Men and Women in Ministries Together

warning_former_altar_boy_t_shirt-p235163770846829727trdy_152So the recent uproar over the comments made by Cardinal Burke here and a San Francisco parish’s banning of female altar servers has caused a great disturbance in the force from where I sit.  Over 50 people responded to my question asking them for their opinion on this matter.  It brings up a number of issues regarding gender and the church.  I’d like to restrict this discussion to current eligible roles for women and male laypeople in the church at this time, so as not to get this discussion clouded by the issue of  priestly ordination.

An initial story to begin:

Not long ago, I walked into a sacristy and there was a need for lector at the mass. One of the Deacons saw me walk in and said “Oh, Mike’s here, he can do it.”

Almost immediately, a female pastoral associate replied, “We don’t need any more men up there!”

Now, I wasn’t all that offended by her remark and normally I would generally agree but, on this particular Sunday the second lector was a younger woman and all 7 eucharistic ministers were not only all women, but were all white middle-aged women!

And this was the case for the next 5 Sundays as well.

So, who really was the minority?  People of color (In fairness, that usually is not the case at this parish), lay men and younger people of both sexes.

But I also wondered if I were a young man in my 20s and had walked in and had been (or wanted to be trained as) a lector, what would that response have been?  Would he have felt as welcomed?  Would he have been invited into something more?  Would I have been so turned off by her remark that I would have dismissed the parish as being un-welcoming?

Unknown-1So while we certainly do want to invite women into our ministries and while we also want to invite young girls into the ministry of being altar servers, we also don’t want to do this to the exclusion of lay men and young boys and we should continue to look at just how diverse we really are.

It sometimes amazes me that quite a number of people who claim to speak for diversity and gender equality are quick to exclude others who are not part of their group.  I call this militantism and it has no place in Catholic circles.  Militant people are different from passionate people.  There are advocates for all kinds of groups that need someone to stand up for their needs or otherwise they will be excluded.   Most often, those people are indeed passionate.  However, too often, there are some who are so militant about their special interest group that they become exclusionary of others.  They become the very thing they hope to fight against.

Cardinal Burke, in his griping about female altar servers, is dangerously close to someone who aims to exclude here. Burke astutely sees his male priesthood shrinking and this is certainly cause for alarm.  He sees male altar servers as a link to seminarian candidates.  In short, he is trying to keep his species alive and sees male altar servers as a way to do procreate the priesthood. At heart, his intention is a good one and he is passionate about his cause.  But the end result, is exclusionary, because he sees girls as a barrier to young boys seeking a vocation. In fact, he has said that the girls are so good at being altar servers that the boys often quit!  Frankly, that means that the girls are not the problem! Perhaps the boys might need to try harder?  Perhaps more training is needed for both groups? Perhaps there are exclusionary scheduling issues going on (where only the girls serve at one mass and the boys at another and they never serve together!)? Or might this even be pure nostalgia?  Often you hear older priests talk about the “good old days” when only boys were serving at the altar.  Our nostalgia is often not what we remember, but rather is simply an experience of the past that we liked, but didn’t result in anything deeper.

The larger question is that if some see a link between male altar servers and entry into the priesthood, what link might they see between female altar servers and their religious practices?

There’s probably not a case to be made of a link between female altar servers and entry into women’s religious communities (even more dwindling numbers exist there), but there may be a case to be made for women entering into lay ministry fields (youth ministry, campus ministers, directors of religious education, pastoral associates, etc).  What about active parishioners, who run a good deal of programming in parishes and are often willing volunteers?  We need these people too!

The goal here should be to integrate people of both genders into the life of the church!  Jesus did not exclude anyone from his company and so we should follow in turn.  So here are four points that I’d like us to consider when we are looking to be more inclusive in ministries in general.

1)  Direct, personal invitation:  Do we invite people to serve as lectors or extraordinary ministers of holy communion?  Do we seek people out who we have come to know to try to engage them into the ministries of the altar more intentionally?  Almost all of our lectors were female here at the Campus, so I’ve tried hard to get more men involved.  I’ve invited two men in the last two weeks and both readily accepted and even came to the training on time.

