Anti-Semitism and the Olympics

There was a large outcry at the London Games because there was no memorial shown by NBC for the athletes killed by the terrorists in the 1972 Olympic Massacre.

Jim McKay told the story better than anyone else:

Sad. Terrorism is now a part of our everyday life in the world, for some, especially those in the Middle East, it’s rampant. To not mention the 40th anniversary of this tragedy is indeed distasteful. And thoughts of whether this could have been done purposefully because of anti-semitic tendencies could be accurate.

The IOC themselves have a long history of anti-semitism unfortunately. It dates back to Avery Brundage the head of the IOC for many years. In 1936, Hitler had come to power and Berlin was the site of the Olympiad. Two Jews, Sam Stoller and Marty Glickman (who later became a famed sportscaster in New York and was my broadcast coach at Fordham) were members of the American 4×100 relay. They were told they would not run. The excuse was that Brundage told them that the Germans were hiding athletes and that they needed their best athletes out there. Namely the famed Jesse Owens and Ralph Metcalf.

Owens objected. “I’m tired. Marty and Sam deserve the chance.”

“You’ll do as your told.”

Glickman also objected: “You can’t hide world class athletes. We’ll beat them by 5 yards!”

Jesse Owens has captured a bunch of medals already and Hitler, already embarrassed that a black man had won medals, wasn’t about to be embarrassed by two Jews. Brundage, later revealed to be a Nazi sympathizer, put the act in motion.

Glickamn and Stoller were told that they wouldn’t run and with World War II breaking out, they never got another chance.

Fast forward many years later and the New York Football Giants played an exhibition game in Berlin. They invited Marty to the game, played at the same stadium he would have run in. He even got to sit in Hitler’s box, in a nice twist of irony. While walking on the track, Glickman reported that some kind of “spell” came over him. And he began to curse and yell and cry out all kinds of things. Perhaps it was an old wound that needed to be reopened in order for him to have closure.

I once said to him, “But two good things happened!”

He looked at me with some disdain and said “What!?”

“Well, how many people can say that Jesse Owens stood up for them?!”

“Fair enough!” Glickman said.

“And the second one is more important.”

Glickman looked puzzled.

“Dude! You pissed off Hitler! How many Jews would want to have THAT experience!?”

He laughed heartily, patted me on the back.

“You just made my day!” he said. “But I really would’ve loved to stick it to him by winning that race.”

Marty had a lot of old stories from his sportscasting days and he loved to tell them. Many with a smile on his face and a lilt in his voice…

But he never, EVER, told that story with a smile on his face. He always referred to Brundage and Dean Cromwell, the track coach as “the American Nazis.”

Here he tells the story:

Glickman refers at the end to the countless Jewish athletes who were later killed in the Holocaust many years later by the Nazis.

I hope NBC the Olympic television committee overlooked the 72 disaster because they plan to do something bigger on it for the 50 year anniversary.

Are You on Rich Soil?

St. Ignatius reminds us to never make decisions when we are in desolation. Today’s Gospel reminds us of that in the parable of the sower and the seeds. Because you just have to feel for the sower, huh? He scatters all these seeds and only the ones who fall on rich soil–the soil that has been readied for the seed’s planting are the ones that take root and grow.

Isn’t it the same for us? Some of us wish to make a change in life but the world talks us out of it. Some even think about doing something creative and maybe even have resolved to do it but then someone places some doubt in our mind or naysays our ideas. Some of us are too overwhelmed to grow up our faith and instead choose to ignore developing an adult relationship with the Lord.

And some of us are like the seed that has no root. It is all new to us and nobody bothered or cared to give us any kind of fertile spiritual soil, but we long for it anyway. I notice that some of our atheist students on campus gently come to me to discuss things when they are in this period of desolation and it’s hard for me to discuss things with them because we come from two different perspectives. Some even show jealousy towards those of us with a faith-base. One student quipped years ago, “I’d really like to believe and see how others would find much rest and relief in believing, but I just don’t believe.”

