Feels Like Home To Me

The Atlantic Monthly’s Daily Dish has this to say about my new hometown.

Buffalo” (NY) and “beauty” do not normally occur in the same sentence. We’re talking about a city ‘belted’ with derelict factories that’s been losing population for a generation. It’s struggling to demolish thousands of abandoned houses. It’s been known to get snowed on for 100 days in a row (I was there — with a long driveway and no snow-blower).
But Buffalo has elements of beauty dear to a few doughty hearts (e.g., my wife’s – she’s a native). These include Olmsted-designed boulevards radiating from an Olmsted central park (Delaware Park); a number of early twentieth-century architectural icons; lots of big, boxy beautiful Victorian houses that can be had for a relative song; a handful of long, graceful commercial and residential avenues that make a vital urban enclave; a surprisingly vibrant arts community; and prices that make it almost like living in another country.
In recent years, too, Buffalo has become a site of the triumph of imagination over physical reality in two ways that have caught my heart.

Read more here to see what else is endearing to the author. I would say in the short time I’ve been here what I love about Buffalo thus far is this:

1) The people: Everyone is seriously friendly here and it doesn’t take much to connect with people. Everyone is willing to help and there is a real community feel to just about every place that I’ve venutred.

2) Dogs: Buffalo is a dog city. Dogs are welcomed just about anywhere and people are shall we say, “neat” about their pets and understanding when your pet has issues (as mine does) with other dogs.

3) Traffic: Or rather, the lack of traffic. I enjoy driving in Buffalo as opposed to NYC where I am always on high alert when behind the wheel.

4) Great food: Wings, naturally are what they are known for but beef on weck, Friday fish fry (not a Catholic city at all he said sarcastically) and all kinds of ethnic food (Polish, Greek, Indian, Chinese, etc). You won’t go hungry here.

5) Best…choir…ever: At St Joseph University Parish the 11:30 mass has a choir that boarders on a Pentecostal style, quite vibrant and fully alive is the best way to describe them. The quality of the music here is simply astounding. I hope that I can help to bring a similar spirit to the student’s 8PM mass–perhaps a slightly different vibe–but in terms of quality, just as good.

Needless to say, I am enjoying my new home. Wife and dog are loving it here too.

Advent: All About Commitment

I recently did an evening on discernment at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee which about 40 young adult attended. I mentioned briefly that fidelity was a virtue that we can use to give ourselves a self-check on our desires. That when we think we’ve landed on the thing that we are called to be we might want to ask ourselves if this is “all about us” and what present commitments we might have to maintain before we head off to take on this new venture, or even if we should.

A young person in the audience asked a great question: “What if you’re married and you’ve discovered that you want to head career wise in a new direction but your partner doesn’t support your decision? “

Wow! It gave me pause to just think about that possibility and also provided me with my moment of grace for the day. When I decided to start to pursue some new options my wife, Marion was so supportive. She was afraid to be sure because BustedHalo┬« and the Paulists were so generous to us over the past 9 years, that indeed that made any decisions very difficult. But Marion knew that I was called to minister to young people. She would watch me come alive on retreat or when I’d be through with a spiritual directee or when I’d preach a reconciliation service. She knew that this was what made me feel most alive and that “most alive” person was the man she fell in love with.

Talk about someone who knows about what it means to be committed to someone else. Fortunately for me, Marion was also able to re-capture some of her desires in her new job teaching deaf children again after years of teaching special ed.

But what if you are not in the same boat? What if your partner thinks that you are not called to your vocation or to an avocation? I think there are two schools of thought here:

1) Perhaps you are not called to what you think and this person who knows you intimately can see that better than you can? Perhaps they are providing a wake up call and that this calling is only about your selfish needs? Maybe you failed to take into account how your actions would impact your partner? All this is good fodder for reflection.

Or 2) Maybe your spouse doesn’t have your best interest at heart? Maybe they never did! Maybe they don’t understand what it means to be committed to someone else and they have only their interests at heart? Maybe they don’t want someone who is fully alive because it makes them look bad or “less than”. Perhaps they don’t want to share the spotlight?

Regardless, in both cases an examination of commitment comes into play and advent is the perfect time to re-examine our commitments. God re-commits to humanity at Christmas by giving us Jesus. God indeed chooses to give His very self to us in the person of Jesus, who in turn, experiences all of our humanity, including death. But many times we forget about what a great commitment that is. We get caught up with our own feelings of how cute the Christ child is in the manger but we often forget that the wood of the manger also comes along with the wood of the cross.

