They Pay Me to Be Successful Anyway

What happens when all your plans land right in the toilet? When everything you were working towards gets upended and now you’re forced to start over? It happens to many of us and maybe even often enough that it is frustrating.

My colleague, Fr. Brett Hoover, CSP used to say that his favorite image of God is “God is the one who pulleth the rug out from under my feet!” And I suppose it is one of mine too. Mostly because I know when that happens, God is offering me something else. God is offering me an opportunity to look at things in a new way when plans unexpectedly change. But most importantly, God is asking me to use more of my skills and smarts to be successful or even just to stay sane.

Take my friend, Fr. Tom Ryan who visited me in Buffalo recently. He was supposed to lead a retreat by Niagara Falls but, the retreat center didn’t get an overwhelming response to the invitation. This was the first leg of a series of traveling that Fr Tom had in store. Now his plans were all thrown off. So what did he do?

He turned disappointment into a time for retreat. He visited friends near Niagara Falls (like me), he relaxed and he simply used the time differently than he had expected. Rather than be frustrated by rebooking and rescheduling he eased his way into a new way of thinking. And he had fun to boot.

One of my heroes was the great basketball coach, Jim Valvano. Jimmy V as they called him once said in a radio interview, “You know, I once lost my top player to an injury, another good player went down with an illness, I had to redshirt a top prospect and we were facing a team who was far better than us when we had our BEST players on the court. But you know what? They pay me to win anyway. I need to be successful despite what the odds might say.”

I’ve remembered that quote for more than 20 years now and it always inspires me. Valvano is of course, correct. At the end of the day, we either have succeeded or failed in our endeavors and that is how our bosses will judge us. There can’t be any excuses. They don’t want to hear them. It doesn’t matter that the star is hurt, the team needs to win anyhow. They pay Coaches to be successful anyway.

This attitude is hitting me directly at the start of the semester. I had a bunch of things I initially thought would be great for this upcoming semester all planned out. And then slowly many of them just went down the tubes. It was disappointing. A close colleague at the University was even offered another position and left our school very quickly. It felt like whiplash when I found out, as I had planned to do a lot of collaboration with him this year.

But that only meant that God was calling me to new places. I’ve been more intentional about meeting students at masses and I have gotten more involved on campus. I needed to simply invite people into more intimate relationships with me and with our parish. After all, that is what Jesus did. He went down to the docks and called to a bunch of fishermen that he did not know and he somehow got them to drop their nets and follow him.

If only people today would do that, our problems in the church would be over.

But therein is the problem: the issue is not with the people we’re trying to reach… often the issue is with US. Numbers are low in our church because, let’s face it…some days the church is kind of a drag. We’ve got infighting and scandals and negative press. We always seem to be picking a fight with politicians and others we disagree with instead of more peacefully trying to find common ground to work on together. Do we ever talk with those of another faith or do we keep them at arm’s length?

Do we spend more time in our offices working on programs that we’ve already developed and have been running for years, or do we spend more time looking outward, meeting people where they are instead of hoping that they’ll come to us?

Let’s not forget that Jesus talked with everyone–at great personal risk to his reputation. Plan as much as we might, things are not always going to be neat in our ministry. And perhaps that’s the good news because it awakens us to new possibilities.

And that makes us much better ministers and maybe better people as well.

Young People in the Church Today: No Time for Infighting

John Allen is always insightful and we’ve been talking over here about the need for peace within the Church, moving away from the divisiveness that often comes with differences of opinions.

