Making Mistakes

UnknownToday I made a mistake.  It wasn’t my first, won’t be my last.  But it was a stupid, careless mistake that I made because I rushed into what I was doing, misled by the good intentions of another who was hoping to help me get some quick information to others.  I simply said August when I meant July in an public announcement.  Not exactly, neuro-surgery, but still an error I don’t often make.

But nonetheless, it was my hand that did the carelessness and I assume responsibility, especially since I’m the boss and all.  So I deal with the embarrassment of error on my part.  I’m particularly hard on myself in times like this.  I don’t often make errors like this and have taken a lot of pains to not be careless in my work, or overlook too many details.

But I hold onto mistakes very tightly, nonetheless.

In my brief afternoon examen, I studied the reasons for making the mistake…a rushed judgement, a careless, uncritical eye, doing too many things at once, not trusting my initial thought on this matter or perhaps not trusting my co-worker.  It was also tempting to cast blame on a host of others, but I made the mistake and I should tend to its correction.

My friend, John, comes to mind, a peer and a mentor over the years for me, during times like this.  He is an honest man, who is confident enough to say “I don’t know” when he doesn’t and “My fault” when he errs. He’s learned much from his loving wife, Kelly, a doctor.  Namely, I can recall a day when I made a huge error at the radio station.  I played the wrong commercial and boy did I hear it from the sales department!  John, who I reported to, in his wisdom, took me aside and said:

“Mike, I make my share of mistakes.  I get tired from long hours of work and I just fumble something.  But I’m glad I chose the career I did, because if I make a mistake, it usually surrounds something like this…missing a commercial, or not identifying the station or the show.  That mistake costs the station hundreds of dollars sometimes, maybe even thousands.”

“But my doctor-wife has to be up for hours on end, pulling double shifts at the hospital.  And when she gets tired she can’t make that mistake.  I make a mistake and we lose a bit of money.  Kelly makes a mistake and it’s “Oops, you’re dead! So let’s forget about the $400 we just lost and keep the focus on where it needs to be today, O.K.?”

Wisdom indeed.  I fixed the error and apologized and a colleague helped me graciously in doing so.  In examen today, I found that call from a colleague to be heartening.  She didn’t belittle me for my mistake, but rather helped me find ways to correct it.

It’s in moments like these that we make the biggest mistake of all.  We get led by the evil spirit, who all-too-easily convinces us that we’re horseshit.  That we’re no good and we never will be and that it’s all going to hell in a hand-basket and that we’re completely at fault for all of it.

In short, nobody died.  Life goes on.  I look a little foolish today (some may say, what do you mean, TODAY?!), but I don’t think that anyone is going to judge the entirety of my career on today’s error.

In my talk with Jesus today, Jesus came over to me and washed my hands clean.  He said to me, “Now go try again! And stop worrying about this.  There’s nothing you can do about it now anyway other than fix it.  And you’ve done that. It happens. There are greater tragedies in life!” Then He showed me his wounds and said, “Do you think these wounds were fun?  Wounds hurt! So stop wounding yourself and move on to something life-giving.”

As the cool Buffalo breezes invigorate my summer months, I hope I too can remind myself to stay cool and not be too hard on myself.  And rejoice not in mistakes, but in life-giving mercy.

I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice

Unknown-5Today’s Gospel from Matthew hits many of us right between the eyes when we hear the following words:

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

How often do I withhold mercy in my own life and how do I feel when it is withheld from me.  I’m not much of a grudge-holder actually, but there are a few that I carry around in my sack from time to time and too often that sack weighs me down and prevents me from doing all that I can do.  How much more can I accomplish, if I lay down my resentment and move into the thing that God is calling me to more intentionally?

I’m in St. Louis these days at the Ignatian Spirituality Conference where we are contemplating the idea of silence and integrating that more into our prayer lives and encouraging it with those whom we serve.  They say ‘Silence is Golden’ but in the silence we often find our own darkness and cannot avoid it. Resentments may very well be at the heart of the times we sit in our silence to pray. This is a good sign that God is asking us to look at this more deeply.