What evidence has my partner giving me that they are indeed committed to who I am becoming? Do they want what’s best not just for me, but for US as a couple? What do i have to compromise to maintain a healthier marriage relationship and yet retain an individual identity as well?

To not make that commitment, or to not take it seriously is to not understand the sacrament of marriage and may even be grounds for Annulment, depending on the case.

For those of us who do understand marriage and who live it, each day….

May this Advent be a time where you rejoice not only in your commitment to one another but also in God’s commitment to all of us.

Proverbial Wisdom: Who Have We Forgotten?

“The LORD permits not the just to hunger, but the craving of the wicked he thwarts.” -Proverbs 10:3

Hmmm..the homeless and the starving might have something to say about this…but perhaps it’s the latter part of the proverb that we need to focus on?

Injustice reigns when the wicked attempt, merely attempt, to satisfy their own selfish desires. Even those who are hungry often are the ones who most take care of each other. ABC TV recently had planted a disheveled looking man who passes out on the street to see what people would do. Take a look:

While the hungry and destitute often suffer, their hunger often subsides slightly. One often gets used to eating less or not eating every day, but what one never gets used to is being ignored by their fellow human beings. The homeless often report that they learn not to ignore the needs of others who are on the street and they begin to form a type of community, a dysfunctional one at times, but like all communities, at heart they usually have the best intentions. Wicked desires never quite hold their novelty. People get bored and move on to perhaps a different wicked desire perhaps, but often they also mend their ways. Noble and just ways are what most fulfill us and bring us closer into union with each other and with God. Jesus becomes this model of looking deeply at the intention of our desires. Even the Pharisees, who were the religious authorities of the day don’t always measure up by forgetting about the hungry and poor in their midst.

When everyone else forgets, God remembers the unforgettable ones. Who have we forgotten this advent? And how will we plan to remember them?

Milwaukee Bound and Updates in My World

Weather permitting I will be at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, the land of my wife’s sister and her family. Looking forward to speaking over the next few days and being near family. We just took part in the grand family Christmas party (pictured here) last weekend which gathers most of my wife’s large Italian family together. Always a fun time.

So I will attempt to do some blogging from the road, time permitting. Some updates from my new work:

Student leaders are poised for next semester and that makes me happy. We’ve done a lot of thinking about next semester and now I feel a bit more confident for the following semester on UB South.

My colleagues on UB North are looking forward to the opening of their newly built Newman Center next semester as well. So that’s exciting also.

I should start pod and videocasting next semester as well. So stay tuned for that. Toying with some names. I own BuffaloCatholic.com and have a small website tied to it for brief updates from our ministry but it needs more work, thinkest I. Am really considering “Catholics in the Buff” for its provocative name. “Buff Catholics” or simply “U in the Buff” also sounds good to me.

Most of the students are in graduate school so time is of the essence for many of them, so I am grateful to all of those who dedicate just a bit of their time to the ministry and hope that this will grow over time.

Remembering Dave

14 years ago, my college classmate and junior year roommate Dave Connors died after battling a long illness. It was tough for us to see someone so young die at 25. We all were afraid and confused and frankly angry.

I was a producer at a NYC radio station and upon hearing the news of Dave’s death I promptly took an old school reel of tape and chucked it across the studio. I was angry at God, at death, at heart disease and at the fact that I didn’t get to say goodbye to Dave.

But time provides reflection after tragedy and when I look back at the time I shared with Dave I’m not filled with sadness but with joy. Dave provided us with much laughter during his stand up comedy routines. It was his way of disarming people. His sickly body would make people treat him differently. People would pity his situation and Dave hated that beyond belief. He knew that he was probably not going to live very long and he wanted to spend that time having fun and not being sad. He’d cheat death with what he called sick humor. He’d offer to play the “dead pool” where you draft famous people who you’d expect to die within the year for points. Dave would always draft himself.

“I guess I’ll have the last laugh if I win, sorta.” he said to me. We’d all cringe but it made us more sensitive to the fact that Dave was conscious of his limited time.

That was a huge awakening for me. It’s easy for me to immerse myself in busyness and ignore the needs of those around me. In college I was driven to be a successful broadcaster but I was missing spending time with friends, family and other mentors who engaged my passions that i misdirected towards radio instead of ministry.

