Harlem

Harlem has changed so much.
I remember friends
getting off Metro North commuter rail at 125th street
by mistake
and being told
that they should
get on the next train immediately.
A hulking fearsome figure
Looked out for them then.

Now, Harlem’s grand avenue looks
Much like the Times Square of old.
Character in it’s veins
And energy in it’s working class bones.

St Aloysius is here
And my students are working there
Among the small ones
Of a still mostly
African American community.
They teach them science and math
And play with pre schoolers
and I watch them come alive.

Harlem is alive with much life
And I pray it offers their children
Even more than they hoped for
And that my students are touched
By the students so much
That they look forward to Harlem
Where they can return
To have their hearts
Changed all over again.

Subway Prayers

I want to write a book of subway prayers. I know many people who tell me that the subway is their favorite place to pray and it was also one of mine.

Amid the crackling sparks of the rail
and the chatter
and the rumbles of each train
a certain peace can exist.
It is a quiet time
Even lonely
Although you are around millions.

But God breaks through
And brings others to me
And gratitude
And a realization that all humanity
Are beloved

I feel small and big
At the same time on the subway.
And I feel God’s immense creativity in
Each face I see,
The intersecting lines D to A, 4 to 2
linking the Bronx to the Battery
and Brooklyn to Queens
The elevated 7 train
that would often take me home
also brought me to
peace and joy
And groovy tunes
by Paul Melley and other friends.

Subway prayers
Are prayers of gratitude
For we are all the same on the subway.
Just people trying to make their way
Any way
They can.

It is here that we pray for
Students and colleagues
Friends and family
Dead grandmothers who we loved
And whose wakes and funerals
We traveled to on the rails.

Praying all the way
And finding them traveling with us
Along with the rest of the communion of saints.

Subway prayers
Do you pray them?
I miss them
And will be praying them
Today…
for you.

Others tell me

Seeing Jesus in the Bronx

I’m working with my students in the South Bronx at Mercy Center, which is an amazing place in the 2nd poorest income bracket in the US. They provide much for women and children, one of the many charisms of the Sisters of Mercy.

Our students are providing a winter camp for the young folks who come to Mercy Center after school. I worked in the after school program before and it was quite enriching.

I worked with Ramon yesterday, a seventh grader, who needs to learn the beatitudes. He was having a bit of trouble memorizing them, but he’s got most of them down now. I pray than he does well on his religion test today.

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Vince, (pictured above with Mary Kate from LeMoyne) one of my Canisius students was amazing yesterday teaching a science lesson with “pocketscopes” –small handheld magnifiers that you can put slides into. We looked at an eyebrow, a piece of skin and a clump of lint from someone’s pocket. If this med school thing doesn’t work out, Vince has got a great future as a science teacher.

Becky is also organizing the group well as our student leader. She really got people moving well and in the classroom setting, she is in her element. I think she’d make a great educational administrator one day and plan on telling her that today.

Kate also led our gym class and channelled her inner coach. Her roommate Hannah and I played four corner with the kids with Kate as the caller. We’d stomp our feet near her to try to confuse her but alas, I lost! I think Hannah won one of our games late in the day, much to the children’s chagrin.

I don’t have many pictures because of restrictions on photos of the kids, but yesterday was also the Three King’s Day, a big deal in the Latino community. Fr. John Bucki, Sj the director of Campus Ministry at LeMoyne donned a Three Kings outfit. I think it’s him, no? I’ve been in a bunch of meetings with Fr Bucki, before, but I’ve gotten to know even more why he was so beloved at Canisius where he held my post for 9 years. Each day I grow more thankful that he left this place that I now, am responsible for in good shape. Great guy and a great Jesuit.

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I visit the Harlem site tomorrow and the Brooklyn site Thursday.

Sleep is Precious

Lord, today I remember those who have no place to sleep.

Or those who sleep in less than comfortable surroundings.

I’m traveling with my students in my hometown of NYC today. The place we’re staying is an old rectory, perhaps a convent. With rickety box springs and futons for our beds.

I may have gotten 3 hours of sleep and not deep sleep. I have sleep apnea, so I know the value of good sleep, Lord.

There are those that sleep, or try to sleep, in the cold outside. There are those who craft cardboard shelters and pray for blankets. There are children in poverty who cannot sleep because they are hungry.

And I selfishly will complain about a single night’s unrest. A night where I was a little chilly and discomforted by the conditions of indoor accommodations.

Remind me that my experience of being awakened to the plight of those who cannot sleep well, requires me to also restore dignity to those who could simply use a good night’s sleep.

So today keep me awake, Lord, physically and mentally. Keep me awake to the plight of the poor. Keep my students awake for the likes of you in their midst as we serve those who are hungry today ….and perhaps those who didn’t sleep last night. Amen.

