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.

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:

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And now look at Petey…

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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.

So How Is Canisius, Mike?

That’s my most asked question these days and the answer is: “Wonderful and very busy.” We had what seemed like a hundred events at the start of the semester and now I can breathe just a bit easier as the semester begins to settle down.

I’m really enjoying my time here. It’s different from parish life as a campus minister where it was much harder to insert one’s self into the campus of a secular university. Here I am right in the thick of things. I picked up the student newspaper The Griffin (more on that later) and actually knew most of the news in it already. I was always surprised by the news I’d read at UB. I enjoyed my time at UB and especially on the parish team at St. Joe’s, but I think that this place suits my style a bit better and this is more of what I expected when I made the move to be a Campus Minister.

The workday also starts earlier for me now. As the director, I need to be in early to start the day and get things done, or occasionally I have an early morning meeting. Afternoons are usually dedicated to creating relationships with colleagues, spiritual direction with students or alumni, preparing liturgy materials, or finalizing budgets. I also meet with each member of the staff once a week and my supervisor every other week. I stay late two days a week to participate in a Christian Life Community (CLC) on Tuesdays and I often attend a ballgame once a week when there is one that fits my schedule.

I’m in on a few standing meetings: Senior Operations team, Students of Concern and the Student Affairs Directors meetings. They’re mostly informative with some work to be done before or after. In general, I’m not a huge fan of meetings, but these are good and informative meetings and I’ve learned a lot about the school from my colleagues, so I’m enjoying them.

My favorite parts of my day is when I get to spend time with students and colleagues. And when we make plans for something like a retreat, community service event, liturgy, or just something fun. I’m excited by the fact that the Career Center wants to work with me on a few events for students surrounding discernment and that I get to be on the next Kairos retreat team in October. I’ll also be doing a Winter Service trip to New York City (Yay!) and a Spring Service trip to Erie. I’ll probably also go on one of our international trips, but I’m still deciding on which one. (El Salvador, Puerto Rico or Poland–tough choices!)

I’m really enjoying the students as well. I’ve learned a lot of names and am trying not to get any wrong. It’s a lot to learn in a short period of time, but my memory is pretty good and once I have an experience with a student, I usually remember their name. I’m getting to know the faculty and staff a bit more too and am slowly thinking of ways to get them involved with campus ministry or I should say, campus ministry involved with them.

I’m going to make more time for writing. I know I’ve been lax in doing so. Lots of pre-loading on the weekends and a good deal of late nights are what it will take to keep this blog moving forward.

Speaking of writing, The Griffin has asked me to do a column. I’m meeting with them on Monday to talk about particulars, but I was honored that they even asked. I know that my pastoral experience always informs my writing and so I’ll begin to do lots of reflecting on the events of my day and I know that will percolate my thoughts.

One of the more significant moments for me this semester came when a Muslim student came to the office. He asked for the keys to the “Mosque”. This made me giggle as we don’t have a “Mosque” but rather a room in the chapel’s basement that we have turned into a prayer room for our Muslim students. Another group of students, suggested that we start a prayer room in our library for people of all faiths to be able to use. A group of Kairos retreat veterans began to meet in the library and pray together and they motivated the project.

I asked the aforementioned Muslin student, “Hey do you know about our new prayer room in the library?” “No,” he replied. So off we went to check it out. When he got there, he nearly cried. He was so touched that we were giving students of all faiths a place to pray. A colleague also told me that they headed to the space the other day and found another person using it. So word is getting out about it. We have a “book of common concerns” in there and I’m eager to see what people are praying about in there.

Mass, of course, is very vibrant. I’ve been impressed with the care people take with liturgy, especially our Jesuits who preach at both weekday and Sunday mass. Our contemporary music ensemble always lifts my spirits. And the students who gather for mass are so welcoming and joyful as we pray together.

And we have a good time together. The students have a great sense of humor, which I can appreciate. I lent my ipad to a student whose computer died over the weekend and she filled my pictures with goofy ones of her and a friend. Somehow she knew I needed a boost after a long tough week in which I lost a friend and had to spend a lot of time working hard on a budget report. On our Ignis retreat, one of our alums asked me to conspire with him against his girlfriend who is a Senior during a game where both people are blindfolded and one has to feed the other whipped cream on a spoon. Shall we say that our friend cheated and removed his blindfold and smeared whipped cream all over his girlfriend. So mean.