Some of Allen’s thoughts seem like good ideas to me. Sometimes we need to surprise those with whom we disagree by taking up a position that we normally wouldn’t get behind with vigor. Allen explains:

In addition to an ecclesiology of communion, “thinking with the church,” or whatever spiritual motive one might advance, offering surprising support is also smart tactics. It means opening channels of conversation before a crisis erupts, and it would give the center-left more leverage to push back against trajectories they don’t like. As a rule of thumb, it’s generally easier to manage disagreements among friends than strangers.
To flesh out the concept, opposition to the death penalty or support for immigration reform wouldn’t count as “surprising support,” even though those positions are in sync with the bishops, because they’re what everyone expects from the center-left. However, the Catholic Health Association’s opposition to the Obama administration’s restrictive definition of a religious employer in its contraception mandate is a good case of surprising support because the CHA and the bishops famously had their disagreements over health care reform.
At least three such opportunities seem to be hanging out there like low-lying fruit.

He suggest three opportunities:
Getting behind the HHS Mandate, speaking out against anti-Christian persecution (in the developing world especially) and lastly helping the Bishops transition to a world church.

The latter two I jump on board with immediately…albeit I’m not sure how “surprising” these are. The first one, I’d tread a bit more carefully into. I think there’s a real opportunity to look at this issue in a larger context and to ask the question of whether health care should be tied to employment in the first place. I would wager that Catholics could take the lead here in getting out of that and offering their employees a higher salary and allowing them to form their own consciences and purchasing a health care plan of their own.

But there’s an even larger place where the center-left and even the center-right can meet.

It’s called Catholics for Civil Discourse. This could be a place much like the Catholic Common Ground Initiative –which had merit, but I believe that ended up as a bunch of center-left people trying to keep it afloat. Are we willing to talk things through and maybe use some principles of conflict resolution to show the world that Catholics can indeed rise above the hatred and move towards forgiveness and reconciliation of one another. I liken much of this to relationships between conservative and liberal Supreme Court Justices. Justice Scalia and Justice Ginsburg might agree on little but you never hear either on badmouth the other. In fact, they are close friends and they can see the other’s perspective clearly, even if they don’t share the other’s view. I suspect Ginsburg just says some days “Well, that’s Antonin all right!” and then smiles and laughs a bit. And Scalia probably says, “Well, you know how Ruth thinks. But she means well and has people’s interest at the heart and she does know the law well. Smart lady. Don’t agree with a lot of her views but she’s tough.”

Can’t we have a similar discourse in our church? More importantly, SHOULDN’T we have a similar discourse in our church?

Right now many have simply determined that neither side of the extremes needs the other. Jesus laughs at that and shakes his head and I think might even laugh and say “Dumb folks. They just don’t get it.”

Commonweal writer J. Peter Nixon gets to the heart of this argument very well in my view:

In the 1980s, center-left bishops had to listen to the center-right because they had the ear of Rome. The center-left has the ear of no one. They have nothing that the bishops really need and probably nothing that the bishops want. They have no leverage.

Allen suggests that “center left” probably describes the majority of American Catholics and perhaps a super-majority of those working in Catholic institutions, such as chancery offices, Catholic Charities, etc. This is true, but it is changing. We have had a fair amount of episcopal turnover in California in the last few years, and the trend is unmistakable. Older, largely “center-left” staff are retiring or leaving and being replaced by younger, more self-consciously “orthodox” Catholics.

It’s true that the majority of rank-and-file Catholics are probably “center left” in orientation. But what of it? Younger Catholics, for the most part, are simply not attached enough to the Church as an institution to think “institutionally” about their theological commitments. Communal dialogue is something you engage in because you have a community. The majority of younger Catholics—like a majority of younger Christians—are spiritual consumers. If they are dissatisfied, they will choose “exit” rather than “voice.”

In short, this has become an “older” person’s fight within the church. The younger folks don’t have time for such riff-raff, nor do they have the scars from past battles that left others with deep woundedness and brings them into a vitriolic reflex each time something new saddens them from ideologues on either side. The young simply want to pray, connect with Jesus, form friendships with people of honor and serve the needs of the poor. In short, they want a church they can believe in, not one that focuses on infighting.

Infighting will do us no good, even if one side wins. If the far or even center-right wins they get a smaller and more faithful to the hierarchy breed that might not be able to be evangelize or be effective. If the center-left or far left wins they’ll be confusion as to what Catholics stand for, if they even stand for anything.

