Can We Heal Wounds?

When the horror of September 11th came upon the United States my friends with children fought vigorously to keep their children away from the television screen. Others even fought to keep themselves away from the images we know all too well from that day. Many wondered what to tell their kids when they returned home from school and some even hoped that their teachers hadn’t spilled the beans.

I wondered to myself if this were a healthy approach? It makes sense that we don’t want people, never mind children to be exposed to horrible images that could have traumatic effects on their psyche. But what about telling them about what happened? It seems that many of my friends tried to seal the information from their kids for at least some time, usually before one of their friends remarked about the dreadful news.

I started to think about other things that people don’t tell their kids because they don’t want them to worry. Finances are hard. Mom’s got cancer. There was an accident. Your dog went to heaven. It seems anything that is bad is taboo for children at times and people only tell them things that they need to, only when absolutely necessary.

Slate had a great article today that got me thinking about this. They claim three real reasons that college students (and the rest of us, they claim) are more stressed out than ever before. I’ll riff on each here and add a fourth that stems from them and will add some thoughts about what I see amongst my own students and colleagues.

The first is a lack of community. One colleague of mine said: “I knew there was trouble when I found two student residents in their room arguing with one another–but they weren’t yelling at each other, they were TEXTING and IMing while in the same room! I put a stop to that and made them hash it out.”

Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection. As fear researcher Michael Davis of Emory University told me: “If you’ve lost the extended family and lost the sense of community, you’re going to have fewer people you can depend on, and therefore you’ll be more anxious. Other cultures have much more social support and are better off psychologically because of it.” Another factor that adds to this problem—especially among young people—is our growing reliance on texting and social media for community, which many psychologists say is no substitute for real human interaction. When you’re feeling most dreadful, you don’t run to your Facebook profile for consolation; you run to a flesh-and-blood friend.

I think about my own students with this one. One of the most popular clubs on campus is our Christian Life Communities, a weekly prayer group of sorts that invites people to do a short form of the Ignatian examen in community. We discuss the highs and lows of the week and provide a meditation and a time for affirmations and prayer requests. It’s one of the times in my week that I feel I can really connect with our students and I start to hear just what people are carrying around with them. This is safe space and sometimes when I hear what people are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking, never mind getting a degree. I feel the same way about the students I’ve seen in spiritual direction. And I often feel that they are unprepared for all that life is offering them and impressed that somehow they are still able to function at such high levels.

Professionally, I notice the texting more amongst outside younger colleagues than amongst my students at Canisius. I communicate with many people via text. And sometimes it’s inappropriate. There are some who try to conduct business via text when it would be faster and easier to call and have a conversation. Indeed texting is somehow more efficient but then again, it can lead to problems. My staff does this well. We text when necessary. When we need to get a message to someone quickly and think they are in a meeting or can’t talk. Or when the message is a quick one that requires some kind of action “Can you grab cider for the meeting?” would be an example.

The second is information overload which I discuss at length in my book, Googling God. There’s so much information out there that you can’t possibly consume it all. Our students often ask for bullet points and other quick soundbytes of information and I often give it to them because they just don’t need one more thing to read and information is bombarding them at high rates all the time. I don’t ever not recommend reading and I give them plenty to chew on when I think there’s a book or an article that is worth their time, but I also try to encourage that there’s not a rush to consume this information–to savor the reading process and to enjoy reading and gaining information. I often feel that college would be more enjoyable if we just let students finish when they finish. Now that’s an impossible business model to sustain, but from my own perspective I was able to work and do two graduate classes per semester and I enjoyed that immensely. I found it difficult to take 5 undergraduate classes and hold all that information together while working at the radio station and socializing and all of my campus ministry involvement.

I find my present students are great at balancing their time. Many are involved in much and have heavy duty science majors or are working on a big time business degree. I never knew how the medical students kept up at UB and the pre-meds are just as impressive at Canisius. But I do notice their anxiety. I do notice that it is not easy for them. And I do see them when they get overwhelmed by their to-do lists and the pressure of being good students and having a social life and trying to figure out what they would most like to be and do with their lives.