2)  Balance in all things:   We only have male priests, so we should minimally start with inviting a woman to serve in some role at the altar.  Perhaps as a lector, cantor or eucharistic minister.  Then, the next person we should invite is another male.  Can we be mindful of diversity here?  Is there a younger woman or man who we could tap to balance the generational divides that too frequently separate us from one another?  Can those who have been doing things for ages, move into an administrative role, doing less and training and advising more, while still modeling what to do now and again?  Can everyone look beyond themselves and invite new and interested people into ministries for more participation each week?  Do we only invite the educated few, leaving out those who often feel unworthy or alienated?

3)  Altar Serving:  Are they well-trained?  Do they all have particular roles each week?  I can remember four roles I was taught as an altar server:

Acolyte (Book):  This server holds the book and assists at the offertory.  They place the chalice on the altar and when there is no deacon, they “set the table” for the priest.

Acolyte (bell):  In parishes where bells are rung, this server does this and also serves at the offertory.

Crosier:  This server carries the processional cross and at high masses, assists with the incense boat. (also assists with holy water when there is a sprinkling rite).

Thurifer:  This server is at high masses only and processes in with the Thurible.

And again, balance…can we schedule a boy and a girl to be the acolytes?  And then rotate the third role with with a boy or a girl weekly?  Maybe a more Senior member serves as the Crosier to oversee the younger servers who learn by doing?  And maybe trainees start by being the crosier so they can observe more and then jump in once they know what the heck they are doing?

4)   Create Called Community:  And in community, we hang out together!  If there’s one lesson to be learned here it is that people long to be together, to engage in conversation, to recreate together and to love one another.  If there’s one thing my students have taught me is that they have the desire to be together.

Do we do more than just serve at the altar? Can we move people from the altar into other ministries–where we go beyond the parochial bounds into a place where others are in need.

Someone on my Facebook page posted the following note:

Meanwhile as the Church debates keeping girls out of altar serving, 4 million kids went hungry, 500,000 people froze with out a home, cancer has taken millions of lives, prisoners did not have the opportunity to see the way truth and the light, 8,000 parishioners died, and we missed helping 20,000 pregnancies NOT end in abortion.

So we certainly have a need to awaken this community into a “called community” that seeks diversity and inclusion for itself.  And we do this not merely so things look “fair and balanced.”  No we do it so that we might also be called to see others that too often we think of as different.  We fail to see others sometimes as having our human dignity and we fail to claim responsibility for them. We too often continue to become exclusionary people and push those who we see as different to the margins.

And that is why we come to church, to remind ourselves not to do this.

And so we need to start modeling what this looks like this around our altars, to let all in our community see that God has not made us for division, but rather, for communion.

Can we constantly be seeking communion?  And that means Males and Females TOGETHER, not one at the exclusion of another.

So altar servers, past and present, know that we have been blessed by your service.  You mean more than you know.  Today, invite someone who does not look like you into joining your ministry and if they tell you that you can’t, tell them that they must and be a reminder of all that is good about our church–a church that calls everyone to not exclude the other.

Most especially, from Jesus.

How I Met My Ministry: The Early Years

Kids, this is a story that we’ll tell for the next few weeks. It’s a story of how I met my ministry. Having no children of my own and taking a cue from my favorite TV show (How I Met Your Mother), I’ll begin to tell the story of how I got involved in ministry to begin with. It’ll be filled with many humorous tales as well as a bunch of serious ones.

In some ways it started when I was about 9 years old and I became an altar boy. Back then only boys served on the altar and you had to be in at least 4th grade. Our parish deacon has created a group called The Knights of the Altar Society. We served mass, did some service projects, played at the parish school gym on Saturday afternoons and took trips to Six Flags together. It was a fun time.

That first mass was an interesting time. I was tiny compared to the two guys who were training me. Henry DiLello and Dominic Finouli were both high schoolers. They were nice guys and they took me under their wing as a little brother, especially Dominic, who was simply a nice guy. They taught me the various roles at the altar. One server was “book” and another was “bell.” Sometimes a third server would be “cross” and at a high mass a fourth server was “thurifer” which meant that he’d handle the incense.

It was a Wednesday morning mass. They found me an alb and had me write my name in it. It was a plain white alb with a hood. We tied it with a cincture and then a cross went around my neck and was tucked underneath the alb’s hood. The older guys wore black cassocks and a white surplice. The cassock had a space for the white tab that a priest would wear but ours were just worn sans tab.