Silence often asks us to slow down as well.  In my own time of prayer yesterday, in my imaginative contemplation with Jesus, I imagined us running together.  I sprinted ahead of Jesus and at some point he yelled to me to slow down.  “This isn’t a race! I refuse to race with you!  Look at my feet!” he replied.  And there I saw the bloodied and broken feet of the Jesus of the cross.  “I have been hurt and cannot run as I would like now.  The blood pours out of these holes in my feet and I am in too much pain to go forward.  I need to heal first and your wounds are these wounds too.  What do you need to heal from during these days of reflection? Let’s do that work first and then we can move ahead and maybe even run a bit after that.”

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Floodgates opened and I found several resentments that we left unresolved.  Late in the evening I remarked to a colleague, “You know, even with all the lousy experiences I’ve had in my life, I really love what my life has become and I’m open now to  what lies ahead.  I don’t want to be doing anything else and I need to remind myself of the things that renew me, especially the “extra side projects” that keep my mind and energy renewed for the work I do regularly and help my marriage and my friendships benefit from my own happiness.”

It is good to be with friends this week.  But it is also renewing to be here in silence, where we meet Jesus and where all is revealed so that we might not run through our day so carelessly, but treat the wounds so that we might run more swiftly, intentionally, joyfully and with much mercy

Working with Joan Rivers at WOR

They say all comedy comes from pain. My late college roommate was a stand up comic and his illness was a major piece of his comedy. During the late 90s I worked with Joan Rivers at WOR Radio and I believe this was certainly true for her as well.

Joan lived through the suicide of her husband after they were both fired from FOX, bouts of bulimia, financial issues and a rift with Johnny Carson over taking a show on FOX that competed against his own after mentoring her. The two never spoke again and it caused Joan much anxiety and several times she reached out to reconcile with him to no avail.

I’m sure all of that gave her a lot to cry about, but Joan turned all of that anger into comedy. At times I thought her bitterness was way too angry, but I could also tell that she had only a few outlets for her own personal pain. Her manager and her two writers accompanied her everywhere and often protected her from anyone who tried to talk with her. You didn’t talk to Joan, you talked to her manager.

I worked with her on an evening radio show she did at WOR. One of my jobs was to record commercials that clients paid to have her read. What we didn’t know was the Joan was dyslexic and reading copy was quite difficult for her. In the early days of her show she had 15 or 20 commercials to record over the course of a week. She simply couldn’t do it and often I was the object of her angry tirade over the disability.

I felt bad for her, of course, and knew she wasn’t lashing out at me, but she wasn’t a lot of fun to work alongside. We never hit it off and she had a hard time taking direction from anyone much less, me. The show was often horrible, unlistenable, despite my efforts. My best friend took a crack at working with her and had some moderate success and probably was a bit more willing to take her abuse. I went as far to put in writing:

“I will not work with Joan Rivers.”

Off the air Joan was actually pleasant most of the time. She simply wasn’t an easy person to work with and I can imagine that she was drawing paychecks from a bunch of small jobs after her FOX show failed and comedy work in Vegas and elsewhere had long dried up.

In short, it could not have been easy being Joan Rivers. I’ve come to understand her plight a lot more in these last few days and for that I am thankful. It’s made it easier for me to forgive and that indeed is God’s work at opening my heart a bit further and I hope that Joan was able to let go of some of vileness that she always seemed to carry around in her humor.

My biggest grudge with Joan, which I now laugh about came when she was asked to fill-in on our afternoon drive show. At the time, I was the producer of that show and so I simply switched roles with her producer and ended up on the evening shift, the slot she would usually be in. Joy Behar was hired as a fill-in host and one of the things she wanted to do was to have Janeane Garofalo on the show because she had been feuding with Joan Rivers over remarks that Rivers made about her outfit at the Oscars. (Essentially Garofolo’s trademark is that she doesn’t dress up and Rivers had a field day with that on the red carpet). Full disclosure I had a huge fan-crush on Garofolo and was really looking forward to meeting her.