Some are brilliant: They’ve realized that they are never going to know everything that someone else thinks they should know. It took me years to get that idea through my thick skull.

Finally here’s the last major point:

Put simply, Americans have developed habits for dealing with anxiety and stress that actually make them far worse. We vilify our aversive emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their own course. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees. Psychologist Steven Hayes, creator of a highly effective anxiety treatment formula called acceptance and commitment therapy, told me that we’ve fallen victim to “feel-goodism,” the false idea that “bad” feelings ought to be annihilated, controlled, or erased by a pill. This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.

Amen! We protect ourselves way too much. And we protect others from our sadness and what we perceive is their sadness way too much.

Interestingly enough, comedian Louis CK hits the nail on the head with this: (warning: vulgar at times).

Perhaps our call is not to remove our student’s sadness or stress, but to help them more appropriately deal with that. We often do this in community on retreats, prayer groups, spiritual direction and on more than a few occasions by collaborating with our counseling center.

Our students need us and more importantly, they need community, they need time to chill to detox from information and they need to share their fears in a safe space where they can actually feel their emotions and be supported by peers and ministers.

In a world that is marked by terrorism all too often, anxiety is ever present globally and we have fewer resources to turn to because everyone is so busy that we have a hard time paying attention to those who need us. Older Americans might note that they were afraid of the Russians or of the bomb–but their community structure was much more intertwined with one another than our students’ lives are today.

This is our call as higher ed professionals and as Catholic Campus Ministers. As Pope Francis put it in the recent interview in America Magazine:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

Heal the wounds… the wounds that are felt deeply and all too easily pushed away. Help people to feel their wounds and then to not be afraid to place your hands in the wounds of Jesus, like Thomas and allow the healing that God has to offer to take place through you, even in small and simple ways. This is ministry.

And it is where we always encounter God waiting for us and asking us to heal wounds.

Sarah’s Cannonball

My colleague Sarah Signorino just wrote a fine piece for the Ignatian Solidarity Network. Here’s a snip:

Canisius College just celebrated our Mass of the Holy Spirit to welcome in the new academic year. Our staff reflected on an April homily of Pope Francis to consider the message of the Holy Spirit. Pope Francis said, “the Holy Spirit upsets us because it moves us, it makes us walk, it pushes the Church forward.” He said that we wish “to calm down the Holy Spirit, we want to tame it and this is wrong…that’s because the Holy Spirit is the strength of God, it’s what gives us the strength to go forward.”

I love control, organization and planning. Parenthood, of course, has thrown me and every other parent-who-loves-knowing-what’s-next as much as I do! I was recently hit by a cannonball. My husband and I found out at the beginning of the summer that we are expecting baby #2! We were hoping to expand our family at some point but the news did come as a surprise. Starting the New Year with a 2 year old and a newborn will definitely erase any hopes of traveling and other individual goals we had just begun to think about tackling. My joyful news took some getting used to. I wanted to tame the Spirit to me on MY timeline!

When I saw the question, “What is your Cannonball?”, I reflected on the ways I was trying to resist the work of the Holy Spirit in my life as an individual woman, mother and wife. Sometimes God’s surprises can lead to greater joy—pregnancy, a new job, rediscovering the love of a partner or friend, or even unknowingly beginning the path to sainthood. What happens when these God-surprises may be hurtful (like getting hit by a cannonball) or full of loss (miscarriage, divorce, death)?

I reflected on “the cannonball” earlier in the year on the Feast of St Ignatius. It seems to have caught on as a theme in different Ignatian Circles. Great minds think alike!

What’s your cannonball?

If Not For a Cannonball…

180px-Ignatius_LoyolaSome words of reflection on the Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Loyola

If not for a cannonball
He would not have looked more deeply
At the life he had led
A full, and yet still, empty life
A rich, but yet to be richer, existence
That would have floated away.

If not for vanity’s sake
Hoping for a walk without a limp
Would convalescence have not provided the time
For reflecting just that much deeper?

If there were only more books
Of ribald tales
Near pornographic materials for the time
If only there were one or two more of those books
Would the Life of Christ and His great saints
Have not been touched by another saint’s hands?

