The Truth of My Life

In my daily examen, I often ask God to simply show me “the truth of my life.”  I hope to be able to see things as they really are, and not as I might think they are.  I might think I’m being a great friend, but in reality I am needling someone unnecessarily.

So I need God.  I need God to reveal to me what the real situation in my life is.  Not what it might be.  What it is.  What exactly did I do today?  How was I with myself today?  Did I give things my best effort?  Or did I languish?

I need to remove my own biases and pre-judgements of people in order to see them as they are and not as I suppose them to be.  I can only do this confidently when I see the events in my life as they are.

I can remember sitting at a lunch table back in my radio days with people and having what I thought was a grand time with colleagues.  But when I asked God to show me the truth of my life, I found that I often would get sucked into the drama of office gossip and found myself horrified by what I saw.  I very nearly screamed “STOP!” as I saw the events unfold.

Or I can remember teaching a little boy how to shoot a basketball.  I was a summer day camp counselor and this little kid, Mark was so afraid of the ball.  We practiced and got him to throw and catch.  Then we got him to start to try to shoot a basket underhand.  Up and miss.  Up and miss.  “A little harder!”  I bellowed with a smile.  “C’mon Mark!”  Then it happened he hit the front of the rim!  He gasped!  “Almost!”  I said!  “See, you can do it!  Just a bit more oomph!”  The next shot he chucked toward the rim!  I watched it’s trajectory moving upwards, looking right at the center of the basket and SWISH!  Right into the net!”

I turned and looked at little Mark and his eyes grew wide and this huge smile fell upon his face.  He ran and hugged me and I lifted him over my head like the Stanley Cup!  Both of us in pure unadulterated joy!

Talk about progress in meaningful work!  And re-watching this revealed the truth of my life to me!  Mentoring and coaching this child in fear of even a basketball, would speak to me for the next 25 years.  What other fears might I help dispel in people?  How might God be calling me to help people overcome fear so as to be free to see joy.  Mark’s face was clearly the face of God calling me to pay attention to the truth of what I wished to become.

What is the truth of YOUR life?  How might you look to engage understanding this?  The Ignatian Examen is a clear way to begin to understand the patterns of our days and more importantly, can lead us into finding God in the center of our occupations waiting for us with a smile after a swish, but also with a look of love after gossiping prodding us to change mercifully, if but only for our own good.

 

Thanksgiving is for the Thankless

I often call Thanksgiving “amateur hour.” I’m often surprised that the angriest of atheists who often seem so preoccupied with secularizing Christmas, keeping prayer out of schools and accusing often thoughtful religious people of being hopelessly saccharine, often let Thanksgiving, slip past their crosshairs.

It would well do the irreligious to set their sights on a day when all are called to prayer. Bonhoffer once said, “If the only prayer we ever uttered was ‘thank you,’ it would be enough.” While the Thanksgiving of my youth often recalled pilgrims and Native Americans, we forget that the legend of those days was that the indigenous taught the new inhabitants to be grateful, even for a likely simple meal, that those gathered had likely also worked hard to procure. In today’s modern America, many are less likely to feel gratitude during a meal, but rather be more likely to complain that the turkey is too dry or the potatoes too lumpy. At lunch the other day, I complained that the Boston Creme Pie I grabbed from the cafeteria at work was simply, “inferior.”

Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, understood this mentality. Easily, did he too, gravitate towards the negative. With the seminal moment of his conversion, that is, when I cannonball shattered his leg, ending his career in Knighthood, Ignatius focused nearly solely on the negative. He would no longer be the brave knight of battles who could spin tales of his bravery in order to gain the affections of beautiful women. He had the doctors re-break his leg a few times in the hopes that he would not walk with a limp. Frankly, you would think that he would simply be glad to be alive, but that leg! He was reported to have bemoaned, “Who could love a gimpy-legged man?”

