Thankful Yesterday, Gluttony Today

Look at this horror in Georgia!

I begin to wonder if Thanksgiving has turned into “Gluttony Day”? We sit around our tables eating large amounts of food, often with little or no regard for the poor. Then fast forward to just a few HOURS now after the meal is over and we find a scene like the one above.

Perhaps it’s time for us Catholics to make a stand against what Thanksgiving is turning into? Perhaps, just maybe it’s time for all Catholics to get together on Thanksgiving to participate in service projects throughout the day with the poorest of the poor?

Thanksgiving contains two words “Thanks” and “give” and instead we’ve turned it into a “grab” and “get”. Grab that last turkey leg and then last iPod touch. How many in the world would be happy for just a smidge of our wealth. I’ve seen poverty up close when I saw people living in the GARBAGE dump in Nicaragua.

What part of thankfulness have we forgotten?

Gratitude is at the heart of the Christian message? I’ve learned a lot about gratitude this year. My wife is healthy and I love my job. I’ve helped to rebuild a neighborhood and to serve students who come from lands where they have very little indeed. I’ve dumped cable and I don’t miss it. And the highlight of my day is often exercise, the loyalty of a great dog or the love of an amazing women.

And they don’t cost me a dime. (Well, save a gym membership!).

A few weeks back I was overwhelmed by our students’ response to our community service project to plant trees in our local neighborhood. We had more people than we anticipated. Most of the students were eager to help and pitch in where they could. But one student who was required to do the service for a class said “Well, let’s get this over with…”

I wonder what she went to do immediately afterwards?

We spend our time lavishly and long for recreation activities that leave us often flat. When students return from a week of alternative break they often wonder how come their world isn’t “less about them”?

I asked my UB 101 class (an introductory class for Freshman students) what they thought Thanksgiving would be like if they were headed home for the first time? Many admitted that they wondered about how their parents would react to their return home. One quipped, “They’re going to ask me if I’ve spent more days sober or drunk?” Another said, “I thought it would be great to spend the night in my own bed again, but my room is being used for storage.”

But it was my student assistant who had the comment that’s stayed with me. She’s a sophomore and she stated that last year “My mother just let me do whatever I wanted to.”

Helicopter parenting has become more about placating even their adult children instead of challenging them. While they might be overwhelmed by seeing their child back home, shouldn’t there also be family expectations to pitch in with the family meal? Shouldn’t there be time set apart to catch up and to make plans for the future and to hear what struggles and challenges exist for both students making their way through freshman year and parent’s dealing with the loss that comes with the empty nest?

Or is it all just a grab and get for attention and selfishness?

Are we truly thankful? We woke up this morning and many did not. We have roofs over our heads and many do not. We’re eating leftovers while many don’t get even one full meal a day.

I miss my own family–my parents and sister—as Thanksgiving is the one holiday that we decide not to travel home for. We’ve even taken to spending an early Christmas with both families because the price of airfare and gasoline has skyrocketed and it’s a bit cheaper to fly then than it is closer to the 25th. I think even the corporate world has made us shift our values and necessitate us moving more towards individualism and less towards family. Ikea even reports that the entertainment system sells much more readily in the United States than the kitchen table does (I sheepishly admit that my TV and Roku player take up more room than my tiny kitchen table).

A final note, the stress of the holidays often has us avoiding one another and trying not to step on too many toes. Perhaps it’s time to eschew that attitude and express ourselves openly–even if it leads to an argument? Do we all just pretend to like each other because we’re family–and then present our false selves for a photo op?

God calls all of us to become who we are–in all of our flawed humanity. Maybe it’s time to remember that and be grateful for who God has made us to become instead of grabbing for what we are not?

As our prayer today, let’s close with a great song that our evangelical brothers and sisters sing often.

And Father Greg Boyle says it all much better than I ever could:

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

And for those who wish to make a monetary donation, you can go here

Continued blessings on the now Snowy NorthEast Coast.

