All We Need Is Just a Little…

Patience..

I need it more than ever with stubborn and strong people who are set in their ways and think they know everything.  I need it when, I disagree with people about caregiving and when matters of beauracracy take center stage.

I went to confession some time ago and I summed up my sins as honestly as I could.  A former colleague once remarked that most of us have only one main sin.  And that most of our sins stem from this seminal sin.  For me, impatience tops that list.  I get impatient and then get angry with a staff member or a student.  I get impatient and lash out at people.  I get impatient even for good things like justice and rush a decision that would be better thought out more carefully.

I especially have little patience for those I most love.  I expect more from them often and my expectations often bite me squarely on the tuckus.

My confessor, a good one, remarked that this was an honest admission of my faults and then asked me a question:

“Mike, what is one of your biggest strengths?”

I paused for a brief moment and then said with little hesitation…

“Patience.”

I am an incredibly patient spiritual director.  One directee once remarked, “How do you calmly sit there and not scream at me when you listen to all the stupid things I do over and over?”  

I’m the guy who you want sitting next to you when you have an unruly child on an airplane, because I’ll entertain them with videos of my dog until they calm down.

One my staff members routinely praises me for my gift of being incredibly patient.

So at times, our largest sin, is also one of our biggest strengths.  And Ignatius would remind us that we are able to overcome the enemy with the cunning and shrewd gift of our own gifts.  

And we need nothing more other than God’s love and God’s grace which gave us these gifts in the first place.

May God today bring us all awareness of this gift and more ever more readily.  And allow us to persevere when we think our gifts are lacking.

Ignatius Comes with Stress

So I’ve had a stressful few months.  Most recently my father, who is 88, had to be intubated after having trouble breathing.  He’s bounced back nicely, but not after a lot of family stress.  

It’s made the prospect of hiring two new employees a lot less stressful.  

But when stress comes, Ignatius becomes my constant companion. When it overwhelms me, Iggy taps me on the shoulder and reminds me to listen to myself and to calm down, to pray before I speak.

Ignatius reminds me that we need head and heart, and that reading about situations and using great spiritual writers like Joyce Rupp, are both healing and rejuvenating. He even points me to hospital meditation chapels and pamphlets that I would readily point others towards.

He also reminds me in Examen of how I am doing and to enjoy time with others instead of stressing about things.  To appreciate the well-meaning efforts of others, even when you disagree with them.  

And he reminds me that prayer is more important than ever.  To pray as I can, not as I can’t.  Some days the rosary is all I can muster, where the church gives me words when I am all talked out.  Other days, I am chatty with Jesus to the point of his patient listening, modeling for me the patience I need for the number of people who need me.

But I also need a place to be the Pieta.  To simply rest and do nothing.  To be God’s child and Mary’s and to sit with love’s perfection.  

Looking carefully at these days is Ignatius’ constant call to me. And to make a firm purpose of amendment to be just a bit more for others.  To find where God calls me to be, even to places I don’t want to go, but need to go anyway.

Caring for All Creation

imagesBack a few weeks ago, we decided to pray outside for our weekday mass honoring the words of Pope Francis’ new encyclical Ladatio Si.  It was lovely but I also noticed one thing:

It was hot.

In the last five years or so, I have found it difficult to be outside because the heat is often too much for me.  Now hear me carefully, I love to be outside.  But I’m finding it more and more difficult because the temperature is much higher and the humidity much more unbearable.

If this is global warming, I’m not playing this game.   And anyone who denies that we play a part in this each and every day, is simply kidding themselves.

I’m honored that the Pope has written such an amazing call to action for the global community.  Hear that! The Pope is challenging all people, not just Catholic people, to care more diligently for the earth.

Our difficulty in taking up this challenge seriously has much to do with an ethical and cultural decline which has accompanied the deterioration of the environment. Men and women of our postmodern world run the risk of rampant individualism, and many problems of society are connected with today’s self-centred culture of instant gratification. We see this in the crisis of family and social ties and the difficulties of recognizing the other. Parents can be prone to impulsive and wasteful consumption, which then affects their children who find it increasingly difficult to acquire a home of their own and build a family. Furthermore, our inability to think seriously about future generations is linked to our inability to broaden the scope of our present interests and to give consideration to those who remain excluded from development. Let us not only keep the poor of the future in mind, but also today’s poor, whose life on this earth is brief and who cannot keep on waiting. Hence, “in addition to a fairer sense of intergenerational solidarity there is also an urgent moral need for a renewed sense of intragenerational solidarity”

So what is that to all of us mean?  It means that we have a responsibility for the earth. And in celebrating stewardship we are called to love the earth as St Francis did and as Pope Francis does. Smartly, Pope Francis links this global crisis additionally to a care for the poor.  How many live in poor environmental conditions because of our unwillingness to reduce our dependence on the comforts of our developed world?  How many places have no drinking water or minimally no clean drinking water?

