She Will Go Lord, If You Lead Her

It is with a mix of sadness and joy that I bid farewell to my short-time Campus Ministry colleague, Julianne Wallace (pictured in the center flanked by Niagara Campus Minister, Kristina Schliesman and yours truly) today from our UB Campus Ministry staff. Julianne will become the Campus Minister for Liturgy, Worship and Faith Formation at St. Bonaventure University–where her Franciscan heart will be fed with the charism that has formed her for so many years.

As a friend often says about job opportunities, “When they call, you’ve got to go.” Yesterday’s readings reflected that very theme. God calls us to do great things but, many times we shove away the call that God sends to us, making excuses because we’re afraid to make a move or simply don’t want to upset the apple cart and start over risking our comfort.

The truth is that I know St. Bonaventure will be a wonderful place for my friend and colleague to be a minister and she’ll be a great addition to the place where her gifts will be used wisely and with great joy. Besides Jules looks better in Franciscan brown than in UB blue anyway.

So in bidding her adieu, I spent the morning in prayer for Julianne and for all those who discern their role in life, especially those students who are seniors and graduate students who are starting their last semester tomorrow. As a new semester starts, I’ve been feeling that I’m being called to do more spiritual direction with people. I’m excited about getting more training from my Jesuit friends at Canisius High School where I’ll be taking a class on spiritual direction and the spiritual exercises with some of their faculty. For Julianne, who has discerned her gifts for helping people worship well reflecting that Franciscan spirituality she loves to students, my prayer for you is that you are able to do that and be joyful as you serve others.

So this post is dedicated to Julianne along with this song which many parishes I’m sure sang at mass yesterday. A hat tip to Deacon Greg for this you tube version.

See ya at the diocesan vicariate meeting. And Fordham takes on the Bonnies this Saturday in basketball. Get ready to feel the wrath of Ignatius. I’ll be the one in Maroon.

A Unitarian on Faith Formation

Since the Unitarians are a creedless faith, The Rev. Peter C. Boullata took up the charge of hoping that they haven’t “institutionalized narcissism. He talks about the challenge to do faith formation in their denomination. I was both excited and troubled that they have some of the same problems that we Catholics do at times with proclaiming “Just who they heck are we as church anyway and how do we teach others to proclaim that?”.

Rev Peter writes in post entitled The Liberal Church Finding Its Mission: It’s Not About You:

A good deal of this slippage comes from a lack of opportunities for faith formation in our congregations, especially among adults. A disciplined search for truth and meaning takes effort; it takes discipline. Being unencumbered by doctrine ought not imply that doctrine is not examined for the truth it may contain. Indeed, not being constrained by creedal formulations seems to have been translated into an abandonment of theological reflection altogether. We offer a non-dogmatic approach and context to religious inquiry without equipping members of our communities for the search. Discerning your spiritual path is difficult without tools, without support.

Faith formation is not simply adult religious education. Run a couple of classes on building your own theology and spiritual practice and then you’re done. Formation involves worship and preaching, mission work and governance. It’s the work of the entire enterprise of being church together. It takes place collectively, mutually as well as individually. We are also formed as people of faith in conversation with the tradition, with our historic testimonies. The tradition speaks to us and we respond. We respond lovingly, critically, thoughtfully–but recognize that our historic context has a voice shaping today’s conversation about who we are and what we’re about.

At times, I think we Catholics too tend to overlook our creed in favor of highlighting a God of love and casting “what we stand together on” to the wind. Obviously, even within churches people have healthy disagreement and even dissent at times–a church this big is bound to see that. Yet, we can’t just be a “God is love, now draw a rainbow” church. We also can’t just highlight the social justice aspects without some theology to back up why the heck we care about the poor. We also can’t afford to not help people with their own personal spiritual journey. How do people come to know God and form images of God–and most importantly, how do they let God be God and work on them so that they might become all that God made them to be?