When Rivers found out Behar’s plan to have Garofolo on the show she nixed it and Behar promptly quit. I had been busy booking other guests for the program and now several hours before the show I find out that all that work was for nothing AND I wouldn’t get to meet Garofolo or Behar. In short, I was really annoyed with Rivers and her anger that really didn’t make sense to me.

But those days are gone. My crush on Garofolo isn’t the stuff of grudge-holding and Joan Rivers probably had a lot of pent-up anger for many good reasons. Nobody deserved the horrible death that she had at the end–too sudden, too tragic. I pray that today she finds some peace.

All comedy comes from pain. Perhaps that is true. And while Rivers faced more than her share of pain, she often chose to laugh through the anger and perhaps that is a good legacy for Joan to leave with us.

So long, Joan. May your anger now also pass away so that you can rest in peace in the arms of God. And may God bring comfort to her family and peace to all who found the brusque end of a Joan Rivers tirade.

Why People Hate Catholics and Others in the Pro-Life Movement

Perhaps you haven’t heard of the story of the teacher who was dismissed in Montana from a Catholic School for having a child out of wedlock.

It seems there is a morals clause in her contract to uphold Catholic teaching and in that instance the superintendent felt he had no choice but to dismiss her.

Several of my colleagues have thought this could have been handled better. Deacon Greg Kandra has a great take on this today in which he cited the need for the diocese to support her in a variety of ways and yet still uphold the right to terminate her as a teacher. The latter part of that I vehemently disagree with the good deacon, but he’s at least making an effort to be charitable.

I’m calling for the Superintendent to resign because he has failed to uphold three central Catholic principles:

1) It Violates Our Pro-life Principles: How is this decision pro-life? It isn’t. Which violates Catholic teaching in a variety of ways. He has places a pregnant women in danger of being in poverty and at risk of choosing an abortion over bringing her baby to term. He’s also failing to care for a child and mother beyond term and at this point even with pre-natal care. In short, he’s cut her off from her source of money and health care.

2) It Violates Our Call to Love: How is this a loving response? It is not. Which violates Catholic teaching by not responding to sin with love. As Deacon Greg notes:

…though she has violated her terms of the contract does not mean we abrogate our responsibility as Catholic Christians. To that end, we are going to pay Mary Jane the severance required by the terms of her contract. But we are also going to go beyond that. We will continue to pay her health care up to the time of her delivery. We will also work to help her find employment, so that she can fulfill her obligations to the life she is bringing into the world. None of this is required of us in our contract with her. But we are doing this, as I indicated, out of Christian charity and out of our support for the most precious gift of all, the gift of life.
It is our sincere wish that in taking these actions, our school will serve as a witness to the world, standing up in defense of the unborn and in support of women making this most difficult choice. It is important that these mothers know they are not alone.
Discussing this among parents and faculty, again and again people have said that this is a teachable moment. But what, exactly, do we want to teach?

We wish to teach LOVE.
I also find it interesting that the MALE chancellor could have gotten a woman pregnant and hid that fact and not a word would have been said. But that’s a whole other column.

3) It Violates Our Call to Mercy: Which the POPE reminds us is the CENTRAL teaching upon which our entire faith rests. Mercy, Mercy and more Mercy. Guess someone missed that memo.

On a personal note, my 7th grade teacher got pregnant after her husband had left her and she began a new relationship. She was not married to the father and indeed, she lived in fear of being fired when she discovered that she was expecting. In his wisdom, the Pastor of my church at the time, supported her and allowed her to keep her job. One would ask “How did the students and parents respond?” They responded with love and care for a new child in the parish and great concern for the teacher.

I’d also say that I once heard the story of a parent who brought her 15 year old daughter to her pastor and told him “Well, she’s gotten herself pregnant, Father!” (which is an interesting term to begin with–it’s not like she acted alone in getting pregnant!) What was the pastor’s response?

“CONGRATULATIONS! That’s great!”

