Under the Knife

So I’m having surgery on my hand tomorrow.

It should be fine. It’s only a ten minute surgery on a tendon that is hooking on a bone and needs to be trimmed. A common ailment known as “trigger finger.”

Regardless, no fun. As you know I have been a chaplain for a medical school so I’ve seen tendons and the like up close. How doctors tell one from the other, I’ll never know. It confirmed my vocation as a minister when I watched them take their tests. I enjoyed being in the gross anatomy lab and wasn’t at all grossed out by the experience. It was a sacred place and I regard my doctors as sacred professionals who care not merely for bodies, but also for souls.

With my gross anatomy experience, I said to my friend Beth, a physical therapist,

“I really want to watch them work on me!”

Beth: “ARE YOU NUTS!?”

Mike: “What? I’m not gonna freak out! They can strap my hand down and give me a local.”

Beth: “Um, no! They knock you out not because they think you’ll freak out but rather because they KNOW you will flinch during the surgery.”

Mike: “Oh…yeah…didn’t think about that.”

Now you know why I didn’t go to medical school.

But regardless, I can’t say that I’m totally calm about this. After all I type and write often and the finger in question, the right index finger, is crucial to that process. One false move could be a bad situation.

But I trust my doctor and I’m sure this will be the right thing to do. I have to relinquish some freedom for a day or so and not drive and stay home. But that’s pretty much the worst of it. Hoping for no pain as I get pretty sick from strong pain killers.

And that kind of reminds me of a story.

My dad had hernia surgery and needed to get the staples removed on the same day that I had a tooth extracted. The doctor gave me Vicodin and said if I had pain to take one but only if the pain got pretty bad and to try some tylenol first.

So my jaw started to throb a few hours after the extraction and I took a tylenol. Nothing. Pain now radiating all over my jawline. So I took my first vicodin and then went with my father to his appointment to keep him company. He drove and was fine to do so.

I was fine in the car and went into the office and sat in the waiting room with my father and then the room suddenly started to spin.

And spin.

And I knew what was going to happen. So I said to my dad, “I will be right back, if they call you in just go and I’ll meet you in there.”

I just barely made it to the bathroom and lost my lunch….violently.

When I got back my dad was already in with the doctor. I went in, bad breath and all.

I’m sure the doctor thought I was drunk.

Since then, I refuse vicodin. So I’m hoping I’ll not need a strong painkiller as my body doesn’t always like them and the only thing I hate more than being in pain, is throwing up.

So for now, let’s pray a bit:

Lord, help me to be a good patient. Help me to be patient. To heal completely and to be patient with my recovery.

Help my doctor with his work. Guide his hands to do good work with my surgery and help him advise me well.

Bless those who help me in my need. My wife. My colleague, Joe, who will drive me to surgery and back home. Those who pray for me.

But most of all, Lord, I pray for those who don’t have it as great as I do. Who have no access to health care and no doctor to tend to their needs. I pray for those who are in pain and who refuse medical care out of stubbornness or fear.

Watch over us, Lord. And help us to know that no matter what happens tomorrow, your love and your grace are enough to redeem all that we suffer. Amen.

Conversations with My Molester…a New Play

Michael Mack, a victim of sexual abuse by a priest has written a play based on his visit to the priest who molested him after finding out that he lived a mere hour away. Mack showed up on his doorstep. The NY Times has more.

The result is “Conversations With My Molester: A Journey of Faith,” which had its debut last year at the Boston Playwrights’ Theater at Boston University to mark the 10th anniversary of the Globe series. Now, Mr. Mack, 56, is reviving the nonfiction drama at the Paulist Center, a Catholic community center in downtown Boston that is dedicated to social justice.

On Friday night, about 50 people attended the opening, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with Mr. Mack and the Rev. Rick Walsh of the Paulist Center. The play and subsequent discussion showed how the priest scandal, stemming from events that took place decades ago, continues to haunt the lives of the victims and reverberate throughout the church.

The Archdiocese of Boston is still reeling from the many discoveries of sexual abuse by priests in their diocese. More church closings are happening because of now poor attendance and financial ruin, caused mostly by the scandal. We wonder if the church will ever recover here.