Faith arrives for many when they are indeed ready for it. A crisis might necessitate thinking more deeply about one’s life, but we all long deeply for an integrated spiritual life—something beyond yourselves, that takes us past our experiences and into deep thinking about where we truly belong and to whom we belong and therefore who is also judge of our lives, the lives he has given us.

If judge is too strong… Friends who are judges always complain that the image of God as judge has unjustly been demonized–after all some, if not most, judges are good–they uphold the law. They have no control over what the criminal did, their actions violate the law and the law tells us what should happen next. Of course they don’t like it when I tell them some laws are unjust. =)

But if judge is too strong how about compass? When you are walking in a direction the compass moves and tells where you are walking. It doesn’t make suggestions, it just indicates the direction. Where you choose to walk is all your idea.

And so when we are walking in the shadow of darkness, it’s probably not a good idea to make rash judgements ourselves. It’s there that we need more appropriately for God in our lives. We see God lurking and we often push God away or ignore God. Until we can again see God guiding us, consoling us, leading us out of this darkness, we should simply wait out these storms in our lives until we can see the sun more clearly.

We need to be on rich soil to make solid decisions of growth. We leave no stone unturned to belabor a gardening metaphor in getting our soil ready for God to grow something wonderful in us.

So today let’s pray for that grace to be led out of desolation–to see God’s love lurking for us, finding us in the doldrums and having the faith that consolation is sure to always follow when we are unconsolable.

If we do that…we will be able to grow immensely with God’s guidance.

Without it…we choose faithlessly. Thinking that God offers no hope. Leaving us for dead. Unwanted and unloved.

The Lord will guard us as a shepherd guards his flock. (Jeremiah 31:10) The words of today’s psalm give us the hope that God will indeed give us everything that we need. We might find hardship along the way but that love that God offers us to too immense for us to be overwhelmed.

May we always feel that love of the shepherd…and may we wait for him to come again and tell us more when we feel like we are all alone…

In the darkness.

He Was…Marshall

When the movie, We Are Marshall, starring Matthew McConaughey came out, I immediately heard several of my Paulists priest-friends mention that, one of their own, Fr. Bob Scott, CSP was the Marshall football team’s chaplain. For those not aware, the story of the movie concerns the events surrounding the plane crash that involved the entire Marshall University football team in 1970. That crash took the lives of not only an entire team, but several of Hunington, West Virginia’s leading citizens, who were big boosters for the team. It was devastating for the entire town, a college town that the university plays such a major role in.

Fr. Bob was the team’s chaplain and had been traveling with the team. But he had taken the previous week off from his parish duties to be with the team and thought better of taking a second week off to travel with them. That decision saved his life and he ended up ministering to a town overcome by grief. Injured players who didn’t travel, girlfriends of players, wives of coaches, parents…all were met by the kind eyes and empathy of Fr. Bob Scott, CSP. It was indeed tough for him as he dealt with his own survivor’s guilt, but he soldiered on and eventually became a big help to the new head coach Jack Lengyel, who converted to Catholicism with Fr. Bob’s help.

Yesterday, Fr. Bob went home to God at the age of 91. He not only served at Marshall but was a long-time presence at the University of Texas where he served well into his 80s.

I interviewed Fr. Bob for BustedHalo® some time ago and he was just a wonderful joyful man. The audio of that interview can be found on this podcast—and there’s just something about hearing his voice today that brings me comfort. But a summary of the interview is found here as well.

Rest in peace, Bob. I’m sure the Marshall and the Texas football players are lining up for a tunnel at the pearly gates for you to run through!

And here’s a great clip from the movie:

Spiritual Pigeonholing

I’ve been at the Frank J. Lewis Institute this week with a group of first-time campus ministers. (They all think I know something about this ministry thing, so please don’t tell them I’m a moron yet). We’re all of varied Catholic stripes. Some very traditional and pious, others somewhat irreverent and earthy. Many of us play the middle of the field as a mix of many ministerial styles.

There’s workshops throughout the week for these folks and Fr. John Grace gave an excellent keynote presentation on Educating for Justice this morning. He made the point that we often talk a good game about justice, but we also often shoot ourselves in the foot. Often, we act unjustly even towards our own colleagues in ministry. We size them up and ask how we might manipulate this relationship for our own personal gain.