They Pay Me to Be Successful Anyway

What happens when all your plans land right in the toilet? When everything you were working towards gets upended and now you’re forced to start over? It happens to many of us and maybe even often enough that it is frustrating.

My colleague, Fr. Brett Hoover, CSP used to say that his favorite image of God is “God is the one who pulleth the rug out from under my feet!” And I suppose it is one of mine too. Mostly because I know when that happens, God is offering me something else. God is offering me an opportunity to look at things in a new way when plans unexpectedly change. But most importantly, God is asking me to use more of my skills and smarts to be successful or even just to stay sane.

Take my friend, Fr. Tom Ryan who visited me in Buffalo recently. He was supposed to lead a retreat by Niagara Falls but, the retreat center didn’t get an overwhelming response to the invitation. This was the first leg of a series of traveling that Fr Tom had in store. Now his plans were all thrown off. So what did he do?

He turned disappointment into a time for retreat. He visited friends near Niagara Falls (like me), he relaxed and he simply used the time differently than he had expected. Rather than be frustrated by rebooking and rescheduling he eased his way into a new way of thinking. And he had fun to boot.

One of my heroes was the great basketball coach, Jim Valvano. Jimmy V as they called him once said in a radio interview, “You know, I once lost my top player to an injury, another good player went down with an illness, I had to redshirt a top prospect and we were facing a team who was far better than us when we had our BEST players on the court. But you know what? They pay me to win anyway. I need to be successful despite what the odds might say.”

I’ve remembered that quote for more than 20 years now and it always inspires me. Valvano is of course, correct. At the end of the day, we either have succeeded or failed in our endeavors and that is how our bosses will judge us. There can’t be any excuses. They don’t want to hear them. It doesn’t matter that the star is hurt, the team needs to win anyhow. They pay Coaches to be successful anyway.

This attitude is hitting me directly at the start of the semester. I had a bunch of things I initially thought would be great for this upcoming semester all planned out. And then slowly many of them just went down the tubes. It was disappointing. A close colleague at the University was even offered another position and left our school very quickly. It felt like whiplash when I found out, as I had planned to do a lot of collaboration with him this year.

But that only meant that God was calling me to new places. I’ve been more intentional about meeting students at masses and I have gotten more involved on campus. I needed to simply invite people into more intimate relationships with me and with our parish. After all, that is what Jesus did. He went down to the docks and called to a bunch of fishermen that he did not know and he somehow got them to drop their nets and follow him.

If only people today would do that, our problems in the church would be over.

But therein is the problem: the issue is not with the people we’re trying to reach… often the issue is with US. Numbers are low in our church because, let’s face it…some days the church is kind of a drag. We’ve got infighting and scandals and negative press. We always seem to be picking a fight with politicians and others we disagree with instead of more peacefully trying to find common ground to work on together. Do we ever talk with those of another faith or do we keep them at arm’s length?

Do we spend more time in our offices working on programs that we’ve already developed and have been running for years, or do we spend more time looking outward, meeting people where they are instead of hoping that they’ll come to us?

Let’s not forget that Jesus talked with everyone–at great personal risk to his reputation. Plan as much as we might, things are not always going to be neat in our ministry. And perhaps that’s the good news because it awakens us to new possibilities.

And that makes us much better ministers and maybe better people as well.

When Prayer is All That’s Left To Do

Deacon Greg reflects today on the hurricane after seeing his church in Queens filled to the rafters.

I’m reminded of what we went through after 9/11, when churches were suddenly packed. Eventually, like all floods, that one ebbed. I wonder if we will see the same thing after Sandy. It’s possible. But this particular event isn’t over yet, and won’t be for months. There is a lingering sense of something vaguely apocalyptic, something that will change how we live and where we live, and that will have an impact we can’t yet measure because, quite simply, we’ve never experienced something quite like this. We don’t have the tools to gauge what we’re going through. A fifth of the population has been impacted by something far beyond our control.

