Googler Goes Canisius

UnknownSo after four wonderful years at St. Joseph University Parish serving the fine folks at the University at Buffalo, the time has come to say so long.

I have accepted the position of Director of Campus Ministry at Canisius College, which for the uninformed is the Jesuit college here in Buffalo. So I will not be moving but will simply have another few traffic lights to pass on my way to work as Canisius is up the block a bit from St. Joe’s on Main Street.

I’ve always wanted to work at a Jesuit School, so the opportunity that presents itself to me now is a great one. My colleagues at Canisius are awesome and I have spent some time with them at vicariate meetings and other various events here in town. So I’m really looking forward to working with a team of Campus Ministers.

I will miss my colleagues at St. Joe’s immensely. Fr. Jack Ledwon has become more than a pastor, he’s also a trusted friend and an amazing guy. He’s been the older brother I never had (because he’s far too young to be my father). Sr. Jeremy Midura, Patty Spear and Diane Brennan keep the pastoral staff in tip top shape and made my days at St. Joe’s fun and lighthearted. I will miss our hallway conversations. Deacons Ted Pijacki and Paul Emerson were also great, great colleagues along with our weekend assistants Fr. Xavier Seubert, Msgr. Angelo Callugeri and Fr. Michael Tunney, S.J. who becomes one of my new Canisius colleagues as well now.

Ken Wells, Maureen Kruse, Athena Schmidt and Joanne Messer were the best support staff of all time. Can I take you all with me? =)

Of course the students are too numerous to mention but in four years those of you who were freshmen with me that first year have now graduated. Medical Students, have become doctors and graduate students have advanced degrees now. Faculty and staff welcomed me into being a colleague at UB–especially those in the medical school at the gross anatomy lab and the Behling simulation center (my two favorite places on campus). It’s the closest I’ll ever be to being in medical school. I’ve been so proud to watch you grow and become the person who you have trained hard to be, and also who God calls you into being. Each moment with you was a privilege.

My colleagues at UB’s Newman Center in Campus Ministry over the years, Julianne Wallace, Ed and Katie Koch, Debbie and J.P. Moore, and the amazing Msgr. Pat Keleher…you’ve been a lot of fun.

And lastly, Christine Marino, who has served as my erstwhile assistant this year, I think I’ll miss working with you most of all. Thanks for always making me look good, confirming my suspicions and fears and for have the guts to tell me in no uncertain terms when frankly, I was full of it. You’re gonna be a hell of a doctor.

I’m on a Charis retreat on (of all things) Transitions for a few days with the young adults of the diocese. They’re awesome and it’s been a good opportunity for me to think about the transition I’m moving into as well.

I found a yellow balloon yesterday floating on the retreat center’s campus. Canisius’ color is that very type of Golden Yellow. I felt drawn to get it and I trudged through a wet grassy field to retrieve it and then I couldn’t stop playing “punching bag” with the balloon. I felt like a little kid again and believe that much fun and great things await at Canisius. God reminds us that our work should in fact, be fun from time to time. That work helps us contribute to others and be amazed at the joys that life has to bring. It brought me simple joy and reminded me that God has amazing things in store for us if we just open our eyes and look and enjoy the simple pleasures.

So I start this new venture on July 8th and need your prayers. As do my new colleagues at Canisius. The Jesuits have long been good to me and it feels good to be “in the family” again after my educational formation at Fordham for both of my degrees. It is in that Ignatian spirit that I feel most consoled and I will be taking a final two weeks at St Joe’s to wrap things up and then another two weeks of rest and, yes, grieving–with each transition there is always some loss but also much to be thankful for.

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It feels good to be a Golden Griffin. Canisius has placed much trust and responsibility in my hands. May God make that opportunity turn into much fruitful labor and bring the joy of Christ into the hearts of all the students and faculty and staff of this amazing Jesuit college. My Ignatian heart is overwhelmed with joy.

For now, many prayers of gratitude as we pray one of my favorite Ignatian prayers:

Take Lord, receive all my liberty,
My memory, my understanding, my entire will
Give me only your love and your grace,
That’s enough for me.

Sometimes the Greatest Things Come from a Child

Unknown-2So I often get a little down around the end of the semester. The students start to filter out and the campus seems barren. We give our students carepackages from the parish community to help them study during finals. That’s the first signal that the semester is ending.

I was standing at the carepackage table in our community room, thanking parishioners as they dropped off their boxes of well…junk food really. Candy, energy drinks, cup o soups, etc. A young girl from the parish came over and started to eye all the candy through the window on each box.

“You know how you can get one of these, don’t you?” I asked.

Her eyes opened wide and said “NO! How?”

“You go to college!”