David Fleming, S.J., a translator of Ignatius’ spiritual exercises conveys Ignatius’ converted gratitude perfectly,

“How can I respond to a God so good to me and surrounding me with the goodness of holy men and women and all the wonderful gifts of creation? All I can do is give thanks, wondering at God’s forgiving love, which continues to give me life at this moment.”

It is here, in gratitude, that Ignatius centers everything. Twice a day, he implores the Jesuits to look at their last 12 hours and to search immediately for gratitude. In doing so, we push away the desolate and draining moments of our day, so that they might not become the center of our lives, but rather, we might find grace lurking in our minds, but clearly present in front of our faces, prodding us to consider gratitude as central. In this is much to ponder. Moreover, in this is also practical theology, that grounds us in finding God in the more mundane rhythms of our already distracted and over-programmed lives. Might I find gratitude in the co-worker who needs 10 more minutes of my patience because I see myself as that gifted listener and in them the trustful colleague? Or is this person just a pain in the neck? Might I turn to my wife more frequently when she tries to comfort me, reveling in this offered love, instead of thinking that I don’t need support? Are past relationships just hurtful broken-heartedness, or were they opportunities to understand ourselves better, to move into new relationships with more knowledge of our own compatibility with others and more easily move into the next phase of life?

We can all-too-easily place the “issues” we have in life at the center. This leads to thanklessness, even for the more pragmatic amongst us who want to quickly problem-solve matters and move on. Gratitude implies that we need to first acknowledge any part of our lives that indeed echoes this.

Thanksgiving is simply our opportunity to focus intentionally on what brings us gratitude and to center ourselves on God’s grace, the free gift of the God-self to us around a table of thanksgiving known to Christians as Eucharist–a word that primarily means thanksgiving.

Truly it is easy to forget our gratitude, especially on lousy days when the world seems to be conspiring against us and when we indeed don’t feel like our best selves. These moments need not be the center of our lives, rather, the human spirit longs for gratitude, that lifts us out of the doldrums of despair and instead brings us into space that helps us see that God’s grace is all around.

How I Met the Jesuits

Godinall thingsToday is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order and without whom my life would be quite different.

You see, when I met the Jesuits, I was likely on my way out of the Catholic Church.

I’ve been a lifelong Catholic.  I was an altar server through High School.  Deacons in my church took care of me in youth and recreation groups.  The pastor of my childhood parish was a wonderful and holy man.  After he retired, it all went down the toilet, but it was one event in particular that pushed me towards the exit.

I was a Senior in High School and I helped out as an altar server at a wedding.  As I swept the rice off the church steps after all the festivities were over, a disheveled older man approached me.

“Do you think Father could give me a sandwich?”

I went inside to retrieve the new associate pastor.  He came out and chased him away and when he came back he said to me, “I’m not racist, I just don’t like blacks.”

I was done at that moment.  I wanted nothing to do with the parish. Fortunately, I had a good relationship with both God and my parents who reminded me that “one priest does not a church make.”

I was off to college in the coming weeks.  I was headed to Fordham and I didn’t know what a Jesuit was.  The aforementioned parish I attended was afraid of those liberal Jesuits and encouraged me to transfer before it was too late.

But I now had my own ideas.  Fordham gave me a nice aid package, it was close to my Yonkers home, but far enough away that I could live on campus for the real college experience.  I lived right next door to the University Church in Queen’s Court and Fr. John Piderit, S.J. was a resident of our hall, often inviting us to join him for a squash game, dinner, or a spirited conversation.  As “Master of the House”, Fr. Piderit encouraged us to look deeply at issues and to get involved in serving the needs of the local Bronx community.   Fr. Paul Brandt, S.J. was director of Campus Ministry and invited me to be an altar server.  Fr. Jim Miracky, S.J. trained me to be a lector (and taught me to pronounce all my consonant sounds!).  Fr. Bert Rushmore, S.J. taught me theology (and a bit of mercy when I bombed the mid-term!).  And working at POTS soup kitchen was an occasional Saturday activity.