I was simply going to observe at this mass itself, but I would also handle some pre-mass and post-mass duties. Henry lit the taper in the long gold holder that we used to light the candles. The candles were bigger than me so it wasn’t easy to light them. The harder I tried the longer the flame became. Henry had left me alone to light the candles but then, when he saw the foot-long flame on the taper he ran to me and had me snuff out the flame! We re-lit and Henry watched me, lest I burn the church down. I learned when to get the book for the priest, when the chalice was needed and when we’d get the water and wine from the credence table. Everything was done together with Henry and Dom moving as a sharply trained drill team.

I watched carefully, learned all the responses and prayed that I’d be up to the task. It seemed like a serious matter to be on the altar. I don’t think I feel any differently even today. We kept our hands in prayer position and they were on our knees while seated. We also had to wear shoes and nice clothes, even if we took our shirts off before putting our alb on.

I can still remember our prayers before and after mass.

Server’s Prayer before Mass
Open my mouth, O Lord,
To Bless your holy name
Clear my mind of all evil
And Distracting thoughts

Ignite my understanding
Inflame my will
That I may serve eagerly at
your Holy Altar

O Mary, mother of Christ,
The High Priest
Obtain for me the most important grace:
Of Knowing my vocation in life.

Grant me a true spirit of faith
And humble obedience
That I may ever behold the priest
as a representative of God
And willingly follow him in the way and truth and the life of Christ Amen.

Server’s Prayer After Mass
O Lord Jesus Christ
Eternal High Priest
I thank you for the privilege
of serving at the Holy Altar of your sacrifice.

Now as I put aside the garments of that service
I ask that I may at all times think of you.
May I ever seek you and find you,
may I always follow you.

Ever ready in your service
May I always come to do your will
In all things
And by your grace
persevere unto the end. Amen

I’ve had the same conversation with people over the years about girls serving at the altar, which I think is a great idea. The Diocese of Phoenix decided today that unfortunately, they would no longer be granting women and girls the privilege of being altar servers. We didn’t have girls or young women serving in my day and I think that was a big loss. I know what my experience was with the guys and how valuable it was, but I don’t think it would have been any less an experience if girls were around. Perhaps some would not have come to our recreation activities on Saturday as we played football, hockey and other sports all afternoon and put tables up for bingo when we finished. At times some sisters of our buddies would travel on group outings with us and it didn’t disrupt things a bit other than the usual puppy dog crushes that some one of us would have on our friend’s sister and her yelling that someone punched her in the arm (a young boy’s usual way of showing a girl affection).

Regardless, of the obvious sexism at play, some have offered the thought that young men won’t be altar servers if they see girls on the altar. My response to that is that they might be right about that. But they also should note the responsibility we all have to tell them that this isn’t a good reason to NOT be an altar server. Secondly, it’s up to that person who does the inviting to ministry to invite equal numbers of boys and girls, as well as, men and women who are lectors and eucharistic ministers. In fact, I’m pretty sure that whoever has the responsibility for liturgical ministers often gets it wrong, opting for a preference over one gender (male or female) over another.

I know what my experience as an altar server was. From a practical standpoint, I know it kept me off the streets and probably saved me from a lot of dangerous activity in my neighborhood. But mostly, it was an opportunity to engage with mass, to develop a love of the mass. It made the priests I served with more human and approachable and certainly, it gave me a love of the church and of ministry. I still love serving at the altar as a lector or eucharistic minister. But it all started with Deacon Al Impallomeni and Dominic and Henry. Their dedication to the altar was amazing and it gave me an opportunity to see others who were prayerful people.

In short, I think it saved my life and it continues to do so each and every week, when Christ gives himself to us so that we might have life eternal.

So kids, It’s a serious matter, I hope servers, male and female, remember that and appreciate their role as much as I do. Up next, How I Met My Ministry in College.

The Church of the White Middle Aged Woman

So last week, I was out of town in Washington, D.C. and attended mass at a lovely community that came highly recommended to me. What I found there was a confirmation of much that I’ve noticed nationwide.

