Andrew Greeley, Rest in Peace

fb36b051175917060da1d07c31403e3816ee0ebcFr. Andrew Greeley, a longtime priest of the Chicago Archdiocese and a noted sociologist who has much influenced my work in young adult ministry, has passed away. PBS had a wonderful feature on Fr. Greeley some time ago which also features his good friend and my pal, Fr. John Cusick.

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Watch Andrew Greeley on PBS. See more from Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

A beautiful life, filled with passion. As Fr. Cusick said when the history of the American Catholic Church is written, Greeley will undoubtedly remain as a prolific name. He spoke of the Sex Abuse scandal LONG before anyone else. He saw the dwindling in the pews, but noted the loose affiliation that many Catholics still held on to about their own personal Catholicism (at hospitals and otherwise people still would check off “Catholic” as their religion–sadly that seems to now be changing in many case because too many ignored Greeley’s call to tend to the “unaffiliated” and turn them into “full and active members” of the church.

Chicago dealt with the sex abuse scandal long before other dioceses were paying attention to it. Cardinal Bernadin was smart enough to listen to Greeley who had a done a lot of research on this and together they hammered out a plan. That plan for the Chicago Archdiocese became the basis years later for the Dallas Charter. Chicago still had their problems despite Greeley and Bernadin’s early efforts as many more cases surfaced in forthcoming years–but you don’t exactly equate Chicago with Boston, Los Angeles, or Philadelphia. One of the more infamous stories comes from Cardinal Bernandin’s plea for the Bishops to put something in place with regards to the sex abuse scandal and reportedly one Cardinal soundly rejected the idea saying, “We just don’t have this problem in Boston.” Famous last words from a now infamous Cardinal Law.

While I didn’t know Fr. Greeley, I did have the pleasure of meeting him once at a lecture he gave with Fr. Robert Barron and Cardinal George. Fr. Barron was unknown then to the larger church and he kind of stole the show impressing his priestly companions. Everyone expected a smackdown between the elder statesmen and both were quite cordial to one another. Little known to others, the two men were great Opera companions and would frequently go together to many a performance. Their respect for one another, despite disagreements from time to time was a true sign of collegiality amongst brother priests. And still suspicion reigned: Greeley offered the Archdiocese of Chicago $1 million to create a foundation to help inner-city Catholic students. The archdiocese turned him down without explanation. Amazing how divisions can still take hold within the church.

Fr Greeley was kind enough to send me some of his research which I used in Googling God. He always reminded most of us practitioners that data is important and a careful look at Sociological surveys can tell us a whole lot. That’s a gift I will continue to treasure.

So blessings on his life and may God have mercy on his soul.

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

Missing Larry

As the winter has subsided, making way for summer, my dog, Haze, has begun to enjoy the outdoors a bit more. He also has many human friends in the neighborhood. There’s an older man who sits in his beach chair in the warm months and offers him a dog treat or two. There’s a younger couple who love to see him trot by their home. The little kids wave and think he’s cute.

But Larry…Larry has been Haze’s favorite.

Larry is a much older man and he would often be in his garage working on a car or some other project and Haze would simply stop and watch him until he was noticed and then Larry would smile and say in a deep Southern drawl:

“All right, now! C’mon! Talk to me!”

And Haze would begin to bark on cue.

It’s at this point that I’d like to point out that Haze often won’t speak for me! But Larry had the dog whisperer touch.

“C’mon over here and I’ll scratch your ears a bit!”

I’d bring him over and Larry’s smile would get wider and he’d keep Haze entertained for a good while before we’d head back and conclude our walk. One day he even gave him a ride on his mini-tractor!

In the winter months, Haze isn’t as happy to walk that far and often when we do get to walk past Larry’s house, he wouldn’t be outside as much–the weather being too cold for outdoor projects.

But with the summer’s dawn, we ventured down his block and found a sign in front of Larry’s house:

“For Sale”

photoHaze looked at the sign, looked at the empty garage, and somehow he knew the worst had happened.

Indeed, the old man has passed away recently.

Haze began barking a sad bark, a near howl.

Brian, one of the guys who worked with Larry, who also knows Haze, heard him barking.

“Aw, he misses Larry, huh? Yeah, buddy, me too!”