The truth is that consensus is what is called for in our church. And young people may not be willing to do the work required to battle things out for a long time with people that they really might not think are worth spending all this time on. It’s just easier to leave and have a more individualistic view of religion or spirituality.

We are in tough times. One of my jobs is to try to build consensus amongst younger people of faith, even people of different faiths. But to do that, we have to first engage them in the experience of where they find God working in their lives. Personal discernment, listening to where people are finding God in their lives is a necessary first step.

From there, we just may find an opportunity to understand one another and most importantly….

To seek peace.

Happy Feast Day, St. Ignatius

Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, so a blessed feast day to all of my Jesuit friends and their collaborators. It’s so great to have been a part of “the family” for so many years, since my Fordham undergraduate days, through graduate school and beyond into other relationships.

One of the things I’ve admired about the Jesuits is their commitment to working with lay folk like myself. In fact, the first Ignatian retreat I went on I was invited to by a lay person. My resident director at the time was a guy named Steve DiSalvo. To brag slightly, Steve is now Dr. Steven DiSalvo and has become President of Marian University after a stint as the executive director of the Safe at Home foundation (better known as former Yankee Manager Joe Torre’s foundation to educate people about domestic violence).

I remember walking into McGinley Center at Fordham (the cafeteria and other central offices were here and still are) and finding Steve at a table that said “Peer Retreat” on it. He called me over when he saw me and said “You should go on this!” I looked at the date and it was the weekend of my 20th birthday.

“Um, you’ve got no shot in hell of me going that’s my birthday weekend!”

A lesser person than Steve would have given up right there. But instead he persisted confidently:

“Dude, you can go out to get drunk at Clarke’s anytime. Why don’t you take this weekend and look at what the last 20 years have been like and then think about what you hope the next 20 years will become?”

I looked at him and said, “You know, Steve….OK. I’m in!”

In fact the two guys behind me signed up as well. I invited them to celebrate my birthday with me away.

That weekend changed my life. It really beckoned me to ministry. The following year, Fr. John Mullin, SJ, came to Fordham and brought the Emmaus retreat program with him and it was a huge success with my generation of college students. He taught me how to lead retreats and encouraged my ministry even as a volunteer. Years later in my Ignatian Examen I noted that all of the things in my life that I was proud of has stemmed from these retreat experiences at Fordham with Steve and later with Padre John, as we called him.

But these men simply were being sons of Ignatius. They were true contemplatives in action both lay and ordained and led many into a stronger relationship with Jesus and with themselves. My friends from those retreats were among the best friends I had in college and I’m still very connected with many of them today nearly 20 years later. I’ve also developed retreats and led versions of the spiritual exercises and engaged with the exercises myself more deeply throughout these many years.

To think that it all started with the vision of Ignatius who simply wanted to go where people were. He went to the cities and wanted to be a resource for the spiritual experience of all people. He had a special love for the poor and through his experience of being in the world he led all of his followers into being sensitive to the needs of others.

And we are all better for his vision.

Screw Your Roommate

I was going through old notes and pictures and other paraphernalia recently and began to tell some old stories of the college days. This one from my sophomore year is one of my favorites.

We held a dance in each residence hall at Fordham each year called the “Screw Your Roommate Dance” which essentially meant that your roommate was supposed to set you up with someone for the dance. Sort of a “Sadie Hawkins meets the devil” kind of thing. If your roommate liked you you’d probably get set up with someone nice, or possibly even your crush. If he or she hated you…well…you might not get set up at all.

So my roommate at the time was Joe Patane who I wrote about the other day. Joe had this penchant for well…procrastinating. He’d wait until the last minute to try and find me a date. But this year was different. Our resident assistant, a great guy named Steve Breton, knew I had a crush on (of all people) his ex-girlfriend. So he suggested that he call her and ask her if she’d go with me. Maria, the ex of Steve, was someone who I indeed had a crush on after meeting her on a retreat the year before. We were friendly, but she was attached to someone so I couldn’t pursue a relationship. Steve didn’t have the best relationship with her, I mean they did break up for a reason, after all.