I looked at the altar and saw three white female altar servers all over the age of 40. The lectors were both white, one male, one female (the male was a lousy lector by the way) both, I suspect, over 35. All of the eucharistic ministers were over the age of 50 and they were all white women.

I can hear female baby boomers applauding this. If so, you might want to stop reading because I’m not sharing in your enthusiasm. Why? When I looked to the back half of the church, it was filled with younger men and women, most of them recent graduates of nearby universities. Presumably , none of them have been invited into ministry.

Repeatedly, over the years, I’ve heard from a number of people in the church that when it comes to ministers on the altar “we don’t need anymore men up there.” I can understand the sentiment. Women are not eligible to be ordained priests and therefore we should give them the opportunity to serve at the altar as much as possible. Women who have fought for equal treatment for women for years in the church are predominantly baby boomers. And because they are in the majority in our church (and have been now for some time), the opportunities are slim for younger people simply because older people don’t invite them into ministry when they see them.

Younger people in the Catholic church are by and large on foreign ground. They don’t know the rituals and symbols because Catholic practice has waned as a part of the family unit, the parents of younger people today have not always made religious practice a priority and therefore they don’t either. When they enter our churches, they don’t see anyone who looks like them in roles of ministry often. (That’s why the young priest is often popular, by the way!). The few that are involved are most likely involved because their family always have been involved in church.

I want to also cite my own failure as a now “semi-middle aged” male of 41 (and yet, still one of the younger ones, my baby boomer colleagues will tell me) and as a minister in the church. I don’t invite enough young people into ministry and I especially don’t invite younger men all that often. I sometimes am timid and shy around new people and need experiences with people to break the ice.

That ends today.

I’m issuing a challenge, it’s to myself but it’s also to all of those people who have been so active and vibrant and to whom the church should be more grateful for their service for these many years.

We’re not all that old, but we’re also not all that young. We’ve got a limited time to invite the younger people around us into roles that others invited us into. So this Sunday, simply put, invite someone who is “not you” into ministry. It could be:

– Your husband or child
– A young family who sits near you
– A graduate student or a recent grad who you’ve seen around
– Anybody who recently got married (Pastors and marriage ministers could send them all a letter very easily–even better would be a direct ask)
– University Students
– Someone who you know is Catholic and who is a great speaker (a lector awaits!)
– The young woman with an inviting attitude simply by her presence
– The quiet guy who prays piously at Mary’s statue after mass each week

For myself, I’ve done some of this before, but need to do better. I recently invited a young couple to get more involved with our university students and they were so honored to be asked. Last year, I asked a young haitian woman to be a eucharistic minister and she accepted and then went on to lead our spring social justice project and our alternative spring break.

So there are great rewards ahead for those who dare to reach out just a bit.

This Sunday, I’m finding a young African man who I’ve been friendly with lately and I’m going to ask him if he’d consider being a eucharistic minister. There are dozens of newly marrieds that I’m asking to get more involved each time I see them, one whom I know can be a great lector.

The message of the day is that it’s too intimidating for them to ask you how they can get involved. We need to break the ice. We need to openly ask for their gifts not in an announcement that says “all those willing to be eucharistic ministers, ushers, lectors, come after mass to sign up.” But rather, we need to be more like Christ and say “I want you! Come follow me.” This is all part of being a welcoming community and we cannot afford to fail.

Our protestant brothers and sisters are all too happy to do this every time we don’t. There’s a reason that the biggest denomination out there is former Catholics. For most, their reason for leaving is boredom and the more involved one can get, the less likely they are to be bored.

I hope you can take this challenge not as a criticism, or even as a lack of appreciation for all you have been for the church (especially the thousands of women who rightfully deserve our respect). Rather, I hope you see this as an opportunity to be generative, to be mentors not of a future, but of today. For our twenty and thirty somethings are the now of our church. And we cannot afford to waste another second of not inviting them to be a more vibrant part of the Eucharistic meal.

Have fun growing your ministry of today. And let me know your success stories and struggles.

A Confirming Slap

Deacon Greg talks about a recent confirmation where he expected the Bishop to slap the confirmands on the cheek as they did “back in the day.”