As time went on, the Jesuits became father-figures for me.  Fr. John Mullin, S.J. showed up soon and began the Emmaus retreat program at Fordham, which really captured my imagination and gave me a leadership role.  He was a true mentor and honed in on my vocation, never letting me forget that I had the skills and the desire to be a retreat director and a lay minister.  Fr. Norris Clarke, S.J. and Fr. Gerry McCool, S.J. were two of my all time favorite teachers who taught more classical Philosophy, Thomas Aquinas and Plato and Aristotle.  Fr. Clarke may have been the most peaceful person I ever encountered.  I still have the mini-autobiography that I wrote for him as a final project in his class.

Fr. Joseph O’Hare, S.J. led us as President and I’d find him at the 10PM mass in the sacristy preparing to say mass.  As a sophomore, the Jesuits in El Salvador were murdered and Fr. O’Hare was part of the delegation that went down to investigate.  He came back changed by the experience in my eyes.

“We know who did this!” he told me when he returned.  “And there’s not a damn thing we can do about it!”

When I asked him, if the Jesuits were going to leave El Salvador, he remarked.  “Mike, we’ve got guys lined up around the block ready to take the place of the martyrs!”

I learned a lot about the Jesuits that day.  I learned a lot about why those men were killed along with their housekeeper and her daughter (two people the Jesuits quickly point out whenever people forget).  This past year I went down there to that site with Fr. Frank LaRocca, S.J. and some of our students and was greatly moved by the experience.

Today, I serve with many Jesuits.  Fr. Michael Tunney, S.J. serves as our Director of Mission and we do many projects throughout the year.  He’s a big reason I’m here.  Fr. Joe Burke, SJ is our rector these days and he’s an amazing person, who I have come to call a friend.  Bro. Chris Derby, SJ. has the gargantuan task of being my spiritual director, hearing my desolations and more often, pointing me towards the consolations that I’m too hard-headed to see.

Fr. Tom Colgan, S.J. and Fr. James Dugan serve with me in Campus Ministry and I’m humbled to be their director.  There’s something I never thought would happen.  I’m supervising two Jesuits!  Most often, the hearts of these men for our students, direct me to grasp a sure glimpse of God within the outpouring of their love for the campus.

The truth is that I meet the Jesuits every day, for they are always surprising me and showing me something new.  The truth is that the Jesuits meet us in the world.  Our Pope, Francis, a Jesuit, himself, shows the world what God’s love and mercy is all about each day of his papacy.

One Jesuit friend once told me words that I will take to my final resting place:  “Mike, you’ve made me a better Jesuit.”  But the truth is, that I have been made a better person by the Society of Jesus and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Happy Feast Day, fellas!   Long live the great Society of Jesus!

 

Does Spiritual Direction Need to Happen Face to Face?

I have directed a spiritual directee or two over Skype.  We’ve even talked about setting up a prayer group for our young alumni through the use of Google Hangout.  In many ways technology can be a great help in keeping people connected to God.

But might this be a “disordered attachment” in some ways too?

That’s the big question that I am exploring with those who will take my workshop today at the Ignatian Spirituality Conference.  Essentially this boils down to a few easy and perhaps obvious points:

  • Spiritual Direction often works best when done face to face.
  • However, when the director and the directee already have a relationship, spiritual direction can and often is best served by doing something via FaceTime, Google Hangout or Skype.
  • The use of technology often saves time and money for both director and directee.
  • Sometimes people need to move on from a direction relationship so extra care needs to be taken to see if the person is in need of seeing a new director and it is not the director who is clinging to the directee (that they may very well enjoy meeting with).

Am looking forward to see what comes up for people in these relationships and how they’ve had successes and failures with this.  Has this also been able to help people cultivate silence in their lives?

All is well here and am excited to present today.