So what else is there to do, but hit your knees?

I also think this is a peculiarly Catholic impulse: when you can’t do anything else, you simply have to pray. And the Church has an arsenal of prayers at the ready for times like these: novenas, rosaries, holy hours, devotions. We are a praying people. And we are better because of it. Our conversations with the Almighty give us solace, and a sense of solidarity, too. We are in this together.

And when we rise from our knees and stretch our backs and shuffle back out, blinking, into the light of day, we feel somehow assured—and reassured— that we are not alone.

God is in this with us, too.

Amen. For all those still in harm’s way, I pray that you find warmth and safe keeping. Know that you remain in our prayers along with the prayers of all the Saints on this feast day.

When Did You Start to Feel Like An Adult?

When did you start to feel like an adult? When you started to drive? Or when you graduated college? At my 10th high school reunion my friend Kelly was then-recently married and we asked her if she had any children and she said “Oh no! I’m not that grown-up yet”?

She was 28.

Until recently, every time I would go home to my parents house a small part of me still felt like that little boy–who needed his mom and dad and who looked to them for wisdom and guidance and who mostly reminded me “You don’t know everything, y’know.”

And perhaps that is the message that God often has for us.

Last week’s gospel we met the rich young man–who clearly doesn’t know everything. He’s reached this pinnacle in his life and he’s looking for accolades. It’s rite-of-passage time and he wants to make sure that he’s on the right track.

We often think about our rites of passage—like graduation from college and we often mark that time with a celebration where someone gives a speech. Martin Sheen recently gave a great one that I think we all could benefit from his words at Notre Dame.

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Martin Sheen’s graduation speech to the Notre Dame graduates is the same message that we often need to hear…”We can never know everything.” And often when we do Jesus reminds us of the thing or things that we are lacking in. And it’s all too evident to us that Jesus has hit the nail on the head.

In the Gospel, it says that Jesus looked on the rich young man with love. After all, he was someone who we all would think was a pretty good guy with the keeping of the commandments and such. And we also don’t know what happened to the rich young man—other than the one line that the gospel tells us—“he went away sad for he had many possessions.” Whether he followed Jesus’ instructions or not we don’t know. But we do know that he didn’t know everything.

In fact, the disciples don’t know everything either. There’s also a bit of background needed to know everything about this gospel…the concept of divine retribution was a commonly held belief at the time. If you were rich, it meant that God was shining favor on you. If you were poor, or sick, or crippled–then you were thought to have committed some kind of sin and this was God smiting you.

And with this story and many others the gospel writers tell us that Jesus doesn’t subscribe to this thinking. The disciples ask “Well then who can be saved?” If the rich young man who was so evidently blessed by God couldn’t enter the kingdom of heaven then what chance do the poor fishermen have?

But the good news of this gospel is that we need not know everything, and can not know everything—save that which leads us into God’s embrace each day. That our journey on this earth is indeed one in which we need to discover not everything, but rather everything that our heart has to offer—our own talents and the realization that our hearts can often stretch farther than we think that they can.

I took some students to Cleveland on an Alternative Break once and we were told by our host that we would be having dinner at St. Herman’s House of Hospitality. We assumed that we’d be serving food and then eating something together at the end of the meal. Instead, we found that we were the ones being served–we were there as guests.

But what that meant is that we had to get in line like everyone else and sign our names in the dreaded book. I thought of how it must make people feel to have to sign their names in a book because they can’t afford dinner. I signed my name so illegibly that nobody would be able to figure out that my name was among those who were served there.

And that friends, is sinful. I purposely wanted to distance myself from other human beings because I regarded myself as “better than” these people.

We didn’t talk to anyone there and found it difficult to make eye contact. We all wondered why it was so hard to make a connection?

We were then told we’d be returning to St Herman’s the next day. We made a conscious effort to connect with someone and I made a friend who found me petting the house dog.

“Aw don’t you worry about him—he’s OK. He’ll find plenty of food for himself. He’s deaf, you know.”

