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?

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.

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.

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.

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.