A final comment from our Unitarian friend:

Inasmuch as Unitarian Universalist communities continue to neglect discernment, theology, discipline, spiritual practice, faith formation, vocation and engagement with our historic testimonies and tradition, we will never be a missional religious movement. As long as we are known as the church of individual seekers we will never have the kind of impact that a missional religion has on transforming the world. It should go without saying that the chronically self-involved have no interest in serving the needs of others.

What would it take for us to be known in the wider community for some of the traits, characteristics and perspectives we hold in common and that we continue to share with our historic legacy? What would it take for our communal calling as a faith community to become as important as our much-vaunted individual spiritual journeys?

What do people say about your church as they drive past it to others? Are we the church where they believe that we should serve the needs of the poor because Jesus held them in special regard? Are we the church that encourages people to explore their relationship with the divine and to talk with others about that? Are we a church with a mission to change not just the world but also our own prejudices, biases and other shortcomings? Are we a church that encourages dialogue and yet can hold on to truths we’ve come to know in a dynamic tension?

I hope we are. But I fear sometimes, we just have people, especially young people to draw a rainbow and call it a day.

A hat tip to my favorite Unitarian Peacebang

One Young Adult’s Experience of Finding a Church…Can you Relate?

Mary Donovan summed up what I’ve come to know as “the Church Search” trying to find a community that’s a good fit for one’s self. If find older people at times wondering why no young people are in their pews. Oftentimes, it’s because for younger people church has a different context.

Check out some of Mary’s thoughts:

I’ve been church shopping for more than three years now. I’m not much of a shopper so it’s getting tiring, but I’m not about to give up. I’m choosey: I want good music, a diverse and accepting community, a priest who consistently gives relevant and challenging homilies, and a church culture that embraces social justice. I’ve found churches that have some of the things on my list, but finding all of them in one place has proven to be a challenge.

Now full disclosure, I know Mary. She was one of the volunteers in our diocese’s Catholic Charities Volunteer Service Corps last year. I encouraged her to start writing for Busted Halo® and she attended a retreat I ran last year as well. She’s even come to my parish on occasion. And you can bet your last buck that I’ll be taking her to lunch to talk further about her search and what we’re not doing right in our parish (if anything).

But I love the things she points out as being elements of a church she really wants and I really appreciated the fact that she pointed out what keeps her from church:

– not having a ride
– not seeing young families
– student masses that only connect with campus life and leave us unchallenged

And when she hasn’t been able to go to a church–how does she stay engaged spiritually?

Volunteering, having meaningful conversations about spirituality, learning about different spiritual traditions, going on retreats, and sticking with my already established spiritual practices kept me connected to God even without a church to call home and on the weeks I didn’t attend church.

Sounds like she does much more than the average person who punches their mass clock each week and lumbers out unreflectively. And that should tell us all something.

Younger people want more out of their experience on Sunday. They want to be engaged, they want to understand, they want to be challenged to take that next step. They want time to think and consider in quiet contemplation and be moved and they want the rousing engaged community to go forth from that place renewed by the spirit together to create change in a sometimes and all too often broken world.

And that’s my job to try to create that. Most days I think we do a good job. But I know I get too easily disappointed by the lack of younger people in pews everywhere–here included—and we’re not doing all that bad from what we hear from the young people who are engaged here. I shudder to think what goes on elsewhere.

So thanks, Mary. Lunch or dinner is on me. Let’s keep the conversation going.

And anyone else…let’s chat.

Dream Jobs Are Overrated

So I happened to be riveted to ESPN to follow the story of Theo Epstein’s move from the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago Cubs. Epstein, a lifelong Red Sox fan became the General Manager of the club and thus, was living his dream job.

And now he’s giving up that dream job and moving on to the Cubs because of differences with Boston management and the challenge of bringing a World Series to a second cursed team that hasn’t won the World Series in a century (literally).