But nonetheless, she agreed to go with me and Joe was off the hook. For the first time, Joe had actually done something before the last minute. he was quite proud of himself. He’d throw hints at who I was going with for weeks. “Oh man, you are going to be so happy when you open that door!”

So the night of the dance approached. I had no idea who he could possibly have set me up with. The day before the dance a knock came on my door and it was Steve Breton, the aforementioned R.A. He asked to come in and we sat down. At first, I thought I was in trouble and started making a mental list of dorm violations that I could have participated in. While the list was probably numerous, I couldn’t imagine that Steve knew about any of them.

Steve gingerly approached the topic at hand:

“Well you know how Joe’s been bragging that he got you a great date for the dance, right?”

Mike: “Sure. I have no idea who it is though.”

Steve: “Well, I was in on the set-up.”

Mike: “Oh, ok! Thanks!”

Steve: “Ok I’ll just say it. It’s Maria. But don’t get too excited because she just cancelled. She’s got a midterm and she’s got to get studying for it. She’s freaking out about it and look man, I’m really sorry, but she can’t go with you. We tried. Shit, we did more than try she said ‘sure’ but now…NOW she cancels at the last second. I’m so pissed at her!”

Mike: Well, thanks for trying, anyway. Guess I’m just going stag because I can’t imagine who I could ask at this late juncture! No worries, dude! Not your fault.

To make a long story short, my good friend, Steve DiSalvo (now President of Marian University in Wisconsin), invited me over to his residence hall where he introduced me to Melissa Morrissey, a wonderful young woman who I had helped with her freshman scheduling as a Sophomore mentor earlier in the year. Steve just bluntly asked her to go with me and she agreed. And we had a ball. We were just friends, but we had such a great time, much to the relief of my roommate and R.A.

Months later I went on a Peer Retreat on the weekend of my 20th birthday. Steve DiSalvo had invited me directly and truth be told, I’m a minister in the church today because of that moment. We had all received “palanca” letters on the retreat–a letter of support. The word palanca in spanish means “A lift” and that’s what the letters were supposed to provide.

One of my letters was from my aforementioned R.A., Steve Breton.

“I hear you’re on a retreat. Must be cool. Having drinks out poolside, some fat guy diving off the board. I can see it now.

One of the things I really admire about you, Mike, is how you never get too down on things. Like when Maria cancelled on you for the dance, you didn’t worry despite your disappointment. And you went out and got yourself a great date and probably had a better time than the rest of us! You’re really great like that.”

He added a few more personal touches thanking me for friendship and help around the dorm. But my takeaway was always his kindness and his generosity. It’s not everyone that would call up their ex-girlfriend and ask for a favor–and for the likes of ME! That went a long way.

Steve DiSalvo also sent me a brief note the day after that dance that simply said “YOU OWE ME BIG TIME. Hope you had a great time!”

Ah, the jocularity!

The truth is that Fordham was a great place to be in the late 80s and early 90s. I hope that its maintained that “family feel” at the Rose Hill Campus. But it was these special people who have helped me become who I am today and pointed me in the direction of God continually awakening me to who he has called me into being. I pray that the two Steves, Melissa and my roommate, Joe indeed know how special they were and are.

I lost touch with Breton some years ago. DiSalvo and I somehow follow each other around, finding each other on boards and conferences together. Melissa and I are Facebook friends and drop an occasional note to each other. And that dear roommate and I keep tabs through Facebook and email and the occasional visit to New York, California or Buffalo. It’s all good and all grace. Friendship is often like that…even when you’re trying to screw your roommate.

And speaking of classmates…and Graduation Memories

A Happy Birthday to Paul T. Daly today. One of my many college suite-mates. Paul hails from the great state of Texas and has a voice that I’d run my mother over for. Give this a listen for some of his work on Texas High School football.