I Desire Mercy, Not Sacrifice

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

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

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

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

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

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

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

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

Life After the Spiritual Exercises

Godinall thingsAndy Otto over at Godinallthings.com has a great piece today on the “Fifth Week” of the Spiritual Exercises, that is, the rest of our lives after we have completed a version of the exercises.  Retreat people sometimes call this the 4th Day (every day beyond their weekend retreat).

The graces we gain on a retreat experience are ours forever and what we need to do is to recall them.  Just as there are patterns that trip us up again and again, there are also amendments that we have made that have helped us to break those patterns.

I often say that noticing the evil one lurking behind me is a key grace I have gained from the exercises.  Being able to recognize the voice that tells me “you’re not good enough, you’re not strong enough, or smart enough.”  Many of those who sit before me in direction say the same.  As my friend John often says, “The devil knows me real well” and therefore will know just how to keep us in the pattern of desolation, especially during difficult times.

Mark Thibodeaux often talks about the difficulty at time identifying desolation and consolation.  “Sometimes it looks like consolation, but it is desolation…which we call “false consolation.”  And sometimes it looks like desolation but it is really consolation, which we call “difficult consolation.”

Time often gives us the opportunity to better discern which it is.  The relationship where we are having a great time with someone else can just be a “disordered attachment,” that doesn’t lead to deep commitment or even loving response.  The career where we feel some resonance can fail to live up to the ideas of magis, where is does not push us to do more for God.

The Fifth Week is much like JVC’s motto “ruined for life.”  After an experience like JVC, many report that they can no longer go back to their old ways of seeing the world.  Simple living, care for the impoverished, being more socially active…are now new patterns of being.  The same can be said about the exercises.  Once unhealthy and healthy patterns are uncovered, we can not go back to seeing the world as we once did.  With new eyes we move forward into the fifth week…the rest of our lives, where we are now awakened by God’s presence more obviously and with intention on our part.

So let us pray today for our fifth week experience.  May it always harken us back to the lessons of the exercises and bring us into a more perfect relationship with God and others.

 

So Punish Me, Don’t Do It

I-Must-Confess-button-520x245A young man once challenged me about the Sacrament of Confession in a semi-public forum.

“Why do I have to confess my sins to a priest, when I can just go directly to God?”

“A good question!” I replied back.  He smiled waiting for a cop-out answer of some sort.

But I honored his question by saying, “Technically speaking, God doesn’t need confession to forgive your sins.”   A bigger smile came over him.

“You see,” I continued, “Sacraments are outward signs of God’s grace in the world.  They are OF THIS WORLD.  Sacraments are not FOR God.  Sacraments are for US!”

Now it was my turn to question him.  “Let me ask you something.  If I said that you never had to go to confession again…”

Again a big hopeful smile.

And then the kicker, “How often would you ask God for forgiveness?”

A hush came over the room and no eyes would meet mine.   Save one.  The young man who asked the original question looked up and replied, “Honestly, probably not often. Probably only if I were really desperate or really upset about something I did wrong.”

“And how often, would you examine your conscience?”

“Well, maybe a bit more…but again, not that much,”

“Let’s take God and Hell and all those things out of the equation for a moment.  How often, would you say someone should look at all the wonderful things that they do and then also look at the ways that they don’t measure up?  And how often should they make a plan to improve themselves or to rectify something really awful?”

Someone else piped up, “As often as it is helpful!”  Which I thought was a great answer.

How often might the owner of a business look at their profits and losses?

A Wall Street banker in the room replied, “We’re bound to do this by law each quarter really.”

“Shouldn’t we…at least try to do the same thing with our own profits and losses?”

Everyone nodded and smiled a bit.  But it still made them uncomfortable.

I pressed further, “Let’s get beyond confession.  How often should we think about God, give God thanks, ask God for forgiveness.”

I looked to the former smart answerer and she said, “Yep, as often as it is helpful.”

