My New Hero

We need more people like Greg Smith in the corporate world. He resigned from Goldman Sachs and unveiled a culture that has lost it’s way in the process.

From the NY Times:

For more than a decade I recruited and mentored candidates through our grueling interview process. I was selected as one of 10 people (out of a firm of more than 30,000) to appear on our recruiting video, which is played on every college campus we visit around the world. In 2006 I managed the summer intern program in sales and trading in New York for the 80 college students who made the cut, out of the thousands who applied.

I knew it was time to leave when I realized I could no longer look students in the eye and tell them what a great place this was to work.

When the history books are written about Goldman Sachs, they may reflect that the current chief executive officer, Lloyd C. Blankfein, and the president, Gary D. Cohn, lost hold of the firm’s culture on their watch. I truly believe that this decline in the firm’s moral fiber represents the single most serious threat to its long-run survival.

Over the course of my career I have had the privilege of advising two of the largest hedge funds on the planet, five of the largest asset managers in the United States, and three of the most prominent sovereign wealth funds in the Middle East and Asia. My clients have a total asset base of more than a trillion dollars. I have always taken a lot of pride in advising my clients to do what I believe is right for them, even if it means less money for the firm. This view is becoming increasingly unpopular at Goldman Sachs. Another sign that it was time to leave.

Read the rest…it should be required reading for business students.

Sometimes it’s best to just walk away. I wonder if burning this bridge will hurt him in the long run but I also hope someone sees this and realizes that we need people with his kind of integrity.

Pray for Them…

I hate these stories but we’ve got to pay attention to them.

From the AP:

Gunfire at a high school outside Cleveland injured a number of students Monday morning, and at least one suspect has been taken into custody, officials said.

The shooting was reported around 7:30 a.m. at the 1,100-student Chardon High School about 30 miles east of Cleveland, said Civil Deputy Erin Knife of the Geauga County Sheriff’s Office. She didn’t know the number of victims, but multiple news reports cited four students shot.

Television news footage showed anxious parents escorting children away from a school building, and ambulances could be seen outside.

Let us pray for an end to violence and an uncovering of what drives students to act out of rage and violence.

Prayers for Virginia Tech…Again….UPDATE

UPDATE TO THE BELOW: The Campus lockdown has been lifted at Virginia Tech. However, the gunman has not yet been found. Continued prayers…MH.

For those not following the news today, Virginia Tech reports two people a campus police officer and a student have been shot and killed on campus after a traffic stop…

That’s not the worst news.

The gunman is still at large with a description of him wearing a maroon sweatshirt…the colors of the University. That won’t help and thus, the University is on lockdown. Finals scheduled for tomorrow have been cancelled. The gunman apparently shot a cop and then fled through a parking lot on foot where later they found a second person dead.

Fr. John Grace, the director of Catholic Campus Ministry at Virginia Tech is fine for those of you worried about him. I just got off the phone with him and he is hunkered down in the Newman Center with a bunch of students who as he said “aren’t going anywhere.”

He informed me that he was having lunch with a first year student when the sirens started going off and then an announcement that told everyone to take shelter. He was able to get back to the Newman Center where students studying there have been forced to stay there.

Fr. Grace said “I found out today that I’d be a very protective parent.”

The possibility exists that the school may be on lockdown for some time because the last time when that horrible shooting happened there the university failed to secure students by alerting them properly. Text messages followed the sirens almost immediately according to Fr. Grace who thought the sirens initially were a drill, especially since it wouldn’t disturb classes on this a reading day.

“Then everyone started looking at their phones.” Fr. Grace said. “And you just knew that this was something bad.”

So say a few prayers for the Hokies and for all the law enforcement folks looking for the shooter and the people who have died along with their families.

I somewhat know what it’s like to be in that kind of a helpless situation. We had an apparent gunman here at UB last year that was never found and the eeriness of that day stayed with me for some time. Fortunately I was on the South Campus, somewhat removed from the situation on the North Campus, but the fallout over the next few days was so surreal. We all looked over our shoulders the following day and for some time.

Will the madness ever end? Fr. Grace said they might not be able to have mass on Sunday because there won’t be any way they could have a public assembly with a gunman on the loose.

Continued prayers…for peace.

What If the Devil Had a Blog?

Jeffrey Pugh has thought about the above question and has penned a fine book, called Devil’s Ink, Blog from the Basement Office, which made my holding pattern on my flight much more enjoyable.