We bonded over our love for dogs and I found out that he was having a similar benefits issue that my sister was having.

We are all not so different from one another.

We returned later in the week and we were well-known people by then–part of the fabric of the place. Some even knew our names and signing our names in the book was not as hard. I even wrote mine slowly and distinctively.

In meeting those who are not all that different from us—and in opening our hearts not merely as servants to those who are less fortunate, but opening our hearts to allow our hearts to see the other as ourselves—to love our neighbors as ourselves…to give away all that we are including our security and our arrogance and our pride in order to to see with our compassionate hearts we allow that to change who we are.

It is what Jesus called the rich young man to do and instead he went away sad for he had many possessions. Presumably possessions kept him from God’s embrace because his arms were too full of possessions—so much so that they blocked his heart from seeing anyone or anything but himself and his precious rule-abiding pride. Pride that he hoped that Jesus would validate but instead it called Christ to ask of him one thing further and that was to open his heart.

Adults are strong enough to open their hearts to others, even if they think the experience might break their heart.

And so today—let us open our hearts in all our adulthood to those who need a bit more of our hearts. Let us do this not in fear of our hearts breaking but in hope that our hearts might move us to a place where we can most become all that we are–in all our brokenness. In doing that we become men and women for others. And we can lift our lamps and our hearts beside the golden door.

Do Adults Need Recess?

The esteemed youth minister Michael Beyer from St John the Evangelist in Silver Spring, MD wrote the following on Facebook yesterday:

Played football with the 8th grade boys and executed a beautiful double reverse. Whole defense bit.

Aside: going out and running around the parking lot for recess with the school kids is easily the highlight of my day. More adults need recess. Could you imagine how much less anxiety, stress, animosity, and unhappiness there’d be if all the lobbyists, lawyers, legislative aides, and consultants poured out of their office every day at noon for a half hour of touch football in the park?

I imagine that Mike is right about this. Wouldn’t some kind of recreational practice would be great after lunch for about an hour before heading back and resuming work until 6PM and then home for a 6:30PM dinner?

Many of us are overweight and even just a wee bit of exercise could benefit us greatly. A quick game of touch football or stickball might go a long way.

But I’m wondering how many on-field fights would spill over into the office as well? Some of the most ridiculous fights and injuries happened on the schoolyard playgrounds.

I remember getting into huge fights with my childhood friend, Ernesto, who was the neighborhood tough guy. I, in turn, was the neighborhood wise guy and that was a powder keg combination.

Ernest: “We’re playing football today!”

Mike: “Um, no, we are going to play hockey now. The guys from Cedar Street are coming with the nets.”

Ernesto: “Hell no! We ain’t playing hockey! We’re playing FOOTBALL.”

Mike: “Um, who do you think you are? You can’t just decide for everyone.”

Ernesto: “I SAID we’re playing football because I SAID SO.”

Mike: “Ok, Fonzie! Have fun playing with yourself.”

Ernesto took that last line all sorts of wrong and I ended up with a sprained arm when he threw me into a fence. But we played hockey that day.

But recess was often fun. I could never throw a dodgeball well. My hands just couldn’t grip it well. But on that playground I found out I could catch better than just about everyone else out there. Big kids would hurl the ball at me and I would zone in on it and catch it absorbing all the force with which they would throw it at me. It often didn’t even matter how close they were to me. I would somehow be able to hold on to the ball.

Recess was also a place where race was transcended. I was a public school kid in Yonkers and often one of the only white kids. I remember Keith Pitts and Darren Jacobs, two pretty athletic kids who happened to be black, were good friends. We always picked each other for our teams and we were great at setting up the screen pass in touch football. Darren would be the Quarterback and he’d dump the pass off to me on the sideline. I wasn’t very fast but once I’d get going I would be tough to catch. Keith would be my blocker and he was a big guy. He’d block two people at once and would spring me for some extra yards–often a touchdown. I grew in pride and learned to value my teammates.