My favorite ever Paul Daly line from our radio days was: “That would been a great catch….

had he caught it!”

Yep–that would’ve helped!

So since it’s graduation week and everything here’s a quick story. Paul was busy covering the ECAC Baseball Tournament that Fordham was in so he got back to campus just as graduation exercises were completing. He was a year behind me in school, so he wasn’t graduating.

Now I wasn’t the best student as an undergrad. And when Paul departed for the tournament, I hadn’t gotten my final grades. And let’s just say Medieval Literature was not my best subject and I needed a C- in order to graduate.

And that indeed was going to be a close call.

I made the grade but in the age before cell phones, Paul had no clue whether I was going to walk or not.

So here is Paul racing to Edward’s Parade on that day and he gets there in the middle of names being read. They just started the “H’s” as the names are read alphabetically. He’s waiting for “Hayes” to be read.

When they got to “Iagone” he said his spirits really dropped.

“Oh no! He didn’t make it. Man!” He sat there depressed for me. He wondered if my parents even came or if I were even out there or if I just went the hell home.

They read the last name and it occurred to Paul that they got from H to Z rather quickly.

Fr. Pascoe, our dean, then took the microphone and said:

“And now, Fr. President, I call the names of the candidates for the Bachelor of ARTS degree in Fordham College!”

And the crowd went ballistic. Paul thought for a moment. He asked the person next to him, “Whose names was he just reading before?” Turns out he showed up while the Bachelor of Science degrees were being read.

He thought, “Wait! Mike’s an English major. English…Arts. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! WOO-HOO!”

Of course he then thought, if they don’t call his name this time…

But they did. A second piece of irony. But first, a second story.

So my freshman year, I was placed in second year spanish. Now that would have been fine if I remembered anything from my high school spanish class. I was lost and I wanted to add/drop into first year spanish. I had to go to the dean to do this. And let’s just say that the modern language dean who I will be merciful to and not name, was having a bit of a bad day.

“What do you want to change and why?” he growled at me.

I told him. He looked in his book.

“There are no openings in first level spanish.”

I said to him, “OK so what do I do now?”

Now I’d like to take a second here to tell educators that your response to this question should be “Just take another class and don’t worry about it and take it next semester.”

That was not the response I got.

“Well..we’d LIKE you to finish your language requirement by the end of your sophomore year (which means 4 semesters of language culminating in taking a literature class in the language). So if that’s the case, then you need to start with another language.”

So I say, “OK, fine, give me Italian.”

“No sir. No openings in Italian first level either.”

“OK, give me French.”

You guessed it…no openings in French first level either.

So me being me, I got angry. And I believe I said something along the lines of “Can you please just tell me what freakin class I CAN take?”

And incredulously the dean said, “Well you have a choice!”

I said in the deepest depressing voice ever, “Oh goody, that’s a thrill. You can’t imagine my joy. I am nearing orgasm at that news.”

Yeah that probably didn’t endear me to him.

My choices you ask: Russian or German.

Now I’m nothing if not logical…but if I had half a brain I would have just walked out of the office and told him off and went to my academic dean. But I’m a dumb freshman, the first in my family to go to college.

So I think deeply. “Well, Russian is a different alphabet. German is kinda like English (oh no it’s not!) so I’ll take German.”

“Splendid.” the dean said. And off I went with my new class.

Which I was now in two weeks late.

And I never caught up. I got a great big F.

There goes the GPA. Law School…forget it.

My professor and I tried everything. I just couldn’t do it. I got a tutor (who was kinda hot, I might add). I studied so much German my OTHER grades started to suffer. And then I realized that this just wasn’t going to happen. I passed 2 tests of 4. If I remember right I got a 37 on the first exam. A 58 on the second. A 78 on the third and a 62 on the fourth. That’s a 59 average. Failing by one point.

I got a 55 on the final exam. 6 more points and she would’ve passed me with a D.