She frowned one of those “darn it, you got me” frowns. And then started making faces at me. Then she smacked me and said “TAG! You’re it!”

So here was 43 year old me chasing a 10 year old around the community room. (After 15 minutes of that, I needed a nap!) It was great and silly fun. Her dad, a great parish friend of mine called her and said it was time to go. He also jokingly told me that I could take her and their 2 dogs home with me if I really wanted to.

“OK, give Mike a hug and let’s go home.”

His daughter walked over to me and then smacked me!

“Gotcha last!”

I laughed heartily and began to walk back to my office.

“Hey wait!” I heard behind me.

And then she came running towards me and gave me the sweetest little girl hug.

Our parish is a special place. This weekend two of my favorite students got married and we had an amazing Sunday mass this week and we “sent forth” our dear cantor, Juliana, who is off to graduate school in Ireland this summer. We had a lot of tear-stained faces this weekend…often.

But for some reason, God is reminding me of this little girl. Reminding me that simplicity is a wonderful thing, where we experience God more deeply in our lives.

It seems that the whole world is emblazoned with God’s mark of love.

I don’t know if that happens in every parish, but it sure happens in mine.

And it is always more than enough.

The Jesuitness of Pope Francis

charis_logoSo my colleagues at Charis Ministries in Chicago have asked a rather provocative question:

Why Should Pope Francis attend a Charis Retreat?

And so I would like to offer the Top 10 reasons why a Ignatian Retreat and specifically a Charis Retreat would benefit the likes of Papa Francisco.

images-11) A Transition is a Great Time for a Retreat: Pope Francis is in the midst of an unexpected transition. Moving from Argentina to Italy alone has got to be jarring, never mind the move from his simple quarters to the Papal Suite in the Vatican (reportedly, the Pope said it was too large for him and said “You could fit 300 people in here). So I’d like to recommend that he attends a What’s Next Retreat–which is based specifically on the experience of making transitions. You should join him if you’ve gotten a new job, moved to a new city, graduated college or graduate school, entered the job force for the first time, just gotten married or divorced or are expecting a child. Transitions are crazy! And Ignatian spirituality focuses us on the principle of indifference—trying to have the faith that says that no matter what befalls us and no matter how scary things are, God will get us through anything.

2) The Value of Silence: Each Charis retreat really values silence and the opportunity to take time away from the noise that often constantly surrounds us. Do you remember those first moments on the Papal balcony? The Pope actually asked for silence and you could hear a pin drop in the square as people prayed for our new Pontiff. Perhaps we all need just a few moments in our lives to cultivate silence for even just a short time.

3) Simplicity: If nothing else, the new Pope loves being with people and sharing stories of his own. That’s precisely what Charis retreats are based on. The experience of finding God in everyday life is where we all are. So the retreats meet us firmly on that ground and then moves us to consider where God might be in that experience. I read today where the Pope called the newsstand where he got his morning paper and cancelled his subscription. Can we find God in the simple moments of the day like buying the morning paper or riding the bus. It seems to me that the Pope can help others understand this well.

4) For the Least of Our Brothers and Sisters: Charis Retreats always center on the experience of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Pope has seen much suffering in the slums of Buenos Aires and the experience of the global south certainly knows poverty much better than we do in the United States. Do we have the ability to see God in these experiences of poverty and how are we poor ourselves? For the least provides an opportunity to reflect on the experience of serving others who are in need instead of merely doing a good deed and then going on our way. Have we been able to name where we find Christ in these experiences?

5) Ignatius and Francis: Why would a Jesuit take Francis as his name? Well, it’s actually quite appropriate! Ignatius was a big admirer of Francis. During his period of convalescence he read all about Francis and placed himself in the stories of Francis and in his imagination he discovered that he enjoyed imitating the life of Francis much more than the gallant knights that he had tried to become like before. On Charis retreats, you’re able to use these imaginative exercises where you place yourself in the stories of Francis, Ignatius and Jesus and other imaginative scenes. By putting our creative imagination at the service of our faith we find that we meet God more clearly in these experiences and are able to more readily integrate our deepest desires about who we most want to be into action.

6) Contemplative in Action: Ignatius implores us to be people in the world but not of the world. To be contemplative in action, to not merely experience our lives by living them but also by reflecting back on our experiences. With the number of stories we’ve already heard from Pope Francis, I am certain that he shares that value and has reflected deeply on his more than 75 years.

7) Forgiveness: Charis retreats always center on the experience of being a “loved sinner.” And Pope Francis has clearly talked about a God who always forgives us in the early days of his Papacy. I often lead the reconciliation service on the retreats that I coordinate with one of our team members. And it’s always a moving experience to see people come back from the sacrament of reconciliation renewed and refreshed in the forgiveness of God’s love. Imagine being able to go to confession to the Pope?! And imagine being a priest and hearing the Pope’s confession?!