“Right–we can over-do the forgiveness part especially and beat ourselves up way too much.”

But if we were left undeterred…how often would we take the time to do that?

One person said it perfectly, “Well, it’s not like I don’t want to do this.  I just forget or run out of time or it just doesn’t cross my mind because I’m pretty busy and caught up in a lot of my stuff.”

Again silence.  We all agreed that this was a huge problem.

“St. Ignatius was smart and he knew of the demands of the world.  He also knew how easy it was for us to get distracted.  So he told us we should practice this exercise TWICE a day.  The daily examen is a way to keep reminding ourselves to search for God and to notice our feelings and the rhythms of our lives.  The church asks us to go to mass once a week at minimum–we probably should go more often, because it’s really easy to lose one’s course isn’t it?”

“But we try to hide from the fact that we need God.  We try to push that away and become more autonomous beings in the world.  It’s a value that far too many people hold much too dearly.  So many people value a solitary achievement, as opposed to teamwork.  We value solitary prayer over communal ritual as well.”

One person nodded and said, “How many people say ‘I can pray alone, I don’t need to go to church to do that.'”  I agreed and even admit that I too fall into that trap from time to time.

But God finds His way to work at pulling the strings of our hearts, calling us back to center.  Calling us home to be with us, bringing us out of hiding.  Offering us tender forgiveness for the sins that are so obvious in the light of day.  Helping us to get to the heart of what is going on inside of us. ”

Friends, we can hide but at the end of the day, we are not going to fool God.  We are in need of deep reflection and we often can’t do that alone.  We need others feeding things back to us and helping us to become better people.

Perhaps we need that help about once a week?  And perhaps we need to spend some time really thinking about the occupations of our day every day? And maybe about once a month, we can look into our hearts and ask ourselves how we can most improve our efforts?

Do we need the sacrament of reconciliation (confession) to have God forgive our sins?  No!  But it helps!

Does God need us to go to Sunday mass?  As an old English teacher once told me, when I refused to do an assignment, “So punish me, don’t do it!”

She was wise enough to realize that the assignment benefited me alone.  It only created work for her, for she already knew the material.  In doing the assignment, I would be looking to her to tell me what I didn’t understand, what I understood well and how I could take steps to improve my grasping of the material.

I think God often says that to us, “So punish me, don’t do it!”

The issue at play here is that so many people have stopped going to mass and confession because essentially they have not found them to be helpful to this kind of deep discernment.

Perhaps there is nothing wrong with these people, but rather something wrong with those of us that are responsible for the “performance of ritual?”  That is well worth looking at to help us engage and re-engage those who clearly need reminders of God in their lives.

And God says to us too, “So, punish me, don’t do it!”

Today I pray, that I Lord might be just a bit kinder to those who come to seek you at our masses.  That I might take just a bit more time to talk to these that you have given to me.  I pray that I might have the courage to look at my own shortcomings and ask God to help me improve and that I might notice the graces given to me in my life more readily because I am in tune with the rhythms that bring me true joy and help me see God in all things.

Just because God is around all the time, doesn’t mean that we should take that for granted.

So this summer, let us commit ourselves to what we at least need minimally:  daily prayer, weekly mass, monthly confession.  And let us do these with the joy of knowing God’s love and mercy.  Amen.

 

 

The Holy Trinity

new-color-logo31This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and you can find readings for this weekend’s mass here.

But just what the heck is the Holy Trinity anyway?  We can default to the old school definition that many of us learned in religious education growing up that God is “one in three” or “three persons in one God”.  While those are satisfactory textbook definitions, they do little to help many people understand just what God is.  One of my old radio colleagues once asked, “If I invited God over for dinner, how many places would I have to set?” *Chuckle*

The first thing I would like to note about the Holy Trinity is that it is a mystery.  That’s not a cop-out answer on my part either.  Rather, it serves to mean that God is bigger than our concepts. It also means that while we don’t know everything about God, God does reveal Himself to us in at least a few ways and that can indeed serve to help us understand a bit about divinity.