I got all B’s in my other courses and a giant F in German.

And then I took four semesters of spanish starting with the next semester and finished the language requirement a semester late–which nobody ever said “BOO” about. And the interesting thing was that I was making the same mistakes in spanish, but the difference was that, say I misspelled a word throughout the exam….my spanish professors would take only one point off.

My German professor would take 9 off for every time I misspelled.


OK, so back to graduation…

Who read my name at graduation….?

You guessed it. The one professor to ever give me a failing grade.

I ran into her just after I graduated. I was still hurt because I begged her for a D but she wouldn’t budge. She had the audacity to ask me to carry some boxes up some stairs for her and another dean.

If the other dean wasn’t about to cry, if I said no–I think I might have left her standing there with the boxes.

But we are a religion of forgiveness, after all.

So up the boxes went. We had a cordial conversation and I told her I was graduating and had a job lined up at WFAN.

She seemed relieved. I could almost read it in her face.

“Well, I’m glad you’re getting out of here because you were a train wreck in my class.”

So basically I was a B student in most classes and a A student in theology and philosophy and the occasional writing class. But when it came to German or any language that sounded like German….

Well…not so much.

So when she read “Michael F. Hayes, Jr, English” I cringed and offered a soft smile her way.

Then I saw Paul.

He was jumping a hooting and howling for me. From complete disappointment to complete elation… for me.

I grabbed my diploma and hugged Fr. O’Hare. Fr. Pascoe our dean, looked at me and said, “Thanks for being such a big part of Campus Ministry (I served as an acolyte).”

Even then…there was God nudging me towards ministry and away from radio.

A quick look at my grades tells the tale:

English Classes: 2.8
Theology and Philosophy Classes: 3.2
Foreign Language: 2.136 (which aint bad considering I got an F in one of the five classes).

Is it any wonder I graduated with an M.A. in Religious Ed, Summa Cum Laude (3.83) nearly 13 years later?

God sometimes has to howl at me.

Even louder than Paul did on graduation day.

Happy Birthday, Tex.

Loving Work: The New Book

So, I’ve been working on a book with Orbis Press (who has been such a pleasure to work alongside) on discernment regarding work issues. It’s a short book but one that I think will help lots of people understand the ideas behind discernment. It’s filled with stories from my life and others that connect to issues and ideas around discernment.

As time grows a bit closer to the release date in October/November we’ll be pushing this a bit harder. But I have several workshops planned that your parish, diocese, organization can choose from on discernment. Everyone will come away with a process to help them in their individual discernment. Suggestions for spiritual directors and others who help people discern can also be offered.

This was a fun book. It’s a book I always wanted to write and the stories were such fun to recall. Some funny, some tragic, some moving and all of them helpful to the process of discernment.

As we head into the home stretch, we’ll tell you how to buy it.

Rebirths on Birthdays

My friend Chris turned 30 and got depressed. We both worked in radio and while it’s a fine occupation, one can begin to wonder what difference that last show really made in people’s lives. Ask anyone who works with the public and they’ll tell you that people don’t call when you’re doing well and tell you how great things are. They instead call when they are annoyed and often Chris would be the fielder of those calls with me picking up his slack.

He was at a crossroads and for Chris, an upcoming promotion would indeed change his career, something us men define ourselves by all too often. Turning thirty was his re-birth into a greater way of life. I trailed him by a mere year or so, if memory serves. But at 30, I left my radio career behind for ministry and I never looked back. Besides a wonderful marriage and the love of a loyal dog my career has hinged on two web-ministry ventures, a semi-rebuilt Campus Ministry and a book with one on the way.