One evening, Denny, who has since graduated and is now in a volunteer program, said to me, “Mike, I know you haven’t been here very long, but it feels like you’ve been here for years.”

Man, did that make me feel great.

And indeed, I feel the same way. I’ve grown to respect my staff and value their opinions. And the students just have this passion and love for both campus ministry and Ignatian Spirituality that really gets me charged up.

A final note: Our Kairos team has been writing emails back and forth..a countdown to the big day of retreat. They are so excited and I cannot wait for the first retreat. I look forward to each silly note and have been responding with words like “This retreat is taking me to unknown places where it has become the benevolent ruler of all my emotions.”

Clearly I need help.

So pray for us as we continue to plan and recruit others to come on the weekend. I’ll be giving a presentation on the weekend and am carefully planning that as well.

St. Peter Canisius, pray for us.

Dancing Through College

So in the past few years, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon amongst millennials and I’d like to contrast it with my own college experience.

So yes, this is going to be one of those “When I was your age” moments.

Don’t worry millennials, you come out looking good in this one.

But let’s go back even further…to high school and I can remember my first high school dance.

I was terrified. Not of asking anyone to dance, but simply of dancing. I didn’t know how to dance really. My parents were older and they didn’t know any of the latest moves. I could certainly slow dance with a girl, but first I had to get a girl to like me and I was having a bit of trouble doing that. I spent that first dance pacing around the outskirts of the dance floor, under-confident and disappointed. For the next four years, I never really got dancing down, but I at least had the guts to get out there with friends and move a bit. One of our teachers, Mr. Campbell was a great dancer and he showed all of us a few classic moves.

Advance to college…dancing was still not high on my list. At the end of freshman orientation there was a semi-formal dance and when the music started, two Jesuits got out on the floor with two freshmen and started the dancing off. It was marvelous to see all of us just jump out onto the dance floor together. No partners, no pressure–just a bunch of freshmen dancing.

My college roommate then, was a fantastic dancer and had a way with the ladies. I remember him telling me that a bunch of girls out on the dance floor came over to him and said “Hey are you going out tonight?” and he would politely decline. Cool as a cucumber. I sort of danced around and one young woman and I locked eyes at one point and danced together for a bit. It didn’t turn into a relationship or anything but freshman year was off to an OK start for a shy guy who couldn’t dance too well.

Fast forward to today. I would say I’m a “passable” dancer. But something happens to me when I dance with my Marion. Everyone says it. There’s an intimacy between us that is hard to describe. Together we are pretty good swing dancers and we enjoy it. Not bad for a guy who has gained too much weight and doesn’t have the best knees anymore.

Back to our college students. I’ve noticed that dancing is different for them. There was a bit of a pecking order in my day with dancing, a kind of survival of the fittest. If you couldn’t dance, you just got left out.

But for college students today, dancing is a bit more of a communal practice. Sure people show off their moves and there are “dance battles” and some move better than others and get a bit more attention for it, but then something happens.

“Hey everyone, let’s do the wobble!”

Line dancing has a new place with this generation. And there’s a bunch of experts that will say this is because they have grown up in an over-programmed way, to the point that they can’t just get out there and boogie on their own. They need some kind of organizing mechanism to enable them to even dance.

I ain’t buying it.

The truth is that this is about inclusiveness. Milennials have a tendency to try to include everyone, to get everyone involved. I noticed this at our bonfire at Canisius the other night that when they did some kind of line dance everyone got out there and danced and when they didn’t, a good deal of people left the floor.

And then …

Cha cha slide gets everyone up again. I’ve even seen this one at the ballgame.

So I brought up my observation with my colleagues who confirmed my suspicions and then I asked some of my students about it.

“It’s the only kind of dancing we do.” That line was repeated to me many times, by many different kinds of students. One also noted that “Well, once you learn the steps, that’s all you need to know to be part of the dance. And you can learn by doing..it doesn’t take much to learn.”