The mother nearly blew a gasket. And the priest pulled her aside and told her something very wise. “Look, we all know she made a mistake. And we’ll hold her accountable for that. But right now she cannot look at this child as a burden, because she will treat that child as something unwanted and burdensome for the rest of that child’s life. It will be unloved and unwanted and YOU will end up having to care for that child. Right now, we need to show her love and mercy and go back to her and say ‘Let’s go make plans for the Baptism!'”

Amen! And that’s what should have been the response here. Two things should happen. One is that the teacher should have been retained out of mercy for her and her baby. Two is that the community should have worked together to support this woman under the mantra of “We all make mistakes” and now we have to live with our mistakes with love that can always solve any situation that we may be in. We come to God sinful, sorrowful and yet, hopeful as forgiven people.

This was a teachable moment. And the superintendent chose the wrong lesson to teach. His lesson actually violates 3 Catholic principles. Perhaps he should be publicly shamed 3 times as much?

But that wouldn’t be very forgiving, now would it?

There’s a great scene from my favorite TV show, The West Wing where a politician is looking to shame the President’s chief of staff for his past use of alcohol and drugs. It was a mean-spirited approach used to gain political capital. Here’s a clip:

Superintendent Patrick Haggarty…”YOU ARE KILLING THE PRO-LIFE MOVEMENT, CATHOLIC SCHOOLS AND FRANKLY, MY FAITH THAT GOOD AND LOVING PEOPLE STILL EXIST IN THE WORLD.”

By the way, does anybody have an address for this mother, I’d like to send her $50 that I can’t afford because unlike you, Mr. Haggerty, I’m OK with being a bit uncomfortable while upholding my principles.

This is why people hate us. This is why some of my students won’t darken the door of Campus Ministry and I have to bend over backwards in order to get them to trust me and believe that I won’t have a judgmental attitude about them. This is why people assume that Catholics are right-wing nutters (which is different from being conservative or republican) who are fundamentalists and non-negotiable in their dealings with others that they consider sinners.

THIS is why.

One last note: I wonder what the Diocese’s pregnancy crisis centers think about all this. He’s just made their job ten times harder.

Canonizing the Council

A few years ago I had a discussion with a colleague about the spirit of Vatican II. He noted:

“Perhaps they should admit that this wasn’t an ecumenical council. It was just a local council and therefore the changes that the council prescribed do not have to be followed?”

Now this person stated it as a question, but he was technically giving ascent to the idea.

The announcement yesterday that Pope Francis will canonize both Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII is clearly an attempt to not merely canonize these two men but also to get beyond the different factions that resulted after the council and to promote the need for us to continue to live in dynamic tension with each other.

The NY Times said:

Alberto Melloni, the director of the John XXIII Center in Bologna, Italy, said Francis was holding to the pattern of promoting John, popular among liberals, by pairing him with a pope more popular among conservatives. Mr. Melloni said soon after John’s death in 1963, a campaign to have him acclaimed a saint during the Vatican Council was countered by the conservative wing of the church, which soon after opened the canonization process for Pius XII, a staunch anti-Communist who led the church during World War II.

“John XXIII is the father of Vatican II, and to canonize him is to canonize the council as such and its intention of renewal and unity,” Mr. Melloni said. “But the Vatican is also taking into consideration the tension and sometimes harsh debate that arose around the council, and so they have remained faithful to the idea of linking John XXIII with someone else.” Pairing the popes “also balances a very long canonization process with an incredibly accelerated procedure,” he added. John Paul II will become a saint only nine years after his death.

Pope Francis is indeed trying to provide “a little something for everyone” or in this case perhaps a big something. But I think he’s also trying to remind those who might disagree that Vatican II is legitimate.

And that it’s not going away. And that many reforms of Vatican II have not yet been realized.

And that the two most prominent Popes of the Second Vatican Council are now saints–that seems to speak volumes about the council.

I’m just a bit too young to understand the widespread change that formed in the church as a result of Vatican II. But I have seen the divisive factions that form as a result of this. It reminds me a lot of Isaac and Ishmael.

“They came together to bury their father.”