The shattering of that leg
Shattered Iñigo’s heart as well
His life was no more
Who would want a gimpy-legged man after all?
And perhaps wallowing,
He read of what could have been
Priming his mind for the tales
Of Francis and Dominic
Who were more like the man he was about to become

If not for that cannonball
There would be no St. Ignatius
No Isaac Jogues, no Francis Xavier
There would be no Canisius, no Fordham
No Georgetown, No Boston College
James Martin may still work for GE
And Greg Boyle would not have become a Homeboy
If a cannonball did not change everything
For Iñigo and for us.

For Iñigo is now Ignatius of Loyola
And Ignatius reminds us that it is in moments like these
Where a simple, or not so simple, event
Can harken God’s presence to us
If we, but pay attention to the cannonball

So what are the cannonballs in our lives?
Those moments that cause us to turn,
if only for one brief moment in time
Towards God

That moment that caused us to see ourselves
A bit more clearly
And invited us into the place
Where we could be just a bit more
Than we thought we could

Perhaps we laughed at the thought
As old Sarah did at her potential pregnancy
Or perhaps we feared a future
As Isaiah did because of youth.

But a moment in time
Where we notice the Lord
Calling us
Is all we need to be not just
All that we are
But all that we can be for others as well

What is your moment in time?
That caused you to turn
Just a bit, or perhaps more drastically,
To be who God calls you to be?

A classroom, a bedroom, a bar room,
Those moments happen there.
A birth, a death, getting fired, an invitation
to something new,
something different,
something that changes us
To be renewed by God’s grace
Which is all we need and nothing more.

It might be that
we just sat at the right table
And met someone
Who changed our lives
With their invitation
That led to a new job
Or marriage
Or something else

Perhaps one dared to
Point out a flaw or the thing that is missing
And asked us to just consider that
Because they saw clearly when we could not?

Even the Pope has these moments
Like when the ballots swung
In his favor
And led him to remember the poor
In the princely, papal palace
And chose to be different.

What is your Ignatian moment?
Your cannonball?
That shatters your world
For good
And changes you
To be all that God has called you to be?

Happy Feast Day

This Might Be the Most Quotable Pope in Decades

The esteemed Dave Sampson from our diocese passed this on to me moments ago.

“We need saints without cassocks, without veils. We need saints with jeans and tennis shoes. We need saints that go to the movies, that listen to music, that hang out with friends.

We need saints who put God in first place, ahead of succeeding in any career. We need saints who look for time to pray every day and who know how to be in love with purity, chastity, and all good things. We need saints, Saints of the 21st century with a spirituality appropriate to our new time.

We need saints that have a commitment to helping the poor and to make the needed social change. We need saints to live in the world, to sanctify the world and to not be afraid of living in the world by their presence in it.

We need saints that drink Coca-Cola, that eat hot dogs, that surf the internet and that listen to their iPods. We need saints that love the Eucharist, that are not afraid or embarrassed to eat a pizza or drink a beer with their friends.

We need saints who love the movies, dance, sports, theater. We need saints that are open, sociable, normal, happy companions. We need saints who are in this world and who know how to enjoy the best in this world without being callous or mundane. We need saints.

–Pope Francis, World Youth Day 2013, Rio

All I can say is “Amen.”

Well…maybe that’s not all I can say. This is a very Ignatian moment for the Pope talking clearly about finding God in all things. I’m not sure if I’ve heard anyone say this more simply nor more eloquently than Papa Francisco.

I hope the Canisius students are finding these messages as uplifting as I am finding it and that they see the clear Jesuit connection from the Holy Father.

At 80, Jesuit Decides to Return to Lay State

An amazing decision by now former Jesuit Bert Thelen on why he decided to return to the lay state despite being nearly 80 and serving the church as a priest for a majority of his years.