Recently, I’ve felt called to do more with spiritual direction, and specifically with those folks who are in transition at a young age–those looking for rebirth in their lives. I’ve been blessed to do this with university students, recent graduates, Catholic volunteers and a random older parishioner or two. Some days I’m challenged by them, wondering if their darkness will ever lift and why God doesn’t seem to lift their dread. Most days, grace abounds and we’re able to God working in our lives clearly and abundantly. And all days, regardless of desolation or consolation, I am simply blessed by the lives of these people. It is a privileged position that I have to sit and listen–and listen carefully. Some are asked to repeat an important line to bring it more into their consciousness, so as to witness to God’s love and life exhaling from their lips. It is there that we find grace in noticing, noticing our life and God’s love for us embedded somewhere in it–perhaps so deep within that it went unnoticed until that very moment where the lightning of grace strikes.

It seems to me that this is what a birthday should really focus on. We are not merely a year older, nor a step closer to death–two inevitabilities, we realize right off, of course. Rather, we are also entering a rebirth. An opportunity to find grace, notice it and move into life–more abundant life and to have it to the full. Where will this year take us? Where are we feeling reborn in our careers, our relationships, our life in conversation with Christ? Where will God call us and will we be willing to answer “yes” or “not now”? Who brings us into this abundant life and do we show them overflowing gratitude?

St. Ignatius would call this the search for the Magis, the greater, and a birthday for me, is an opportunity to look for just what that is in my life. The truth is that I really am becoming more generative as I age, I give back a bit more to others as a mentor now, than ever before. To do this, I also need to stay current and invest in new ventures for myself–being gutsy to try new things and open to God’s grace to witness to something new. Often it’s not for the feint of heart, finding myself amongst donated human cadavers, in the heat of Nicaragua’s summer, playing with refugee children, or simply living amidst the sacred and the secular on a state University’s campus and finding where religion is both neglected and openly welcomed.

Turns out most days, my life is quite exciting. And yet, the prospect of sitting and listening to others and noticing where they are and where they’ve been is where I find myself most joyful. Whether that’s as a ministry mentor for others like myself or a spiritual director with the young or as a writer, hoping to bring some inspiration where times are gloomy–it is all grace and peace and stillness and a great time to rejoice in what life God has given to us all.

So today, I ask for prayers for me on my 42nd birthday. That I may always be open to what God has in store for me. The number 42 is the number worn by Jackie Robinson, the man who broke the color barrier in major league baseball. Robinson, may not have been the best player in the Negro Leagues, but he was called to take on the hatred of early racism, even from his own teammates. He flew around basepads and was able to bring an entire race of people into a new and wonderful life, filled with a bit more freedom than they had before. Nobody in baseball can wear that number now (unless it was issued to them before it was retired. I believe Yankee reliever Mariano Rivera is the lone wearer of #42 now in MLB).

May we all have the grace to stand up for justice despite what may befall us for our stance or where it might lead us. May we be willing to hear God’s voice in our lives and not harden our hearts in bitterness. Rather, may we take time for quiet to hear the gentle whisper of Christ calling us to listen to our hearts, to the plight of the poor and to be fed with the gift of grace.

Muppet Inspirations

So Marion and I went to see the Muppet Movie last night after putting it off for a few weeks. It reminded me of my friend Fr. Eric Andrews, CSP. Why?

Fr. Eric used to work for the Muppets before he was ordained to the priesthood and now he’s making movies at Paulist Productions in Los Angeles. He just helped produce a Hallmark Movie with Betty White this past Valentine’s Day.

But while he’s this groovy TV and Film guy, I remember him as Fr. Eric. The cool young recently ordained priest who gave clever homilies where he sometimes (ok MOST of the time) sang a Frank Sinatra song to make a point about the gospel. He even sang “Young at Heart” to Marion and I at our wedding.

Moreover, I often remember him as a friend. Someone who would make sure that young people were included in the church and who reached out to them. He would look for people’s gifts and include them where they would contribute. He asked me to help him and Fr. Brett Hoover, CSP start a young adult group and that probably changed my life and inspired me to leave the media–but not completely, changing a career from a media focus to a ministry.

Just like he did.