Read a snip:

Generations of Catholics came into the church that way, with a dab of oil and a sting of flesh. At the time, the Sisters of St. Joseph—no slouches in the slapping department, by the way—taught us that the touch of episcopal palm to young cheek was a harbinger of things to come. “It is a sign,” they intoned, “of the sufferings we must endure as Christians.” In other words: get used to it. There’s more where that came from.
For an 11- or 12-year-old, it sounded ominous. And it made us look at our vocations as young Catholics with seriousness and a certain amount of dread. How long until we had to face the lions?

Flash forward forty years. Earlier this month, I was serving as deacon at our parish confirmation in Queens. The bishop anointed each of the kids as they came forward and then—I braced for the slap, waited for it—he extended a palm . . . and shook their hands. And he smiled as he did it.
He shook their hands?!

He could have been selling them a used car.

Ok, that last part made me chuckle.

But a confirmation slap does not.

Truth be told, one never was supposed to receive a slap at confirmation but rather touching someone’s cheek is a sign of endearment. It’s a way to say to someone “You are dear to me.” I can see a Father doing this to his beloved daughter or a son to his aging mother. At the Easter Vigil, our pastor, Father Jack, does exactly that to each confirmand.

And now I do this to our students.

At the closing mass on campus each year we invite our graduating seniors and graduate students up to the front of the church and we send them forth for the final time. We’ve ritualized this by asking all the campus ministers to come forward and lay hands on them. After I do so, I touch each one of their cheeks in this endearing way.

The guys, I must say, I do give a little harder tap on the cheek. And they love it. Zach, one of my favorites invited me to a pre-graduation dinner at his family’s home and he ritualized the evening with his own pre-written grace where he thanked everyone for supporting him through college. When he got to me he said this:

“Thanks for that closing ritual at mass. I cried and got slapped in the face and I loved every second of it.”

Playful might be the word I’m describing. A kind of double tap. But what happens isn’t the kind of slap that’s painful or leaves one feeling ashen.

But it does leave a mark.

Not on their face but on their hearts.

Imagine your bishop holding your cheek in the palm of his hand. Saying “I love you, God loves you. Now go and do likewise.”

That’s the kind of slap we need. One that makes us awaken to the fact that we are beloved by God, not one that makes us fearful and afraid.

I will concede the good Deacon the following point:

We need more than a handshake from our Bishop.

They Gave Their Life For My Dad

I don’t know if I’ve ever told this story but Memorial Day is just as good as any day to tell it.

Back in the 50s, my dad, newly married and a new citizen was drafted for Korea. He went down to the recruiting station with 4 other men from the neighborhood he was living in. He was eager to go to war to fight for a country that had been good to him as an Irish immigrant.

The doctor’s thought otherwise. Rheumatism was the cause of him being sent home. My mother was probably relieved and I think, my dad a bit disappointed, especially since the 4 other guys were good to go.

In those days it was embarrassing for men to not be selected to go to war. A bum knee, or a hereditary illness could keep you off the docket. My dad remembers the feeling well.

The four men who were my dad’s partners on that journey to the recruiting station were sent to fight in Korea. Each one of them died in service of their country. Not a one of them survived. The chances that my dad would have survived had he been drafted now seemed slim. And since I am a late-in-life baby, I may not have been born.

I don’t know the names of these four men. But I do know that they were brave enough to want to be selected for the war in Korea. It seems like a such a waste for their families to have had their father, husband, brother taken from them in the madness of war. But they and hundreds of nameless vets died fighting for freedom. Certainly there are some things worth fighting for and sometimes we cannot avoid war and conflict–or perhaps we just don’t know how?

While our prayers for peace remain, let’s also pray in gratitude for the lives that were OFFERED FREELY by brave men who fought for freedom, especially our young adults today in the military, where the largest number of Catholic young adults in one place are found.

And let’s also pray that nobody should ever have to make that same offering again.

Do We Have a Church If We Don’t Have Priests?

Deacon Greg pointed me to this video which has excellent production values on a group of newly ordained priests.

Beautifully done and a nice keepsake for these men of their ordination day.

