Shepherd Me, O God

Well, 2014 is off to a fantastic start.

Sarcasm will get you everywhere.

It’s been a wild ride to the start of this year. I’ll spare you most of the details, but let’s just say that I’m not exactly feeling 2014 yet. I’ve also taken note that years ending in a four are often simply craptastic years for me.

But here’s hoping that this will change. Just because the year has started bad with some weather issues, traveling challenges, a need now for vocational discernment for my wife, the death of two friend’s close family members and some trepidations about other issues that I shall keep close to the vest for now…does not mean that the year must go the way of the Tidy-Bowl-Man.

And regardless of the fact that crap happens to all of us, the great Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM, has given me a mantra by which to live my life. Simply put:

“Life is hard. Get over it.”

To add to that…I would say that because life is hard it indeed is a reminder that we do not journey it alone. That we have need of God. That we are not God and that on occasion we need some help along the way.

In fact, we need it often.

Psalm 23 is often read at funerals. It should probably be read each day because it reminds us of God’s shepherding love for the world.

So today let us pray:

That God will indeed shepherd us in troubled times and that we will be able to see God’s guidance in our lives and feel the tender embrace in our painful times.

For it is in faith that we walk, comforted by the fact that God never leaves us alone, makes a way out of no way and always can redeem our suffering, even in the face of hopelessness and death.

School prayers

Today the diocese of Buffalo will announce the closing of many grammar schools. For many children this will be a sad day. For many teachers and school employees this will be a day to start scrambling for a new position.

My wife is the after-school
Coordinator at a local parish in Amherst and she loves it here. It’s taken her some time to find a place where she really fits in. So I’m hoping she doesn’t have to start looking for a new place to work.

A dear friend is going through a similar situation in NYC and it’s just no fun at all. While he’s confident that he’ll find work, he’s sad for the girls who attend his high school, especially the Juniors who have to start at a new high school for their final year. Imagine having to go to a rival high school for your final year? I remember when some friend failed out of my high school and then went to another school to continue. It seemed weird to me to see them sitting on the opposite sideline at football games and to see them have to cobble together new friends.

So this morning, let us pray for healing for those who will undoubtedly be hurt today. Let us pray for those who lose jobs and those who make hard decisions. Pray for parents and students and teachers and principals. Pray for custodians and cafeteria workers and librarians.

And pray for Bishop Malone who is going to look like the bad guy in this situation, no matter what. This is tough on him and it needs to happen to right-size these schools before they all go broke. So keep him and his colleagues in prayer today.

Lord, pray for our educators, and allow them to bring knowledge and insight to our young students. And pray that all those who will find themselves unemployed will find work they enjoy soon. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Brooklyn

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I made a wrong turn on Eastern Parkway today and got a nice tour of the area for myself before righting my route.

Some New Yorker I am.

But while my wife is from Brooklyn, it’s never been my favorite borough. I don’t really know why. It is quite an impressive place and people are nice and streets have character. Brooklyn is indeed a fine borough.

The subway is a mish-mash of people. Old, young, white, black, the occasional Hasidic with his hat and curls. Crown Heights is certainly the melting pot it has always been.

Over the bridge we go, the mighty Brooklyn Bridge. A landmark like no other. Amazing! We plan to walk over it on Friday night.

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I visited Brooklyn Jesuit Prep today which indeed was an impressive place. Small classes with lots of individual attention for students who need it. Students from low income areas whose parents probably work two jobs to make ends meet. They rose and shook my hand and welcomed me…each student in the class I visited. My students love them, worry for them, tutor them, and show them much care. They think about whether they are getting enough attention and what they can do in this short term to make that happen.

It’s a very Brooklyn thing to think about such matters. Brooklyn folks stick together…families, friends, neighborhoods binding together as no other.

Maybe it could become my favorite borough one day, if like Brooklyn, I just accept everything as it is and help it become all that it can be.