And so when we say God is “Father” we should not focus on the patriarchal word here, per se, but peer in on the wisdom of creation.  God is the creator but also, God is “beyond us.”  None of us can truly create or father (or mother) all that God has done. God is bigger, deeper, more vast than any of us can imagine.  God is beyond the limits of our merely human constructions.  So we start from a position of humbleness and say that we can never really pin God down.  There is always an element of the unknown when it comes to the divine.

But we also believe that God breaks into human history at times too, do we not?  God interacts with us.  God wants to be part of our lives.  Sometimes that is hard for us to believe and I believe that this has always been true.  In fact, it was so true that God directly intervened as “one of us” in the person of Jesus.  That makes this a whole lot clearer and easier for us to understand now, doesn’t it?  So while God is “beyond us,” God is also “with us.”

And we also believe that God is not just “alongside us” but that God is “with-in us.” I hyphenated that to show that God is both with us and in our hearts; closer to us than our own heartbeat.  We fail to understand this as well sometimes thinking that God could never wish to be part of us.  In my mind, I believe this why Jesus gave us the sacrament of the eucharist. For the times when we can’t understand that God exists in the hearts of each one of us–we literally take God and put God inside of us–through the accidents of bread and wine.  Catholics, do the hard things first, I often say.  And so if we can believe that God’s essence can unite with a simple meal, we should be able to remind ourselves that God is with us always.

So “beyond us,” “with us,” and “within us.”  This is Trinity.  This is our meager attempt to try to classify God.  It is still incomplete, because God is far bigger than our definitions, but this satisfies me as a definition.  The word “kinship” also comes to mind here.  God seeks to be in kinship with us and therefore we have many ways to interact and experience God’s love in our lives.

In what ways have you experienced God as one who is “beyond, with or within you?”

Do You Have the Time?

Time..don’t run out on me.

It’s a phrase that I’ve mentioned often in ministry as being an element that is essential to the development of faith. I challenge spiritual directees to prioritize their relationship with God by dedicating at least 20 minutes a day to prayer with the hopeful development that 20 minutes will turn into 40 and 40 will turn to 60 or more. What I find is that most people fall between two extremes: they don’t pray at all, or they find that they crave more prayer and end up exceeding my minimal requirement.

Prayer for me, is also a time-consuming matter. I need to brush out distractions and simply be–but also learn how to mix prayer into the rhythms of my day. For example, after lunch each day, I find myself energized by my colleagues in the student affairs division, who I often eat with close to daily. It’s the one time a day that our paths cross and it gives me insight from other seasoned directors and insight into the tone of the college. As I rise from the table each day, I say to myself, “Thank you, God for these people who fill me with joy.”

To become our prayers, to immerse ourselves in relationship with God, we need conversion–we need to be changed and to be constantly asking for change in our lives. But then also to have some constants that we remain dedicated to in order that they might call us to be critical of who we are becoming. For example, when I write I find myself more awakened to the joys in my life: the students I serve, the colleagues I enjoy, the wife I love, the dog warm on my lap, the sunshine on the water or a good hearty laugh. Writing for me is often a form of prayer and when I dedicate time to it, I find myself centered and relaxed and better able to get through the day–or better put, excel at work and be more open to relationships with others.

One of our graduate students, Matt Gorczyca on his blog, Gorc Meets World (which you should be reading if you are not) had a similar experience regarding writing that sums up my own feelings of getting back into the swing of blogging.

For the first time in a while I was fully immersed in my writing. I was filling pages with ink and typing blocks of text into blog posts. I felt like a machine – but not the kind that I have been the past few months. No, instead of being programmed by the day, with circumstances of an alarm clock, a boss and a pillow dictating how I spent my time, this time I was in control. It was as if I was a transformer. I’ve never seen the movie, but from what I’ve heard it’s basically when machines take over the world. Well I was my own writing machine taking back my world.