True enough. It’s very inclusive and seems to be a way that even someone who can’t really dance is able to dance without fear. The dances are easy enough to do.

So you go, students. Keep dancing together.

How To Treat Freshmen

My pal, Fr Rich Andre pointed me to this piece of history from 1495 in Leipzig.

“Statute Forbidding Any One to Annoy or Unduly Injure the Freshmen. Each and every one attached to this university is forbidden to offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at them with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, any, who are called freshmen, in the market, streets, courts, colleges and living houses, or any place whatsoever, and particularly in the present college, when they have entered in order to matriculate or are leaving after matriculation.”

Leipzig University Statute (1495)

Yikes! The sad thing to realize is that they probably had to put this on the books because someone had actually done this!

And we thought modern hazing was bad.

I just spent a week or so with freshmen and a bunch have been stopping by for work study applications and just a general hello. Yesterday was the first day of classes and I imagine today will be the first day of overwhelming feelings. Indeed there will be a lot to do over the course of the year. I feel more anxiety for the freshmen this year than I have before as a Campus Minister for some reason. Perhaps it’s because I know Canisius expects much of their students. But then, I also recall that it’s up to those of us who support students to make sure that they FEEL supported, that they know they can seek us out when they are struggling. After all, we want them back here for another year so we get to be in relationship with them again and the faculty get to educate them again for another year as well.

Some wisdom from my own past:

I was the first in my family to go to college (at least in the traditional sense–my older sister returned to college as an adult and began taking part-time classes a few years before I began). I was very nervous and feared really screwing this opportunity up. I was so afraid that I didn’t want anyone else to know how afraid or how much pressure I was under.

So I hid.

I didn’t take advantage of many of the opportunities that were available to me, academically. I barely went to the library. And I didn’t choose my major with any true sense of discernment. I really didn’t know how to study, nor did I know how to manage my time all that well either. I spent far too much time in the radio station and too little time reading.

That said, I got by. I’m a smart guy and was able to do well enough to get my degree. I did pretty well as a Sophomore. I made my share of mistakes as a first time manager at the radio station. I got an internship at the biggest all sports radio station in the country and they eventually hired me to work there 3 days after I graduated–the only three days of my life that I have ever been unemployed.

But it wasn’t until I went back to Graduate School that I really began to appreciate the value of learning. It wasn’t until 10 years after I received my first degree that I really appreciated the value of education. It indeed is a privilege to be educated, to learn from others who have mastered this material and now pass on that knowledge to you.

I was an excellent graduate student. I enjoyed every minute of being in class with colleagues and my professors for the most part really engaged us with the materials. I was clearly more interested in the material as well and did lots of extra reading and more importantly I asked a lot more questions and got a lot more help from professors and the university. I revised and published my Master’s Thesis which was the genesis of this blog.

So dear freshmen, I look to you today and say the following: You are beloved. We want you to be with us and engage with us in conversation that can stimulate your minds and challenge you to think and become critical of the world around you. You are our hope for not the future, but the present. It is our hope that you will see what we have not seen and uncover what is to be discovered about so many things.

But in order to do that you must become studious and you cannot do this alone. Never again will you have an entire institution dedicated to you. So take advantage of all the people here that want to help you and want you to be successful. That’s good for us as well as for yourself. You are the future that Canisius hopes to profess. You are the legacy that we invest in now. And the faculty and staff here are dedicated to your learning, your maturity, your development.

One of my goals for each student I come to know is that they will be able to articulate their own spiritual experience. “Just who is this God that I have come to know? How do I see God in all things? How can I deeply reflect upon my experiences so that I might know what my deepest desires are and how might I find a mentor to help me look at that experience more deeply and less superficially. You are adults and your spiritual experience needs to reflect that just as much as your brick and mortar academic knowledge in any of the disciplines you come to develop an expertise in.

You are our students. And we are Canisius.

Now get out there and knock ’em alive!

And most of all don’t let anybody “offend with insult, torment, harass, drench with water or urine, throw on or defile with dust or any filth, mock by whistling, cry at (you) with a terrifying voice, or dare to molest in any way whatsoever physically or severely, you or any, who are called freshmen.”