Dave’s illness got me on track. And I hate that. Why did it take tragedy to wake me up? I nearly wasted friendships like Dave’s and when I look back at our time in college together, I don’t remember feeling sorry for Dave but rather, I see all of our friends rallying around Dave and his family and a young man rallying us not towards death but towards a greater appreciation of life itself.

Dave was not particularly religious. He struggled a lot with his faith and with God. A seminarian had a big influence on him towards the end of his life and helped him gain a greater awareness of God in his life. For me, God was always around Dave for like Jesus, Dave gave us all of Himself and held nothing back. His parents gave their very lives to him, supporting their only child all the way to his death, a tragedy that no parent should ever have to live through. And lastly, Dave gave us a reminder that we all really need to support one another in those dark hours. Despite his illness Dave was one of the most giving people I ever met. He always had time for people and for helping and serving others. He loves his family and reveled in bringing joy to others.

It is no surprise to me that Dave died on December 8…the feast of the Immaculate conception. Like Mary, he accepted his lot in life despite knowing that pain was on the other side. Today I hope he is able to not merely be free from his pain but also to be free to laugh with great abandon and understand how much he was loved by all those he touched.

Getting Something For Nothing: The Just Do It Mentality

Today’s proverb is a doozy:

Proverbs 10:2
“Ill-gotten treasures profit nothing,
but virtue saves from death.”

I’ve been following the Tiger Woods fiasco and it never fails to amaze me how some people expect to get away with just doing whatever they feel like doing when they feel like doing it. There’s no retribution for their actions that enters into possibility for them. The rules don’t apply to them. They have nothing to limit their consumption be it greed, sex, food, drugs or whatever.

Nike’s moniker for years was “Just Do It” and Tiger Woods seems to have taken that literally. His alleged affair is just one more note on the kind of stars that believe that the world is simply their own personal playground and they are the ones who have all the toys and don’t have to share with others.

The virtues of temperance and fidelity are often checkpoints for us. Is my desire based on an unhealthy addiction that I feed all too easily. Do I keep in mind my present commitments and responsibilities? Or do I cast all of that to the wind? The latter seems to be all to easily dispensed with in a country where the divorce rate is close to 50%. Do half of the people who get married really understand the notion of commitment? Do both parties in a marriage understand that they will sacrifice for each other and that “no matter what” they need to be bound to one another working on the issues that face them?

Will both parties always have each other’s back?

Or will one violate their sexual commitment and the other take a golf club and start swinging?

It seems to me that Tiger’s empty virtues lead him to gain these ill-gotten treasures and if he only had a bit more humility he may not be in the headlines today.

But who am I to talk?

Often I forget my own commitments to my wife. I choose other things over spending time with her and some of those things are actually good things…like my ministry or even writing this blog. But they need to come secondarily to my marriage. And I need to remember that.

So I am off tonight to spend the weekend with my bride! In New York City for a day and then on to our family Christmas party (her side of the family). About 100 family members gather together to simply recommit ourselves to one another as family and to celebrate God’s re-commitment to us at Christmas, where God embeds His commitment in human flesh, in human experience. God becomes one of us, as Joan Osbourne once wrote so we might “make our way home.”

It is in that anticipation of this human God who loved us not only enough to take on our own flesh but also our own death, that we rejoice. It is not an ill-gotten treasure to be sure. But it is one that should indeed call us into virtue.

Proverbial Wisdom Returns

At a recent scripture session we decided to discuss the book of Proverbs. It was actually a challenge to find something to say about the proverbs. But I realized that I had started blogging by actually meditating on the proverbs in blog form. So for Advent I thought perhaps there might be some wisdom for me to glean from the Proverbs. So I will try to take two lines a day, a Proverbial Couplet, and see what comes to mind for me to reflect on.

Proverbs 10:1:

“A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish son grief to his mother.”

My mother always was more critical of me than my father was (and is–they are both still alive!). My mother was always the one who doled out punishment and my father would always be forgiving and would look for a silver lining somewhere.

I have come to realize over the year that these are really two faces of God. God can be all-forgiving to be sure but God also expects a lot of us. Often we try to favor one over the other. God is either a lover OR a judge, but actually God is both. God wants us to do well and to live up to the expectations he has for us to become all that we are, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less.

My mother would often be the one who would challenge me and would get me involved in things that would stretch me beyond my comfort zones. My dad would be the one who would support me when I found out that perhaps I was not as gifted in say, art or music as some of my friends were. I was not expected to be perfect and my father would let me see that it was OK to fail as long as I tried my best.