One small quibble: While our priests are of paramount importance, I’m not sure it’s accurate to say “If we don’t have priests we don’t have a church” as the rector, I believe intoned in the video. If we don’t have priests that would be tragic, but there are plenty of communities that do not have priests at this point. Are they no less a part of the Body of Christ? I get the point that we need someone to consecrate the Eucharist and even priest-less parishes share in the sacrifice of another community where the sacrifice of the mass was offered–and therefore they are indebted and tied to a priest in some way. But if there were no priests, what would that mean for the church? What would become of ritual and sacrifice? Would others be called to a new role and who would decide how to move forward on this?

It’s a good question to ask and an even better prayer to pray that we always have priests and deacons.

But it also behooves an additional question: What are we doing to bring the body of Christ into the world? How do we proclaim Christ in ritual where we gather each week? How are we present to one another in the Eucharist and how do we become active participants and not merely consumeristic receivers?

A choir director I know, even challenges her choir in a similar way. “We are ministers of music. The CONGREGATION is the choir! We’re called to be ministers of the word in song, to awaken and enliven the hearts of the faithful so that they sing out with just as much joy as we might express.”

We might want to take that lesson into our hearts this week and be moved by the fact that we have priests and deacons, lay ministers and catechists, ministers of song and hospitality. Without any of them, we might not have a church, much less priests alone. We need each member of the faithful to continue to preach the goodness of our church, to inspire each one to their proper role in life and in the life of the church.

Priests didn’t come from the clear blue sky. They were called from the community to be priests by God for the communities that they, in turn will now serve.

That’s a blessing. We rejoice and be glad. And our response in love is not just to be served, but to serve. And that goes for all of us.

In that way, our common priesthood lives forever.

My dear friend, Fr. Jack Collins often reminds me that “what is common to all is sacramentalized by some.” Perhaps with those who choose to have their priesthood sacramentalized, we indeed have a problem.

But if we really have faith, we believe that God is present in all of us. Is that any less of a Eucharistic moment? Some might think so. I choose to think that God always finds a way out of no way.

And so, I am comforted by that gracious thought. The truth that we are not God. And therefore, while we choose to have men be “in persona Christi” God still exists whether or not men continue to make that choice.

God will never abandon us. And while that’s comforting, it’s still easier to see and feel when we have priests amongst us.

Today, let us pray that young men will continue to respond to the call of Christ to the priesthood. And let us also pray that we too, respond accordingly to our vocational call as well.

Now go and find your favorite priest and tell him how important he is to your community and offer to help him out with something.

Freddy Sez: “Rest in Peace”

One of the joys of going to Yankee Stadium and one of the great highlights of my time covering the team as a reporter was simply being around a man named Freddy. Freddy Schuman was kind of an unofficial mascot at the stadium. He had a sign that he carried around with him that would say:

Freddy sez: “Opening Day 2010: Let’s make it 28!” (a reference to the number of World Series Championships the Yankees have won.)

He’d also carry around a kitchen spoon and a shamrock laden pot (more like a pan really) that would hang from his sign and he’d bang that pan with the spoon and allow fans to tap it as he walked around the stadium.

Freddy was a genius in simplicity. What many don’t know is that Freddy was not just a Yankee fan but was also a great supporter of the Bronx in general. I saw him at Fordham games often and Manhattan College games (which is strangely located in the Riverdale section of the Bronx and not Manhattan). I’d see him on the subway and he’d often take in a high school football game as well in his beloved borough. But it was indeed the Bronx Bombers that he was most in love with. Yankee jacket in tow, Freddy was an institution.

“Clang, clang, clang!” Here comes Freddy! I said it probably a thousand times and it never got old.

Sadly, Freddy, that Yankee institution, died at the age of 85 after having a heart attack on Friday night.

One of the moments that I remember from Freddy was the time that some idiot stole Freddy’s tin pan. He had been using the same one for the entire time he had been attending games–an incredible span of 22 years! About 10 years ago, the pan got stolen. The New York Daily News even ran a piece asking the thief to return the pan with no questions asked. I don’t think I ever saw Freddy sadder than when he was without that sentimental piece of his mascot-dom.

The thief did indeed return the pan to the News and when it was given back to Freddy he began to strike that pan with such pure unadulterated joy! It was a moment I will never forget.

The Yankees will have a moment of silence for Freddy tonight, but I think it would be more appropriate if the starting 9 all brought pans and spoons out to their spot on the field and filled that silence with the clanging that Freddy brought with him to the stadium each and every time. Maybe the fans could also join in although I doubt security would allow them to bring in all that metal.