I asked about Larry and what had happened to him. A routine checkup led to a medication that he had a bad reaction to. He had a paralyzing stroke and he lasted only a few weeks.

“How old was he? He didn’t seem too old of a man and he was so active working out here.” I said.

“Well, he had two birth certificates!” Brian said.

“Of course he did!” I laughed. He was a character.

One put him at 92 and the other at 88.

Brian surmised that Larry was a vet and he probably wanted to go to war but was underaged—so he faked a birth certificate to get him into the outfit.

Indeed, a true man for others.

Today Haze stopped by Larry’s house and got very quiet. He stared a long time at that house and then looked back at me with sad eyes. We walked quietly together, praying for Larry and knowing that he had shown us much friendship for merely passing by.

And the world seems like a better place for his passing by. And so we pray for our neighbor, a hard-working man who enjoyed simple things: his home, his garden, hard word and the loyalty of a good dog.

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

David Kuo RIP

David Kuo, the former associate of the White House’s Office of Faith Based Initiatives in the Bush Administration who wrote a scathing book about how the administration failed to live up to their promises for the office, died from brain cancer last Friday at the much too young age of 44.

We were “virtual” colleagues, meaning I never met him, but admired him and would occasionally share comments with him on Facebook.

My former colleague Bill McGarvey interviewed him on BustedHalo.com some time ago. The whole interview is lengthy but Kuo had a lot of interesting things to share about evangelicals, republican politics and politics. He also touched on charity and how he thought churches should fast from political messages from the pulpit for two years.

BH: The Republicans have had control of the Supreme Court for decades and they’ve also controlled the executive and legislative branches for a long time and yet so much of the ‘conservative’ far right’s agenda hasn’t really come to pass.

DK: Yeah, you look at the social statistics over the last 30 years and you see fluctuations up, fluctuations down, but the number of abortions today is if not the same, a little bit higher than it was in 1973. Certainly, cohabitation among heterosexuals is through the roof, rates of marriage are down, divorces are certainly up from where they were in 1973 although down from their peak in the 1980′s. But part of the reason they are down is because people are not getting married. (laughter)

You’ve got teen pregnancy, teen suicide, a really large host of social pathologies here and they are impervious to political calculations but we have made politics God and we have substituted the hard work of God for the relatively easy work of politics. At the end of the day, it is easy to fight a political fight, because it is clear. It is defined. You raise money, you attack your opponent, you turn out to vote, you win, and you lose. It’s clear. It’s defined. But God…it’s that line from Blake, ‘We are here to learn to endure the meanings of love.’ How much harder is it to sit in stillness in a secret place and to receive the unconditional love of God? I know I just suck at it. I know I need it desperately. But how hard is it? You talk about having intimacy issues? Hello!

Amen! David towards the end of his life was much more comfortable in the silent stillness. He met God intimately as he fought his illness and enjoyed the time he had left with his family. One of his final facebook posts touched me immensely.

Favor? Do something outrageous today – give way more than reasonable to a homeless person, take the family out for an ice cream dinner … and serve only ice cream. Call someone you hurt and ask forgiveness, call someone who hurt you and give forgiveness … And send me a pic.” ~ David Kuo June 26, 1968 – April 5, 2013

I did all of those things and then sent him a picture of Marion and I out at dinner (We ate something special–but because it was freezing here in Buffalo, we skipped on his ice cream suggestion. David would have said I understood the “spirit” of his request.)

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

The Bad News: You’re Gonna Die…The Good News: It Doesn’t Matter

So I hate to start out this post with some bad news, but here goes…

You are going to die.

That’s the central message of Ash Wednesday. It’s why we tell people to turn away from sin or we remind them that they are dust. We say so because it is a simple truth. Our lives have a limit and one day it will all be over.

The worse news is that some of us will get there much faster than the rest of us. Some of us will die young, some will die middle aged, some will die as elderly people.

But we are all going to die.

And many of us are not exactly thrilled with that notion. We’re afraid of what might come next, or that we’ll be shortchanged on our life, or that we’ll be forgotten all too quickly.

But here’s the good news.

It doesn’t matter.

We mark ourselves with a cross of dust on our heads to mock death, because we believe that death is the beginning not the end and no matter how we die, tomorrow or in 50 years from now, God will take care of us anyway.