Colin Cowherd on ESPN said: “Dream jobs are overrated. Make the job you’ve got a dream.”

Good advice.

I know I’ve had what I thought was a dream job a few times. I worked in all sports radio in New York City started an award winning website and wrote a book…all dream like situations and good experiences. But ultimately the novelty faded and I began to look beyond them.

Ron Rohlheiser, OMI, one of the premier theologians in the Western Hemisphere came to the Paulist 150th Anniversary conference. I was thrilled to be seated with him at breakfast. He’s a very unassuming person, down-to-earth and I enjoyed our conversation immensely. He asked me how I got into ministry and I gave him the genesis of my media work and how it led to working at BustedHalo.

Fr. Ron is a HUGE baseball fan. So when he heard I had covered the Yankees, he squealed, “YOU COVERED MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL? That would be my dream job!” Here I was envious of this great theologian and he in turn was envious of my past. I told him how it became wanting, but fun most of the time–but how I longed to be more than just a reporter.

He nodded. “I guess our dreams sometimes disappoint us?” he said.

“At least this one wasn’t a nightmare!” I replied. “Just a dream I wouldn’t want to have all that often.”

We laughed our theology mixing with our love of baseball. I regaled him with a few stories finding it hard to believe that I was talking baseball and not theology with this learned man. I’m pretty sure he loved it as he probably doesn’t get that opportunity to talk about baseball all that much. And I’m sure at times it’s a chore to talk theology with people for him.

And yet, I know that while radio wasn’t where God was ultimately calling me, it was where I learned much and used that opportunity for the best. I lived a dream. I covered the World Series and the Stanley Cup parade. More importantly, I got to meet myself a bit more and find that my dreams were deeper than I imagined. I took every opportunity and worked in the biggest media market. That’s something to be proud of and to treasure. Indeed I made it a dream and took that experience into every job since.

This week I have been able to collaborate with both the Medical School and the Athletics Department here at UB. There are strong possibilities that I might teach a course to medical students and that I might get to be a sport chaplain for one of our teams. Two more dreams that I hadn’t expected. Opportunities are all around us—even in the most dire of conditions. It is our efforts each day that bring us closer to our deepest desires–and those might end up being a lot more simple than we think. I mean who would have thought that I’d feel more at home being a confidant to athletes and students than someone who reports on their shenanigans on television or radio? The spotlight needs to be aimed where you’d like it to be—so that God might see the best version of yourself.

Each day at your job ask yourself, where might I be called to do something that makes a difference, where I can find a bit more meaning in my life.

It’s there that you’ll find God.

And that’s the only way that your job will ever be a lot more than a dream.

Good luck to Theo Epstein in Chicago. I’m a fan so I hope he can break the curse. But I also know he’ll simply take this opportunity and make his new job a dream.

What Does Home Mean to You?

So I’m beginning a third year here in Buffalo and it’s taken some time but Buffalo is starting to feel more and more like “Home.” I wouldn’t say that it’s completely there as of yet, but I began to wonder what people consider “home.”

I know an obvious place for me is where I live with my wife and dog. Just having them around gives me that warm feeling. But it’s taken us some time to settle into our first “real house” to the point where now it has really taken on our character and feels familiar. (and the dog has “claimed” a spot or two, now and again).

For some I think home is a childhood home. For me, Yonkers served in that capacity. But when I head (haha) “home” for the holidays, I almost never refer to it that way. I often say that “I’m going to my parents for Christmas or Thanksgiving,” but I never refer to that location as “home” anymore. After all it’s been nearly 15 years since I considered that place as my residence.

For others, a place that you’ve lived for a long time might be home. New York City, and specifically, Woodside, Queens was that for me. The roar of the 7 train (Elevated Subway), the nice tree lined streets, a burger and a beer at Donovan’s, St. Sebastian’s parish and a nice park to walk the dog in. All good things that I loved along with the excitement of Manhattan not far away and a diverse neighborhood with all kinds of people. On a recent trip to New York we passed the Long Island Rail Road stop for Woodside and I felt a warm feeling and the need to stop and just breathe the air in before the doors closed.

