Morning Comforts

For some, it’s a piping hot cup of coffee.  For others, a brisk walk in the cool morning air.  Even more, the first bite of their hot breakfast.  Apparently, as the dawn breaks, we all need some comfort.

Here’s mine:  The final stanza of the Canticle of Zechariah from each day’s morning offering in the Liturgy of the Hours:

In the tender compassion of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Beautiful words, a felt promise from God and a comfort to start a new day.

A priest-acquaintance of mine once talked briefly about the morning and evening offerings of prayer.  He stated simply:  

“We pray at night for protection in the darkness.  And we pray in gratitude in the morning that we woke up!”

He was wry in his wit here, but also spoke volumes to many. A person I served a meal to one day at a shelter was asked a simple “How’s it going today?” And his response was epic:

“Well, since I woke up this morning, I’d say I’m doing pretty good!”

Indeed.  And how much more does God give to us with today’s dawn?  But what about those who did not awaken this day?  Are they doing any less good?

A friend lost her father this week and I have been praying for her family.  The canticle of Zechariah, the first words spoken by John the Baptist’s father, after he was silenced for so long speak to the joy that we are offered not only with each sunrise and each breath, but also each moment beyond these.  For those left behind, God provides compassion, of course, especially those of us who feel like we are in the darkness.  But also, for those called home, God guides their journey into everlasting comfort. God’s gift at the end is in fact, Himself.  God calls us to union in the end and in that, we are offered the gift of everlasting peace.

In his final years, Cardinal Bernadin wrote a book called  The Gift of Peace.  It’s content is well worth reading, but the title alone speaks to his own acceptance in his final days, coming to see God’s guiding his last steps on earth into the way of God’s peace.  It betrays a believer’s joy, that in dying, he found comfort beyond the usual coffee cups and scrambled eggs. Laying to rest in God and the want for nothing more was a last great gift indeed.

I pray for that gift for those who have died this week, especially for my friend’s father and also for those who find peace at a distance this day.  Peace is indeed a gift and we often need guidance to not only find it, but accept it when it may very well not feel like peace, but more of an unwilling resignation into what is.

My morning comfort today is trust.  Trust that God indeed does guide my feet into the way of peace.

And more importantly, that God always will.

Joe Franklin and Catholicism

UnknownSo radio and TV icon Joe Franklin died this week at the reported age of 88 (I don’t believe that for a second).  Joe was a real character and I met him a few times while working alongside him at the legendary WOR Radio in New York.

Fr. Paul Keenan’s show often preceded Joe’s and I remember that Fr. Paul, who brokered time on the station, was having a hard time coming up with the funds to keep his show on the air. (Editor’s note: Time brokering is when someone pays the station to host a show and they in turn, sell to their own advertisers, much like late night TV infomercials).  He considered cutting back and only brokering a half hour, but Joe Franklin told him, “Oh Father!  Don’t do that!  This is a time to expand, not contract!”   The advise was well-heeded and Fr. Paul ended up adding a few more sponsors and buying more time on the station.

Sr. Mary Beata Gerrity was a frequent guest on the television show, an Irish folk singer who often made the rounds at various Irish events and was known as the “Singing Nun.”

Joe Franklin was a true character.  If you did something for him, you might find a “Classic” TV Guide in your mailbox the next day as a thank you.  Or something else twice as bizarre.

And speaking of bizarre, you’d never know who you would find up in the studio. Rarely, would I have to be in the studio on the overnight (when Joe’s show aired on the weekend).  But I was up there once and it was crazy.  You never knew who would show up.  One night Billy Crystal came up and not far behind him was a random drag queen with a shopping cart full of his (her?) stuff who proceeded to offer me some chinese food.

I politely declined.

One of the biggest surprises that I found during my time at WOR was that Joe actually did that overnight show live.  He almost never recorded it when it would have been very easy for him to do so.  I once asked him why?  His reply was quick: “I dunno.  Keeps me outta trouble.  My other big problem is that I’m making too much money.”