Or we characterize people into different camps. The younger priest who often wears his collar is automatically a conservative. And those priests that aren’t head to the other side of the room. Even we lay people do this. Avoid those who we think we have no commonality with.

I’ve met few different people this trip and often this week, people have challenged my assumptions. There’s the very evangelical guy who has a great gift of evangelization, but might be more closed to social justice, something I value in my faith. I could pigeonhole him, thinking I know all there is to know about him and frankly, I did. I gave him short shrift, maybe not publicly, but certainly in my own thoughts.

He mentioned that he often thinks the poor are lazy, and dirty, and they use the system unjustly. And I suppose that sometimes he’s right about that in some cases, but I could feel my blood pressure rising with his every syllable.

But then, he told this story:

One time he found a guy who had lost everything and the guy simply asked him for a ride to the bus station.

He was a former minister himself and he was fired from his church for whatever reason. He had a hard time finding a job and his wife left him. He ended up on the streets.

That really spoke to my new friend. He was a man not at all unlike him. As he spoke, genuine tears fell from this hulk of a man’s eyes. He could see a bit of himself in the other…and I’ll presume a bit of Christ as well.

And there I was humbled as well. Because I had judged my friend as perhaps someone who could never see the poor as he sees himself.

It reminded me of some of the experiences shared with UB students in Cleveland, especially. We ate at a house of hospitality—and that’s all we did. We weren’t there to serve a meal. Instead, we were told to get in line, sign our names in their book, get some food and then take a seat with other guests. At first, I didn’t even want to write my name in their book–because…

“Well, you see, I’m not really a guest here.”

By week’s end I had become comfortable enough to carry on conversations with people who were regulars. No longer strangers, we ate in solidarity and found more commonalities than differences. The week continued and I found similar connections with men who were court ordered to do community service in the neighborhoods we served. Not so different from me at all, they just made a mistake or two along the way–and so have I. I could see the other in myself.

As Catholics living in this postmodern world, we all must keep talking and drop our own assumptions. We don’t know all there is to know about someone else, and if we can’t even get our ministers to do this with one another, how might we get our students to see the hungry, the homeless, the refugee…as they see themselves.

You see, that’s the thing about the principle of solidarity…we have to love those with whom we disagree, and to do that, we dare to learn about them and to see life from their eyes, not merely from our own suspicious landscape.

So today, let’s pray that we might see a bit of ourselves in one another and especially in those who we might not like, agree with, or want to spend time with.

Because by doing so we will encounter the Lord as well in our midst, prodding us to remember that we need to know each other and stop being so dismissive.

Each time we do this, especially when we do it for the least of our brothers and sisters, may we too, like my new friend, cry with great joy.

Having A Pet Makes You Healthier and Makes Ministry Stronger Too

Told ya so. From WebMD:

People in stress mode get into a “state of dis-ease,” in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively affect the immune system, says Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.

Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Justice.

Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties, he tells WebMD.

“People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature,” says Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs.

Agreed. There’s nothing like running or walking with my dog, Haze while the sun sets. Marion joins us sometimes for a family walk as well. He gets to go out three times a day and I usually do the morning and evening walks. On days I don’t get to the gym I at least walk an extra time with Haze during the day, sometimes sneaking away for a quick jaunt during the work day if I’m traveling between campuses.

But how, might you ask has haze furthered my ministry?

I have but five examples of things my dog reminds me of each day. They all have made me a better minister:

1) Hospitality: No matter what Haze gets up and runs to the door every time I come home (or when anyone comes over). Sometimes he’s sleeping and he wakes up and makes his way over a bit more slowly but he still comes over. He’s excited to see a friend at the door and I put my hand down to him and he lowers his head in submission. This can be translated loosely from dog language into English as: “My house is your house, what can I do for you.”

2) Empathy: If I’m having a bad day or if I’m simply sad, Haze will jump up on my lap, give me a quick lick on the face and then settle in to my lap and simply be there with me. Somedays he just sits next to me touching my leg to feel the heat from me (Chihuahuas get cold) and we share a symbiotic relationship. He gets heat and I get to pet him and calm down.