Harlem

Harlem has changed so much.
I remember friends
getting off Metro North commuter rail at 125th street
by mistake
and being told
that they should
get on the next train immediately.
A hulking fearsome figure
Looked out for them then.

Now, Harlem’s grand avenue looks
Much like the Times Square of old.
Character in it’s veins
And energy in it’s working class bones.

St Aloysius is here
And my students are working there
Among the small ones
Of a still mostly
African American community.
They teach them science and math
And play with pre schoolers
and I watch them come alive.

Harlem is alive with much life
And I pray it offers their children
Even more than they hoped for
And that my students are touched
By the students so much
That they look forward to Harlem
Where they can return
To have their hearts
Changed all over again.

Bob’s Mets

When I was a kid, I played little league baseball and loved it. I wasn’t very good, but I had my moments. I blossomed a bit more as a player as I got older. But I did learn how to be a gentleman on the field from our coach, a wonderful man, named Bob Hornbeck.

Coach was a great guy and always kept his cool. He was always graceful to the other coaches and would thank the umpires afterwards. Even when he argued I don’t think his voice ever raised, even when we once had a major beef when someone nearly tackled one of our base runners.

In short, everyone said he was the nicest of all the coaches in the league.

He has two kids who were my contemporaries, Kim and Bobby. He lost his wife several years ago.

Kim asked for some prayers today because coach isn’t doing too well these days. He’s hoping to make his next birthday in a few months but it’s not clear if that can happen.

I remember one strong memory with Coach. I had a great tryout that year smacking a ball over the Center Field wall in a makeshift school gym. So they threw me with the older kids but I was the last one to be cut. So I went back and nobody had told Coach that I was coming. He wasn’t sure if I was where I was supposed to be. So he got the other guys registered and told me to hold on. I thought there would be no chance of getting a spot on the team. But coach made sure I had a spot.

“Nobody’s playing third.” He asked me, ” You think you can play third?”

The thought of this now makes me laugh. I had no arm, but coach put me there anyway. I did OK, I guess. Coach always found a way to let me play.

He also let his daughter play on our team, which was unheard of in those days.

He took us to the championship that year and I woke up that morning and couldn’t walk. I still don’t know what happened, but my knee was in pain and buckling and I missed that game. We lost. And I really felt like I let him down. He assured me that I hadn’t later in the week and was just happy that I was OK.

Coaches have always been influential in my life. But Coach Hornbeck taught me how to be a gentleman. And that was a lot more important than learning how to hit a curve.

So today, if you’ve got a prayer pray with me for Coach Bob.

Lord, bring peace and comfort to my coach. Who brought peace and comfort to me and to his fine family. Give him the calm that he always exuded. And allow him to rest easy in these remaining days for him. Bring comfort too to Kim and Bobby. Allow them to recall wonderful memories with their father as they visit and to embrace him and feel the love that families have to offer each other.

But mostly Lord, let us be grateful for all that you made Bob Hornbeck to be. And as we gather around your table, you unite all of us together from across the ages. Bob was strengthened by that. May we too be strengthened by that as well. And may it bring all of us peace as we pray that Bob be free of pain and peacefully live out these days with his family. Coach him, Lord. Root for him. Console him in the small losses of old age.

And Lord, if you call Bob home in these days, welcome him into the glory of your kingdom and grant him forgiveness, peace and consolation.

We ask all of this through Christ our Lord. Amen.

The South Bronx

The name once sent shivers
Up my spine
A place I wouldn’t be caught dead in
I once said
My sister and I went there once
With Sr Ruth Rosenbaum,
A Jewish nun! A convert
Who in turn helped many others
Running a home for youth.
I liked it there
Playing cards with Miguel
Who liked to play WAR.
But who was really escaping from the war
Outside the haven of Ruth’s home.

