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.

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?”

What is a Godparent?

Jonathan and Marianne
Jonathan and Marianne

I joke with my friends Jonathan and Marianne who are expecting their second child often about the fact that they “owe” me because they met on one of my BustedHalo Retreats many years ago. In fact, the first time I met their son, Aiden, he looked deeply at me and this little wry smile came across his face.

I looked to his parents and said, “He knows!  And you’re welcome. I’m glad I could be a small part of you being here, Aiden!”

So, Marion and I were recently asked to be the Godparents of their soon-to-be-born child (any day now).  And we’re over-the-moon excited. Neither of us have ever been asked to be Godparents in a situation where it would be appropriate for us to do so.  We’re a bit on the young side for our cousins to have asked and our nieces and nephew are not Catholic, so we wouldn’t have had the opportunity there.  But Jonathan and Marianne are good friends and we’ve really enjoyed their company.

But it occurred to me, that none of this would be happening if it were not for Christ.

A retreat brought Jonathan and Mare together.  A retreat that Christ inspired us to start so many years ago.  A retreat where God’s love and grace allowed others to share openly, at deeper levels and brought them into a greater awareness of that love through each other.

And that love now gives new life, literally, to all of us and in many other ways as well.  It gives a new child to a loving couple, it gives a new experience to my wife and me and it gives new life to a community who witnesses it all.

Sometimes I am sad over the prospect of not having children of our own.  But I also know that God had and has other plans for me to be life giving.  He gives that opportunity to so many of us, including our priests and women religious.  Spiritual directees, students, retreatents, caring for parents and siblings, loving my nieces and nephew…all different experiences of giving life to another.

And it is more than enough.

It seems to me, that this is what a Godparent does best.  A Godparent points to the presence of God and takes responsibility for making sure that this actually happens in partnership with their parents who always have a lead role. The parents, you see, need to also have the maturity, do be the primary givers of faith.  It is the parents who choose to Baptize their child.  The Godparents, merely say “Amen” to what the parents wish FOR the child and promise to keep that kid true to try to honor the promises made on their behalf.  These parents are already good at this and treasure their faith.  Grandpa is also a Deacon, so this is an easy job for all of us.

As I pray today for the coming of Jonathan and Marianne’s new baby, may that child be filled with the love of Christ and may God continue to show me that indeed I am a giver of life in so many ways.

And a huge amount of gratitude to Jonathan and Marianne for honoring us so.

Of Gifts and Stars

This Epiphany we hear of the Three Kings, astrologers most likely, who come bearing gifts after following a star and finding the Christ-child.

While not Jewish the notion of the specialness of visitors who come not empty handing must truly have been a
Mitzvot for Mary and Joseph, two poor people with a newborn son who couldn’t even find lodging for the birth. Their stars were these men, three who brought gifts from afar. Gold which probably kept Jesus alive when infant mortality was quite high. Frankenscense which is given to kings, and Myrrh which prepares a body for its burial for a king who will offer his body for us.

Who is your unexpected visitor? Who has given you a gift that was most welcomed at a precarious time in your life? That gift may have been monetary or sentimental, or it may have been their presence that was more than enough. Whatever the case, remember and give thanks today.

Lord, send us stars that we might be overwhelmed by the light that reflects your love. Amen.

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.

A Prayer for Sarah

This morning my friend and colleague, Sarah Signorino will likely give birth to a daughter, whom she has already named Clare. So I’ve dedicated my morning prayer to her and her family, Jarrod and her little girl, Mary who is going to be the best big sister ever.

If I’m honest with myself, it’s sometimes hard for me to be happy for people when they have children because I have none myself. With each new birth, I revisit the feelings of not being a father and it has made me weary at times. Ignoring the feelings isn’t going to help. So I have met them head on and prayed with them often this week.

Sarah is very clearly called to motherhood. One moment spent with her and her daughter, Mary betrays her vocation to motherhood clearly. A glance at her Facebook page shows literally hundreds of “Mom and Mar” pictures.

As she often notes, there are people who “live to work” and others who “work to live” and she is seemingly the latter, while I am very clearly the former. She’s one of my best workers on this staff and she makes us all look unorganized with her own sense of being hyper-organized, as only a working mom can be. I am grateful for her work and she does a great job for us. But she very clearly works in order to provide for her family. And when she is home with her family, work is very clearly in the background. She’s the mommy for Mary and now Clare and that is primary in her life.