Bizarre.

But the two stories (both similar) that takes the cake for me were the following:

You see, Joe thought that he was a little bit of a bigger star than he actually was.  So one day, my colleague, who I’ll call, Steve, was working with Joe on an interview he needed to record.  At the end of the taping:

Joe: “Ah! Stevie, you’re the best!  The best! (Everyone was the best to Joe)  Stevie, what’re you doing tomorrow?

Steve:  “Nothing.  Why?”

Joe: “You wanna take your wife to a Broadway Show?”

Steve: “Well, I’m not married, but sure, I’ll go with my girlfriend.”

Joe:  “OK! Two tickets.  Phantom of the Opera.  The tickets will be waiting for you at the Box office.”

So Steve went down there….WITH A DATE….and….there…were…no tickets…waiting…for…him.

A second colleague that I’ll call Forest, was asked by Joe what his weekend plans were:

Forest: “Eh, I gotta paint my house.”

Joe:  “You need paint!  You go right down to Martin Paints and mention my name and they’ll give you all the paint you need!

So Forest did.  And the guys at Martin Paint had never heard of Joe.  (Martin Paint, in fairness sponsored Joe’s TV show for a long time–but that was about 10 years ago at this juncture).    They laughed Forest out of the store.  So Forest went back to Joe who was enraged!

Joe:  “WHAT!?  YOU GO BACK DOWN THERE TOMORROW!  I’LL MAKE A CALL!”

Nope.  No paint then either.  Forest was crazy enough to go back the third time before Martin Paint threatened to put him on some kind of “we don’t do business with this guy” list.

Bizarre.

But despite all of his craziness, Joe Franklin was a great guy and a very nice man to all who he encountered.  I don’t think I ever heard a mean word said about him.  I thought this video from the past with Gilbert Godfried summed up Joe’s character well.  Rest in peace, my friend.

 

 

A Final Boo-Ya!

Stuart Scott, the renowned ESPN anchor who was a pioneer in many ways in sports, died today from Cancer at the much too young age of 49. He lived, likely unaware that I admired him for a living out a great and important piece of Ignatian Spirituality: he was himself. Stu was who God had created him to be and for that he would not apologize. He brought hip-hop and the barbershop to the desk at Sportscenter, in the too often buttoned up position of anchor. He made it fun. He was fun. He was on a ride and he never wanted it to end. His enthusiasm not only reflected black culture, but it reflected conversations I had with friends, colleagues. I used to say back when I was in broadcasting that the show “off the air was often better than the one on the air.” Scott brought off the air to in front of the camera. His personality and his joy for all he lived will be missed.

I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but he was always someone I looked forward to watching.

Here’s some poignant words of his from the Espys this year:

View on YouTube

Eternal rest, grant unto him, O Lord and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Stu’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen ….

and Boo-ya!

Of Grandmothers, Wives and Guardian Angels

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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James Martin posted this beautiful reflection after attending the funeral for Fr. Dan Harrington, SJ, noted scripture scholar.

I’m on the last train out of Boston tonight after attending the funeral Mass of one of the holiest people I’ve ever met: Dan Harrington, SJ. A full Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, on the campus of Boston College, with hundreds of Dan’s former students, scores of his colleagues and friends, perhaps 100 priest concelebrants, and many beloved family members, gathered together to celebrate his entrance into eternal life. It was hard not to imagine him finally meeting Jesus, whom he had studied and taught and worshipped his whole life. I mentioned this to a friend before Mass tonight and she said, “Yes, and both of them will be joyful.”

Once again, I want to praise God for the privilege of knowing and studying with him, and say, with all who knew him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

Who are the teachers and mentors and exemplars in your life? If they are alive, thank them and pray for them. If they are with God, thank God and ask for their prayers.

Is it not a blessing to know a saint?