We would play all kinds of baseball games. Stickball, sandlot ball, wiffleball—you name it. I remember being 13 and hitting a shot in stickball off of a guy 7 years older than me that cleared the park in a hurry. He was so embarrassed that he chased me around the park for 20 minutes and then tickled me into submission. He was an old family friend and it was all in good fun.

Although for some, it may harken back very bad memories as well. Some of the largest scars that we have are results from playgrounds and fishing holes when one child was mean to another or something deeply tragic happened.

When I was in second grade a peer of mine used to push me up against the schoolyard fence. Sadly, I think the child may have been sexually abused by someone because the schoolyard aides told my sister (also a teacher’s aide in my school) that he was “rubbing himself against me” to put in mildly. It turned into a major issue with my mother talking about this to the principal and I received a stern warning to stand up for myself and to not let people do things like that to me. I didn’t like fighting much and wasn’t very strong at a young age. This boy was bigger than I was and he took advantage of me. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember feeling trapped and alone.

I also remember that first day on the playground when I didn’t know a soul and I hadn’t played games like “tag” or “ring-a-leevio” and not being very fast for my age I often ended up being “it” for much of the recess period.

But, I’m thinking that recess was mostly good for me. My gym Absolute Performance has been mostly good for me as well lately. I couldn’t do the “modified prowlers” last week and was really embarrassed by that–especially when a tiny woman of about 100 lbs was able to do them and was cheering me on:

“C’mon! 5 more yards! 5 more yards”

While I appreciated the gesture, I wanted to set her skinny self on fire.

This morning it was a much different experience. I arrived more well-rested for the 2nd class at 7:30AM instead of the 6:30AM and that made a huge difference. I also find that I burn myself out in the warm up. My knees aren’t great and so instead of jogging up the stairs I hit the bike as per my trainer. And then we had our challenge circuit of the day.

It started with sledgehammer swings on a tire. 10 for each arm–actually it’s more about legs than arms. Then we moved to a rope pull that was attached to a “prowler”–think of the sled that linemen push in football. The prowler also had 70 lbs on each side. Once we pulled that about 25 yards we had to push it back to the starting point. (The very exercise I couldn’t do with a much smaller prowler last week. This week–no problem!).

Oh you thought we were done? Not even close! We then had rope slams. Big thick heavy ropes that we slam into the ground for 20 reps. Then it was off to do a “farmer’s walk”–walking with heavy dumbbells for about 30 yards. Then we dragged a sled with about 200 lbs on it forwards and then backwards.

We finished the circuit with flips of the big tires. The hardest one for me, but we did it with a partner, so that worked.

Frank, my partner for the day was great. We worked well together and he knew just how to motivate me. We completed 4 repetitions of the entire circuit. Let’s just say I feel a lot better about myself today than I did the other day when I ended up on my back unable to complete the exercise.

So do we need recess? I think it would do a lot of us some good.

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.

Believe in Your Pitch

This movie looks awesome:

So I played ball in high school…or I should say I sat the bench in high school. I essentially had no arm. I could hit pretty well, but wasn’t very fast and really couldn’t throw, so I was a liability in the outfield especially.

None of us save one or two were college ball material. One of us made it to the small time minors and it ended quickly there. I guess technically speaking I got the closest to the major leagues, covering home games of the Yanks and Mets as a reporter for nearly 10 years. I was going to get there one way or another.

But back to the knuckleball. My high school teammmate Rob Riorden learned the pitch and it solidified his high school career. Rob will deny this, but I used to be able to hit Rob pretty well, not great, but I’d put the ball in play and often get on base in neighborhood games and in high school scrimmages. I hit a rocket in practice against him once for a rare double and he threw his glove in madness and concluded that “It’s just not my day if Hayes can get a double.”

Thanks, I think.

But then his junior year, Rob learned the knuckleball.