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A Subway Morning Prayer

I never thought I’d thank God
For the Subway
New Yorkshire sardine can
Transportation system.
But oh how I miss thee
Even with your delays and
“stopped traffic ahead”,
The subway brings life together
Huddled masses from the cold
Into a new and wonderful collective.

Friends say I am being nostalgic, Lord.
But I know you have given me
A foretaste of the communion of saints.
Where strangers are “dancing like the sun”
to steal a line from Thomas Merton.

Yes, the subway is dirty and crowded.
Yes, the subway can smell weird in places and
The climb up the stairs in winter’ scold months is arduous and slippery.
But I do believe that it is there that I find Jesus, lurking in the small child’s eyes
bundled up with a bear hat and scarf on, holding mommy’s hand…
Albeit too young for motherhood herself.
You are there in the elderly who need a seat
and the young couple so in love that they look forward to the close quarters of their D train car.
You are alive as we travel Lord
In your midst
Strap hanging, pole leading, eating and listening to iPods.
All over the great city
Thank you, Lord. Amen

Peace to Grant

As many of you know, I worked in radio for some 10 years. And one of the shows I worked on was a show called The Bob Grant Show. For people outside of the New York City area this may not be a household name, but in the 90s, Bob Grant WAS conservative talk radio. Essentially he invented the whole “hate radio” format. He would tell you all the things he hated, high taxes, big government, President Clinton (who he called Slick Willie and did a pretty good imitation of him to go with it) and plenty more. His signature catchphrase came each time some caller would make him so angry that he’d scream “GET OFFA MY PHONE, YOU JERK!”

For two months at one clip in my career, I was his interim producer. I booked guests, I screened calls, I directed the technical elements of the show and I enjoyed every breathtaking minute.

Now you have to be asking how in the world could I have enjoyed this. Well, truth be told, Bob Grant, the King of HateRadio, was one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met. I agreed with him on nothing and I worked well with him because I’d find liberal callers for him to yell at and knew just how much to push him to get him to blow his top. It was all an act, well sorta…He truly was angry and did believe many of the opinions he held, but he never let his feelings spill over into our relationship.

Bob lost his job at WABC mostly because he was thought to be a racist. He made light of the Valuejet crash and said he was “being a pessimist” when he considered the possibility of the lone survivor of the crash being Treasury Secretary, Ron Brown ( who was also a black man). He ended up at WOR where I was working and I got to know him with my own jaded opinions at the time of having him become part of our team.

While I shared none of his political opinions, Bob was like the grandfather I never had. He was kind and funny and always made me laugh in a “oh, Grandpa!” kind of way. He had some opinions that were frankly awful, even embarrassing, but when you got to know him you realized that he also had a tender side. He praised traffic reporter, Kerrin McCue, for donating a kidney to his best friend. He was kind to women and showed respect to even the most liberal of his colleagues. Malachy McCourt, a known liberal rabble rouser, was even allowed to sit in as a guest host and on Bob’s birthday, McCourt was one of the first to call and wish him well.

Bob died around New Year’s Eve at 84. Reportedly, he had been in decline for a few months.

When I was working with him, WOR was attempting to hire his old producer “Broadway Roy” Fredriks, who by the way was given that name because he was an actor and Bob thought it might help his career. They eventually did hire Roy and I was also up for the position. The program director, a kind man, named David Bernstein, told me that had a deal not been in the works I would have been given the job because I had done a great job in the interim and he promised me that the next full time job that came available would be offered to me. True to his word, I got the midday producing job in a few months. But the day they hired Roy, Bob came over to my cube and placed a hand on my shoulder and said: “Mike, you have done a great job and if this deal wasn’t already in the works, I would have been proud to have you as my producer.”

Classy.

Many people, certainly many democrats and minorities hated Bob’s opinions and he certainly contributed to the climate of hateful dialogue (or lack of dialogue) in politics. But I’ll just remember him for his sincerity and kindness to me and to our colleagues.

Perhaps God will forgive him for his shortcomings and he can rest easy in God’s loving arms today. May his family and friends be comforted today. And eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Bob’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

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As I Drive

The snowy morning begins as I start my drive to the airport.
The snow cascades off my brush in white powdery swoops.
I don’t look forward to driving and on an unplowed 3AM road I look forward to it less.
But you, O Lord, look forward to my every move, awaiting it with the anticipation of a child on Christmas morning.
Wondering what I will do next.
I aim for the middle as I cannot see the yellow lines that separate the oncoming from me, that keeps order in the cacophony of motors and horns.
I realize that it’s not that bad and relax into my seat.
A few bumps in the road is something we’ll all face in our lives.
And you, Lord, will help us smooth the path and deal with the aftermath of skids and crashes.
I arrive safely and utter a word of thanks.
My trip is off and running and I pray for more safe travel as I head to New York the land of my birth.
Be with me, Lord. As my students serve others this week, allow me
to be a gracious companion and help them to find you…
Even in the midst of bumps, and skids and snowy roads. Amen.

