. Mascots like The St Joe’s Hawk and the SLU Billiken (pictured).Unknown-2Unknown-3

Now many of you know my affinity for large muppet-like characters at stadiums. The Pirate Parrot is one of my all time favorites. Slider in Cleveland is another good one with the Indians.

But Petey Griffin (Named after St. Peter Canisius and not the Family Guy character–though that makes this a lot funnier) is my absolute favorite mascot these days. Check him out.

And then see how quickly he redeems himself:

UnknownProps to our hockey coach, Dave Smith, for playing along here. But seriously, who wouldn’t like a half-Eagle, half-Lion for their Mascot. And for years I’ve been saying that I don’t like the new Fordham Ram’s look.

Now that I am at Canisius, I am more and more appreciative of the people here and Petey represents that as a Mascot. His wings allow us to soar. And if nothing else, Buffalo is not one of these mid-sized cities that has a chip on it’s shoulder. So for once, let’s help the humble city beat the big, bad urban king of the world. I love Fordham and I love NYC. But I also love my new adopted home and more importantly, my students and colleagues here at Canisius who welcomed this old Ram and gave him Wings and a Roar and allowed him to be a Griff.

So vote early and often! And Go Griffs!

Can We Heal Wounds?

When the horror of September 11th came upon the United States my friends with children fought vigorously to keep their children away from the television screen. Others even fought to keep themselves away from the images we know all too well from that day. Many wondered what to tell their kids when they returned home from school and some even hoped that their teachers hadn’t spilled the beans.

I wondered to myself if this were a healthy approach? It makes sense that we don’t want people, never mind children to be exposed to horrible images that could have traumatic effects on their psyche. But what about telling them about what happened? It seems that many of my friends tried to seal the information from their kids for at least some time, usually before one of their friends remarked about the dreadful news.

I started to think about other things that people don’t tell their kids because they don’t want them to worry. Finances are hard. Mom’s got cancer. There was an accident. Your dog went to heaven. It seems anything that is bad is taboo for children at times and people only tell them things that they need to, only when absolutely necessary.

Slate had a great article today that got me thinking about this. They claim three real reasons that college students (and the rest of us, they claim) are more stressed out than ever before. I’ll riff on each here and add a fourth that stems from them and will add some thoughts about what I see amongst my own students and colleagues.

The first is a lack of community. One colleague of mine said: “I knew there was trouble when I found two student residents in their room arguing with one another–but they weren’t yelling at each other, they were TEXTING and IMing while in the same room! I put a stop to that and made them hash it out.”

Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection. As fear researcher Michael Davis of Emory University told me: “If you’ve lost the extended family and lost the sense of community, you’re going to have fewer people you can depend on, and therefore you’ll be more anxious. Other cultures have much more social support and are better off psychologically because of it.” Another factor that adds to this problem—especially among young people—is our growing reliance on texting and social media for community, which many psychologists say is no substitute for real human interaction. When you’re feeling most dreadful, you don’t run to your Facebook profile for consolation; you run to a flesh-and-blood friend.

I think about my own students with this one. One of the most popular clubs on campus is our Christian Life Communities, a weekly prayer group of sorts that invites people to do a short form of the Ignatian examen in community. We discuss the highs and lows of the week and provide a meditation and a time for affirmations and prayer requests. It’s one of the times in my week that I feel I can really connect with our students and I start to hear just what people are carrying around with them. This is safe space and sometimes when I hear what people are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking, never mind getting a degree. I feel the same way about the students I’ve seen in spiritual direction. And I often feel that they are unprepared for all that life is offering them and impressed that somehow they are still able to function at such high levels.

Professionally, I notice the texting more amongst outside younger colleagues than amongst my students at Canisius. I communicate with many people via text. And sometimes it’s inappropriate. There are some who try to conduct business via text when it would be faster and easier to call and have a conversation. Indeed texting is somehow more efficient but then again, it can lead to problems. My staff does this well. We text when necessary. When we need to get a message to someone quickly and think they are in a meeting or can’t talk. Or when the message is a quick one that requires some kind of action “Can you grab cider for the meeting?” would be an example.

The second is information overload which I discuss at length in my book, Googling God. There’s so much information out there that you can’t possibly consume it all. Our students often ask for bullet points and other quick soundbytes of information and I often give it to them because they just don’t need one more thing to read and information is bombarding them at high rates all the time. I don’t ever not recommend reading and I give them plenty to chew on when I think there’s a book or an article that is worth their time, but I also try to encourage that there’s not a rush to consume this information–to savor the reading process and to enjoy reading and gaining information. I often feel that college would be more enjoyable if we just let students finish when they finish. Now that’s an impossible business model to sustain, but from my own perspective I was able to work and do two graduate classes per semester and I enjoyed that immensely. I found it difficult to take 5 undergraduate classes and hold all that information together while working at the radio station and socializing and all of my campus ministry involvement.

I find my present students are great at balancing their time. Many are involved in much and have heavy duty science majors or are working on a big time business degree. I never knew how the medical students kept up at UB and the pre-meds are just as impressive at Canisius. But I do notice their anxiety. I do notice that it is not easy for them. And I do see them when they get overwhelmed by their to-do lists and the pressure of being good students and having a social life and trying to figure out what they would most like to be and do with their lives.

Some are brilliant: They’ve realized that they are never going to know everything that someone else thinks they should know. It took me years to get that idea through my thick skull.

Finally here’s the last major point:

Put simply, Americans have developed habits for dealing with anxiety and stress that actually make them far worse. We vilify our aversive emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their own course. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees. Psychologist Steven Hayes, creator of a highly effective anxiety treatment formula called acceptance and commitment therapy, told me that we’ve fallen victim to “feel-goodism,” the false idea that “bad” feelings ought to be annihilated, controlled, or erased by a pill. This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.

Amen! We protect ourselves way too much. And we protect others from our sadness and what we perceive is their sadness way too much.

Interestingly enough, comedian Louis CK hits the nail on the head with this: (warning: vulgar at times).

Perhaps our call is not to remove our student’s sadness or stress, but to help them more appropriately deal with that. We often do this in community on retreats, prayer groups, spiritual direction and on more than a few occasions by collaborating with our counseling center.

Our students need us and more importantly, they need community, they need time to chill to detox from information and they need to share their fears in a safe space where they can actually feel their emotions and be supported by peers and ministers.

In a world that is marked by terrorism all too often, anxiety is ever present globally and we have fewer resources to turn to because everyone is so busy that we have a hard time paying attention to those who need us. Older Americans might note that they were afraid of the Russians or of the bomb–but their community structure was much more intertwined with one another than our students’ lives are today.

This is our call as higher ed professionals and as Catholic Campus Ministers. As Pope Francis put it in the recent interview in America Magazine:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

Heal the wounds… the wounds that are felt deeply and all too easily pushed away. Help people to feel their wounds and then to not be afraid to place your hands in the wounds of Jesus, like Thomas and allow the healing that God has to offer to take place through you, even in small and simple ways. This is ministry.

And it is where we always encounter God waiting for us and asking us to heal wounds.