Indeed. And it gives me great pause to remember one of my teachers today, Gladys Stein who I blogged about here now more than two years ago upon her death. She was my high school English teacher and marched to the beat of her own drum. She had an “ain’t jar” on her desk where one quarter would be deposited as a fine if you used the word ain’t. Hysterical.

She encouraged my gifts for speaking and writing. And even after I had left high school she called when a rumor broke out that I had killed myself (a rumor that was untrue and nobody knew how it started) and told me that she knew it couldn’t be true but wanted me to know what was being said. I showed up at the high school when I could and people thought they had seen a ghost. Rumor squashed!

While we didn’t share a religion, she often encouraged mine. She always said that she found me to be a “healthy person” who shared emotions openly, showed empathy to others and who was faithful to his beliefs. The same can be said about her, in fact that’s probably where I learned much of that.

The truth is that Gladys Stein was a true mench. She was named New York State teacher of the year in 1994 and after a group of students suggested that they dedicate the yearbook to her because she was retiring, she was so moved that she called off calling it quits. (The yearbook advisor refused to ever dedicate a yearbook to her again!).

If you were one of her students, you probably dropped a quarter into that ain’t jar, or received a note written in purple ink (she hated red ink–said it reminded her of blood all over the page). She may have even made you clean her entire classroom with a toothbrush as she did to a group of my friends who showed up to class drunk. (The alternative was to tell their parents).

But most of all, she loved us. Every one of us.

Prayers today for all teachers and professors–especially my colleagues and friends at Canisius, Fordham and UB.

Phillip Seymour Hoffman Found Dead

This just in from the NY Post:

Oscar-winning actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead of an apparent drug overdose inside a Greenwich Village home on Sunday, cops said.
Hoffman’s body was found by a friend at 11:30 a.m. Sunday morning in an apartment at 35 Bethune St., sources said.
Cops are at the scene and are investigating, sources said.
Hoffman has admittedly struggled with drug addiction in the past, and reportedly checked himself into rehab last year for heroin abuse.

I loved him as a actor. He was brilliant. Apparently, that brilliance was muted by the demons of addiction. So sad. And tragic to lose someone so young and so talented. A true artist who touched the lives of so many.

My colleague, Fr. James Martin, S.J. got to work with him when Hoffman directed the play “The Last Days of Judas Isacriot” written by the great Stephen Adly Guirgis. Martin told of meeting and talking with Hoffman:

Martin: “My sister told me to tell you that she thinks you’re a genius.”

Hoffman: (Laughs) “I think I like your sister!”

Humble and yet evident of a man who was not totally comfortable with himself at times. Addiction is quite awful and masks what is truly painful, too painful for someone to deal with at times. I hope that Mr. Hoffman is now free of that pain.

While I have never struggled with addiction, myself, I know many who have. I thought it would be important to try to understand them as best I could. In doing so I have found much empathy for them and a greater understanding of the grasp addiction holds on people. It’s not that people don’t want to stop using. It’s that people are powerless to do so. Addiction’s grasp is that great. The admission of that powerlessness is indeed the first step in 12 step programs, the only thing that consistently has worked in keeping addiction at bay–along with the knowledge that one can fall easily and at any point along the way.

Hoffman knew this well:

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If that’s not a disease, I’m not sure what is.

And it’s taken too many lives. Too many healthy lives. Too many young lives that are over before it starts.

And addiction has taken too much talent out of our world.

So today, friends, let’s pray for those who suffer from addiction. That they might be humble enough to admit their powerlessness over their choices and seek help frequently. And that they might be free of any pain that has led them down this road. We all try to fill up that hole in our lives with something that helps us endure and be resilient when we are unable to cope. Let us pray that people can find a healthy answer to that need when they seek assistance from others.

Let’s also pray for understanding. We often give short shrift to the addicted and blame them for their lot in life. Truly, we need to open our hearts to understand addiction and the addicted just a bit more.