Or they’ll have to answer to me.

God in All Things: Coin Flips, Flat Tires and a Pizza Delivery Guy

Denny, far left and Nick with the yellow shirt in the center with others on the Campus Ministry staff.
Denny, far left and Nick with the yellow shirt in the center with others on the Campus Ministry staff.
I’ve met some cool students here in the short time I’ve been at Canisius. Two are recent grads who I wish I could hold onto just a bit longer. Nick Wiltsie is off to Columbia Law School and Denny Long will do a year of service with the Sisters of St Joseph in Rochester and they have both been such sincere and a great men during their time here and simply put, are great guys to be around.

These two decided, as young and old men are wont to do together, to go get a beer and celebrate the few days they have left together and share some memories of their college days, now behind them.

They biked on over to the establishment, had a beer, shared some memories and then thought about a second beverage. They decided to let a coin flip decide whether they would stay or go and the odds ruled in favor of leaving. Only one problem: Denny’s bike had a flat tire. They hit a service station and repaired it only to have it flatten out a second time and so begrudgingly they began the long walk back to campus.

Nick picks up the story here:

The walk wasn’t too bad, taking only about an hour. We laughed about the situation and recounted old stories in order to pass the time. Eventually, when we were almost back, having reached Delevan Ave., something strange happened. Sitting in the middle of Main Street in front of the cemetery with his foreways on and trying to ignite his engine was a middle-aged gentlemen in an SUV-esque vehicle. Cars were flying by in every direction. Although Denny and I were initially unsure if there was anything we could do to help, we eventually realized we could push the car out of the road, at least.

We greeted the gentleman who was glad to have our help. Just as we were contemplating where to move the vehicle, another car pulled up and stopped to help. A man in a La Nova (a local Buffalo pizza chain) uniform stepped out of a La Nova car and took charge of the situation. He commanded us where to go, where to push the truck, and how to stay safe. This gentleman was perfectly calm and collected with his italian accent, he could have been a character out of the Godfather. In no time the truck was pushed into the cemetery entrance and out of danger. The Italian savior asked the driver of the truck what happened, and he explained how he ran out of gas at the worst possible moment. All was well, though, because the Italian helped proclaimed “I have a gas can in my car, get in, we’ll get you some gas.”

As the man-in-need climbed into the La Nova car, the Italian savior came up to Denny and I, shook our hands, and said “Thanks for serving with me, brothers.” It was at this time that it struck me I should ask his name. “Saint” he said.

Whether Saint was joking or being sincere, he spoke the truth. Just as Pope Francis recently stated that we need more Saints in everyday clothes, this man was a Saint.

Read the whole story here.

And here’s something for my two new friends to chew on as well:

Both of YOU are also “Saints in everyday clothes.” We need to remember that we all strive to be saints which is, as Thomas Merton learned, “to simply be myself.” Better stated, to become the best version of myself, to be all that I can be. Nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less.

I’m not sure if others would have stopped that night to help push that man out of harm’s way. Think of all the cars that could have simply pushed his car with their own into that driveway with ease and they chose to ignore him. How many would have also let fear drive their instincts, thinking that perhaps the man could be dangerous or that the stopped car could be a ruse? Props for being like our Pope and connecting with people despite some security risks.

As you move into the next phase of your lives know that I have seen you already be “men for others” in just the short time I have known the two of you. You are indeed the body of Christ in the world. So now go and be Christ’s hands and feet on whatever road you choose to walk on.

But He Did Not Know What He Was Saying

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration in which appears one of my favorite lines in all of scripture in Luke’s gospel:

“As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But he did not know what he was saying.

It makes me laugh each time I read it.

But then it makes me think…

How many times, Lord, did I not know what I was saying? How many times have my words been haughty, or arrogant, or just downright hurtful? How many times did I rush to talk to try to impress someone and have it blow up in my face when I said something stupid? How many times did I think I had all the answers and in reality had none and needed to take more time to listen before I would speak?

And then, how many times have I heard others say things that I found hurtful or mean and reacted with the same kind of hatred back perpetuating the cycle of violence in speech?

I did not know what I was saying.