“In plainer words, we need to end the world view that structures reality into higher and lower, superior and inferior, dominant and subordinate, which puts God over Humanity, humans over the rest of the world, men over women, the ordained over the laity. As Jesus commanded so succinctly, ‘Don’t Lord it over anyone … serve one another in love.’ As an institution, the Church is not even close to that idea; its leadership works through domination, control, and punishment. So, following my call to serve this One World requires me to stop benefiting from the privilege, security, and prestige ordination has given me. I am doing this primarily out of the necessity and consequence of my new call, but, secondarily, as a protest against the social injustices and sinful exclusions perpetrated by a patriarchal church that refuses to consider ordination for women and marriage for same- sex couples …”

I know many men who are priests from a variety of dioceses and religious orders who struggle with these same issues. Please continue to pray for them and for all of us who they serve.

Picturing God

The Jesuits have a very cool blog called Picturing God and recently I submitted one of my own to the site that I forgot to mention last week. So check it out at this link.

And as a follow up here is a picture and prayer along the same theme:


New Students
New Students to care for, to pray for,
To be a mentor, a guide, a friend.

To watch them grow further into adulthood,
Although they are already adults,
More than they know.

Help them to discover all that they are, Lord…
All that they can be.
So that they will serve you, Lord…
And in doing so serve the world.

I, too, need your help, Lord.
For I am entrusted with their care
And the care of my fine colleagues.
The care of the funds to do the work
You have called us too.

It is a great responsibility
And you have gifted me already with so much
To provide me the confidence that you are always with me.

Let me spend these days knowing that
And as I keep these young men and women in prayer
As they travel to Brazil to be with the Holy Father
And with you Lord.
May their hearts be open to see your face in each other.
And be changed further to be men and women for others.
In that great Ignatian spirit that they have been taught well.

And my they come home to find us, their friends
Old and new
Waiting as you always wait for us.
With open arms.


You Know You Work at A Jesuit College When….

IMG_1237Magis…Kairos…Cura Personalis…Examen…

When students throw these words around, one can only be impressed because these are all part of a common Ignatian language. As many of you have heard, I’ve accepted a position at Canisius College, which the Jesuits run here in Buffalo. I’ve always wanted to work in Jesuit Higher Education and it’s been exciting these first three days. I’m still getting acclimated, but the wonderful colleagues that surround me have made that so much easier than expected. I’ve always found a particular, but often unnamed charism of Ignatian life to be a sincere desire to see others succeed and often that want comes from a place of great security with one’s self. I love the fact that I’m working with a bunch of very confident people who really pride themselves on doing fine work.

And that brings me to the students…because it is clear that they are being formed well in the Ways of St. Ignatius. One student gushed about Kairos Retreats and made me promise her that I would attend at least one (I was psyched for this coming into the job as I love retreats). “The Jesuits are different!” she said, noting that she didn’t want to attend a Catholic school but was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of Campus Ministry at Canisius. Another student was getting ready to go to World Youth Day in Brazil and picked my brain about my two trips to World Youth Day events and the wonderful MAGIS program that the Jesuits run during the Papal Pilgrimage. Yet another, talked about their trip to India, where they were changed by the experience of the poor and grew in desire to become “men and women for others.”

Ignatius teaches us to look for the consolation and the desolation in a daily examen of consciousness. And these days I find myself very consoled by people. New colleagues and even some old friends who work at Canisius and have welcomed me in and helped me rest easy in the comfort of their hospitality. These are the arms of Christ met in the open embrace of a new group of colleagues.

Desolation comes (as it always does) in the occasional negative thought that pushes my fear. That voice that tells me that perhaps I’m not good enough, or smart enough, or cool enough to engage these students. That we don’t have enough money or that things will get mismanaged or that the students don’t really care for religion anyway. And I’ve learned to recognize that voice as the evil one looking to manipulate all that can be good in ministry. Indeed, realizing that there is something that inevitably leads us away from God and into the throes of dread, is an important recognition and Ignatius reminds us to move away from those fears and to instead, have faith—the opposite of fear–that there are many that will bring us beyond our fears in order to bask in becoming all that Christ calls us to be.

So keep us in prayer, dear friends. As we prepare for a year of ministry with these wonderful sons and daughters of Ignatius of Loyola. May God bless our faculty, staff and students and especially all the Jesuits who are on Campus.

You know you work at a Jesuit College when only one thing happens…

You are consoled by the love that emanates from all those around you who have been clearly touched by God’s grace.

And who always return that love to each person they meet.