And therein lies the main point: At the heart of wisdom lies effort and risk. One has to get beyond fear to make attempts to discover who who really are, to be unafraid to try new things and not to be the fool who simply makes excuses as to why they are unable to make any effort at self-discovery because of pride or fear of embarrassment.

Today we ask ourselves if we indeed became wise as we grew up? Did we really try lots of new things to search our very souls? Was it a mother who encouraged that search and was dad simply a support in that period of self-discovery?

Advent: Waiting in Hope

Which kinda makes me want to do something like this…

Even Charlie Brown’s admonition at the close calls me into greater introspection of my own experience of waiting. Am I waiting hopefully or am I just haphazardly flailing my arms and doing nobody any good? What is this experience calling me into?

Joyfully waiting is not easy or even fluid. It can be messy and frightening but we live in hope and that should at least bring us some joy, enough joy to make us want to dance.

I think the kid in the back doing the jump rope dance was way ahead of his time.

Hope’s Season

The word “Hope” has taken on many different meanings for me this Advent. Throughout the season we wait in hope for a savior and the savior surprises us, not because the savior is God, but because we find God in a feeding trough for animals!

Indeed sometimes surprises are not what they are cracked up to be.

About 2 weeks ago, my friend and colleague Hope Villella, (who many of you know from her former position at the National Pastoral Life Center where she worked as the director of The Roundtable, a social justice forum) was in a serious car accident near her new home in South Dakota. She broke a bone in her neck and back and seriously broke her left hand (yep, she’s a lefty!). For the next 12 weeks she’ll be in a Halo brace to keep her neck from moving. Her spinal cord wasn’t damaged, so thankfully she’ll be able to walk again and the doctors expect a full recovery from all her injuries–but she’ll be out of action for some time.

Hope has been a great friend and ministry colleague. We both discerned leaving out high profile gigs for direct ministry jobs–her working on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and me in Buffalo at UB’s Campus Ministry. If you asked us 3 months ago or so what our biggest fears were we both would have had varied answers surrounding new positions in ministry. And while we spoke a few weeks ago about the challenge of driving again after being in NYC for so long (where a car isn’t needed), I don’t think anybody would have envisioned that something so horrible could happen.

And yet, Ms. Villella’s first name encourages us in a season where we can easily lose hope. The days grow darker and colder now and each tragedy gets heightened because we have naturally reacted to our environment’s dankness. The gray skies of Buffalo can make me ponder life’s insignificance until sheer simplicity can make me awaken to the beauty of the mundane. I can only imagine that my friend is thankful at this juncture that she survived and has a good prognosis, but also that she sits with fear and wonder about how this could happen and how her long term recovery will go? It can’t be easy for her but she has a lot of family support –and if family can’t support you than I’m not sure who can and she’s already joking on facebook–talk about inspiring.

I’m not sure what Advent and Christmas holds for Hope this year, but I do know that for me, Advent has always been a sketchy time of year. While I know that Christ is coming, I’m not all that patient about it. In fact, I’m not all that patient about anything. I want to jump start the ministry program and finish my Christmas shopping and serve the needs of the students and be a good colleague to the rest of the parish and complete the three other projects I have going.

And in this “sketchy time of year,” where my patience wears thin, I realize that indeed I have only the hope of God’s breaking into humanity to rely on and because of that, all my worries can indeed melt away into the Advent snow.

For hope, is more than enough. Hope is what keeps us alive. Hope is what enables dreams and ideas to flourish.

But hope is also painful and I can’t imagine how painful it must be for Hope right now. I can’t imagine what it must be like for Hope, to wait without moving–to sleep without moving–to lose the use of your good hand and before test results come in, having those feelings of anxiety of what lies ahead.

At many liturgies, we hear the words that we live in a sure and certain hope…and perhaps that is all we ever have. And we’d rather have certainty than hope.

But God always gives us what we need, even if the expectations of what we wanted are dashed. And so if we don’t have certainty–what do we have? We have hope and God tells us that it is all we need and we need nothing more.

But once we lose hope, we indeed lose everything. We fall into dispair, hopelessness. Indeed it is my idea of hell.

So tonight, let us pray for Hope. Let us pray that she can practice patience, get support from friends and family and simply rest in the peace that God provides.

But let us also pray that we find Hope in something this Advent. For me it’s the inspiration of a young woman who already has started typing messages and cracking jokes on Facebook not long after she had to wonder if she would ever walk again.

It indeed is that time of year: It is Hope’s season…

In more ways than one.