Regardless, tonight, remember a nice man named Freddy who only sought to support his team, bring us all a bit of joy and bang a pot with glee.

I’ll be damned. I’m a man…

My former colleague at WOR Radio, Noah Fleishman, penned an elegant piece on Facebook today about realizing that he is now a man.

Here’s just a snip:

I’d been working around more than one colleague who simply saw fit to wear a jacket and tie daily, regardless of who
was around. I decided that such expression had it’s place, and no reason why I couldn’t jump onto this bandwagon.
Hence, a personal image I could be comfortable with. My tie and jacket were simply someone else’s baseball cap and windbreaker.
After decades of industrial – looking down jackets for winter, I acquired my first tweed winter coat. Never mind thirteen.
Now, at age thirtysomething, I was a man. Marching down the block in my plaid cap, knit scarf and overcoat, I experienced this
warm, empowering coming of age. This was no longer a kid lumbering about, some suspended adolescent. In the right costume,
you can have the right character. I finally met the one I’d long awaited.

I remember having a similar experience when I was about 22 or so. I was walking up the street in my parent’s neighborhood and a little boy was toddling along the sidewalk with his mother. He gazed at me in that “Wow you’re a lot bigger than me” way and said to his mom, “Who’s that?!”

Her response gave me a double take. She simply said: “That’s a man.”

It was the first time that I heard someone say it out loud. I thought to myself, “Well, I guess I am. College educated, job in hand, a Fordham man…huh! Well, whattya know.”

It wasn’t until years later that I think I really felt that way. Older folks in radio and in the church still referred to me as “a young kid.” One fifty-something guy said I was “as experienced as a baby” once when we talked about our dating lives. A woman I dated and broke up with once called me “a nice man” as if she had to convince herself to keep dating me when it was clearly going south.

There had been hints of my manhood all along. When I interviewed Darryl Strawberry in the Yankee locker room and later Dwight Gooden, two childhood heroes, I realized that they were men, just like me, only with special skills for baseball and each with their own demons that would bring them to their knees. Surely men come in all shapes and sizes and all have their flaws as well.

There is a scene in City Slickers, the wonderfully male-centric movie by Billy Crystal, where the three best friends on a fantasy camp adventure cattle drive, talk about “their best and worst day.” It’s a gripping scene and in many ways centers on the question of “Am I a man?” and the men who helped them realize that. Take a gander:

For myself, there have been many moments like this. Making decisions regarding my mother’s health, my wedding day, buying a co-op and later my first “real” home. The students here often look to me as a wisdom figure and recently some of the Catholic Volunteers have made me feel much more like a Father to them, than say, a big brother or friend. People often address me as Mr. Hayes, in certain circles, which still gives me a chuckle.

Last year, though, I think was the most significant moment for me. I was standing in the bus station in Buffalo with my colleague, Katie and 13 students. We were headed for our first Alternative Spring Break trip. Fr. Pat and Sr. Jeremy had just departed and now we were on our own.

And it dawned on me… “Oh shit, I’m the responsible adult here!”

I was a man. Responsible for 13 young lives in the biggest city in the world. Katie about 15 years my junior, was also responsible but New York was my town, a place I knew like the back of my hand. I was going to be the go-to guy here.

Talk about a bang-zap seemingly “ontological change” from “goof-up” to “responsible adult.”

Somehow, manhood, much like Noah’s experience just creeps up on you. Before you know it, there you are in a suit and a tie, speaking to an entire Archdiocese of priests, leading students, publishing a book, paying the mortgage, hugging a niece, counseling others…man-stuff clearly and unquestionably.

So when did you become a man? I’m not sure if the experience is different somehow for women, but I’d be interested in seeing what your journeys have been like to “responsible adulthood” as well. Anyone not feel grown up? I think at times I still feel that way too. Let’s talk about it.

And for now, pray for all men. That they might live up to their role as men. For God knows being a man isn’t easy and for those times when we all feel like boys now and again–may God remind us that we have the strength to make it through anything with God’s help. May we always be “Men for Others” as Ignatius would say and allow ourselves to be signs of that to others in the world.