3) Care for the Elderly: There’s two little old men in our neighborhood who Haze visits regularly on his walks. The first one gives him cookies and Haze can’t pass his house without bounding happily even if he’s not around. The second is man with a deep drawl who asks Haze to talk to him each time he comes around. Haze yaps happily knowing intuitively what he wants. Today, in fact, he ventured over to him and got a nice back scratch for a long time while we all talked together. That dog has made me a lot of friends.

4) Give thanks for food: All I have to say is “Haze? Food?” or “Haze? Treat?” and he jumps up like it’s the only meal he’s ever going to get. I often imagine people who are hungry are quite thankful for food, any food. The joy of being fed is always joyful. Am I as joyful for my meals?

5) Forgiveness: I once clipped Haze’s skin in his harness and he yelped uncontrollably for a few minutes and when I’d try to release the harness, he’s snap at me because I was hurting him further. Finally I jimmied the thing off of him bringing relief and he ran away from me into his crate. I thought the dog would never want anything to do with me again. I sat on my couch and cried because I had hurt the dog. He came running up to me and literally started licking the tears out of my eyes. “It’s OK pal. It’s over.” I do believe that God forgives us the same way. Our sins are completely eliminated and we have no need to hold on to our past. Don’t we all sometimes hold resentments against others? God doesn’t. God completely forgives us 100%–no lingering of resentment is there. Dogs do the same thing reminding us of God’s mercy and how we’re called to the same kind of forgiveness.

So I am better… a better minister in the church, a better husband (after all, my wife got the dog for me), a better friend…and healthier to boot because of my dog. I’m so glad that Chihuahuas live a long time, but even a dog with a short life can bring joy that lasts forever.

So what are you waiting for? Go rescue a dog. And you’ll get a friend who’ll make you just a bit better than you already are.

Higgs Boson Does Not Disprove God

There’s a few items on my mind with regards to the discovery of the Higgs Boson particle, an amazing event in the world of physics, which has been referred to as the “God particle.”

First of all, scientists hate the term “God particle” and it’s called that not for any anti-theological reason, but rather because the higher ups at CERN (the center that has made today’s historic discovery) wouldn’t let the scientists working on the experiment call it “the Goddamned particle” because it was so difficult to find.

Ok, that’s kind of funny. Who knew scientists could have such a sense of humor. I need to watch more of the Big Bang Theory.

What is the Higgs-Boson particle anyway?

From National Geographic:

The Higgs boson is one of the final puzzle pieces required for a complete understanding of the standard model of physics—the so-far successful theory that explains how fundamental particles interact with the elementary forces of nature.

The so-called God particle was proposed in the 1960s by Peter Higgs to explain why some particles, such as quarks—building blocks of protons, among other things—and electrons have mass, while others, such as the light-carrying photon particle, do not.

Higgs’s idea was that the universe is bathed in an invisible field similar to a magnetic field. Every particle feels this field—now known as the Higgs field—but to varying degrees.

If a particle can move through this field with little or no interaction, there will be no drag, and that particle will have little or no mass. Alternatively, if a particle interacts significantly with the Higgs field, it will have a higher mass.

The idea of the Higgs field requires the acceptance of a related particle: the Higgs boson.

According to the standard model, if the Higgs field didn’t exist, the universe would be a very different place, said SLAC’s Peskin, who isn’t involved in the LHC experiments.

“It would be very difficult to form atoms,” Peskin said. “So our orderly world, where matter is made of atoms, and electrons form chemical bonds—we wouldn’t have that if we did not have the Higgs field.”

In other words: no galaxies, no stars, no planets, no life on Earth.

So some are saying that the Higgs-Boson disproves that a God has any role in the making or maintaining of the universe. That we are simply a random bunch of particles bouncing off each other with little or no meaning. This assumes something about religion that simple isn’t true.

Religion does not try to say anything about the origins of the world. Religion and science have two completely different purposes, but can work complimentarily to give meaning to human existence and have done so for years. It should be noted that a priest proposed the big bang theory, using science as opposed to the Book of Genesis to explain the order of the universe.