Pugh provides a series of blog entries in the book covering everything from social networking to political dalliances (Anthony Weiner, watch out!) and does it all with a, dare I say, wicked sense of humor.

What I really like is that if you even miss some of the references he implicitly makes within the words he puts on this devil figure, he provides tags at the end of the entry for you to re-explore the hidden references. Much of this brings back memories of past scandals and history.

I know what you’re thinking…

How is this different from C.S. Lewis’ Classic the Screwtape Letters? Well, Pugh admits being inspired by Lewis (and others) in the introduction, but I’ve found this to take more direct aim at certain events or individual moral failings and gives the reader a better opportunity to see moral failings for what they are, which is, evil at work in the world.

How does evil stay alive in the world? Pugh makes the clear point that evil is most happy when it can be covert, when our morality drops to the point where we believe that evil doesn’t really influence or exist at all. That is when evil can be most disruptive and damaging to people.

So why wouldn’t the devil blog? The truth might be that we’re already reading his words all over the place.

Oh shit, now it’s made it’s way here too.

Pray for Our Enemies

From today’s NY Post:

A Catholic church in Ireland has provoked outrage among its parishioners after announcing plans for a Mass to pray for the “soul” of Osama bin Laden.
The Church of the Assumption in the affluent Dublin suburb of Howth distributed a leaflet to parishioners during its Sunday services that included details of the service.
Listed under “Mass Intentions” for Thursday in the church pamphlet distributed yesterday was a call to prayer for “Osama Bin Laden (Recently Deceased)” during that day’s 10 a.m. Mass.
Parishioners were immediately incensed, saying the idea of praying for the al Qaeda leader was an “insult,” particularly with the upcoming visit of President Obama to Ireland.

I think all churches should respond by doing the same. Perhaps not a mass particularly for bin Laden, but rather a plea to pray for our enemies and for those enemies that have died that they might in death turn towards the light that is God.

But I wouldn’t be completely opposed to a mass for Bin Laden either.



So Just Who the Hell is in Hell Anyway?

Most would find it unbelievable that the Catholic Church has never definitively claimed that anyone is in hell. Not Judas, Not Hitler, Not Stalin, Not Bin Laden.

Now that also doesn’t mean that none of these people aren’t in hell either. It’s just that we can’t claim definitive proof.

The Christian Century blog took up that topic and David Heim makes some interesting points including this summary of Hans Urs Von Bathasar’s teaching on hell.

In his book Dare We Hope ‘That All Men Be Saved’? the Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar does not deny the existence of hell or argue for anything like universalism, but he does show how nuanced the discussion of hell can be even within the parameters of strict orthodoxy. Balthasar argues that the salvation of all is the will of God (as scripture says) and that it is proper for the church to pray that God’s will be done. Therefore, he concludes, if the church is truly acting out of love and hope, it can and perhaps must pray that all will saved. (emphases mine)

Balthasar’s approach would, I suspect, lead to the same practical approach to the world as (Rob) Bell’s assertion that God’s love “wins.”

Perhaps the best wisdom on hell is summed up by this old axiom: Only an ass would deny the existence of hell, and only an ox would pretend to know who is in it.

Indeed. And that’s exactly what we’ve been saying all week.

Is It Wrong to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?

Linton Weeks from National Public Radio emailed me after reading some of my comments on the need to forgive Bin Laden. And he wrote this outstanding column exploring much of the same questions. I’m quoted extensively in this so I’ll just quote from there and let you read the remainder of the column.

Not ‘Our Finest Moment’

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the news of bin Laden’s death with this statement: “Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

“I think that’s on the mark,” says Mike Hayes, a campus minister at the University at Buffalo. “As a Catholic Christian, I cannot celebrate the death of anyone, especially when it is done violently. Naturally, my human nature fights against that idealism, especially when I think of those who I lost personally that day and all those who lost their life on 11 September.”

However, adds Hayes, who runs the Googling God blog for young adults, “I don’t think that the celebrations in the streets were our finest moment as Americans, and reminded me much of the anger I felt at seeing Afghans dancing in the streets at the fall of the Towers on that dreaded day.”

Hayes says: “We are called to forgiveness. And that is the only way that we can be truly free. Holding onto our hatred keeps us in slavery to bin Laden’s madness and gives the terrorists continued power over us.”

There is also a sense of false elation, he adds, “because many believe that the world is a safer place because of this death. That relief is probably misguided.”

Misguided indeed. The world might indeed be more precarious today that ever before. As a former New York City resident and now a resident of Buffalo, I remarked to a friend, “It’s a good day to live in Western NY. I don’t think I’d be too eager to take the subway today.”