But the Paulist Center seems to be taking a good first step. Just steps from the Boston Common on Park Street, the play resonated with many in the audience. The realism in this non-fiction drama cuts to the core and covers even the most reviling situations that the abused encounter…the fact that the abused often abuse themselves:

One of the most unsettling moments of the performance was when Mr. Mack revealed that as a camp counselor when he was in high school, he had come close to seducing a vulnerable, 8-year-old in whom he recognized himself.

“You lean closer, his hair a drift of baby shampoo,” Mr. Mack said as he acted out the scene. “Your face so close to the heat of his cheek you smell his breath, like apples.” At that point, the images of his own molesting came rushing back, and he stopped himself before anything happened.

That admission — that he had almost re-enacted the very crime perpetrated against him — drew particular praise from the audience. And it led to a general discussion of one of the little-acknowledged effects of molesting, that some victims become perpetrators.

Yikes! That is a very real and horrifying admission. Blessings on Mr Mack’s new work and on the Paulist Center for having a lot of guts to show this in the Catholic Church building.

The Ministry of Physician

The NY Times has an interesting piece on Dr. Joseph Dutkowsky who sees his work as ministry and tries to bridge the gap between science and faith.

Dr. Dutkowsky has made efforts to bridge the chasm between science and spirit. As president of the American Academy for Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine, he had the Rev. David Farrell, a Catholic priest who has worked among Peru’s poor since 1964, address the group’s convention last year on the topic of “Poverty and Disability.” That same year, on his third pilgrimage to Lourdes, Dr. Dutkowsky took part in a conference on faith and medicine, delivering a speech he titled “Dignity and Disability.”

He took the occasion to wrestle with the ontological question embodied by the unmerited suffering of patients like Mike and Christian.

“For years, when asked why I chose this profession, I had no good answer,” he said, “until I came upon the first chapter of the Gospel of John. Jesus and his disciples come upon a man who was blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, ‘Did this man or his parents sin that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered that the blindness was not the result of the man or his parents’ sin. The man was born blind ‘so the glory of God might be revealed.’ Every day in my work I find myself in the revealed glory of God.”

An interesting piece…read it all at this link.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait Even Beyond the Grave

Chicago Cubs fans are celebrating at the news of former player and radio analyst, the now late Ron Santo’s election to the Baseball Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee. Although Santo died last year, he nonetheless deserved to be amongst baseball’s greatest players. It’s a shame we won’t get to hear a speech from one of baseball’s most colorful characters.

USA Today has some comments from Cubs Management:

“All who knew Ron or welcomed him into their homes on the radio recognize he was so much more than a Hall of Fame baseball player,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said. “He was the beating heart of Cubs fans. As an athlete, he was our All-Star. As a radio analyst, he carried our passion. For those battling illness or disease, he remains an inspiration. And for all of us who had the honor of calling him our friend, he is forever beloved.

Indeed. Santo was an amazing ballplayer who also battled diabetes throughout his career. He often played with double vision when his glucose levels would drop and he refused to call it quits. Years later, Santo had his legs amputated because of complications and continued to inspire people with his fight. His prosthetic legs looked like a Cubs uniform and he inspired so many people with his fight to remain independent and positive as he dealt with diabetes and amputations. He’d talk with amputees. “You can do it, look at me!” He even inspired Wild Bill Holden, an old guy with bad knees to walk nearly 2100 miles from Arizona to Chicago to raise money for Diabetes research.

My sister is a diabetic, so I know how tough the disease is and it pleases me that Ron is now a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

His wife couldn’t be more proud either.


Wherever you are, Ron. Look down today and be glad and rejoice. You made it.


So there are a lot of men who are growing mustaches to help raise funds for prostate cancer. First off, I’d like to say it’s great to see a group of men get organized and do something positive for other men who have a horrible disease.

So our friends over at the Mets Police have been participating and since my wife would never let me grow a mustache (again–I had one in High School—see scary picture —->) I’d like to throw my support behind their effort.

Dan Twohig is one of the bloggers and he’s headed into the home stretch and could use a bit more support. So if ya can help out, here’s a link to do so.

Here’s the start of Dan’s journey. Shaving the goatee and growing the Mo from scratch:

Dan writes:
Mets Bloggers for a Cure has now raised more than $600 which will go towards men’s health initiatives, particularly prostate cancer research. Our goal this year was $1,000 and with 8 days left I think it is still within our grasp. Please consider making a donation of any amount – even $5 can help. You can make your pledge at http://us.movember.com/mospace/1461252/

And here’s his scary picture as well. He’s shaking his head vigorously trying to get the mustache to grow.