Not being a father, provides me with the opportunity to really thrust myself into my work and my marriage. Sure, we have a dog, but he can be alone for stretches at a time and he gives us some of those “parental” feelings, but he is far from a human child. I love him dearly, but it is clearly different. I get to be as one of my favorite students, Kaitlyn calls me, “a campus dad” a surrogate of sorts, someone who is there when parents cannot be there. Someone who gets concerned when students seemingly make bad choices and helps to guide or pick up the pieces for someone else’s kid.

When people ask if Marion and I have children I usually say “Yes, 5000 of them and they are all in College.” That comes from a friend who noted that it is good that we don’t have children because indeed I have a bunch of students who depend on me, often at a moment’s notice.

I now also have a staff that depends on me. Fathering a group of people in a new way. Deciding what is best for us and negotiating for what I think the ministry needs with great colleagues who are often eager to help us.

As I sat an meditated on my feelings of loss an overwhelming feeling of joy came to me this week. I realized that the pain of not being a father has in fact led to understanding how great my life has become. How I wouldn’t have half the joys that I have discovered if life were indeed different and how God has shown me my vocation more clearly in reflecting on how well Sarah and other parents live out their lives.

I am grateful to those who parent and work. They do that balancing act with grace and with care for all they meet. But I am also great that there are those of us who have a different energy–who can dedicate time and effort in other ways. It is our way of being “life giving”. And for me, it is more than enough.

So today, I pray for Sarah and am filled with gratitude for her motherhood. She mothers many of us with her great skills of organization and with how she cares for our students and our colleagues. But that is only a shadow of her love for her daughters. And I find God deeply in witnessing that experience of her motherhood. It gives me the opportunity to find my own deep love for the campus, for my wife and for a furry puppy and I find that life is better than I would have designed. Somehow God knows what he is doing and Sarah and I have great trust in that.

So welcome to the world today, dear Clare. You are in good hands with your mother. She will care for you with great love and it will fill you with gratitude.

As Sarah “the mom” has done for us all.

James Martin posted this beautiful reflection after attending the funeral for Fr. Dan Harrington, SJ, noted scripture scholar.

I’m on the last train out of Boston tonight after attending the funeral Mass of one of the holiest people I’ve ever met: Dan Harrington, SJ. A full Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola, on the campus of Boston College, with hundreds of Dan’s former students, scores of his colleagues and friends, perhaps 100 priest concelebrants, and many beloved family members, gathered together to celebrate his entrance into eternal life. It was hard not to imagine him finally meeting Jesus, whom he had studied and taught and worshipped his whole life. I mentioned this to a friend before Mass tonight and she said, “Yes, and both of them will be joyful.”

Once again, I want to praise God for the privilege of knowing and studying with him, and say, with all who knew him, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!”

Who are the teachers and mentors and exemplars in your life? If they are alive, thank them and pray for them. If they are with God, thank God and ask for their prayers.

Is it not a blessing to know a saint?

Indeed. And it gives me great pause to remember one of my teachers today, Gladys Stein who I blogged about here now more than two years ago upon her death. She was my high school English teacher and marched to the beat of her own drum. She had an “ain’t jar” on her desk where one quarter would be deposited as a fine if you used the word ain’t. Hysterical.

She encouraged my gifts for speaking and writing. And even after I had left high school she called when a rumor broke out that I had killed myself (a rumor that was untrue and nobody knew how it started) and told me that she knew it couldn’t be true but wanted me to know what was being said. I showed up at the high school when I could and people thought they had seen a ghost. Rumor squashed!

While we didn’t share a religion, she often encouraged mine. She always said that she found me to be a “healthy person” who shared emotions openly, showed empathy to others and who was faithful to his beliefs. The same can be said about her, in fact that’s probably where I learned much of that.

The truth is that Gladys Stein was a true mench. She was named New York State teacher of the year in 1994 and after a group of students suggested that they dedicate the yearbook to her because she was retiring, she was so moved that she called off calling it quits. (The yearbook advisor refused to ever dedicate a yearbook to her again!).

If you were one of her students, you probably dropped a quarter into that ain’t jar, or received a note written in purple ink (she hated red ink–said it reminded her of blood all over the page). She may have even made you clean her entire classroom with a toothbrush as she did to a group of my friends who showed up to class drunk. (The alternative was to tell their parents).

But most of all, she loved us. Every one of us.

Prayers today for all teachers and professors–especially my colleagues and friends at Canisius, Fordham and UB.