It’s changed now
Not a yuppie haven
Of co-op apartments
And trendy eateries.
Like Harlem.
The Bronx always has retained some
Of it’s toughness
It’s vitality
That raw New York grittiness,
Not a dangerous way
As it once was
When I played war with Miguel
Who escaped wars that would make any child shudder.
But in a way that unites us
Powerfully so
Like a tough mother
Who will fight for her children.
Like a Bronx cop
who won’t take no shit
From nobody.
Like the ferocious tigers and the apes
At the best zoo in the world.
And Reggie’s swagger
And Jeter’s tenacity
And Mariano Rivera’s walk in from the bullpen
In a deafening Yankee Stadium
Which should always and forever be in the South Bronx,
even if just on the edge of it.

Brooklyn is a bit too sweet
Staten Island is too sedate
Queens is nice, but almost suburban
And Manhattan…
Don’t even get me started.
Disney changed that place into a playground.
For tourists.

Give me the Bronx
Any day of the week
And we’ll always win
In 7 games or less.

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A Subway Morning Prayer

I never thought I’d thank God
For the Subway
New Yorkshire sardine can
Transportation system.
But oh how I miss thee
Even with your delays and
“stopped traffic ahead”,
The subway brings life together
Huddled masses from the cold
Into a new and wonderful collective.

Friends say I am being nostalgic, Lord.
But I know you have given me
A foretaste of the communion of saints.
Where strangers are “dancing like the sun”
to steal a line from Thomas Merton.

Yes, the subway is dirty and crowded.
Yes, the subway can smell weird in places and
The climb up the stairs in winter’ scold months is arduous and slippery.
But I do believe that it is there that I find Jesus, lurking in the small child’s eyes
bundled up with a bear hat and scarf on, holding mommy’s hand…
Albeit too young for motherhood herself.
You are there in the elderly who need a seat
and the young couple so in love that they look forward to the close quarters of their D train car.
You are alive as we travel Lord
In your midst
Strap hanging, pole leading, eating and listening to iPods.
All over the great city
Thank you, Lord. Amen

As I Drive

The snowy morning begins as I start my drive to the airport.
The snow cascades off my brush in white powdery swoops.
I don’t look forward to driving and on an unplowed 3AM road I look forward to it less.
But you, O Lord, look forward to my every move, awaiting it with the anticipation of a child on Christmas morning.
Wondering what I will do next.
I aim for the middle as I cannot see the yellow lines that separate the oncoming from me, that keeps order in the cacophony of motors and horns.
I realize that it’s not that bad and relax into my seat.
A few bumps in the road is something we’ll all face in our lives.
And you, Lord, will help us smooth the path and deal with the aftermath of skids and crashes.
I arrive safely and utter a word of thanks.
My trip is off and running and I pray for more safe travel as I head to New York the land of my birth.
Be with me, Lord. As my students serve others this week, allow me
to be a gracious companion and help them to find you…
Even in the midst of bumps, and skids and snowy roads. Amen.

A New Year’s Prayer

It is a New Year Lord!
What will you make of me this year?
What will you have me do?
To whom will you send me?
For what am I being continually made?

Your mother, Mary, we celebrate today.
And I wonder if she awoke each day with similar thoughts?
What will the Lord require of a simple woman?
God asks: Will you bear God within yourself,
bringing God forth to the world?

And I suppose, each of us are asked to also be
Theotokos, the God bearer,
bringing Christ to others,
to those who most need Christ.

Help us in this New Year, Lord.
Help us to be bearers of your love.
Help us to go where we might not wish to go,
To those who are poor and needy.
To those who need too much time and too many efforts.
To those whose situations we are powerless to change.

And help us, Lord
To be caring to those we love.
To stretch our hearts farther
When they get on our nerves
Or try our patience.
When the funds are low and the debts mount.
When solutions to problems seem too far out of our reach.
May your help be a blessing to us
to remind us that we are rich beyond measure.
For your love and your grace
Are enough for us each and every year.

Amen.