A New Year of Blogging…I Hope

So it’s 2014 and my blogging has curtailed somewhat since I started being director of campus ministry at Canisius. It’s also because this blog has somehow been getting hacked. I think we finally got the bugs out and I will be trying to take this in some new directions this year. Some early thoughts on blogging resolutions:

1) Focus on the Voice of Ministry: This year I will try to blog at least once a day on my ministry. This will take an examen-like focus, meaning that I will review my day in prayer and then take to blogging about what is consoling and desolating to me. We should have 365 of these posts by the end of the year. Let’s see how well I do. I’ll try to cross blog these at our Campus Ministry Blog as well.

2) Commentary on Catholic “stuff”: The Pope, latest saints, etc. These will all be coming your way on an as it happens basis. I will do my best to also do this once a day.

3) A Morning Prayer and Scripture Reflections: I’m going to try to blog a morning prayer each day and do a weekly reflection on the Sunday Scriptures here. No promises, but I will do my best.

4) My dog: People like my dog. I love my dog and he’s quite a theologian. I will continue to have him be a guest columnist here as he used to write his own blog as fast as his little paws could. He’ll be a regular contributor.

5) Marriage: Specifically, How to Stay Married. People resonated with these columns in the past. So they will return on a frequent basis. I’m thinking monthly.

6) A picture is worth 1000 words and a video is worth a million. Some of my pastoral experiences can speak for themselves with a picture or a video.

That’s more than enough. I will also be looking at being kinder to people and most importantly, being kinder to the poor. (Thanks, Pope Francis!)

Lastly, I’m very active on twitter, Facebook and instagram, so head over there and find me!

You May Be Wondering…

These pages have been not coming your way as frequently as they have been in the past. Well, there’s a few reasons for that. One is that I’m pretty busy with my new gig at Canisius. The second is that the site got hacked and I’m wary about posting without a serious overhaul to the site.

So I may be moving locations soon, or at the very least moving my hosting company. Or maybe I’ll start over from scratch! Who knows? The Christmas Season has gotten me thinking about all of this.

Meanwhile…I write a semi-regular column for the Canisius Griffin. Here’s my latest:

http://canisiusgriffin.com/opinion/christ-on-the-subway-my-deepest-christmas-memories-come-from-nycs-underground-rail

Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross

images-4The disciples all left, save one. Along with his mother the beloved disciple stayed at the foot of the cross. And in my imagination I often enter into this scene and I picture Mary, the Mother of Jesus, looking at the beloved disciple and saying “You’re not going to leave me here all alone are you?”

I’m sure it was all too much to bear. I’m sure it was horrifying. I’m sure the guards pushed back and didn’t let them get too close. I’m sure that tears were shed and that they were frightened.

But I’m also sure that it was more than just a little bit brave.

When I look to the cross I want to look away. I want to avoid the pain and the horror. But the truth is that I need to be able to be the beloved disciple and to stay with Jesus. To acknowledge the wounded part of not only who I am, standing before God in all my imperfections, but also to admit that God is also wounded with me, wounded for me.

Jesus accepts the cross for us and in so doing He not only accepts our human death but perhaps the most brutal human death. A tortured God in a tortured world that too often forgets about God.

Jesus wants us not to forget. And so he hangs, not in a sense of masochism, but rather in a place of suffering with all those who needlessly suffer because of the brokenness of the world we live in.

That brokenness continues today.

If we but stay at the cross with Christ we can enter into sharing our suffering with God who redeems all that we bring to the cross. But moreover, we can enter into the suffering of others. Those who are hungry, homeless, facing war, unloved and unwanted, murdered, addicted, abused and treated unjustly.

Can we stand at the foot of their cross as well–knowing that sometimes, we too, are helpless to change the situations of those in dire situations? We can’t possibly help them all. We can’t possibly heal the entire world or maybe even our corner of it all by ourselves.

Archbishop Romero reminds us that we are not messiahs or master builders. Rather we come before the cross with all that we are. And God somehow changes us to see all that we can be.

And that is enough for God.

When we come before the cross with the bravery to admit that we are not perfect, when we can stand responsible for the mess we often make of things and ask for God’s forgiveness, we then can see beyond the cross into God’s redemption.

It is here at the foot of the cross that we too stand naked and wounded. God sees us for who we are with wounded eyes of His own and forgives us anyway.

But we need to be brave enough to stand here with Jesus, with His mother, as a beloved disciple.

“You’re not going to leave me here all alone are you?”

On this Good Friday not only do we need to respond to that question as a beloved disciple brave enough to face the cross…

But we also need to listen to ourselves as God the same question in our own suffering.

And to see God’s response…as we find our savior hanging from a tree…never leaving us alone, but sharing in our wounds and redeeming all that we suffer.