A former intern of mine, during the exit interview I had with him was asked what he really enjoyed about working at BustedHalo®. He replied very simply:

“Everyone made me feel welcome and a part of a team. My ideas were always considered and I felt cared for and valued. Coming to New York from California was tough. And whenever I came here it was, you know…home.”

That was unexpected as a description and certainly one that I treasured as his supervisor.

A college retreat once gave me another glimpse. We had spent the afternoon outside in the snow. Throwing snowballs, tackling each other, generally getting soaked to the bone. When we came in we all changed out of our wet clothes and sat by the fire with blankets each with a mug of hot cocoa.

One student replied:

“I used to do this as a kid all the time and my mom would wrap me in a blanket after a nice bath and we’d sit by the fire and warm up with cocoa. I hadn’t felt that way in a long time. It’s kinda like being home again.”

Could a church also be “home?” Each time I enter a Catholic Church the familiarity of the mass brings me to that safe place. I’m part of a family. At a wedding many years ago a co-worker who was Jewish was seated next to me at the mass. I told her to ask me any questions she might have. “How do you know what to say or when to stand or kneel?” was her main quandary. I replied, “It’s the same thing every week. Only the readings change for the most part.”

Then I reflected on that myself for just a few seconds and there it was….

Home.

Church had become a place where I knew exactly what was going on. Perhaps I didn’t know the people in this specific parish, but I knew they were there to pray for John and Kelly, who married that day. When it becomes a bit more familiar in a parish I attend weekly then it becomes more than a simple parish community, it becomes “home.” Showing others some hospitality welcomes them into that spiritual home, where we unlock the doors of the hidden riches that we all are given at no cost.

Perhaps that feeling of home needs some cultivation in many parishes. With the new liturgical translations upcoming in Advent the opportunity to give hospitality will be greater than it is right now. Will people know what’s going on? Will they be able to join in readily? Will they feel comfortable enough to worship freely without regard to feeling stupid or uneasy? How can we engender a sense of ownership in a parish to create a place that truly belongs to all?

In the slums of Managua, Nicaragua the people have very little. Some live in shacks with tin roofs. Children with special needs are put out to the street because those needs would bankrupt an already starving family. Many rely on the kindness of others in hopes that they can make it through the day.

But in the center of the city stands a Cathedral. It has beautifully manicured gardens and lovely candles all around the interior. The place needs a bit of work on the inside, but overall, the church building is structurally sound, a lot more than houses around the neighborhood are–if you can even call them houses.

As I walked around the Cathedral, I became annoyed. People are starving and begging just outside the door. Heck, people are begging for alms INSIDE the church itself. And here we are buying candles to pray and seeing some nice art and a beautiful gardens. Aren’t our priorities a bit out of whack?

A man with one arm came up to me and asked me for some money. I gave him about 5 bucks, which would probably feed his entire family for that week (the average salary is $1/day). He noticed that I was disturbed by the place.

“Haven’t you ever been in a church before?” he asked.

“Of course I have,” I replied.

He smiled and said, “Then you should know that this place is ours. Yours and mine. Here I am not so poor and you are not so rich. Together we have a beautiful garden and priceless paintings. And together we have Jesus here, not for ourselves but for whoever asks. Everything is taken care of here and it belongs to all of us. Some of us even sleep here. It is home for so many who have nothing and yet here, have so much.”

Maybe our priorities are exactly right? The question here is whether or not we are willing to make our churches as much of a home for others?

And in doing so, might we find a home ourselves?

In Tennis, Vocations Counts

The New York Times has a story today about the priest-vocations director of the Madison who is officiating a whole other type of “service.”

He’s watching for foot faults and long shots and net balls as an umpire for the U.S. Open.