And let’s pray for Phillip Seymour Hoffman. Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

Here is my favorite clip from Hoffman’s work in the movie Doubt:

Peace to Grant

As many of you know, I worked in radio for some 10 years. And one of the shows I worked on was a show called The Bob Grant Show. For people outside of the New York City area this may not be a household name, but in the 90s, Bob Grant WAS conservative talk radio. Essentially he invented the whole “hate radio” format. He would tell you all the things he hated, high taxes, big government, President Clinton (who he called Slick Willie and did a pretty good imitation of him to go with it) and plenty more. His signature catchphrase came each time some caller would make him so angry that he’d scream “GET OFFA MY PHONE, YOU JERK!”

For two months at one clip in my career, I was his interim producer. I booked guests, I screened calls, I directed the technical elements of the show and I enjoyed every breathtaking minute.

Now you have to be asking how in the world could I have enjoyed this. Well, truth be told, Bob Grant, the King of HateRadio, was one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met. I agreed with him on nothing and I worked well with him because I’d find liberal callers for him to yell at and knew just how much to push him to get him to blow his top. It was all an act, well sorta…He truly was angry and did believe many of the opinions he held, but he never let his feelings spill over into our relationship.

Bob lost his job at WABC mostly because he was thought to be a racist. He made light of the Valuejet crash and said he was “being a pessimist” when he considered the possibility of the lone survivor of the crash being Treasury Secretary, Ron Brown ( who was also a black man). He ended up at WOR where I was working and I got to know him with my own jaded opinions at the time of having him become part of our team.

While I shared none of his political opinions, Bob was like the grandfather I never had. He was kind and funny and always made me laugh in a “oh, Grandpa!” kind of way. He had some opinions that were frankly awful, even embarrassing, but when you got to know him you realized that he also had a tender side. He praised traffic reporter, Kerrin McCue, for donating a kidney to his best friend. He was kind to women and showed respect to even the most liberal of his colleagues. Malachy McCourt, a known liberal rabble rouser, was even allowed to sit in as a guest host and on Bob’s birthday, McCourt was one of the first to call and wish him well.

Bob died around New Year’s Eve at 84. Reportedly, he had been in decline for a few months.

When I was working with him, WOR was attempting to hire his old producer “Broadway Roy” Fredriks, who by the way was given that name because he was an actor and Bob thought it might help his career. They eventually did hire Roy and I was also up for the position. The program director, a kind man, named David Bernstein, told me that had a deal not been in the works I would have been given the job because I had done a great job in the interim and he promised me that the next full time job that came available would be offered to me. True to his word, I got the midday producing job in a few months. But the day they hired Roy, Bob came over to my cube and placed a hand on my shoulder and said: “Mike, you have done a great job and if this deal wasn’t already in the works, I would have been proud to have you as my producer.”

Classy.

Many people, certainly many democrats and minorities hated Bob’s opinions and he certainly contributed to the climate of hateful dialogue (or lack of dialogue) in politics. But I’ll just remember him for his sincerity and kindness to me and to our colleagues.

Perhaps God will forgive him for his shortcomings and he can rest easy in God’s loving arms today. May his family and friends be comforted today. And eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Bob’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

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I Needed a Date…And You Danced With Me

When I was a sophomore in college we had a tradition where your roommate would set you up on a date for the residence hall’s annual dance. My roommate and my R.A. knew I had a huge crush on a young lady named Maria, who my R.A. actually had dated for some time. So, they went and asked her and she agreed to be my date.

Until the night before the dance and then she decided that she had too much homework and had to bail.

They didn’t know how to tell me…so they tried to scramble, but by that time…everyone had a date already and it seemed as if I would have to go “stag.” Both my roommate and R.A. broke the news to me. To be honest, I was touched that Steve, my R.A., would even ask his ex-girlfriend for a favor so that I might have a date with her. My roommate, Joe, went the extra yard and tried to find a suitable replacement. Finally, my phone rang.

“Mike, it’s Steve DiSalvo.” Steve was the Resident Director in my old freshman year dorm and is still today, a close friend. “I heard about what happened. Come on over here and we’ll talk about it.”