The ball looked as big as a beach ball coming in and then it practically disappeared. It would come in slow, like a bad change-up and then it seemed to speed up and have some kind of weird rotation just as it entered the stratosphere of the hitting zone.

Truth be told, I couldn’t touch Rob when he threw that to me. And he knew it. He struck me out in practice on it once and I threw my bat into the batting cage, an incident that got me the opportunity to pick up all the equipment after the game and bring it into the locker room.

Rob was a year behind me in school. So when I went off to college he ended up having a great season as a Senior. The club had a pretty good year and when I asked the coach about the season on a visit he replied. “We had an OK year, but if it wasn’t for Riorden, it would have been awful. Can you believe that junkballer went like 6-2?”

I could. The knuckleball is just what some guys need.

So I’m looking forward to the film and I’m hoping Rob is too. R.A. Dickey is up for the Cy Young this year and is one of two knuckleballers in the big leagues. He’s a great guy and I’m rooting for him and I hope you are too. Take a gander at this:

The Communion of Saints at the Gym

So I had been away from the gym for a bit. I was seeing a trainer at our on-campus gym for a bit but circumstances took him away from that location.

I tried working out alone for awhile but it simply wasn’t the same. We had a nice community going together in the gym. I liked working out with the younger guys. They pushed me and even some of the older guys were big athletes when they were in school–so it was both a challenge and a great community of folks gathered together, connecting with each other for a great purpose. We celebrated life together and tried to maintain our health.

And then it all went straight to hell.

Suddenly, nobody was there early in the morning. People chose to go to the gym at later times on their own. Sure, we knew the workout regimen, but something was missing.

That something was community.

I returned to a group workout in the morning this week and I’m down 3 pounds already. I’m a bit tired but I feel better and I’ve already got much of my diet under control thanks to some help from my trainer Tom Corradino at Absolute Performance. You can follow his tweets which often include pictures of me working out @AP_Train. Tom trains some elite athletes including James Starks of the Packers. And this is no easy workout. Think Biggest Loser stuff.

For example:

We started out Friday at 6:30AM with a series of stretching warm ups. Calf stretches for 10 yards, hip rolls for 10 yards, high knees for 10 yards, etc.

Let me just say when I found out this was the warm up and I was already winded…I knew I was in for it.

We then moved to the weight bench and warmed up with 3 quick pushes on the bar with no weight on it. Then we tied rubber bands around the bar and hooked the other end to a metal spoke beneath us, providing a LOT of resistance. It wasn’t that hard for me. But on that last set, that bar started to get real heavy. 8 total sets.

Oh you think we’re done…not even close.

We move on to circuit training. Which is kind of a combination of cardio and strength. Three different exercises which you do one after the other with little rest. I started with fast step ups. We put a rubber barbell plate on the ground and have to “step-up” on it quickly for 20 seconds. We do 8 sets of those.

Then we move on to heavy ropes. Two heavy ropes are tied to a gate. We have to bend down and shake those ropes as fast as we can for another 20 seconds. Again we go for 8 sets. Tougher than it looks.

The final exercise for me was a kettle bell triceps lift. Kettle bells are what they sound like a round weight on the bottom with a handle above it for you to grip (pictured, right). We lie flat on the ground place the weights behind our heads and then grip the handle and push straight up. I tried the 20 lb. weights and let’s just say I could barely lift them off the ground without a bit of jerking forward. He bumped me down to 15 lbs. and I was able to get through the first 5 sets before falling down to 10 lbs. for the last few sets.

Oh you thought we were finished? Not even close.

We finish with abs. Ugh! I have a gut and really want to lose it this year, so this is the hardest exercise for me. A series of different sit-ups. If I remember right we did 3 sets of 40 reps. I lay flat on my back at the end of those. Looked at my trainer and stole a line from my friend’s father after a long hike at age 70.

“I’m done! Just leave me here to die. Give me a couple of coins so the buzzards don’t get my eyes.”