John McEnroe types may be red-faced to find out that their ump is a Catholic priest, but Fr. Paul Arizé takes it all in stride:

“Sometimes, I’m tempted to say, ‘You know, you have a Catholic priest sitting here,’ ” Arinze said, reclining on a bench during a break Wednesday. “But it’s O.K. Being a priest, you’re trained to forgive.”

Fr. Paul is from Eastern Nigeria who watched a tennis playing father and got to swing a racket after the adults were done. He started umpiring after watching tennis at the University of Wisconsin and befriending an umpire who got him to sit in the chair eventually.

He’s been told that he puts people at ease, which makes him a great candidate for the vocations director position with Madison. It’s also a great trait for an official to have. Someone who can simply make a call, even a close one and those playing know he has no axe to grind with them. I remember the worst umpires and officials were always the ones who thought they had you all figured out. When I played high school baseball, one umpire never gave me the benefit of the doubt because he assumed things about my play based on my looks (awkward and lanky–he can’t possibly be a good player!). Any close play was a call against me. Some of the stars on our team would get the benefit of every call based on reputation. I can see a vocations director who has to get to know people well and be so honest with them in helping them discern if they are right for the priesthood and religious community he serves would make a superior official. Everyone has a fair shake. Make the right plays and the rest should take care of itself.

The Times has the last word today:

His day job, at its core, is about recruiting for the priesthood. Tennis, and the attention he has gained from it, helps him. He can talk about his hobby, too, to show how becoming a priest does not mean one must give up everything.

Tennis officials have asked Arinze to consider pursuing the game full time. “No thank you,” he always responds, “I love my job.”

Arinze, in fact, is comfortable right where he is, at the intersection of faith and forehands, sometimes a priest, sometimes an umpire, but always officiating.

Where Are Young Adults Found in the Greatest Numbers?

The answer is a simple and obvious one, but we’d probably not think of this immediately.

The answer is in the Military. (#2 is prison, BTW)

Tomorrow I head to Washington, D.C. to a think tank with the Archdiocese for Military Services to discuss young adult ministry with those in our Armed Services. Mark Moitoza (Who is the Director for young adult ministry in the Archdiocese) and Bishop Joseph Estabrook (an auxillary who serves as the Episcopal Moderator for NCYAMA) extended the invitation and it gives me an opportunity to not only participate in a worthwhile project, but also allows me to take a brief vacation in our Nation’s Capital with my wife over the 4th of July Weekend. Hence, blogging may be light over the weekend.

I’m looking forward to this. Those young people who serve our country are often facing precarious situations–especially those who get deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. One of the big issues to face is simply that setting up some kind of peer ministry is what is needed, but then, everyone gets deployed to different places and the entire thing falls apart. Some out of the box thinking is needed here and I’m excited to be thinking with people about this and figuring out ways to keep our military personnel connected to the church.

So today, pray for us and for our military personnel. No matter how we feel about war, we will always need people to defend our country and keep us safe from harm. We need to support these young people with our prayers. And so we ask God to keep them safe from harm and if one should fall in service of our country, may God hold that solider in the healing balm of his arms. Amen.

Do Your Vulnerabilities Keep You Hostage?

This year I’ve been journeying with some of our Catholic Volunteers here in Buffalo. Their experience of living in community is always a challenge for each one of them. I look back to my senior year in college and found that living with 5 other guys was actually difficult. We sometimes got on each other’s last nerve. One of the things about living in community is that at times you may think you’ve gotten to know someone well and then they surprise you and do something you didn’t expect, or they hurt your feelings.

Secondly, sometimes someone’s annoying quirks signal something deeper. And sometime what we perceive to be meanness, or aloofness or even just weirdness is actually not so far removed from an understandable experience. Once we discover what someone fears or needs, we often are able to let our perceptions grow into an actual opportunity. Sometimes our own pride gets in the way of forming deeper relationship because we are too afraid to let ourselves be vulnerable for whatever reasons we may have for protecting ourselves.