Milennials certainly have grown up in this culture of terrorism and now that Bin Laden has died, there was a need for a collective sigh of relief, a sigh that grew into rampant celebration–something I found to be detestable, but understandable.

A former intern of mine wrote me from Singapore yesterday and had a good comment or two.

Its a catharsis for our young generation that the bogey man is dead. Not all bogey men, but one of them…the problem is in the real world the bogey man still is a human. And we must recognize him for his faults and maybe his virtue.

But right now we all have a lot of emotion kicking around that gets in front of that vital point, emotions that are valid, and real. Give it a second, and you will see the millenials will figure it out. To paraphrase an Irish writer I can’t remember. “its good enough to know that he was a man and that he lived” usually thats reserved for the over eulogized, but in this case its equally poignant.

Indeed. Excellent comments. A colleague of mine today asked why the world is any more precarious for the millinnials then it was for children of the 50 and 60s with the fallout shelters and air raid drills. As a Gen Xer we were scared to death of the Russians. However, today, we don’t really know the enemy as well. We don’t always know where the enemy will turn up. That, coupled with the over-parenting that many millennials have been raised with and the world can often seem far too scary and that we have far too few ways to battle back.

And JK on the NPR Website added this:

J K (phillipaj) wrote:
I’m glad that this question is being asked. Frankly, I was disturbed by the pictures and video of people rejoicing, jumping up and down with the American flag, and holding beers. This man was a killer and the world is safer without him, but to celebrate anyone’s death seems morbid and inappropriate to me.

Osama Bin Laden killed thousands of people – those people are still dead. As a result of 9/11, we invaded two countries – we are still there. Soldiers have died, been maimed, been severely injured, committed suicide – they are still dead or injured. Civilians have died, been maimed, been severely injured, committed suicide – they are still dead or injured.

To see mostly college students, who are here safe in America spending their days in the library, celebrating with beers while soldiers and civilians are still fighting and dying and trying to just survive another day, seemed to me disrespectful and out of touch. And I write this as a recent college graduate: I know that I was and am removed from most of the real implications of the after-effects of 9/11. Osama is dead, but let’s not forget that the impact of his actions and others’ reactions will continue to affect the world for many, many decades to come.

We continue to pray for peace and hope that we can show more decorum so that the rest of the world can continue to respect us.

Keeping the Devil at Bay

So it’s true, I had my computer stolen. Not just any computer, but a Macbook air.

St. Ignatius would remind us that the evil one doesn’t leave us alone that he’s always trying to get us to move away from what is healthy for us. Immediately after the computer was stolen I could see the evil one working on me and my friends who were nearby when the computer was lifted.

One friend: “Well who left that door open? That’s how he got in!”
Another: “Shoot if you weren’t working with me, you’d still have your computer.”
Me: “I can’t take this anymore. It just rains and then pours.”
A final friend: “It’s my fault. I should have been watching the place better.”

Well now, if that’s not the evil one at work…

The devil gets us to look for blame, blame and doubt ourselves and believe that there’s no way out of this hopeless situation.

But perhaps the question to answer is why we immediately often go to that dark place? The place that keeps us protected from admitting the fact that sometimes desperate people will do desperate things no matter how hard we try to prevent them from doing so. We often take blame for something that we didn’t do but rather, something that we can’t believe could happen while we were nearby. We get angry at the violation of privacy. We are upset that someone hoodwinked us and could easily do it again. We are upset and feel that we are so stupid.

But God’s grace gives us the opportunity to see things differently.

I realized that had I not been with the woman I was doing spiritual direction with, I may have encountered the crook and had I , I may not be writing this post. The thief could have been armed and if I startled him or her it could have ended badly. I was able to thank God for the blessing of being a spiritual director, because that’s what I was doing when the larceny occurred.

Do you see how spiritual direction saves lives? (He says, tongue in cheek)

Imagine being so desperate for money that you steal someone’s computer. How desperate must the thief have gotten to go this far? What must it be like to feel that way and now to have to go on the lam?

Computers can be replaced–and there really wasn’t a whole lot of data on it that can’t be replaced anyway. A few pictures maybe, but I have most of what was there on facebook anyway.

What we can’t replace is people–and perhaps we can’t immediately replace their self-esteem, but we can allow ourselves to realize that there’s only one person to blame here and that’s the thief.

And even he somehow merits both God and our forgiveness.