Check out this video that I did some time ago on science and religion with the head of the Vatican Observatory, Fr George Coyne, S.J.. It’s focused on evolution, but Fr. Coyne takes us into defining the difference between religion and science in general.

Science and scripture are not compatible, or I should say that the purpose of the Bible is NOT, precisely not, aimed at scientific discovery. These are revelation stories designed to teach us about “meaning” not “scientific origins.”

Now some are going to say that there are nutburgers who’ll say different. And they would be right to say so. These are fundamentalists, people who believe in a LITERAL interpretation of the bible. Catholics are not fundamentalists. We believe that the bible is divinely inspired, meaning that the biblical writers are not God, but rather people who wrote something down to try to tell us a bit about what God is like; mainly that God is loving and allows us to participate in God’s own creation through our humanity.

There are also fundamentalist scientists in my opinion. People who believe that their empirical discoveries are all that there is. That there cannot be anything beyond these discoveries. I find that haughty and arrogant.

Catholics believe in transcendence, that there are things that go beyond our very selves and our experience of the world. This is where we experience God.

And God is ALWAYS mystery, the inexhaustible one that we never truly can grasp with our limited human intellects. God is beyond us, so far beyond that full knowledge of God is impossible. In fact, that would make us God if we had that.

But God is also with us and within us. And we do have some experience of what God is like for us. Scripture tries to give us a glimpse of this, and the experience of Jesus and the Holy Spirit links the ineffable with us. We are connected to God, who always is trying to unite with his creation. We need to pay attention to that in order to discover meaning in our lives that is beyond science, but also that doesn’t disprove and still honors scientific discovery.

Much like our political landscape these days, the interaction of scientific communities and religious ones are fraught with division. And it’s unnecessary. Let’s call out the extremes on both sides today and show that Catholics are not part of some radical anti-scientific mentality and also honor science, that continues to discover the wonders of God’s world for all of us.

Comfort: Not Enough or Too Much?

Do you ever feel uncomfortable? I hope so because that might indeed be good for you. Thus is the thesis of my former colleague, Fr. Brett Hoover’s new book called Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul.

Not enough comfort and we’re dreading life and perhaps even untrusting. Too much comfort and we become complacent. Hoover discusses much of this citing examples throughout the book from friends, groups of people and even “me” his former colleague (I make 1-2 anonymous appearances in the book.

It’s honestly a great book that’s thought provoking and provides lots of good research studies in brief about how comfort helps and harms. And I love the cover—an old slipper! If only a plush bathrobe went along with it—ahhh!

So congrats to Dr. Fr. Brett Hoover, CSP. Another masterpiece is out there for you to discover. A great gift for anyone who’s down in the dumps, but it’s also good for us who might be flying high too and asking ourselves that dreaded question of whether or not we are too comfortable. As people who live in the creates nation on earth, this just might be a healthy way to seriously look at ourselves and find gratitude as well as challenge.

Let’s not forget…Jesus often accused the Pharisees of forgetting about the poor–or in short, becoming too comfortable–so comfy that they forgot the great needs of those around them.

Perhaps the same is true of us. If so, look no further for a remedy. I wanted to go out and get all kinds of things done after I read this knowing that I too, often get too complacent.

Now and At the Hour of Our Death

I enjoy flying but there is that moment where we take off and land that often gives me a slight version of the heebie-jeebies. As the plane picks up speed I make the sign of the cross as does my wife (unless she’s already asleep in which case I make one on her forehead for her). I almost always sit in the aisle because of my long legs and my bad knee. And besides, as Walt “Clyde” Frasier once said, “Always sit in the aisle, never in the widow! Who has ever heard of a plane crashing in the middle?”

Ah! Wisdom!

My friend Fr. Charlie Donohue once told me of a flight he was on days after his ordination that appeared to be headed to its doom—it just dropped quickly for no apparent reason, the masks fell…the whole 9 years.

In other words, your worst nightmare.

They eventually recovered and the pilots came on and assured everyone things were OK. The woman next to him breathed easier and they started talking about the experience. She began to slap him on his arm:

“AND YOU! You-(slap)-were-(slap)-so freaking-(slap-slap-slap)-CALM! How did you do that?”