There are a few guys my age in the gym, who are in far better shape than I am. A good deal of women who really work hard as well. Ingrid was at the gym when I used to attend here in the past, so it was good to see a familiar face. We pushed each other that first day. She’s better at the strength exercises and I’m a bit better on endurance things like dragging sleds with weights on it (which I could do all day and really love it).

It’ll get easier with time again. I put back some of the weight I lost but not too much. I’m hoping that with the New Year, I might be looking for some new clothes because mine are too big. I’m basically doing the Zone diet, with a few modifications. Low carbs, high protein.

But mostly, I get to look around the gym and see a bunch of people who are simply trying to become the best they can be physically. Some of them know I’m a Campus Minister while some are just beginning to get to know me. I think they are often taken aback when I trash-talk or even let a curse fly out of my mouth (one of my worst habits) or when I know the words to a song like “Highway to Hell.” But I also think they respect me simply for being among them. And it’s a great opportunity for prayer and even contemplation. Biking or dragging a sled gives one an opportunity to clear the mind and be at one with God. I get to pray for a new group of people and encourage them in their endeavors.

So today, let’s thank God for those we meet in the communion of saints. Those who push us to stretch a bit farther, be a bit better. Let’s remember them as people who we are called to love and to help. And mostly, let’s remember that we’re all made in God’s image–and we are called to take care of the temple, our body.

And when we do, as St. Paul tells us…

We glorify God with our body.

Memories of Munson, Murcer and My First Game

My first “in-person” baseball game was at Yankee Stadium in 1979. I went with my little league team. We were awful. I don’t think we won a game all year if memory serves. To make matters worse, I grew up a New York Mets fan, after watching Steve Henderson hit a home run on TV the moment I turned the game on. Little did I know, the Mets stunk and the Yankees were on top of the baseball world.

That was until 1979.

Thurman Munson, the team’s captain and catcher was killed in a plane crash that year. The plane was his own. He bought it to get home to Canton, Ohio to be close to his family and one night while practicing take offs and landings he lost control of the plane and it crashed.

A few days later. I attended my first game at Yankee Stadium. Controversy swooned around the stadium because that morning was Munson’s funeral. The Yankees chartered a private plane and the entire team went. The League office was upset because they had a game that night against Baltimore. What if they didn’t make it back on time for the game.

Owner George Steinbrenner put his foot down. “Tough shit. We’re going. If we don’t make it back, we forfeit.” Steinbrenner was often crazy but he had his principles and he wasn’t going to compromise on this.

I was 9 years old and Thurman was the first young person I ever heard of who had died. I had planned to root for the Orioles for weeks but then Munson’s death changed my mind.

“These guys have been through a lot,” my dad reminded me. “We should show them some respect.”

There was a small moment of silence at this game. A few days earlier Cardinal Cooke eulogized Munson at the Cathedral known as Yankee Stadium.

The Yanks had been through an emotional day. They had been to their teammates funeral and then trotted out on the field. Bobby Murcer gave one of the eulogies. Manager Billy Martin offered to sit him out for the game but Mercer told him “No, I think I need to play tonight.”

The result was astounding. Mercer homered in the 7th and then drove in the tying and winning runs in the 9th with a hot single. He had done it for his friend, in his memory. And he made me a memory that night as well.

Mercer never used that bat again. He gave it to Munson’s widow, Diana.

An amazing man mourning and amazing friend.

Mercer died not all that long ago after suffering from brain cancer. He returned to the broadcast booth (Mercer became a Yankee broadcaster after his playing days were done) and the crowd gave him a standing ovation.

When you’re a kid you don’t know the magnitude of a night like that. It was a good game. I had no real rooting interest. I didn’t realize Munson’s funeral was that morning when I went to the game but was sad by many posters and signs mourning him around the stadium. Looking back now, it was a heck of a first game for a nine year old kid.

Baseball can transcend life in that way and I hope you have some baseball memories that are just as memorable. This one is one of my favorites.

Rest in peace, Thurman and Bobby.