Today I will call myself to consider the environment more intentionally and make changes in my own life that will be good for both me and the world.  I’m trying to eat less meat, recycle as much as possible and reduce my driving as much as I can.  I’m sure they’ll be more to do–but for now this is a good start.

So let us pray for all those who are living in less than adequate conditions and face the world each day a little poorer because of our consumption. Let us pray for more sustainable solutions so that all might live a bit more freely in peace and security.

Putting Skin on the Ideas of Jesus

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Sometime ago I was single and out with friends. Two young women came over to “chat up” my friend Dan and I. I was wearing a Fordham sweatshirt and was a recent graduate. The two women in question were at Fordham for graduate school and we began a nice conversation.

Then Sean came over.

Our friend Sean was introduced and he was asked if he was also a Fordham graduate. His response was:

“Oh no, no. I went to Iona. But I like the idea of Fordham.”

At that point the two young ladies about faced and left.

“Way to go, Sean!” I replied.

But since that time I’ve heard a number of people use the “I like the idea of…” phrase and I’d never really understood what the heck that even means!

And then I realized that there is great comfort in ideas. We don’t have to fully engage beyond the idea itself to embrace the idea in all of its fulfillment. We can keep ideas at bay, but once they take flesh, they become more than an idea.

They become enfleshed in our lives and they shape us.

The incarnation is the central point of connection with this er…idea. God cannot bear to be away from us and so he requires the Godself to enter humanity, to experience all of who and what we are. God becomes human, so that we might be with God forever.

The idea of humanity was not enough for God. God enfleshed himself in our humanity.

These days, we hear a lot about the idea of Jesus, maybe even the idea of God. “Jesus was a cool dude.” “What would Jesus do?” The abstract idea of God, or even of a distant historical Jesus seems palatable to many. But the actual flesh and blood of Jesus, the one who DIED for the love of the entire world, the one who loved and loves seemingly unloveable people…that seems too much to take for many.

Pope Francis in his New Year’s message talked about how so many people find it easy to divorce themselves from the church, while holding onto their comfortable and distant idea of God.

Without the Church, Jesus Christ ends up as an idea, a moral teaching, a feeling. Without the Church, our relationship with Christ would be at the mercy of our imagination, our interpretations, our moods.

In short, we try to make God in our image.

And instead, God makes us into His image and reminds us of that by entering that humanity, giving us His entire self.

A friend often says, “The world would be a better place, if everyone would just listen to me.” We laugh, of course, but then, I always think about how God must say this all the time. The renowned Jesuit, Bill O’Malley once put what he thought God must think of us crudely:

“Dumb bastards, they just don’t get it.”

You see, God reminds us that we are not just abstract ideas. That the church is not, and cannot be abstract. The church must be a place where we meet each other and relate to one another. And when we do this, we find God even amongst a two or three gathered.

And if we can’t do this with our friends and relations, well then, what chance do the poor have? Or are they just an idea to grapple with but not to hold onto and embrace? God calls us to put on their flesh and understand their lives just as God understands our lives.

Today, may we not be satisfied with ideas, but rather enflesh those ideas in action, rooted in love. Amen.

#Whynot?

My dear friend Fran blogged today about New Year’s Resolutions and reminded us to not merely make resolutions, but to ask why we don’t make resolutions?

For example, “Why don’t I work out 6 days a week?” If I really want to lose weight, I need to watch my diet. So why don’t I do that with vigor and what stops me from doing so?

It’s a great example of Ignatian spiritual practice at its best. We can’t just merely notice things in our past or even see where we should be headed. Rather we need to make a firm purpose of amendment and then to ask ourselves what presents itself to us instead of what we should choose, instead of making a better choice.

We can go even deeper with our longings. While we should “bloom where we are planted” we also have to be brave enough to ask ourselves where and what we are doing and if that really is leading us towards the Magis, the more in our lives.

So this year, I pray that we can all do this. To look at the good and bad that enters our lives and remind ourselves that God is within all of this. In each choice we make are we really making a move towards Magis, even if the larger choices can’t be attained instantaneously? What unhealthy attachments might we have that prevents us from even looking at these choices? Fear? Apathy? Comfort? All are not bad in and of themselves, but they may prevent one from being more, being better.

So today, let us pray for open eyes as we look for Magis and what turns us away from it and allow God to open our hearts a bit more too, so that we can be closer to who we are called to be by God.

Fran started the hashtag #whynot. So let’s all think about that and ask questions going forward about why we do and don’t do things!

To Live, With Risk

I’m not a missionary. That is clear. I look at people here in El Salvador and admire them, but I know myself enough to know that I am not called to this work long term. I am instead a “provider of experiences” for young, idealistic college students, many of whom are indeed going to be called to this work.