Because we believe and because we are unafraid to live our lives as Christians.

So we mark ourselves and we do so because we want to be recognized as Christians, so that others might “call us out” when we don’t live up to our values. We want to be true to who we proclaim to be and who we hope to continually become.

Are we afraid to die? Or does death no have it’s grasp on us because we know the one who changed death into life and have faith that the same will happen for us, despite our sin and because of Christ’s redemptive love?

Today, may we remember that we are dust and unto dust we shall return and therefore let us turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.

From Birth to Death

My 43rd birthday was yesterday and a friend wrote me and said each time you think that a birthday is one step closer to death, remind yourself that you should stop counting the steps and just enjoy the walk.

Amen, brother.

And at the end of that walk we hope to find ourselves remembering that walk with gratitude. Which is why I have a “dead file” on my computer. It states the way I want to be remembered at my funeral. Everything from the wake service to burial options. One of my firm wishes is that my burial not be expensive. I just found out that I can be shrouded and buried in that shroud instead of a casket with a vault. My response was “I get to be a mummy! Awesome!”

The truth of the matter in planning a funeral is somewhat arrogant on our part. Because we want to be remembered well, and we think someone else will screw up how we are going to be remembered.

Perhaps it’s time to remember that we are not in control? And that from beyond the grave, we can try to continue to cheat death, or we can accept God’s embrace knowing that he will take good care of us.

I still have my dead file. It’s filled with people who I know will comfort my wife and those close to me should I pass from this life before they do. We have been comforts to each other for so long, to the point where that should not change, and perhaps that’s what we leave behind?

So today as I continue to enjoy the journey from birth further into life, I am filled with gratitude for the comfort that others have offered me. Starting with my parents and big sister and leading into friends and now my wife and dog and colleagues. It continues to be a fun ride, albeit one that will one day end.

On that day may I be filled with much more gratitude for this journey, for every day is gift.

What end of life issues are you most concerned about for yourself?

I remember eating with a bunch of friends one day and the subject of end-of-life issues came up. One friend, Jim, and environmentalist at heart said: “I’m going to be composted!”

We all kind of giggled uncomfortably, but realized that he wanted to return to the earth as quickly as possible. It was consistent with who he was as a person, if a bit gross to the rest of us.

I noted that I really didn’t care much about what people did with my body but emphasized that it should not be expensive. “A plain, plain casket. If that means pine box than so be it. I really like that the Trappists make caskets now and that they pray for those who will one day be buried in it and that the materials decompose quickly.”

My wife hates it when I talk about this. But at least my wishes are out there for someone to take care of, if she’s too overwhelmed.

In fact, I have a “dead file” on my computer. It mostly deals with how I want my funeral arrangements, presiders and preachers. Musicians and pall bearers.

And people who should be nowhere near the altar!

The names have changed over the years. Not because people have fallen out of favor but mostly because others have gotten to know me better and have grown closer with me. It would be tragic if they were not part of celebrating my life and death.

Wait! Did I just say “celebrating my death?” It seems I’m a bit more comfortable with these matters than I thought. Perhaps we’ll pick that up tomorrow when we talk about funerals.

In short, I really want people to be around who can comfort those left behind. My wife, friends, family, students, colleagues. Even that darn dog! That’s what I want when I am mourning. I’m not the type who wants to be alone. I’m an active person who likes people around me and then I slink off into more private reflection later.

Surprisingly, I have no serious qualms about any end of life issues. I’m content to die peacefully and have no problem donating organs or even allowing my body to be donated to a medical school.

“Use me as you will, Lord” is a prayer I recite often, especially in moments of stress or anxiety… or confusion. And so I maintain that in my last wishes. Let those medical folks use what they can as they deem fit for my organs. May they do someone else some good as they have done for me.

I’m not one for extraordinary measures. So don’t take great pains in keeping me bound to this mortal coil. But exhaust what possibilities exist and let those nearest me make the call. It’s not going to hurt anyone else either way and if I am beyond repair, it’s probably not going to hurt me either. A physician’s first rule is “Do no harm.”

So beyond the basics, I’m pretty easy here. Do what you can to keep me alive if there’s hope of recovery. Let me go if it is beyond hope, because God will take care of me anyway. And keep it simple with the burial options and have a really nice mass. The readings are in the dead file and I even picked the songs and who gets to preach. Try not to mess it up!