So I went over. I was upset about this but also I was really honored that these three guys would go through so much trouble for me. I was shy and not very confident in these days. I didn’t really date and thought that most women weren’t all that interested in me. My roommmate was very confident and it didn’t help that I shrank in his shadow often around women.

Regardless, Steve met me at his dorm and said, “Let’s see, who might we know that you might like to go with to this dance?”

Just then, Melissa Morrissey entered the lounge we were sitting in. I had been a freshman advisor to her and had helped her register for classes.

“Hey Melissa,” Steve said. “You remember Mike, right?”

“Of course!” Melissa replied. “You helped us at registration and we saw each other at the movie in the grass.”

389651_10150340002544117_1275123817_nMelissa was one of those girls who I really liked. Not in a “I-want-to-really-really-date-you” way, but rather, I enjoyed her company when I was around her.

“So Melissa, you want to go with Mike to the Sesqui Dance tomorrow night?”

Melissa didn’t hesitate. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled a beautiful big smile and said “Sure! Why not? Sounds like fun!”

“Pick you up at 8?” I said. And she readily agreed.

“I have a great dress too! Thanks for asking!”

She darted down the hall and Steve just looked at me and said, “YOU are going to owe me, BIG TIME!”

I picked Melissa up at her dorm and she looked like a thousand dollars. Her long blonde, curly hair made her look like she could play the lead in a production of “Repunzel” the fairy tale of the girl with the long blonde hair. She had the perfect little black dress for the occasion. And she met me with a smile and a kiss on the cheek.

We had a wonderful time. We danced every dance. And hung out with friends. We grabbed a beer or two with friends later and in general just enjoyed each other’s company. There was no pressure and everything just seemed free and easy. For a “last second date” Melissa made me wish she was my date for every dance.

It was a weird time at Fordham. A student had murdered a local Bronx resident and the campus was on lockdown for fear of retribution. So there were all these activities in the late evening to encourage us not to go to the bars. That night we went to an on-campus movie after the dance and just laid out on the couches with friends. It was sweet and wonderful and in general, outside of my wife, Melissa was the best date ever.

Melissa didn’t know I was really struggling to feel accepted that year. Friends from freshman year had kind of faded. My roommate and I were good friends but started to get on each other’s nerves. I began to question if I wanted to go into the media that year and in general I was feeling lost. My grades were better than year, but still weren’t the stellar marks I was used to getting. I didn’t date and wasn’t sure that anyone would be interested. My confidence was at an all time low and then…when I found out about not having a date for the dance, I was probably at one of the lowest points of the year, perhaps even one of the lowest points of my life.

Enter Melissa. And she turned it all around in a single evening. And I have treasured the memory of that evening for more than 20 years now. It was an evening that didn’t end with a brief hook-up, nor even a passionate kiss.

It was, however, an evening that ended my loneliness. It may very well have been a major turning point for me.

Today I have shed many tears. This Friday, Melissa suffered a major heart attack and died at the much too young age of 42. We had kept up just a bit over the years mostly through facebook. She had started a business and had done some extensive traveling. I’m seeing a lot of posts from people who said Melissa mentored them and that was no surprise to me.

She was a great friend to all and will always be beloved my me as that great friend who very well may have lifted me up just when I needed it by a single act of kindness.

It may very well be a corporal work of mercy…”I needed a date…and you danced with me.” It seems too trite to say that perhaps God needed someone to dance with too, especially since she died much too young, but I may very well picture her doing that today…and remembering.

Scripture writes:

“Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.” -Jeremiah 31:13

There seems to be no amount of dancing that can ever end my sorrow at Melissa’s death, but then I remember that she danced with me in the first place, when nobody else would. And in remembering that my joy is restored. Let us celebrate her life each time we dance, especially with a beloved and remember her as a beloved and treasured friend.

Thoughts on Treyvon Martin

I’ve been silent on Treyvon Martin thus far and will be no longer. I’ve been silent because I tend not to comment on court cases in general. I think everyone, including George Zimmerman deserves their day in court and I have no right to meddle in that.