8. Servant Leadership: Charis retreats are run by young adults for young adults. They are based in peer leadership where we serve the needs of one another. We now have a Pope who is doing that with his brother priests and more importantly, brother Cardinals. His spirit of collegiality would fit in well on a Charis retreat and while he’s not a young adult, I could see him leading us as spiritual director and showing other priests the importance of being with young people.

9) Magis: The great Cardinal Tagle of Manilla once reminded us that we don’t just work for the glory of God, but rather we work for the GREATER glory of God. We stretch ourselves beyond our usual modes of participating in life, to become somewhat uncomfortable, to reflect on matters we often have no time for in our busy lives. We do so in order to define what the Magis is for each one of us. We discern, rather than simply decide who we are to be. The Pope has been echoing those words in the early days of his papacy and it’s pretty clear that he’s working not only to fulfill the demands of the Papacy, but also to show each of us where greater glory resides in the experience of fulfilling our roles in life. Sitting on a weekend with Charis Retreats, we hope to find that greater glory that calls to us, that helps us become all that God calls us to be.

10) Open to Questions: Don’t you get the feeling that you could just ask Pope Francis anything and he’d answer you with love? That’s a great principle of Ignatian Spirituality, being open to the questions and exploring all facets of them. We come to God with all of who we are: our hopes, our dreams, our gifts…but also our fears, our doubts, our insecurities. Charis retreats offers a non-judgemental sacred space to explore those aspects of who we are.

Lastly, the Pope should come and join Charis Retreats in the great spirit of Ignatius, not merely because he’s a Jesuit and not merely because Charis expresses much of his own personal spirituality and not even because the Pope needs to be around young people. Rather, the Pope should be able to take some time for himself and renew his own sense of where God is calling HIM! Young people in their 20s and 30s are eager to share their journey of faith and have been moved by the Pope sharing much of how he sees God working in his life even in the simplest of ways.

Be it a bus ride, a morning paper, a visit to the slums, a phone call or even a simple kiss and hug, Papa Francisco is able to share with his actions and his words just how vibrant God is working in his life.

And that’s exactly what happens on a Charis Retreat.

So I’m conducting Charis’ What’s Next Retreat in the Buffalo area on June 7-9…that’s the one focused on transitions. Perhaps the Pope will need a mini-break from this whirlwind tour he’s been on and I would love to provide him with an opportunity to be with us….even if just in spirit. (Email me for information: mike.googlinggod@gmail.com)

ignloyAfter all, he is and always will be a son of Ignatius. That spirit has made him all that he is.

And now it inspires all of us as well. Seeing God in all things is our challenge and taking just a bit of time to examine that in our lives is something we all should do and need to do.

And if that’s good enough for the Pope, than it’s good enough for all of us.

Remembering Arrupe

Today is the Anniversary of Pedro Arrupe, S.J.’s death. He was “the General” of the Jesuits during the changes of the Second Vatican Council and is one of my heroes. Not merely because of his great leadership of the society, but because of his great witness.

During World War II Fr. Arrupe was serving in Japan, just outside of Hiroshima. When the atomic bomb was dropped although they were a distance it was still powerful enough to knock them to the ground and cause damage to the Jesuit residence. What happened in the days that followed was horrifying. They went into the city and found people trapped under houses, others brought people to the residence with burns and wounds that the Jesuits did their best to attend to. Many, many died from those wounds and many more died from radiation poisoning in the weeks ahead. It was a time that tested Arrupe’s faith and he writes of it hauntingly.

He loved the Japanese people. Here we see him shining the shoes of a boy who had just shined his.

If this guy is not a saint, then I’m not sure who is.

My favorite lines of Arrupe, which sit above my desk at work always touch me each day when I recite it to myself:

Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

Rest in Peace, Fr. General. Your love truly decided everything for you.

Making a Difference…

The fine folks over at the Mets Police, specifically, my pal Dan Twohig, have been gathering items for people who have found themselves in harm’s way during the Hurricane and now the snowstorm that has followed. They have been more than inspiring when you consider that Dan, himself was without power for many days and yet chose to think of others first.