And now we must come together to honor the saints, to honor those people who built our history. And for better or for worse, we honor those who we sometimes disagree with, who didn’t always get things right but who were determined to stay the course and to work through differences in love for the church, the people of God.

The canonization of both Popes is just one more call to mercy from Pope Francis. It is a call to factions to release resentments that they hold against each other and to come together to celebrate the church’s rich history since the council. It was started by a liberalizing reformer and it was led post council for a long time by a doctrinal conservative.

And yet, the church lives! It may be a bit battered and bruised at times, but it doesn’t quite ever sleep. It celebrates it’s dedication to justice as it critiques itself from time to time and calls on others to inform the church of where she’s got it wrong and more importantly, where it is doing things right.

The Pope hopes to call all of us into a new way of being church, one that is not liberal or conservative, but rather merciful. Mercy calls each one of us to remember that we indeed need to love those whom we don’t always care for because they are just as likely to be saints as we are. Most people’s hearts are in the right place. No matter where we stand on any number of issues. Highlighting that mercy, brings us into the peace that God offers to us.

So let’s pray for peace and compromise and for love of one another. So that we in our desire to love can too become servants of God and ultimately be called into the beauty of God’s kingdom. Amen

First Day at School Memories

While many of my friends are sending their kids off to their first day of school and my wife heads in to her first day as the new after-school coordinator at her school, I’m filled with first day of school memories.

Of course, there’s nothing like that first day of school, for the first time. Mine was Kindergarten and my mother walked me to school which was one block from my house. We unexpectedly found my teacher in the hallway and my mother introduced me to her. Miss Suess took me by the hand and we walked to our classroom together and Mom went away. I was excited and anxious at the same time. What was going to happen next?

It was only a half day and I was in the afternoon class. I got switched to the morning class for some reason half way through the year and learned about getting up early.

Each year, we went school clothes shopping and I struggled to cover my books on that first day.

That first day though may very well have been my favorite memory of a first day at school, equalled only by a return to college each year.

Two worse first day memories come to mind:

The first was high school. I walked into my school and was excited. I was off to find my homeroom and was there pretty early. As I past the cafeteria smiling, I saw a group of Seniors sitting at a table. I sighed as I walked past and then I heard them:

“Duh…let’s see who I can make friends with! Stupid, freshman.”

Clearly high school was going to be a problem.

The second was middle school. I was coming into our parish school after going to public school from kindergarten until 6th grade. It started out well. I had come in three days late after a bout with some kind of illness. Mrs. Wasp my teacher, introduced herself and then looked to find me a seat.

Clearly, I was the new guy, but I was known to some in the school because I was an altar boy in the parish. One guy, Claudio, had began spreading rumors about me early and often. We had gotten into an altercation once after a bit of name calling. Apparently, he objected to me bringing up his mother in a foul way and this was his revenge.

Recess came and we played punchball–a kind of baseball game. Someone launched one far down the third base line and I raced over but it was well past me. The ball crawled under the fence before I could get to it. We weren’t allowed to climb over.

“HAYES!” Claudio yelled. “YOU OWE ME A NEW BALL!” He may have pushed me after that. What was worse was that he told all the girls that I stupidly let the ball roll under the fence. I saw someone passing by and got their attention and they retrieved the ball for us which Claudio took credit for later. But damage done. Worst two years of my life was that school and I didn’t look forward to a single day there.

But as I look to our freshman and see their excitement and yes, the jitters that still come with a new place, I recall my own college years as amazing. It fills me with much joy to be a small part of their experience and I hope that these years are a blessing to them.

Today, let’s be grateful for first day experiences, both good and bad. For even the bad ones make us more sensitive to others who may be struggling. The start of something new reminds me of God’s continual wiping away the slate of our sins and giving us a renewed chance to start again.

So as you start again…be grateful for the chance to start over and to make all that you can out of this, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less. Amen.

Mercy, Freely Given and Received

During a recent process meditation that I was participating in with the students here, I was struck by the idea of mercy. Deacon Greg recently posted that Francis’ papacy is summed up in just one word: mercy.