As I was driving to the gym this morning, my old radio colleague Steve Inskeep introduced National Public Radio’s Story Corps Feature–which gives real people the opportunity to tell a meaningful story. Today’s came from a writer who is interviewed by his son. The writer was always trying to impress his father with his writing but …

“He never said anything good about my writing,” Walter says. “And that really, that really hurt, that really bothered me a lot.”

Trying to make an impression on his father, Herbert Dean, Walter started to use some of the stories he’d heard around the house in his writing.

“I even would take his ghost stories and publish them,” Walter says. “And I would show them to him, and he would never comment on them. So when I did that, then I said, he hates me. You know, he hates me.”

“Did you ever ask him about it?” Christopher asks.

“No, no. When he was dying, I brought him a book that I’d just finished. And uh, he picked it up and he looked at it, and then he just laid it down.

“And then after he died, I went to his house and went through his papers. And I would see X’s where his signature should be. The man couldn’t read. I mean, that was why he never said anything about my writing. It just tore me up, I mean, I could have read him a story at the hospital.”

The…man…couldn’t…read!

Could you imagine the pain and embarrassment he must have felt? His own son just sought his approval but he was too proud to admit that he couldn’t read his son’s books. His stories were amazingly vivid and publishable and his son took pains to make sure they’d be honored. But Dad couldn’t write them for himself.

So he went on protecting himself and the son assumed it was because he was hated. Dad may have resented his son’s ability to read when he in fact, could not–but the chasm that divided them was one small admission of weakness, one that could have been overcome.

What is it that you can’t admit that keeps you from others. Do you avoid a conversation with a loved one because it’s going to bring up things that could start an argument? Perhaps there’s a weakness that you can’t admit so you avoid being in those situations? Or might you have a skeleton in the closet that is trying to break out and force you to deal with the fallout?

Whatever the matter is, it may not be worth secluding it further. I’m sure both the man and the son in the story have deep regrets.

As we posted earlier, dying people don’t look back on their lives with regrets of things they’ve done. No, they regret the things they didn’t do. So today, let us pray that we can be brave enough to face our own vulnerabilities and admit that they keep us hostage from real freedom–the freedom of being who we are–in all our human weakness. The more we are able to share that–the freer we can become and the closer we can become with others, who may just share our own fears as well.

Back to our volunteers, who have impressed me with just how vulnerable many of them have been for one another and with me as well. Pray for them as they begin their last month or so of service that they can end their time here well and move on to all that awaits them in their growing lives.

Do You Have Any Regrets?

When I worked in Calvary Hospital (A hospital for terminal patients, mostly) as a volunteer my Senior year of college, I often encountered patients who would want to tell me things about their lives. Some would mention regrets, others would ask for advice, and many others would OFFER advice almost begging me to not make the mistakes they or others they knew made.

Florence was one such woman. She would come to mass even though she wasn’t Catholic. Why? “I like to be around PEOPLE.” She would say. She was full of energy for a dying woman and made all of our time spent with the dying less somber. She made us think about how we were spending our time with those we came to visit and she always injected new life into each one of us. We often visited her first. My most memorable visit with her she strictly informed me,

“Now look at this one…sitting there all alone twiddling her thumbs doing nothing. Here’s another one. Watching TV all day long. That thing will give you BRAIN DAMAGE.”

My milk nearly came out my nose.

“Young man, let me tell you something. You go back to that fancy college of yours and never you mind what those professors say, you spend time with your friends and family. Surround yourself with PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE. You’ll never be sad that you did.”

Deacon Greg pointed me to this wonderful article by a palliative nurse who has had similar experiences. She notes the top five regrets of the dying. I’ll riff on two of them that speak to me but read the whole article for yourself here.

1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I learned this one early on, forgot it for some time and then remembered it again. I think I forgot it again recently, but recovered nicely.