He replied, “Well I just became a priest a few days ago, so I figured if I was going to die, well then, this would be a pretty good time to do so!”

Other friends had a similar story at a conference. Their plane to Chicago just dropped out of the sky. My friend and then Executive Director of NCYAMA, Michelle Miller, looked at the woman next to her and said,

“Hi we haven’t met yet. I’m Michelle and you’re probably the last person I’m ever going to see–so we should probably be friends.”

Thankfully, they were able to get the nose of the plane up and she reached her destination safely albeit not “uneventfully”. She reported later that she was no longer fearful of flying because “let’s face it, it can’t get worse that THAT.”

At her words I said, “I’m never flying with you! You just jinxed yourself! It could have been a LOT worse! The plane could have crashed!”

“Oh yeah!”

So as summer months lead to travel for many, my friend Ginny Moyer, is no different. Over at her blog she discusses her fear of flying and how it’s different these days because she’s the mom of two young boys.

But as we took off on the second flight of the trip back home, I looked over at Matthew as he pressed his face to the glass and exclaimed over the tiny people below. He was loving it, that swoopy feeling of the plane shifting direction, the novel feeling of being up in the air like a bird. There was no room in him for fear; it literally didn’t occur to him to imagine the worst-case scenarios. And I realized that I wish I were that way. I guess it’s the price of eating the fruit of knowledge, and maturity: I’ve been around long enough to read news stories of plane crashes and airline tragedies. He hasn’t. He’s in that age where it’s nothing but adventure, and excitement. He trusts, completely, that the air will hold him.

He’s got the advantage over me, in other words.

There’s an old saying, sort of a challenge, that I’ve heard often: What would you do with your life if you weren’t afraid?

Perhaps, that friends, is a metaphor for life. Because we’re all afraid of something. Facing our fears is indeed a part of being a mature adult. But it’s also a statement of faith. As Catholics, we should be able to live fearlessly because we believe that God cares for us, forgives us, and that even if we die, God will indeed welcome us, despite our failings to join with God in the beatific vision.

Do not be afraid. The most often used words in the Bible.

And yet many fear dying–or I should say not knowing for certain what lies on the other side of life. The opposite of faith is certainty…and because we are not God we are not certain of just about anything. Faith indeed is risk.

And that indeed can bring on anxiety.

But embracing that fear and walking into it often gives us a passion for life. It betrays our own strength that we might actually be a bit stronger than we actually are. It also, I think, betrays a belief in God–perhaps an unconscious one for many. Because each time we face our fears, even if the worst thing happens, we discover that God will be there for us, now, in this moment and even at the hour of our death.

If we are not afraid, we can accomplish much. What if we weren’t afraid to speak out for the poor–would poverty be eliminated? What if we weren’t so afraid to forgive others who wrong us? Would our world be more peaceful and harmonious? What if we weren’t afraid to stand up for ourselves when someone unjustly accuses us of something? Would we stand a bit stronger and gain the respect of colleagues and adversaries?

The truth is that we are often too afraid to even move. And in that paralysis, we entertain evil, giving it the power to tell us that we are not good enough–perhaps even that we secretly think that God might not care.

Today, let us pray for the strength to able to believe. To know intuitively that God cares for us and to push aside the evil one beckoning us to believe that he just might not. After all, the Devil knows us well and will prey upon our insecurities. May God grant us peace, look not on our sin, but on our faith. And may God protect us from all anxiety and allow us to wait in joyful hope for the day when we see God face to face.

Screw Your Roommate

I was going through old notes and pictures and other paraphernalia recently and began to tell some old stories of the college days. This one from my sophomore year is one of my favorites.

We held a dance in each residence hall at Fordham each year called the “Screw Your Roommate Dance” which essentially meant that your roommate was supposed to set you up with someone for the dance. Sort of a “Sadie Hawkins meets the devil” kind of thing. If your roommate liked you you’d probably get set up with someone nice, or possibly even your crush. If he or she hated you…well…you might not get set up at all.