And so I have been contemplating mercy and I realized that I can often forgive people pretty easily, or at least after a short while when the initial sting wears off. Even people that I have held grudges against, sometimes for extended periods of time, I can find myself wanting to forgive them. At minimum, I have the desire FOR the desire to forgive, even if I don’t do that particularly well.

But asking for forgiveness is another matter. It seems that I often just hope that lousy things I do to others I often hope just will float away. And perhaps those resentments need healing, need repairing–or at least need admitting.

Perhaps fear is at the heart of this. Because fear keeps us in desolation thinking there is no hope for forgiveness. And don’t we, in our deepest fears, admit that we fear that God will not forgive us. But in essence, God has ALREADY forgiven us! So our worries are simply wasted energy.

And we waste more energy by withholding our need to be forgiven by others, not merely by God. We fear that they too will not forgive us–and what anxiety that might indeed provoke!

But accepting our plea for forgiveness is not up to us, nor does it reflect on us. It is up to the other to receive our request and to give it assent or denial. The truth is that a denial says much more about their hurt and their ability to be forgiving than it does about us who ask for the forgiveness. If someone doesn’t want to forgive me, then I have no power to make them. But I have done my part in the asking.

And this is what God asks of us in confession. We need to ask in order to feel forgiven–to experience forgiveness that is always freely offered. To remind ourselves of what it is like to be forgiven, so that we too might offer forgiveness to someone else, perhaps someone who we might think doesn’t deserve forgiveness.

Because after all, in the dark places in our souls, we often feel that what we do is in fact, unforgivable and God reminds us that this is balderdash!

Pope Francis is continuing to offer mercy —to the poor, to those on the margins, to the abused, to all. Mercy is a tone, if you will. It’s an attitude that needs to be cultivated by each one of us. To be merciful, we indeed need to have significant experiences of being forgiven. It’s there that we have much to learn about how we might enter into the experience of being more forgiving and how we might be more open to asking for forgiveness from others and from God.

That tone, where we come more humbly, less sure of ourselves and more aware of the times we don’t always get it right.

Because in that tone we find God.

Forgiving and loving us.

And calling us to love one another…a bit better than we think we can.

Can You Love Someone Who Tells You to Drop Dead?

A Jewish woman who survived the concentration camps tells the story of the train ride to Auschwitz. She was with her little brother…and she looked down at him on the train and noticed that he didn’t have any shoes on.

And she screamed at him, “What is WRONG with you? Can’t you keep you things together? You’re so stupid!”

Well, it turns out that those were the last words she would ever say to him. They arrived in Auschwitz moments later and were separated and she never saw him again because he did not survive.

And she made a vow to try to never say anything nasty to anyone because she didn’t want those to be the last things she ever said to them.

And it is a similar story that we hear in the Gospel today.

We have a son…who says to his father “Give me my inheritance now!” Which essentially means “Drop dead!”

And we don’t know what the father says in return, but I imagine that he says something like “Take your money and get out! And don’t come back.”

And perhaps those are the last words that he ever said to his son, who he presumes to be dead. Could the father be regretting what was said?

But then, there his son is! The father catches sight of him and runs to embrace him and then throws the biggest party you can even imagine. Because his son, that ungrateful, ne’er do well, carousing, wasteful son –has come back home! Who could ask for anything more!?

Scripture scholars often say that the story is pretty straightforward. We are the Prodigal Son and the Father is God. And God forgives us no matter how far we stray and rejoices when we come home.

And that’s true enough.

But in this story, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who are upset because Jesus hangs out with tax collectors–who are the lowest of the low. They’re not the IRS guys we know. They’re more like slumlords. Nobody likes a slumlord: Their tenants hate them because they don’t do repairs, the neighborhood hates them because the place is falling apart, the government hates them because they don’t pay their taxes. Nobody likes a slumlord and nobody likes a tax collector.