But that’s not to say that this is not a transformative experience for me, nor do I not feel the call to do more for the poor in my own life. To be more conscious of what I buy and what I do. To be more grateful and to give more of what I have and earn in a very life-giving career. To offer myself more to my students and my colleagues and to the many that I often avoid and don’t offer myself to frequently enough.

While I’m not called to risk in the way that many of the people we’ve met here have been, I am nonetheless called to at least be more risky in order to touch the lives of students and my own more regularly. A good question for me to ask myself is: “Who did you risk for today?” Or even, “How did you stretch your comfort zone today?” Or more tenderly stated, “Who does God call you to stretch the boundaries of your heart to and for this day?”

This of course, does not come without much discernment. To be called to one thing or one person means that we are also not called to another. What are the evil spirits in my life that lead me away from my call. We did a good deal of discernment as a staff recently and came away with some good full discernment decisions. But there’s always more to do.

And always more to risk.

Oscar Romero knew this well. He knew that he was going to be killed. And he went to say a mass that he didn’t even have to say that day. It was a celebratory mass for a journalist and the death squad leaders planned his cold and calculated death. Yet, Romero went a celebrated mass joyfully, knowing the risks and living in the freedom of his call anyway. The freedom to live as he was called by God to be, come what may.

Today I pray that I have the courage to risk a bit more freely. To live as I am, but as all that I am. Nothing more, but most importantly, nothing less.

So Lord, keep me risky…to stay awake for the moments you call me to be more than I think I can be.

To risk and not count the cost,
to seek and not ask for rewards or honor. To give and find grace waiting there for me and for it to be enough.

And to be all that I am, for you alone.

Amen

Those Who Restore Dignity

I’m writing today from San Salvador on an immersion trip with my students. We’ve been here for three days now and it’s been fantastic and a nice stretch for me. I speak just a little Spanish but enough to grab some phrases here or there. About half of our students are fluent speakers (out of the 9 women here with myself and my Jesuit Colleague). So I’ve felt like my Spanish should be more proficient…I haven’t made it a priority and should make a better effort when I return. I’m getting better as I stay here and it reminds me how much immigrants have to work to learn English (a much more difficult language to master).

So this is an immersion trip. We spent out first day going to Centro Hogar/Programa Velasco, a day care center in a very poor part of town. We learned about how they care for the kids there but also how they’ve started some women’s empowerment work there as well.

We visited the homes of two people who have benefitted from the work of the center accompanied by two of the workers, both former students from Santa Clara’s study abroad program “Casa de Solidaridad”. They lived in very meager homes and their whole families lived there. This is clearly what poverty looks like and often we Americans, know nothing of it.

I’ve spent time in Nicaragua as many know and I mentioned to the students that the poverty there was about the same although the main area of the city looked a bit better here than say, Managua does in my opinion. It’s interesting to watch these students see this with their own eyes after I have already had my eyes opened to such poverty in the past.

Even with such poverty, people have shown us great hospitality. They have learned through the various programs that they have been part of that they are not “nothing”. The real work here is not ending poverty, but rather it is restoring dignity. We will probably always have poverty here, but teaching people that despite poverty, they are still children of God is indeed a great stride forward. Often people believe that God has cursed them and that is why they are in poverty, so dissuading them from that idea is paramount and the folks here who have worked for this are indeed amazing.

I’ll be back tracking on our adventures for a bit. So stay tuned for more. But know that the presence of God is here and it is rich indeed.

And so please pray for us as we go forth to experience more, to be with those in poverty and to try to see the other as ourselves. Amen.

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When I Look at the Cross

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My dear friend, Fr John Cusick, invited his Facebook friends to meditate on what they see when they look at the Cross of Jesus.

And so I have spent some time in silence contemplating the scene at Calvary. And have come away with many words rushing at me: love, fear, sacrifice, for me?, commitment, horror, pain, glorious.

But I think what I most see when I look to the cross is an example of self sacrifice. I see what I am called to be. I literally see the body of Christ.

And then the questions come.

Can I be someone who sacrifices this much for others? How about even a quarter as much? Can I do that while being silent and not complaining or whining? Can I give to those I have not personally encountered?

How about forgiving? Can I be forgiving of those who have done horrible things to me, far less than what people did to Jesus? Could I forgive friends when they have not been there for me? Could I look on those who revile me with love? Could I forgive a best friend who denies even knowing me?

How about offering? Could I continue to offer myself even when I am too tired and weary? Could I promise the good thief that I would always remember him? Could I give someone hope when things seemed hopeless? In the face of death could I have enough faith that God would take care of me? When it feels like God has abandoned me could I offer my spirit to God, letting go of my own humanity?