That’s how we keep the evil one, the devil, Satan…whatever we call the dark forces in our lives, at bay. The darkness has no power over us. We are people of the light and we cannot let incidents like this rule over us and weigh us down.

So today, let us pray that God will give us the strength to let go of our hatred toward others and towards ourselves. May God also give us the strength to realize that forgiveness awaits our call. That we have the power to not let this sin dominate our thoughts, words and deeds.

A pastor friend of mine in New York once said after having his rectory robbed, “If we become so careful, that we stop reaching out to the poor because we’re afraid they’ll just start robbing us, well then we’re not doing anything worthwhile.”

Amen. Alleluia. Peace and harmony always triumphs.

My Hometown

I’m sitting in my father’s chair in the apartment I grew up in, where my parents still live. This old place is chock full of memories. Some good and some bad. I remember getting my college acceptance to Fordham in this apartment and being elated. It was my parents’ dream to send me to college and it was my dream to simply go. It exceeded my wildest expectations to simply be a college graduate.

But some bad memories exist of this place too. I was mugged in front of this house for a lousy $2. I used to live in fear of the house being broken into as the neighborhood wasn’t always the safest place to be. A young man was shot and killed on the street corner by a father who didn’t like the idea of the young man telling his little son to not hit another kid with a wiffle bat. I would fear walking home from middle school over gangs on Ash Street–just down the hill from the “city steps”–a junky-always-broken concrete slab that was a nightmare in the winter. (I fell at least three times on them)

Yonkers is a humble town. Buffalo reminds me of it in some ways. But humbleness also comes with a price. At times, being too humble puts us at a disadvantage of ever thinking we can be better than what is expected of us. If you’re not being humble enough, you’re an egotistical jerk who has forgotten where he came from. My mother’s mantras of “What will the neighbors say?” when I would do something wrong would also be tempered by her other mantra of “Who do you think you are?” when I’d think too much of myself, or I should say when she’d think I was thinking too highly of who I am. You can’t ever really win with those parameters of judgement. So in some ways, I always felt like I needed to escape this Yonkers neighborhood and it seemed like it was my parents’ mission to make sure that happened. And yet, at times it seemed like they wanted to keep me here. At times the city and this home seems like a backwards place, a place that never seems to be able to escape “working class” status, whether in the downtown area, or even in the mentality that my family regards itself. Getty Square which is near the Metro North Station always seems hopelessly downtrodden. The hospitals and schools never seem better than you see in other suburban outlets. Political and economic solutions seem to go against all the trends that eliminate poverty–like the building of the Casino on the grounds of the old Yonkers Raceway. Casinos almost always bring a rise in criminal activity in the area that they are in. Poor people also often think that they are going to crack the system that wins the jackpot in the lottery or the slots.

But yet, for all of the bad parts, this is also the place that formed me, so it’s hard for me not to have some nostalgia for it. I think I’ve done pretty well for myself. At the very least I need to praise some heroes who helped me become who I am. And I should start with my parents and my sister who started me reading when I was two years old and who gave me all they have. They have a hard time accepting help from me but I’ve become more insistent on things lately. It hasn’t been easy for me or them and I often feel like reconciliation is far away from being complete, but again, there’s a lot of good history behind us as well. And for that I always feel a large amount of gratitude.

My teachers pushed me as a young man. Mrs. Balassi, my first grade teacher had an old SRA reading kit that we were all required to use. These kits would start by having the students read a passage and answer questions. There would be packets of stories grouped by color. So the first group would be red and when you got through the red section you’d go on to the blue section, etc. Most of the students in the class by the end of the year would advance to a non-primary color, like orange or purple. Mrs. Balassi saw my gift of being a good reader and she pushed me very hard to excel. I was on Olive by year’s end. Far ahead of the entire class. She was a great teacher. By high school, Mrs. Stein would get me and help me be a better writer and speaker. I won elections thanks to speeches that she helped me write. An amazing woman who was hysterically funny, Mrs. Stein would encourage me to find a voice for writing and I certainly owe her a great debt of gratitude as well.

Bruce Springsteen writes about his hometown of Freehold, NJ in his song “My Hometown” and it’s always resonated with me. Our hometowns and our families, are things we didn’t choose for ourselves. But we will always be tied to them, both the good and the bad parts of those places and people. Today may we pray that we are able to transcend the shadow side of memory and accept who we are and where we have come from without regret and continue to grow into the people we are called by God to become both despite and because of it all.

And remember our hometowns with gratitude and forgiveness.

Do You Believe in the Devil?