And so the point of the story is not so much how we are forgiven by God. But rather it’s a challenge to us to ask ourselves if we can forgive as the Father does? Can we forgive those who wish we would drop dead? Can we forgive those who waste our resources? Can we forgive that one colleague who annoys you? And what’s more after knowing how much of a louse that person is to you—and after you may have cast them off and said that you’re not going to be bothered with them—can you not only forgive them but rejoice over them coming back into your life?

Can you throw a party for the person who loves you the least?

Well, we know two things: one is the older brother cannot. And two is that God always does. The older brother tells the father that he shouldn’t throw the prodigal a party but rather he wants a party for himself. But he goes even further and says “You’ve never thrown a party for me and I work all day long and do everything I’m supposed to! You throw a party for this, this SON of yours. I’m your son, not this guy! Now I want what’s coming to me! Why don’t you just drop dead!”

Who does that sound like? These brothers are not all that different, the theme of their life is “drop dead.”

And the Father…this is a man who has experienced the renewal of his life. He was hopeless and somehow God made a way out of no way. His son came home forgetting that his father has cast him off. And in this new life of seeing his son return home has caused him to rejoice and he can’t understand why this older brother doesn’t see that.

“I’ll be dead soon enough and all I have is yours. But tonight! We eat and drink!”

Can we celebrate or even attend a party for someone who we don’t think deserves a celebration?

It would be like throwing a party for the guy who gets promoted instead of you? The younger sister who gets married before you do? The boss who denigrates your decisions but leads the company into profit? The professor who failed you who becomes a Dean? The person who breaks your heart!

It’s not that bad things happen to good people that test our faith, it’s often that good things happen to bad people …and then we become the older brother.

And the truth of the gospel here is not that we passively see God’s forgiveness of both brothers but that we ask ourselves if we too can forgive those who have trespassed against us. So that we may not be led into temptation but delivered from all that is evil.

Because evil wants us not to rejoice. Evil wants to keep us angry, bitter and resentful.

And folks, that is no way to live. And Lent is all about casting things off–and maybe tonight God is calling us to cast off resentments.

And so we come here tonight with our resentments, with the people on our minds who annoy us, who we often find to be unforgivable. And we try to move beyond where we most often find ourselves, in a sea of resentment and try see if our hearts can stretch much farther than we think. To find a place where we can cast off resentments and rejoice in reconciliation. Like the father, whose words rejoice over two sons who once said they wish he would hurry up and die.

In our lives we may have often been the prodigal son and we may often have been the older brother. But tonight, Jesus calls us to be the father.

And if we can be the father may our last words to everyone we know, even those we don’t think much of, be words of love and joy and peace.

So that we might die without resentments but rejoice in a reconciliation that leads us all into eternal life.

Conversations with My Molester…a New Play

Michael Mack, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest has written a play based on his visit to the priest who molested him after finding out that he lived a mere hour away. Mack showed up on his doorstep. The NY Times has more.

The result is “Conversations With My Molester: A Journey of Faith,” which had its debut last year at the Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University to mark the 10th anniversary of the Globe series. Now, Mr. Mack, 56, is reviving the nonfiction drama at the Paulist Center, a Catholic community center in downtown Boston that is dedicated to social justice.

On Friday night, about 50 people attended the opening, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with Mr. Mack and the Rev. Rick Walsh of the Paulist Center. The play and subsequent discussion showed how the priest scandal, stemming from events that took place decades ago, continues to haunt the lives of the victims and reverberate throughout the church.

The Archdiocese of Boston is still reeling from the many discoveries of sexual abuse by priests in their diocese. More church closings are happening because of now poor attendance and financial ruin, caused mostly by the scandal. We wonder if the church will ever recover here.

But the Paulist Center seems to be taking a good first step. Just steps from the Boston Common on Park Street, the play resonated with many in the audience. The realism in this non-fiction drama cuts to the core and covers even the most reviling situations that the abused encounter…the fact that the abused often abuse themselves:

One of the most unsettling moments of the performance was when Mr. Mack revealed that as a camp counselor when he was in high school, he had come close to seducing a vulnerable, 8-year-old in whom he recognized himself.