Prayers for John Brust from St Vincent de Paul in San Francisco

In the young adult ministry world there’s a few people who I have really been impressed with throughout my many travels. John Brust is one of them. He’s been a young adult volunteer minister at St Vincent de Paul and is one of those people who often just took the ball and ran with it. He helped to create a welcoming community that invited many 20 and 30 somethings into the church (perhaps for the first time for some).

I remember him telling me the story of how he was criticized for the group not being diverse enough, John heard that with sensitive ears and worked on that as well. I would tease him about how it took a pretty hispanic woman to get him to pay attention to diversity. That woman he began to date and she’s one of many people asking for some prayers for him now.

The short story comes from Caring Bridge

John was cycling home from Marin county and had an accident on the evening of Thursday, June 23rd. He was admitted to intensive care with mulitiple injuries. Please keep John in your prayers.

While John seems to be stabilizing, as the journal on his caring bridge site states, I’m sure he could still use some of our prayers. We’re a bit late to the game here but better for us to keep praying in the late innings than not at all. Here’s to hoping that our prayers now will help him make a full recovery. One of the things I know about John is that he has always the first person to start asking others to pray for those in times of need.

To the folks at St Vincent dePaul in San Francisco, we hope you know that your community is also in our prayers. And to the Brust family and to those in the young adult ministry world, let’s keep praying for our pal.

Do You Have Any Regrets?

When I worked in Calvary Hospital (A hospital for terminal patients, mostly) as a volunteer my Senior year of college, I often encountered patients who would want to tell me things about their lives. Some would mention regrets, others would ask for advice, and many others would OFFER advice almost begging me to not make the mistakes they or others they knew made.

Florence was one such woman. She would come to mass even though she wasn’t Catholic. Why? “I like to be around PEOPLE.” She would say. She was full of energy for a dying woman and made all of our time spent with the dying less somber. She made us think about how we were spending our time with those we came to visit and she always injected new life into each one of us. We often visited her first. My most memorable visit with her she strictly informed me,

“Now look at this one…sitting there all alone twiddling her thumbs doing nothing. Here’s another one. Watching TV all day long. That thing will give you BRAIN DAMAGE.”

My milk nearly came out my nose.

“Young man, let me tell you something. You go back to that fancy college of yours and never you mind what those professors say, you spend time with your friends and family. Surround yourself with PEOPLE, PEOPLE, PEOPLE. You’ll never be sad that you did.”

Deacon Greg pointed me to this wonderful article by a palliative nurse who has had similar experiences. She notes the top five regrets of the dying. I’ll riff on two of them that speak to me but read the whole article for yourself here.

1) I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

I learned this one early on, forgot it for some time and then remembered it again. I think I forgot it again recently, but recovered nicely.

In my high school all the smart kids took Chemistry as their “major.” It was a technical high school and there were only 4 college-tracks, Chemistry being one of the four. I hated it with the red hot passion of five burning suns. In college, I decided I was never going to look at chemistry again and took my physical science requirement that first semester to get it out of the way (and aced it!). My mother was aghast! “You should try to get a job a Ceigy!” She would say which was a Chemical corporation in Westchester (Ciba-Geigy to be more exact. I think they made plastics.) But I had my heart set on media and would later fall in love with ministry and I continue to do both until today. Mom thought I would starve in the media (and she was nearly right–the church paid me better, believe it or not!)

Sometimes parents mean well. Their dreams for their children are often the shattered dreams of their youth, the things they couldn’t do, or wished they had done. My mother never forbade me from flying anywhere I wanted to travel because she once thought she would be a flight attendant. But parent’s dreams are not the child’s sometimes. And many people live for their parent’s dreams and not their own.

For myself, once I got into broadcasting, I wouldn’t allow myself to admit that I was really miserable. The first day at the college station, I even thought that I didn’t really fit in. But I pushed that aside. Even years later, in ministry I had thoughts that I just HAD to stay at Busted Halo full time, even though I knew I had to let it go.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This one surprised me. Happiness is a choice. Almost nobody recognizes that, throughout life. You can choose to be miserable or look at life from a new perspective. My friend Amy, often does this and I think she’s one of the happiest people I know. I call another friend “Teflon Vic.” I don’t know anyone who has ever gotten annoyed with him, much less, stayed mad at him. Why? You just can’t. The guy is purely happy, even when times are hard.