When I look to the cross, I see the body of Christ and then I see how far I am from it. How afraid I am to come nearer to the body of Christ and how I need 40 days of Lent to even take only one more step towards it.

When I look to the cross I see those that sacrifice their own lives in Central America, these days especially in Honduras, where death is all around. I see those who have lost their lives in the struggle for justice as the Jesuits in El Salvador did along with Archbishop Romero. I see those crucified again in places like Libya and Afghanistan. I see the poor in Africa with ribs showing begging for food and clean water as Jesus says “I thirst.”

In the cross, I see the commitment of married people who struggle to make ends meet and who stay together through it no matter what comes. They continue to get up again and again when they fall under the weight of what overwhelms them, but they continue on nonetheless together for this is what happens when you love too deeply.

The cross. When we love too radically, when we count everyone, when we forgive those who we don’t think deserve our forgiveness, when we offer more that we think we have to give….

When we stretch our hearts farther than we think they can go….

When I see the cross of Christ, I see the Body of Christ and it beckons me to become more than I am. It calls me to become all that I am, to give everything I have not just for those I love, but for all those I am called to love, or even love better.

It is this love that even defeats death, if we are brave enough to embrace the cross with all that we are.

Today, let us pray that we have enough patience and fortitude to love better than we think we can. Let us live and love with abandon so we might know what it is to be the Body of Christ. And may looking to the cross on this Good Friday be enough for us to become all that Christ calls us to be.

The God of Old Friend Surprises

I’ve been catching up with old friends since my students left me and while I usually have to come down off of the mountain top after a week with students this year I’ve had a few experiences after the trip that took me on a higher climb.

The first, of all things, was a funeral. My best friend’s 90 year old grandmother who we called “Oreo”, because her gray hair had a big spot of black right in the middle of her head died this week. Her funeral was moments after my students checked out so I was able to get there albeit in grubby clothes from the week’s service trip. She was an amazing woman who had a rough childhood and an amazing marriage for 68 years to her now grieving husband.

Sad, though it was, my friend told me one amazing story. In his grandmother’s final hours her roommate was another woman who was much younger but also awaiting the end of her life. My friend’s mother, Camille, sat by her mother as she began the final journey home and a man came over. He was the son of the younger, dying woman. He spoke broken English and was Hispanic. He looked and asked Camille, “Your mother?”

She replied, “Yes.”

He then pointed to the other bed and said “My mother.”

This was a “I know how you feel, my mom is also dying” communication.

Not long after this, Oreo passed on. The man comforted Camille and said “I’ll wait here with her.” While Camille went to fill out all the paperwork needed.

She returned and the man was still tree and not long after Camille returned, the man’ s mother also died. And so, Camille did the same waiting for him.

Beautiful. They have both attended the wakes of each other’s parent. Death somehow unites people across cultures and don’t think moms are not smiling.

On a more lighthearted note, I went to the Hockey game with my college bud and former radio colleague John McDermott and his son, Jack. John’s a great dad and he let Jack bring a friend along. Two well behaved kids who were great to be with. John was great to me in the business and even tried to persuade me to become the program director of the Catholic Channel on Sirius radio one time. A nice night catching up. We bag on each other often in a good natured way and for years I was clearly the foil that he and all our other mutual friends would ruthlessly rip on. I think it’s how I developed a thick skin and still retained my sensitivity for others. A great game capped by an overtime goal with one tick left on the clock also made it a very memorable night with an old friend in the cheap seats. He even treated! A blessing on your house, sir! John has also inspired me as he just completed the NYC marathon this past year and has gotten so much healthier. Gotta stay healthy for those three great kids, loving wife and two cool dogs!

We plan to solicit the NHL to change overtime rules. No more shootouts just one period of “endless overtime” and NO line changes. You put five guys out there and a goalie. Some caveats. You can rest one guy on the boards for two minutes (do you also rest a guy or take a power play opportunity if you’re the opposing coach?). You commit a penalty and you’re ejected. Now your team plays short handed for the rest of the game. Most of these ideas are John’s and I think they can be implemented. Shootouts are fun and dramatic but kind of anti-climatic. Hockey should be the antithesis of fast technology in this case. I can hear it now: “In the 92nd minute of overtime….still tied between the sabres and the devils at 3.”

My friends Jeff and Beth and Paul and Eric and Fr Dave Dwyer are also to be commended for letting me crash at their various places throughout the week. Jeff wen went the extra yard and chauffeured me around on my final day in the city after a tough day of service and situations. (The whole story is more than bloggable, but we’ll save it for down the road).

Who would have thought that my two favorite moments of this week would have been a funeral, getting locked out and hanging out with a guy who bags on me? But it was and there was God in the midst of it all, reminding me of the gift of good friends.

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