Today’s NY Times reports on an Exorcism Conference which took place recently. A snip:

There are only a handful of priests in the country trained as exorcists, but they say they are overwhelmed with requests from people who fear they are possessed by the Devil.

Now, American bishops are holding a conference on Friday and Saturday to prepare more priests and bishops to respond to the demand. The purpose is not necessarily to revive the practice, the organizers say, but to help Catholic clergy members learn how to distinguish who really needs an exorcism from who really needs a psychiatrist, or perhaps some pastoral care.

“Not everyone who thinks they need an exorcism actually does need one,” said Bishop Thomas J. Paprocki of Springfield, Ill., who organized the conference. “It’s only used in those cases where the Devil is involved in an extraordinary sort of way in terms of actually being in possession of the person.

“But it’s rare, it’s extraordinary, so the use of exorcism is also rare and extraordinary,” he said. “But we have to be prepared.”

The book The Rite: The Making of an American Exorcist, by Matt Baglio (Doubleday) is an excellent read on this subject. Every diocese has an exorcist. Something that the NY Times didn’t really point out. The book follows the training of the exorcist-priest of the Diocese of San Jose. It is a very unbiased book on the subject and I’ve talked with Fr. Gary Thomas and have heard him interviewed on the subject and he’s a very measured source on the subject.

But simply put the question on today’s blog post is appropriate. Do we believe that evil truly is a force in the world? I’ve become more comfortable with this notion recently during my 19th annotation retreat. As broken people we all have temptations and I truly believe that an evil force in the world tries to take advantage of that. So did St. Ignatius who called this “the enemy,” to use a phrase from his military background.

I keep coming back in prayer to the moment that my friend told me that his brother’s wife killed their two children. If a mother killing her own kids isn’t evidence of evil in the world, than I’m not sure what would be. But immediately, I lost a bit of faith in God. And I think that’s what the devil, or evil, or Ignatius’ enemy hopes for all of us.

What does it take for us to forget about God? To throw our belief in God away?

Evil is real. How we personify that might be up for debate, but evil certainly exists undoubtedly. I think even faithful people have something in their lives that brings fear and doubt into the forefront and lets faith take a backseat. It might be a particular sin that we choose constantly over God or maybe an incident of great tragedy pushes that boundary. Whatever it might be, it’s sometimes easy for us to default to letting evil win the day.

As God’s faithful people, we must cling to the belief that evil has no power over God. That even when horrible things happen, God redeems that evil in ways that we don’t always understand or see tangibly. Do we really believe that? In my friend’s case, I hope that his family can believe that God has taken those children into his care forever and that evil cannot ever touch them again. It doesn’t change what happened. It’s still horrific and we will deal with the damage that evil has been able to do to us, but we also have to have faith that it can’t be the final word.

Maybe exorcism reminds us that we too, have the power of faith on our side? We need a tangible reminder that evil can be defeated. Perhaps evil does get a hold of someone so intimately that they do literally possess them?

Some are skeptical, like my colleague, Fr Richard Vega, of the National Federation of Priests Councils who was quoted in the Times:

“People are talking about, are we taking two steps back?” Father Vega said. “My first reaction when I heard about the exorcism conference was, this is another of those trappings we’ve pulled out of the past.”

I firmly and respectfully disagree. While I think exorcism should be rare and that leading people to solidify their faith and to turn away from the enemy is what most need, to deny that evil can possess a much greater force than we usually imagine on someone is quite arrogant. To deny that evil needs a tangible combatant and that the church should at minimum think about that is also haughty. There are certainly things that happen that we can’t explain. Things that mental health professionals can’t explain and that are doing harm to people. Does faith not have something to contribute here? While it might sound goofy on the surface, it also gives us an opportunity to talk about what we really believe about evil in the world.

Or do we just think that evil is a bunch of hooey?

“All that it takes for evil to triumph is that good men (and women) do nothing.” We’ve heard it time and time again. Perhaps getting more in touch with the darkness that exists in the world is exactly where the church needs to go? It’s where I think God and St. Ignatius is leading me this month as I go deeper in acknowledging my sin and weakness so I might better know how to defeat it.

So what do y’all think? Does evil exist? Are we in a battle against it, even within ourselves? How might we best battle the enemy? Or is the church making too much out of this?

You know my feelings on this. What are yours?

Today let us pray for those who face evil in their lives. Let us pray that evil does not gain any ground on us today and that God will deliver us from all evil and protect us from all anxiety, the fear that keeps us from believing that God is all powerful. Amen.