I felt revitalized and back to my old energized, creative self. It all came back to giving myself time. All I needed was a few hours in a coffee shop and I was back in my mode of writing. I didn’t have the distractions of a TV, a workload, chores or even people. I was retreating to a world that I could feel like myself again. And boy do I feel more alive than I have in a while.

Amen, brother! Thanks for waking me up as well. It is often difficult to dedicate some real time to all the things we want to do. But it is not impossible to dedicate regular time to the things that give you life. This is the Ignatian Examen at its finest–where we move towards consolation, all that brings us life and away from all that lands us in the dumper.

So some New School Year Resolutions are forming for me:
1) Write–just write. Often, if not daily.
2) Connect with someone new each day.
3) Invite people into opportunities with Campus Ministry often.
4) Exercise daily, even if I just stretch and then vigorously at least three times a week.
5) Rejoice in our retreats, spiritual direction and the things I get to do that bring me more life, bring to me the MAGIS.
5) Identify consolation intentionally twice a day, if not more often and write about it as much as possible.
6) Enjoy a good laugh, good times with friends and love and appreciate my wife better than I already do.
7) I’ll get killed for this but, write about the dog more. The Hazehayes blog may return!

And thanks Matt, for reminding me who I should be more often and what I am called to do.

An Inspiring Ignatian Year

180px-Ignatius_Loyola
On this feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, I’m blessed to have spent a year officially in the Ignatian family. Although, I have spent a majority of my adult life around Jesuits, 2013-14 was the first school year where I drew a paycheck from an Ignatian institution as a professional campus minister. This past year at Canisius has been one filled with inspiration. Each day I look back there is much more to be excited about than negative about. It hasn’t been a perfect year, but Ignatius would remind us that life is never perfect and that we need not look at how we might prefer things to be, but that we should rather consider what has been and find where God has been for us in these experiences for better or worse.

A week or so ago I ran out to the airport to welcome home a Canisius contingent fresh back from Nicaragua. The group contained a few students I knew as well as some parents. Our President, John Hurley, also led the crew who did a lot of manual labor and learned much about land reform and redistribution in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Over the years I’ve gotten to know quite a few Presidents of Jesuit Universities. Also, one of my closest college mentors is now a College President of a school in New Hampshire. I’ve admired a great deal of them, especially the two Presidents I’ve known from my alma mater, Fordham, Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J. and Joseph McShane, SJ. Their keen prowess in leading the Jesuit University of New York has been nothing short of amazing.

As I was driving to the airport, I began to think about how centered our President is on mission, especially as a layman. It’s not every President of a University that would travel to places like Nicaragua or El Salvador as he’s done. He has a tough job and one that requires a lot of politicking and financial savvy and in this economic climate, it is a gargantuan feat to simply stay above water. It’s easy for us to complain about all the things that go wrong at a college, but I’m glad I got to see something very right about Jesuit education as I watched President Hurley and his family come through the airport with students and parents, including one parent recovering from cancer, who provided added inspiration for the journey. We’re indeed pretty lucky.

I too, travelled to Central America this year. I left for El Salvador just a few days after graduation with 9 amazing students and one of my favorite Jesuits, who never ceases to impress and inspire me. Frank LaRocca, SJ has been teaching business ethics and law for a long time and he’s also been a co-leader on many of our trips. He’s a fluent spanish speaker and has been to El Salvador many times, which gave me great comfort. But there were two moments during the trip that really brought me to tears.