There are plenty of times that I react harshly when just waiting in silence and contemplating what I should say would do nicely.

And here Peter clearly misses the forest for the trees. Jesus is overlooking Jerusalem, where his exodus will take place. Alongside Elijah and Moses, Jesus sees both His end and our beginning–a new kind of promised land.

And while Peter witnesses this…a foretaste of what will be for us…a glimpse of the Resurrected Christ…he also responds with the wacky…

“Let’s build some tents! Let’s never leave! This is awesome.”

Um, no…rockhead. You don’t know what you’re saying.

We can’t ever stay on the mountain top. We need to go to Jerusalem and it is there that we will need to suffer in order to die and rise to new life.

photo 1[2]I just welcomed back a group of women from Canisius who spent three weeks at an orphanage in Poland and if anyone knows about this it is them. They had their emotions pulled and prodded throughout that time of being with the children. How many would they have liked to take home with them? How many of them wanted to stay there forever? Jen, (pictured with me, right) the group’s leader even flirted with the idea of not returning.

But she did not know what she was saying.

For she was changed on this “mountaintop experience” and now the real work begins—for after we are transfigured, we can no longer be the same. We have been changed. When we experience Christ’s transfigured life and realize that this too is meant for us…we can no longer live in the happy-go-lucky world of the mountaintop. We need to go and do whatever this change calls us to do. For these women it might be to be more sensitive to children who need someone to parent them, even if for a short time. It might be to consider the needs of adoptive children here in the United States and to see how we can change laws so that children can find good families to keep them safe and loved. It might be something else.

What mountaintop do you wish to stay on that keeps you from the scary Jerusalem experience of your life? The place where you will most be changed is where you will meet Jesus on the cross and then transforming from THAT experience is where you will be changed the most. It is where you will most appreciate and find new life, better life.

And it is where you will most find God, even if you think it is somewhere else where you are comforted most by God’s presence.

In spiritual direction, I often tell people that it’s the things and the places that most frighten them, that God is probably calling them to look at most carefully. It’s in the relationship that needs to change or the job that just doesn’t work.

God just might be offering you something else.

And that might be a bit scary.

But it is also what gives us a deeper experience of God in our lives and allows us to live more richly.

For the women of Canisius who have returned from Poland, we say “Well done.” You left the comfort of the United States and ventured to another country and were a bit uncomfortable in serving the needs of others. And now we continue to challenge you to go beyond the next hill. To come down from this amazing experience of Poland and to see where you have changed. And to be changed again. To become women for others in a different way, one that may be difficult for you, but nonetheless, better for your growth as a person and better for the world who experiences the gift you are to all of those you encounter.

And most of all, know that on that journey you will meet God. And that finding that presence of God in these new experiences will be life-changing and will provide more than enough for you to be all that you are, nothing more, but more importantly nothing less.

And that gift of yourself is all that God asks of you.

And dayenu, it is enough! You are enough! And you are a blessing to each of us and to all you meet. Amen.

Celebrations Continue

bodyImage-1Our celebrations continue here at Canisius this week as Pat Kelschenbach, who has served as an administrative associate here for the past 19 years, retires today! Pat, greeted me as I moved in my stuff before my first official day and was kind enough to open locked doors and helped me get the office “up and running” long before my first day.

We Irish need to stick together and Pat and we have done so in these early days. She recently returned from my father’s homeland and returned with great stories that warmed my Irish heart.

“Those narrow streets were really something. When we got to the hotel the woman said to us: “Well, you did pretty well–you’ve got both your mirrors!”

Pat is a peaceful soul who calms all of us down with her grace and her good humor and she will be greatly missed. After so many years of faithful service, she too, deserves much time with family and for leisure.

Your spirit will remain here, Pat, with us despite your leaving us today. You have given much to the students and even more to each of us on the staff here in Campus Ministry. While it has only been a few weeks that we have worked together, I will miss you greatly and will often keep you in prayer.

Ugh. It’s been a month and I’m losing two great people who have given over 5 decades of service to this wonderful place. It’s an amazing testament to the spirit of “family” here at Canisius.

So blessings today on Pat. We will enjoy lunch today. And remember many good memories.

And simply rejoice.