Tomorrow is my birthday…so we’ll finish this death series as we continue to contemplate life.

Can You Discuss a Death That Effected You?

So we all have had people die in our lives, but some seem to stand out more than some others. Some examples from my life include:

1) Dave Connors, one of my college roommates, who died when he was 25. It was a true tragedy, albeit not totally unexpected. He was always in bad health during college and our senior year he had to have a defibrillator put in and very nearly died. He graduated with us which I was really happy about. We thought he had turned a corner with some new treatments, but then took a turn for the worst when he had a third defibrillator put in and he never recovered. He was only 25.

I learned much from his life and even more from his death. Dave lived every day as if he had another one and did so until he could no longer physically could. His last days in the hospital were marked by conversations with a young seminarian who helped him know God even better than he already did and come to terms with the bad hand life dealt him. I didn’t get to say good bye and was shocked to hear he had died. But I know Dave would want me to not focus on that, rather, he’d want me to live for others in his memory.

2) David Pipala and James McKinley: When I was a teenager these two guys were altar boys with me. David died in a car accident coming home from a hockey game. His car slid on either ice or a small oil spill and crashed into a tree. His cousin lived and was sent through the window (well before mandatory seat belt laws) but David was killed instantly.

James was a closer friend with whom I often served the 5:00PM Saturday evening mass. My dad really liked him too and would drive him home after mass. He died at a summer camp unexpectedly. I was 15, he was 16 or 17. He was the first person I knew well that had died. I was devastated. There was some suspicion around his death and I’m not really sure what happened. It doesn’t matter anymore. It’s nearly 30 years later and I still think about it.

3) My wife’s Uncle Andy: This was more recent. My wife’s uncle died after a botched surgery. He was 65 and came from a family of long-livers. Both his parents lived well into their 90s. The family was shocked. I led the wake service because Andy was a deacon and the parish was busy putting together special arrangements for a larger wake service and funeral. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The entire parish school and all his diaconal brothers showed up for the funeral.

Andy was a great colleague. He often promoted my retreats and would call and give me a hard time about things. “I got a note about some kind of heretic who is running a retreat in my diocese.” he’d howl on the phone. And I’d chide him back, “That’s nothing. You should hear the heresy that’s being spoken from the pulpit in Jersey these days. Some deacon in Montville.” We’d laugh and catch up until the next family gathering. He was one of the first people to really make me feel welcome in Marion’s family and I miss him greatly at family events.

All of the deaths above came as a surprise, as they all died too young. It seems young people are not supposed to die in our minds. But young people DO die sometimes. What do we have do to come to terms with these deaths? We need to talk about it and perhaps to even be angry with God and to talk with God about that. That’s what we call prayer and God can handle our anger. We need to also sit and listen after we have listened. The book of Job reminds me that we don’t always understand the reasons things happen, but with trust in God we can rest easy in knowing that God can make all things new.

Death by Drones

While I understand that in theory drone strikes keep troops off the ground, I also think they cause great harm. First of all, people are killed by a faceless attacker. But are they really faceless? No…someone exists behind the computer where the strike is executed. That is beginning to cause great psychological harm to those who are sitting at a computer and launching these strikes again, against a faceless “enemy.” Indeed there may be more deaths than the physical ones that are obvious to see…what of those who die just a bit more with each key stroke?

Gary Hart, who I probably would have voted for for President had I been old enough to vote when he ran, had some good points about this in the Huffington Post today:

Expediency is never a justification for unconstitutional and immoral actions. This is so even where self-defense and national security are concerned. It has proved incredibly easy to assassinate someone (and his family) half a world away. And that is what makes this new style of warfare so attractive… and so dangerous. The Obama administration is creating precedents it will live to regret and inviting retaliation, using both drones and computers, as they become available to most nations in the world.

So even if we believe in the long term this is better for our country because we are keeping more troops on the ground, the idea of a drone or a computer based attack on one of our large cities should be enough to deter us from widespread use of this.

So we should call on the President and those in congress to tread lightly here and to cease the use of drones. Let us pray that cooler heads will prevail and that we can all live in peace.