In my high school all the smart kids took Chemistry as their “major.” It was a technical high school and there were only 4 college-tracks, Chemistry being one of the four. I hated it with the red hot passion of five burning suns. In college, I decided I was never going to look at chemistry again and took my physical science requirement that first semester to get it out of the way (and aced it!). My mother was aghast! “You should try to get a job a Ceigy!” She would say which was a Chemical corporation in Westchester (Ciba-Geigy to be more exact. I think they made plastics.) But I had my heart set on media and would later fall in love with ministry and I continue to do both until today. Mom thought I would starve in the media (and she was nearly right–the church paid me better, believe it or not!)

Sometimes parents mean well. Their dreams for their children are often the shattered dreams of their youth, the things they couldn’t do, or wished they had done. My mother never forbade me from flying anywhere I wanted to travel because she once thought she would be a flight attendant. But parent’s dreams are not the child’s sometimes. And many people live for their parent’s dreams and not their own.

For myself, once I got into broadcasting, I wouldn’t allow myself to admit that I was really miserable. The first day at the college station, I even thought that I didn’t really fit in. But I pushed that aside. Even years later, in ministry I had thoughts that I just HAD to stay at Busted Halo full time, even though I knew I had to let it go.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This one surprised me. Happiness is a choice. Almost nobody recognizes that, throughout life. You can choose to be miserable or look at life from a new perspective. My friend Amy, often does this and I think she’s one of the happiest people I know. I call another friend “Teflon Vic.” I don’t know anyone who has ever gotten annoyed with him, much less, stayed mad at him. Why? You just can’t. The guy is purely happy, even when times are hard.

It seems to me that Jesus was very much like this. He was accused of eating and drinking and carousing with his friends too much. He forgave easily and freely. He welcomed strangers and didn’t care what others thought about reaching out to those dastardly poor people.

In Cleveland, on this year’s alternative spring break, we were asked to go to St Herman’s House of Hospitality for dinner. We weren’t serving the dinner or even volunteering in any way. We were there to be guests alongside, poor families, the homeless and simply people who ran out of retirement money. It was an eye opening experience. It was there that I realized one thing. I could choose to be uncomfortable in that dining room (and I often was that first day), or I could simply seek comfort and happiness. The dining room had an old dog who would circle the floor for scraps in addition to the food they would give him. He was a nice friendly fella who kept to himself but would enjoy attention if you gave it to him.

My love of dogs hastened me to his side. And when I looked up from petting him there was one of the residents smiling at me. And he engaged me in conversation and we found much in common with each other (beyond the love of dogs!). In his tough times, he chose to be happy and also allowed me to realize that I could do the same.

What are the other regrets most people have? Check out the other 3. And think about some of your own already. Share them below and then think about how you might change those.

Today let’s pray that we can die peacefully when our time comes. That we will have few regrets and be able to come to acceptance of leaving the life behind that we have lived and known.

I hope there’s a dog waiting for me at the gate when I get there.

Am I Enough?

As many know, I’ve been discerning whether I should become a deacon or not this year. The “19th Annotation Retreat” I participated in was very central in helping me think more deeply about this and allowed me to be centered on where God is leading me at this time.

But the biggest factor in helping me decide was the experiences I had with several of the UB students this year.

Some students on the alternative spring break were helpful on both ends of the decision. Two of the students, Amanda and Matt were very excited at the prospect of me being a Deacon.

“Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh My God! Mike you’d be so great. You’ve got to do it.” Amanda shrieked. “I want you to do it just so I can call you Deek!”

Matt followed up with, “Well, maybe we need some kind of word that combines Deacon and Mike together. I’ve got it…

Dyke!”

If ever there was a deterrent …

Zach, along with Ryan and Lauren (who recently got engaged), were more sedate about their feelings. “No matter what you choose, Mike, you don’t make a bad choice here.” Ryan astutely pointed out. “The fact that you’re a married man who even GOES to church is a big help to a lot of us already.”