But I’ll sum up my thoughts with several points to ponder:

1) George Zimmerman takes is role as a neighborhood watch almost obsessively in my opinion.

2) George Zimmerman also has the right to protect his home and to keep his neighborhood safe from robbers and other criminals.

3) It seems odd to me that Treyvon Martin was “minding his own business” in the rain in a neighborhood that was not his own.

4) Treyvon Martin does indeed have the right, however, to walk where he wants.

5) George Zimmerman called 911 and should have stopped being involved at that juncture. He is not a police officer and does not need to take the law into his own hands.

6) Anyone who thinks that Treyvon Martin wasn’t the one screaming on the phone needs to see their audiologist. It’s clearly a young voice and doesn’t sound like Zimmerman’s voice.

7) The big question is “Who rushed who?” How did the tussle begin? Based on the screams heard on the 911 call I believe that Zimmerman attacked Martin and Martin tried to stave him off as best he could. Zimmerman seems like a big guy to me in comparison with Martin. In the struggle, Martin probably did what he could to get away from Zimmerman and in that struggle Zimmerman retaliated by shooting Martin.

8) Regardless of any of the above, Zimmerman did not have the right to shoot Martin. In fact, he did not have the right to even touch him. He could have simply asked Martin “Can I help you?”

9) The issue here is stereotype. A young black man with a hoodie in a neighborhood that is not his own is not necessarily a criminal. The problem is that too many believe that they are. The second problem is that sometimes that person IS a criminal and when criminals get approached sometimes they take matters into their own hands and get nervous and attack. This is why George Zimmerman should have called the cops and stayed in his home if had concerns.

10) The fact that Treyvon Martin was a pot smoker, suspended from school, got into fights before and was interested in getting a gun is irrelevant. While he certainly was not a stellar citizen, he still has the right to walk on the street without being shot.

11) George Zimmerman’s background is also irrelevant to the case.

12) The police really mucked this case up and should have minimally brought Zimmerman in and charged him immediately.

I believe that Zimmerman unjustly and unnecessarily killed Treyvon Martin because he was walking in his neighborhood and he PRESUMED him to be up to no good. I wonder if Martin was a white kid walking around, if Zimmerman would have jumped to the same conclusion.

Two personal stories: I grew up as a white kid in a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood. It was not easy. Sometimes I’ll admit, I was scared to walk down the street in my own neighborhood and I was mugged in front of my own house for TWO DOLLARS. The money isn’t the issue, the issue is that I could have gotten hurt. There were three guys who jumped me. Two were black and one was white. I knew them by name. One “set me up” by pretending that he was “kidding around” and threw me up against a car, “play fighting” as we called it. He was older and stronger than I was and I was terrified. The other two guys grabbed my hands and searched my pockets and took my money.

Color did not come into play here. But the fact that these guys were known as “troublemakers” was important. It made me afraid of them and with good reason. One of the guys indeed did kill someone with a gun, the murky details say it was an accident, but the fact that he had a gun disturbs me. The other two also had police records.

What did we do? We called the cops.

We left it to them and they did have me look at mugshots, etc. But nothing more was done. No arrests.

But I never saw two of the three men again. And “Mr. Set-up” was still present in the neighborhood and was a constant problem. I occasionally still have nightmares about him. Bad people are in fact real.

But I never went and got a gun to shoot him. Neither did my parents.

So I know what it’s like to live in a neighborhood where you live in fear from time to time.

But I also know racism when I see it. The great majority of people in that neighborhood were wonderful people. I had friends in the neighborhood and it did not matter if they were white, black, Hispanic. Color was not a determinate of friendship. And we didn’t make assumptions about people based on their color. We made assumptions about people based on what they did in the neighborhood, how they acted towards others and whether or not they were good neighbors.