What Would Be the Best Way to Die?

So many of you weighed in on yesterday’s death cafe’ question. So here is some thoughts to ponder for today:

The best way to die for me would be….

1) Surrounded by love: Whether that’s physical presence or just the knowledge that I am loved by God and others and have loved in return. I would hate to no longer have enough of my faculties to realize that.

2) With Knowledge of When It Was Going to Happen: Tuesdays with Morrie has led me to believe that knowing that death is imminent is in fact, somewhat comforting. Morrie was able to have a funeral while he was alive and hear the thoughts and the things that others would have liked to say to him. He was able to say good bye to good friends, students and others who meant much to him and he was able to spend his last days at home with his wife. Sounds pretty good to me.

3) With Hospice Workers: These people are saints! I’ve come to that conclusion. They help people die and they do it with grace and care for the other. They bring a joy to death that was previously unimaginable. If I had a long drawn out illness, I’d be sure that these folks helped me along the path.

4) Without regrets: What I probably fear most is leaving this life with someone angry with me or me with someone and that left unresolved, or at the very least unspoken. A friend asked me once if he should visit a woman who was dying who asked to see him that he had a major dispute with when they were dating. He wasn’t sure if he even wanted to “give her the satisfaction” of being forgiven by him. I said it’s not whether or not you choose to forgive her, it’s giving her the opportunity to ask for forgiveness. In the end he was glad he went to see her and he realized that he didn’t have to offer her forgiveness if he wasn’t able to yet, that could come on his time. She just wanted to be sure that she offered amends for her faults. I get that.

The best way to die? With abandon to God. A full surrender of this life to the Lord seems to be the mark I’d like to hit. The truth is that we all are dying a bit more each day. Some of us will complete that journey a bit faster than others, but regardless, death’s call will come for us all eventually. Can we, as Francis says, welcome Sister or Brother Death when they call for us? In dying well, we also live more passionately, more lovingly, with great forgiveness and compassion for others and most importantly, we exhaust all the marrow out of our bones, living life to the fullest by dying to this life with all that we are.

Today, may we die just a bit more, because we have lived with all that we are. Amen.

What Would Be the Worst Way to Die?

So today is the first topic in our Online Death Cafe.

What would be the worst way to die? I thought of a bunch of different answers:

1) Alone: Many people feel that dying alone would be horrible. I’m reminded of a friend whose family had surrounded his grandfather in the hospital in his last few hours. They were all around him constantly. At one point they all decided to leave the room to go get a coffee and when they did, upon their return, they discovered that he had died. So at times, people indeed do want to be alone when they die.

2) Without Making Amends: Don’t we all have those things that we want to “correct?” Or at the least, apologize for? Well, there’s no time like the present for that. As scripture says, “You do not know the day, nor the hour.” So perhaps there is less of a reason to fear this than there is than we think if we begin to make amends consistently in life. Following some basic principles like: “Don’t go to bed mad” Or “settle the argument before leaving” are good starts.

3) Murder: Dying at the hands of another is awful and there’s a sense of not having control over your own death. I often say that murder is rare, which is why it is a news story–so the likelihood of us being murdered is not high, but needless to say, murder is never expected. I would say this is a legitimate fear, but not worth the energy of worry.

4) Unexpectedly: Slipping in the bathtub, car accidents, skiing, or in a bombing or terrorist attack…all are ways that nobody expects to die. These deaths are often more painful for the survivors who feel robbed of a family or friend.

5) At all! Let’s face it none of us wants to die! But it is the only thing that we are assured of. One of the 3 basic questions we all ask is “What will happen when I die?” And perhaps therein our faith gives us some comfort. Do we really believe that God can make all things new and forgive us of our wrongdoing and overcome all our weaknesses and unite us with the divine? Or is there something that prevents us from embracing that idea? Most people don’t think they will go to heaven and most don’t think they deserve hell. Purgatory seems probable for most. But even with that humble thought, we forget that if we make it to purgatory, heaven is still assured for us. Some still find it impossible that they could ever be a saint, which by definition means someone who is in heaven with God.

Perhaps in thinking about death we need to think more of how God defeats death and not how we are defeated by it? In doing so, we might find a bit more comfort in thinking about our last days on earth.

What thoughts might you have?