“You lean closer, his hair a drift of baby shampoo,” Mr. Mack said as he acted out the scene. “Your face so close to the heat of his cheek you smell his breath, like apples.” At that point, the images of his own molesting came rushing back, and he stopped himself before anything happened.

That admission — that he had almost re-enacted the very crime perpetrated against him — drew particular praise from the audience. And it led to a general discussion of one of the little-acknowledged effects of molesting, that some victims become perpetrators.

Yikes! That is a very real and horrifying admission. Blessings on Mr Mack’s new work and on the Paulist Center for having a lot of guts to show this in the Catholic Church building.

11 Years Later…Can We Forgive?

I watched much of the memorial ceremony of that hateful day of 11 years ago this morning. A somber day to be sure, for me. I lost two good friends that day and my wife lost her cousin. Friends who worked downtown didn’t know when the funerals would stop as so many of their colleagues were now dead.

This morning however, I’ve noticed a much different feel surrounding the events of the tragic day. Our local firehouse brought out their rig and hoisted a flag from the top of it’s ladder. It was almost prideful instead of a memorial. Many went about their business on campus today without much fanfare or sadness. I forget that the youngest students on this campus were 7 years old when this tragedy occurred and that would be like asking me to remember the events surrounding Watergate or Vietnam or even the ’77 blackout which is a distant memory.

When I talk with those who can remember the subject of possible forgiveness and moving on always comes up. I always note how horrible and hateful the actions of the terrorists were. I remember hearing first about my friend Debbie, who died on the Shanksville flight after the terrorists killed her. Days later, an old college friend, Tom, was a firefighter and he was lost forever in the tower’s ashes.

And I note how I was angry. I wanted revenge and I wanted them all dead.

But I also note how in hindsight, I see how that was locking me into the very same hatred that the terrorist breed in their camps. A hatred that can only be evil and filled with revenge. A hatred that keeps me from loving and a hatred that is far from God.

Some say that only God can forgive and that it’s not our job to do so. But we pray each week to God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Easier said than done, for sure. But yet, can we have enough faith in ourselves that we can believe that our heart can indeed stretch much farther than we think it is capable of?

We can forgive. It is a first step in a healing process and begs us to take a step towards not letting hatred and evil continue to have a hold on us. We all can forgive and are called to do so.

Reconciliation, however, is another matter. That takes years of hard work. That takes a changing of heart on all sides. And sometimes we think that is also impossible. And sometime it is.

How many of us wish we had one more chance to say “I’m sorry” to a parent who is now long gone. We wish we could heal a broken relationship, but it is now too late.

Reconciliation needs forgiveness to even begin a process of tying us all back together as one fabric of humanity, where justice is not mistaken for cheap revenge and were hatred can no longer have a place at our tables. Why? Because we will have decided to welcome all to the table and to work out our differences.

When we Catholics look to our altar this is the vision we see of God, who forgives us without measure and resentment and without the need for keeping score. It’s a perfect vision of forgiveness, one we’re called to but might not ever reach. And yet God offers it to us anyway.

God loves the world and enters it and experiences all of our pain even to death. God cannot bear to be apart from us. God cannot live with divisions. And because of that desire for reconciliation with us, it costs God dearly.

God dies for us. God would rather experience a human death rather than separation from a people that often doesn’t honor him all that well for his majesty and creative love.

And so we must not settle for the status quo of revenge and must continue to move slowly towards reconciliation–repairing what has been broken from a hateful past. It will be a long journey and I’m sure that I will be an old man if we ever reach it–if I am able to see it at all. But I hope to glance at small measures of it while I am still breathing. And I hope to gather hope from it.

I’ve come to a sense of forgiveness over the years. I can indeed let go of my hatred for those who killed my friends and hope that terrorism will soon be replaced by love and conversation. I cannot become what I know is simply a perpetuation of hateful desires. I need to move in a different way, that just might call others into a more loving place.

Can we forgive? We’d better. The consequences of not doing so, will just perpetuate a cycle of violence for our future.

And nobody should have to live like that again.

But can’t we all want to love in a way that ends violence forever?