What started as a call from a member of the FDNY to a college friend became a huge grassroots drive spanning 4 states and involving dozens of people to help thousands. In just the few days I collected donations, it went from a few bags in my living room, to filling a 2-car garage. So many people came by, I wasn’t able to thank everyone, but I do want to relate just a few stories to give you an idea of the generosity I saw:

– The person who had been out of work for over a year and couldn’t give money, but had “stuff” that others could use
– The elderly couple whose children had grown and so didn’t have any children’s items to donate, so they went out and bought several boxes of diapers and wipes
– The person who donated a heavy, warm leather coat – with a note in the pocket that said in part “I loved this coat – I hope it keeps you warm in these troubled times”
– My wife’s co-worker, who sat down with her young daughter and made about 2 dozen personal care packages (toothbrush, wash cloth, etc)

A great effort by just a few concerned citizens that have helped out many.

It does bring me to consider this in this great time of need: How many more people find themselves in harm’s way as a mode of daily existence?

Our work for others need not merely be parochial, but needs to spread beyond the reaches of our national boarders as well. Of course that’s not to say that we can solve all the world’s needs. Like Dan, we are able to do what we can–and I know Dan does this kind of work often, so it’s nothing new for him to have such a big heart. But so many in the world choose an apathetic nothing, living lives of quiet desolation.

We need more people taking on just one cause, contributing where they can and allowing their hearts to stretch just a bit farther than they think they can. For it is there that we experience God, lurking in our hearts and opening our lives to a more deeper way of living, not just for ourselves but for others.

St. Ignatius reminds us to do a daily examen of our lives and it seems to me that perhaps unconsciously, Dan did exactly that on the way home from his delivery:

Two hours after we pulled up, we were on our way back to PA with an empty truck. As fulfilling as it was to be able to collect so much for those who needed it, being able to see it being distributed almost immediately really put it unto focus. Most people don’t get to see the impact their donations have on others. If people did, I am sure the response would be even greater.

In the deep recesses of our memory we find God moving our hearts even further, reminding us of how great we can be and how much we all have to give, not merely how much we have to spare for others.

Dan reminds us:

For those who want to help with this effort, to see what is currently needed you can go here http://596acres.org/en/news/rockaway-current-needs/

And for those who wish to make a monetary donation, you can go here http://www.ccdsd.org/donate/secure-online-donations/

Continued blessings on the now Snowy NorthEast Coast.

One of My Favorite Jesuits

While I was an undergrad at Fordham, I often was invited to dinner with the Jesuit Scholastics (and others who were in formation for ministry) at Ciszek Hall a quiet respite just off of the Fordham campus in the Little Italy Section of the Bronx, better known as Arthur Avenue to most. Those evenings enabled me to form many great friendships amongst many great Jesuits. And the Jesuit who ran the house was one of them. His name was Fr. Gerald J. Chojancki, SJ but we all knew him by his preferred monicker of “Jeff.” Jeff died Tuesday suddenly and I was saddened to hear of his death at the relatively young age of 69.

Fr. Jeff always had great homilies and often accompanied us undergrads on retreats. He was a tireless spiritual director to many and a friend to any who reached out to him.

On one of my many visits to Ciszek, I was sitting at dinner with Jeff and my dear friend, now Fr. Tom Benz, S.J. We were talking about a bunch of things and Jeff seemed a bit tired after a long day of administrative tasks. I was excited about my new internship at WFAN radio and Jeff was interested in some of the cast of characters I was working with, in particular Don Imus. Another Jesuit whose name escapes me at the moment, sat down and had a pensive look on his face. Jeff looked at him and said, “Hey, what’re you thinking about?”

The young scholastic sighed and said “Aristotle!”

Without missing a beat, Jeff quipped, “Oh the hell with that. Hayes, tell us more about Imus!”

Everyone laughed and later I found Jeff with his hand on the young Jesuits shoulder. “Hey, hope Aristotle isn’t a big problem. I was just tired and couldn’t deal with any more Philosophy questions.”

They took their dessert into another room and talked until I left hours later.

Jeff eventually became the Provincial of the New York Province and he dealt with a lot of serious issues. He dealt with the sexual abuse crisis and the merging of the Provinces of the East coast. The Jesuit Collaborative that exists today is largely a result of his leadership. The Collaborative looks for ways to share the Spiritual Exercises with others in new ways and I know that was a high priority for Jeff throughout his life. He taught me much about the exercises in our short time together at Fordham. He was brave enough to stand up for many gay priests who were shamed when many called them unfit for ministry, his support for all Jesuits was unwavering, no matter who they were.

Mostly, I remember his big smile and his welcoming nature. He’d always be the first one to greet us at Ciszek and was often the last one to say goodbye to us, talking often into the wee hours of the morning. His sense of humor was always something that drew people to him and I’ll remember laughing often with him around campus.

Rest in peace, Jeff. May the angels welcome you into paradise where St. Ignatius and the Risen Jesus will greet you with the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”

And they will welcome you as you did for so many others.

More info on Fr. Chojnacki’s funeral arrangements can be found here.