My second story needs a fastforward to my years in radio. Ralph Snodsmith was one of our talk show hosts and one day Ralph was running late. He left his car illegally parked in front of our building and ran to the elevator. He tossed his producer the keys to his Mercedes Benz and asked him to park it legally around the block.

His producer happened to be black.

A cop saw him coming out of the car and immediately pulled up and asked him questions:

“This your car?”

“Nope. It’s my boss’ car.”

“What’s his name?”

“Snodsmith”

“OK hold on.”

It checked out, naturally, but had I, a white man who was not the owner, gone and parked that car would I have been stopped?

Probably not.

When the producer returned I had never seen him so angry. And I realized just how tough it was to be him simply because of the color of his skin.

And so we pray today for anyone who has faced racism in their lives. We pray for Treyvon Martin. We pray for people who are afraid in violent neighborhoods.

And we pray for justice. God’s justice that redeems all suffering and pain.

And death.

Today’s gospel asks the question “Who is Your Neighbor?”

Perhaps that’s exactly the question for all of us to meditate on today.

Deacon Joe Marotta Drowns–So Sad

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Deacon Joe Marotta, a good friend and blogger at The Journeyman Carpenter with whom I regularly corresponded with has left us way too early and much too unexpectedly. He drowned on a family vacation and leaves behind a wife, Katie and five children Caroline, Christopher, Jack, Michael, and William, along with dozens of mourners from his parish and from the University, Randlph College, where he was employed. He was only 39.

Deacon Joe would regularly comment on this blog on facebook and always was fair and often hysterically funny.

Only a few weeks ago, Deacon Joe sought my counsel because he was asked to fill in at the Baccalaureate ceremony at his beloved Randolph College.

In short his message was HELP!

I told him to take one simple piece of advice: “Don’t be boring. It’s one minute and you’re mostly holding up the ceremony for more than half the people in the audience–so get creative!” I told him I did my UB invocation in verse and he took to that idea nicely.

This is the day the LORD has made,
So let us rejoice and be glad!
After four years behind the red brick wall,
You are sent forth to engage – and to make change –
In this world as an RC grad.

But for a few moments, let us reflect here today,
And give thanks that you’re up to the task!
Through your time at the College,
You have grown in knowledge,
And this weekend, have every right to bask!

From dozens of countries and hundreds of towns,
Whether Jew or Greek, woman or man, young or old,
You gathered to drink in the Spirit of Wisdom.
It is with joy
That now we praise God –
And continue to build up the Kingdom.

Those parents with you today,
Are also deserving of thanks.
With prayers and encouragement they gave you support,
As well as funds from their banks!

Four years ago, they dropped you at Main,
and with a hug bid you “farewell”
Today, they can see,
And I also agree,
You are ready to Walk in the Dell
(weather permitting, of course!).

And so, yes, we must certainly rejoice,
And with one voice should all be glad!
For the LORD has made you, this Day
By God’s Grace, a Randolph Grad!

One particular moment I now ghastly remember with Joe. We were chatting late in the evening one night over facebook. He fell for a practical joke I delivered on facebook saying that I was going to be spending thousands of hours in my car writing a book on praying in the car because it was my favorite place to be.

Those who know me well, know I HATE driving.

He thought the project was actually a good idea. I was even considering doing it when he got done with me and was going to ask him to write a forward for it.

But one comment he made convinced me that there was something in this project worth doing.

He spoke of a near-miss car accident he had experienced and said:

By some miracle, no damage at all… I was able to pull back onto the road and drive…. slowly…. home.
First time I have ever told someone that story.
Not to be too morbid, but the odds are that for many young people, the last moments of their lives are spent in a car!

A man as sensitive as that is surely now with God. And I will pray to him often for me as I know he often prayed for me and my family and my students and even that old dog of mine.

His final moments I pray were not too painful and not too frightening–that God took him by the hand and allowed him to be at peace despite the circumstances of his death.

We pray today for Katie and his children and all those who he leaves behind, better for having known him.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord. And Let perpetual light shine upon him. May Joe’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.