So my roommate at the time was Joe Patane who I wrote about the other day. Joe had this penchant for well…procrastinating. He’d wait until the last minute to try and find me a date. But this year was different. Our resident assistant, a great guy named Steve Breton, knew I had a crush on (of all people) his ex-girlfriend. So he suggested that he call her and ask her if she’d go with me. Maria, the ex of Steve, was someone who I indeed had a crush on after meeting her on a retreat the year before. We were friendly, but she was attached to someone so I couldn’t pursue a relationship. Steve didn’t have the best relationship with her, I mean they did break up for a reason, after all.

But nonetheless, she agreed to go with me and Joe was off the hook. For the first time, Joe had actually done something before the last minute. he was quite proud of himself. He’d throw hints at who I was going with for weeks. “Oh man, you are going to be so happy when you open that door!”

So the night of the dance approached. I had no idea who he could possibly have set me up with. The day before the dance a knock came on my door and it was Steve Breton, the aforementioned R.A. He asked to come in and we sat down. At first, I thought I was in trouble and started making a mental list of dorm violations that I could have participated in. While the list was probably numerous, I couldn’t imagine that Steve knew about any of them.

Steve gingerly approached the topic at hand:

“Well you know how Joe’s been bragging that he got you a great date for the dance, right?”

Mike: “Sure. I have no idea who it is though.”

Steve: “Well, I was in on the set-up.”

Mike: “Oh, ok! Thanks!”

Steve: “Ok I’ll just say it. It’s Maria. But don’t get too excited because she just cancelled. She’s got a midterm and she’s got to get studying for it. She’s freaking out about it and look man, I’m really sorry, but she can’t go with you. We tried. Shit, we did more than try she said ‘sure’ but now…NOW she cancels at the last second. I’m so pissed at her!”

Mike: Well, thanks for trying, anyway. Guess I’m just going stag because I can’t imagine who I could ask at this late juncture! No worries, dude! Not your fault.

To make a long story short, my good friend, Steve DiSalvo (now President of Marian University in Wisconsin), invited me over to his residence hall where he introduced me to Melissa Morrissey, a wonderful young woman who I had helped with her freshman scheduling as a Sophomore mentor earlier in the year. Steve just bluntly asked her to go with me and she agreed. And we had a ball. We were just friends, but we had such a great time, much to the relief of my roommate and R.A.

Months later I went on a Peer Retreat on the weekend of my 20th birthday. Steve DiSalvo had invited me directly and truth be told, I’m a minister in the church today because of that moment. We had all received “palanca” letters on the retreat–a letter of support. The word palanca in spanish means “A lift” and that’s what the letters were supposed to provide.

One of my letters was from my aforementioned R.A., Steve Breton.

“I hear you’re on a retreat. Must be cool. Having drinks out poolside, some fat guy diving off the board. I can see it now.

One of the things I really admire about you, Mike, is how you never get too down on things. Like when Maria cancelled on you for the dance, you didn’t worry despite your disappointment. And you went out and got yourself a great date and probably had a better time than the rest of us! You’re really great like that.”

He added a few more personal touches thanking me for friendship and help around the dorm. But my takeaway was always his kindness and his generosity. It’s not everyone that would call up their ex-girlfriend and ask for a favor–and for the likes of ME! That went a long way.

Steve DiSalvo also sent me a brief note the day after that dance that simply said “YOU OWE ME BIG TIME. Hope you had a great time!”

Ah, the jocularity!

The truth is that Fordham was a great place to be in the late 80s and early 90s. I hope that its maintained that “family feel” at the Rose Hill Campus. But it was these special people who have helped me become who I am today and pointed me in the direction of God continually awakening me to who he has called me into being. I pray that the two Steves, Melissa and my roommate, Joe indeed know how special they were and are.

I lost touch with Breton some years ago. DiSalvo and I somehow follow each other around, finding each other on boards and conferences together. Melissa and I are Facebook friends and drop an occasional note to each other. And that dear roommate and I keep tabs through Facebook and email and the occasional visit to New York, California or Buffalo. It’s all good and all grace. Friendship is often like that…even when you’re trying to screw your roommate.