The first was when we went to the Universidad Centro America, where in 1989, during my Sophomore year of college, 6 Jesuits and their cook and her daughter were killed in cold blood, by the Salvadoran government’s death squad, ARENA. The campus itself is fairly typical. We entered the chapel and saw where the Jesuits were entombed. These men were killed for standing up for the needs of the poor and criticizing the government as well as the rebel forces who both continued to fall short in caring for destitute people and in avoiding war and violence. I can remember when Fr. O’Hare came back in 1989 from his visit to El Salvador to investigate what went on with all the other Jesuit presidents in solidarity together. He came back profoundly changed and pretty angry. His anger resolved through dedication to the poor and continuing to call us into a greater concern for those in harm’s way. Now I was standing in that chapel wondering how different it must have felt to be there so soon after the murders. As we turned to leave the chapel, I watched Frank stop for a brief moment and pause by the tomb of his brother Jesuits. We both prayed silently, priest and layman, for men who were not much different from us–higher education professionals, sharing ideas, pushing people to think a bit more critically. And for that, these men lost their lives. I imagined how I would have felt if this has happened at Canisius. People shot in the quad and their murderers walking scot-free out on to the main road. It seemed unconscionable, and yet, this is what happened. Frank touched the side of the mausoleum wall and we exited together. It was a touching moment that I shall not soon forget.

The second moment was during one of our reflections. Frank has admired this blog for some time and has let me know that often enough. We had great conversations in El Salvador on some late nights. When we reflected with the students Frank was asked to affirm me in some way. My expectation was that he would have said something about my writing or our friendship. He very well may have focused on that, as well as some of my pastoral skills, but I can only remember one line from his treatise that night.

“Mike, you’ve made me a better Jesuit.”

And that is the best compliment I have ever received because the Jesuits have meant so much to me. They have made me much of who I am. Inspiring me from my college days to the present.

What most Jesuits and even most people don’t know, is that when I started Fordham in (good Lord!) 1988, I was having a real crisis of faith. I still believed in God and even still was going to mass, but I was having a tough time believing in the church and their priests. I was always active in the church and spent many weekends doing something around my parent’s parish. But one Saturday, it all changed. While I was sweeping the church steps of the rice from the afternoon wedding, an older black man approached me.

“Hey kid, I’m hungry! Do you think the Father might be able to give me a sandwich? I’ll help you sweep if you want.”

I told him to wait there and I’d go check with the Associate Pastor. I had seen our old pastor do this several times and even go far beyond a sandwich. Guys left with coffee thermoses and winter coats and a blessing. Now retired, there were new sheriffs in town.

“Father,” I said. “There’s a man out here looking for a sandwich and said he can sweep with me if you want.”

The associate pastor took off, nearly running to the church steps and then let out a yell:

“GET THE HELL AWAY FROM HERE! GO! NOBODY WANTS YOU AROUND HERE!”

Downtrodden the man left and I felt awful. I wanted to chase after him and bring him to the pizza parlor or something but I was young and afraid. It was then that the priest looked at me and said, “I’m not a racist, but I just don’t like those blacks!”

I thought I heard a record skip in my head. Did I hear that right?

If this was a man who dedicated himself to the gospel, I wanted no part of that scene. I had already settled on going to Fordham (which he was highly against me attending because of those liberal Jesuits) but there was no way I was planning on being as involved in the life of the church as much as I had been.

And then, I met the Jesuits.

And there I saw what true discipleship means. There I found men who ate and slept with the poor. Men who operated soup kitchens. Men who passed along ideals to help create men and women for others. Men who inspired me and invited me into the experience of loving those who had nobody to love them. I spooned out soup and cleaned pantries once in a while and became a lector, eucharistic minister and altar server. I went on my first retreat on my 20th birthday, because my resident director challenged me:

“You can go out to Clarke’s and drink any night of the week. Why don’t you come away and think about what the next 20 years will be like?”

Well, those next 20 years have been pretty good. I hope Ignatius and Peter Canisius can continue to allow me to be inspired by students, by faculty, by Presidents and of course, by my Jesuit brothers, including a Jesuit Pope who seems to inspire everyone he touches. I pray it lasts for another 20 years and beyond.

But for today, we celebrate!

Happy Feast Day!