It seems to me that Jesus was very much like this. He was accused of eating and drinking and carousing with his friends too much. He forgave easily and freely. He welcomed strangers and didn’t care what others thought about reaching out to those dastardly poor people.

In Cleveland, on this year’s alternative spring break, we were asked to go to St Herman’s House of Hospitality for dinner. We weren’t serving the dinner or even volunteering in any way. We were there to be guests alongside, poor families, the homeless and simply people who ran out of retirement money. It was an eye opening experience. It was there that I realized one thing. I could choose to be uncomfortable in that dining room (and I often was that first day), or I could simply seek comfort and happiness. The dining room had an old dog who would circle the floor for scraps in addition to the food they would give him. He was a nice friendly fella who kept to himself but would enjoy attention if you gave it to him.

My love of dogs hastened me to his side. And when I looked up from petting him there was one of the residents smiling at me. And he engaged me in conversation and we found much in common with each other (beyond the love of dogs!). In his tough times, he chose to be happy and also allowed me to realize that I could do the same.

What are the other regrets most people have? Check out the other 3. And think about some of your own already. Share them below and then think about how you might change those.

Today let’s pray that we can die peacefully when our time comes. That we will have few regrets and be able to come to acceptance of leaving the life behind that we have lived and known.

I hope there’s a dog waiting for me at the gate when I get there.

Meeting Jesus in Misery – Update

It was the worst news we could imagine. We never expected it to happen. We thought everything was just sailing along smoothly, in fact life had been better than it ever had been.

Until now…

This week had been a good one for me. I wrote an op-ed for the Buffalo News that got rave reviews. I was elected co-conveneer of the UB Campus Ministry Association. One of my favorite students had been chosen to be a Catholic Volunteer in Buffalo. National Public Radio interviewed me for a story on their website. And I had not one, but two promising book deals on the horizon.

And then there was Thursday…when the phone rang.

“Hello my sister!” I said, happy to hear her voice. “How are you?”

Her response was blunt, “I’m full of colon cancer.”

The world stopped right there. I was on the road to what I thought was a wonderful summer, a wonderful end to the semester. And now…well, I didn’t know what to think.

This was not unlike our disciples today who also had high hopes for Jesus–the one they expected to redeem Israel. And then….

Crucifixion. Death. Entombment. And then crazy women told them that he was alive. It seemed like a cruel joke when they returned to the tomb and found it empty but didn’t find Jesus.

That 7 mile walk, must’ve been quite disconcerting. What were they to do? They had given up their very lives for this Jesus and now he was dead. All was lost and the worst possible news had indeed happened.

We all end up on the road to Emmaus, at one point or another. It’s a road that none of us want to be on. It’s scary. It’s unfamiliar. It’s an unexpected experience. It’s a road that nobody ever wants to walk on alone.

And these two disciples were no different knowing that they needed one another for support in these most dire of times. And then luck struck. A stranger who comes and offers them more companionship. Sometimes isn’t it just great to get an unbiased opinion of things? And this guy turns things upside down and gives them hope, renews their faith so that they just might believe one last time that perhaps death and suffering may not be the final word.

We don’t know what is going to happen to my sister. For our graduates tonight, you don’t know what awaits you either as you leave. But we do know two things:

The first is that no matter how many good things happen to you, the occasional bad one will come your way and it will stop you in your tracks. None of us escape suffering.

But the second one is the good news of the gospel…whenever we are on that scary road to Emmaus, when all seems lost, Jesus comes and will meet each one of us on that road. And quite often, we’ll all be too tied up with our our fear, or hate, or stubbornness, or pain that we will just miss him altogether. We’ll need a reminder. And so we come here and break the bread and have our eyes opened and are called into belief one more time, supported in belief by a faith community.

Eventually on that road, we all come in for a rest stop. We are able to come to a place where all are welcome, indeed where there are no strangers. Where each of us meets that Jesus in disguise–in one another–and we are never the same again. It is there where we realize that he is alive again…and has been with us always even in the most troublesome times of our lives. It is when we come around this table that we remind ourselves that suffering, or poverty, or losing a job, or failure….

Or even Cancer will not have the final word.

No, God always offers us something else. Something better. God offers us Himself. And it is more than enough.