When Fr. Eric left the Muppets, they gave him a Kermit with a Priest’s collar on. It sits somewhere in his office. I think it’s been people who can express joy in their priesthood who have brought much life to me. So Fr. Eric, this one’s for you…

May you never be so afraid to mess things up that you stop being a joyful priest. See ya in the movies.

Naming Grace

Retreat is always an introspective time for me to consider how our students at UB are being served by Campus Ministry and personally, what my role is amongst the students.

I’ve become the “old guy” on the Campus Ministry staff. My lay colleagues are all in their 20s and early 30s. While our directors are older than I, my younger colleagues are quick to inform me of my now middle age. Being bald doesn’t help although it’s become fashionable for younger guys to be bald.

I often also think that my age is an advantage. I’ve reached a maturity which many students trust and think that I just might have something to say. I’ve gained the respect of colleagues and I think (or hope) that I’m approachable as a minister.

One student appreciated the opportunity to recharge her batteries this weekend and often appreciates that our 8PM mass at St. Joe’s has a kind of “peaceful vibe,” as she put it. She wraps up her week by taking that intentional time with us and then heading home to decompress further, readying herself for another intense week of school.

Our students who presented talks made me think just a bit more about how much work goes into these presentations and that they trusted our ministry staff enough to be a bit vulnerable themselves. Their stories touched the hearts and minds of those attending and provided ample jumping off points for the rest of the group in their small group discussions.

St. Ignatius would be excited about creating “contemplatives in action” –people who are dedicated to seeing God in all things. Sometimes we just need a step back to think a bit about who we are and what we are doing in order to return to the everyday with a renewed sense of peace and perhaps purpose. I know I was able to take some moments for quiet on the weekend myself and it renewed some convictions I have about who I am, where I am being led by God and where I need to be challenged to be the best person and minister that I can be.

Upon returning from retreat, I was able to catch up with some former Catholic Volunteers from our Catholic Charities Service Corp who were here for a big reunion of former volunteers. Helping some of them discern their futures and working with them in one on one settings has been quite a good experience for me. Some of those times were some of the more intense experiences of where I have felt God working in my life, through me for the volunteers and also touching me to see things in new ways and opening me up to my own gifts and talents as a minister. The same has been true for many of the students who seek me out for Spiritual Direction and who have retreat experiences with me as well.

Sr. Lois, who I was training a bit this weekend to provide Charis Retreats in her area saw me standing next to a statue of St. Ignatius and replied “You know there’s a bit of resemblance there!” Curtis, one of our students, touched the top of Ignatius’ head and then my bald dome and stated that his head was a bit smoother.

With students like these….is it any wonder I’m not working at Macy’s?

I’m hoping that Ignatius’ spirit is also embedded in my own. I think I have been able to use the Exercises in a way that helps others discern more vividly where they are called in life or to be able to see things a bit more clearly as they are and to dismiss fears and the lack of confidence that some have in themselves.

So “the old guy” has discovered that he’s still got a lot to offer our students. My trainer at the gym told me that I’ve become a good mentor to one of our student-athletes who works out with us each morning–that I push him a bit more and are open enough to let him see the real me—the one who can’t run as fast anymore, who has lousy knees and who struggles with a few extra pounds. But also the one who pushes hard and won’t let others get too down on themselves and who can walk with others no matter what dark path they want to take me down.

It looks more and more like Ignatius has created a mentor out of me. And for that, I am grateful and look to try to do more of that in my ministry. I need to take more opportunities to get in front of students so that they might consider me more often as a mentor, a trusted source. It’s in that vein that I have been renewed by the presence of Ignatius prodding me to see myself at my most joyful moments and to embrace them with grace.

Tonight I pray that my students, my colleagues and you, dear friends, can find that kind of joy in your own lives. The joy of finding grace leads us into greater communion with God and with each other.

Naming grace is where God needs us to be. It helps us see ourselves as God does–with our foibles, yes, but also where we can love with great abandon.

And that grace, which we name, is all that we ever will need.