Zach, who sees me for spiritual direction (Or do I see him?) also pointed out that being free to be who I am is what is most important. He asked me pointedly if I thought “being a Deacon might change (me),” make me less open or more open to others? Would being a Deacon make me perceived by others as different? Am I already perceived as being different simply because I am a campus minister and so, would being a Deacon matter? Does it change my ministry for better or worse?

These students sure give me a lot to think about.

But one of the sticking points for me came from one of the medical students, CJ, who is really bright and always enthusiastic. I had thrown a small “after finals party” in the med school lounge for the first year’s who just finished their gross anatomy final. We began talking about his classmates and the test they just took. Most admitted to me that they thought they did OK. Nobody thought they rocked it or had miserably failed. Most were simply happy it was over and they were happy to share a few fleeting moments over pizza and wings with their classmates and even with me. A side note: Most of the medical students aren’t regular church-goers. Yet, I have found all of them (and I do mean all of them) to be profoundly aware of their own spiritual experience. How they express that or choose to express that is vastly unique, it’s different for every student.

But back to CJ, I mentioned to him that just about every member of the class came over and talked with me and spent some time saying how grateful they were for the meal and some even thanked me for my presence throughout the semester.

“It’s just part of my job,” i said to CJ.

“Mike,” CJ sharply said, “This is NOT just part of your job. You’re here because you like being here and because you’ve become concerned about us and who we are becoming as doctors. You got up super early before our first test just to make sure we got a stress guy (pictured right)! Not everyone would go out of their way to do that!”

I blew him off, “I suppose so. You guys have made it easy though! You’re pretty open to having me here. The faculty is also really helpful and I’m glad I can just help them out. It’s kind of helping me decide whether I should go deeper with my ministry and study to be a Deacon.”

“REALLY?” Cj replied.

“Sure, what do you think about that.”

CJ stroked his chin and said, “I’m going to be the devil’s advocate here.”

Mind you when someone says that, they may actually become the Holy Spirit’s advocate!

“Mike, look around. This room is filled with an entire section of medical students. We let them know that ‘Mike Hayes’ from Campus Ministry was going to provide this party and everyone showed up. Why? Because they know you don’t have an ulterior motive. There’s no hidden agenda.”

“Right.” I said.

“But if I had told the class that DEACON Mike, or even FATHER Pat, who they KNOW was throwing the party, I’d bet good money that half the people would show up. It’s just a different vibe.”

“Never thought of that.” I sheepishly remarked.

That moment didn’t make or break my decision. But discerning about that for the next four months surely did. Deacon or not, my ministry doesn’t depend on that.

My ministry depends on me being myself and how I can be an expression of Christ for others. I don’t need to become anything more or anything different unless I think that would actually help me do that.

And becoming a Deacon might actually hinder that for some, but others would argue that my openness wouldn’t bring others to shun me because of my clerical state. I would agree with both statements actually. Some will want no part of me, others wouldn’t care.

But C.J. would later say something that clinched things for me.

“Mike, maybe being a Campus Minister is just enough? You’ve got an important job and you do it well. Just do that and you’ll be fine.”

That doesn’t mean that I won’t ever be a Deacon. Nor is it a slight to anyone else who chooses to be a Deacon. But it does mean that I won’t be one anytime soon. God isn’t calling me there now. But there’s good news…

Sometimes being a Campus Minister is more than enough.

And that’s where God has called me to be for at least another year or two.

So, we have much to decide this year and much work to be done. It is exciting and I am thrilled to really get into the coming semester’s work. Gross Anatomy starts in August and retreats and Alternative Breaks begin not long after that.

It is with gratitude that I remain a layman, a husband, a campus minister and God’s servant. It is all grace and gift and wondrous and I am in the midst of the Holy Spirit with every step I take.

And God’s grace is more than enough for me.