May we always be able to see that. And may our prayers for one another keep that sure and certain hope alive and burning in our hearts….

No matter what hand life deals us.

UPDATE for those interested: My sister received some preliminary good news yesterday. It seems as if no “fast moving cancer” is in her system. We’ll know more about the stage of colon cancer and prognosis once blood work comes back in 5-8 days. I think my big sister is about to kick cancer’s ass. Thanks for the prayers.

Is It Wrong to Celebrate Bin Laden’s Death?

Linton Weeks from National Public Radio emailed me after reading some of my comments on the need to forgive Bin Laden. And he wrote this outstanding column exploring much of the same questions. I’m quoted extensively in this so I’ll just quote from there and let you read the remainder of the column.

Not ‘Our Finest Moment’

The Roman Catholic Church responded to the news of bin Laden’s death with this statement: “Faced with the death of a man, a Christian never rejoices, but reflects on the serious responsibility of everyone before God and man, and hopes and pledges that every event is not an opportunity for a further growth of hatred, but of peace.”

“I think that’s on the mark,” says Mike Hayes, a campus minister at the University at Buffalo. “As a Catholic Christian, I cannot celebrate the death of anyone, especially when it is done violently. Naturally, my human nature fights against that idealism, especially when I think of those who I lost personally that day and all those who lost their life on 11 September.”

However, adds Hayes, who runs the Googling God blog for young adults, “I don’t think that the celebrations in the streets were our finest moment as Americans, and reminded me much of the anger I felt at seeing Afghans dancing in the streets at the fall of the Towers on that dreaded day.”

Hayes says: “We are called to forgiveness. And that is the only way that we can be truly free. Holding onto our hatred keeps us in slavery to bin Laden’s madness and gives the terrorists continued power over us.”

There is also a sense of false elation, he adds, “because many believe that the world is a safer place because of this death. That relief is probably misguided.”

Misguided indeed. The world might indeed be more precarious today that ever before. As a former New York City resident and now a resident of Buffalo, I remarked to a friend, “It’s a good day to live in Western NY. I don’t think I’d be too eager to take the subway today.”

Milennials certainly have grown up in this culture of terrorism and now that Bin Laden has died, there was a need for a collective sigh of relief, a sigh that grew into rampant celebration–something I found to be detestable, but understandable.

A former intern of mine wrote me from Singapore yesterday and had a good comment or two.

Its a catharsis for our young generation that the bogey man is dead. Not all bogey men, but one of them…the problem is in the real world the bogey man still is a human. And we must recognize him for his faults and maybe his virtue.

But right now we all have a lot of emotion kicking around that gets in front of that vital point, emotions that are valid, and real. Give it a second, and you will see the millenials will figure it out. To paraphrase an Irish writer I can’t remember. “its good enough to know that he was a man and that he lived” usually thats reserved for the over eulogized, but in this case its equally poignant.

Indeed. Excellent comments. A colleague of mine today asked why the world is any more precarious for the millinnials then it was for children of the 50 and 60s with the fallout shelters and air raid drills. As a Gen Xer we were scared to death of the Russians. However, today, we don’t really know the enemy as well. We don’t always know where the enemy will turn up. That, coupled with the over-parenting that many millennials have been raised with and the world can often seem far too scary and that we have far too few ways to battle back.

And JK on the NPR Website added this:

J K (phillipaj) wrote:
I’m glad that this question is being asked. Frankly, I was disturbed by the pictures and video of people rejoicing, jumping up and down with the American flag, and holding beers. This man was a killer and the world is safer without him, but to celebrate anyone’s death seems morbid and inappropriate to me.

Osama Bin Laden killed thousands of people – those people are still dead. As a result of 9/11, we invaded two countries – we are still there. Soldiers have died, been maimed, been severely injured, committed suicide – they are still dead or injured. Civilians have died, been maimed, been severely injured, committed suicide – they are still dead or injured.

To see mostly college students, who are here safe in America spending their days in the library, celebrating with beers while soldiers and civilians are still fighting and dying and trying to just survive another day, seemed to me disrespectful and out of touch. And I write this as a recent college graduate: I know that I was and am removed from most of the real implications of the after-effects of 9/11. Osama is dead, but let’s not forget that the impact of his actions and others’ reactions will continue to affect the world for many, many decades to come.

We continue to pray for peace and hope that we can show more decorum so that the rest of the world can continue to respect us.