Making Mistakes

UnknownToday I made a mistake.  It wasn’t my first, won’t be my last.  But it was a stupid, careless mistake that I made because I rushed into what I was doing, misled by the good intentions of another who was hoping to help me get some quick information to others.  I simply said August when I meant July in an public announcement.  Not exactly, neuro-surgery, but still an error I don’t often make.

But nonetheless, it was my hand that did the carelessness and I assume responsibility, especially since I’m the boss and all.  So I deal with the embarrassment of error on my part.  I’m particularly hard on myself in times like this.  I don’t often make errors like this and have taken a lot of pains to not be careless in my work, or overlook too many details.

But I hold onto mistakes very tightly, nonetheless.

In my brief afternoon examen, I studied the reasons for making the mistake…a rushed judgement, a careless, uncritical eye, doing too many things at once, not trusting my initial thought on this matter or perhaps not trusting my co-worker.  It was also tempting to cast blame on a host of others, but I made the mistake and I should tend to its correction.

My friend, John, comes to mind, a peer and a mentor over the years for me, during times like this.  He is an honest man, who is confident enough to say “I don’t know” when he doesn’t and “My fault” when he errs. He’s learned much from his loving wife, Kelly, a doctor.  Namely, I can recall a day when I made a huge error at the radio station.  I played the wrong commercial and boy did I hear it from the sales department!  John, who I reported to, in his wisdom, took me aside and said:

“Mike, I make my share of mistakes.  I get tired from long hours of work and I just fumble something.  But I’m glad I chose the career I did, because if I make a mistake, it usually surrounds something like this…missing a commercial, or not identifying the station or the show.  That mistake costs the station hundreds of dollars sometimes, maybe even thousands.”

“But my doctor-wife has to be up for hours on end, pulling double shifts at the hospital.  And when she gets tired she can’t make that mistake.  I make a mistake and we lose a bit of money.  Kelly makes a mistake and it’s “Oops, you’re dead! So let’s forget about the $400 we just lost and keep the focus on where it needs to be today, O.K.?”

Wisdom indeed.  I fixed the error and apologized and a colleague helped me graciously in doing so.  In examen today, I found that call from a colleague to be heartening.  She didn’t belittle me for my mistake, but rather helped me find ways to correct it.

It’s in moments like these that we make the biggest mistake of all.  We get led by the evil spirit, who all-too-easily convinces us that we’re horseshit.  That we’re no good and we never will be and that it’s all going to hell in a hand-basket and that we’re completely at fault for all of it.

In short, nobody died.  Life goes on.  I look a little foolish today (some may say, what do you mean, TODAY?!), but I don’t think that anyone is going to judge the entirety of my career on today’s error.

In my talk with Jesus today, Jesus came over to me and washed my hands clean.  He said to me, “Now go try again! And stop worrying about this.  There’s nothing you can do about it now anyway other than fix it.  And you’ve done that. It happens. There are greater tragedies in life!” Then He showed me his wounds and said, “Do you think these wounds were fun?  Wounds hurt! So stop wounding yourself and move on to something life-giving.”

As the cool Buffalo breezes invigorate my summer months, I hope I too can remind myself to stay cool and not be too hard on myself.  And rejoice not in mistakes, but in life-giving mercy.

The Holy Trinity

new-color-logo31This Sunday is Trinity Sunday and you can find readings for this weekend’s mass here.

But just what the heck is the Holy Trinity anyway?  We can default to the old school definition that many of us learned in religious education growing up that God is “one in three” or “three persons in one God”.  While those are satisfactory textbook definitions, they do little to help many people understand just what God is.  One of my old radio colleagues once asked, “If I invited God over for dinner, how many places would I have to set?” *Chuckle*

The first thing I would like to note about the Holy Trinity is that it is a mystery.  That’s not a cop-out answer on my part either.  Rather, it serves to mean that God is bigger than our concepts. It also means that while we don’t know everything about God, God does reveal Himself to us in at least a few ways and that can indeed serve to help us understand a bit about divinity.

And so when we say God is “Father” we should not focus on the patriarchal word here, per se, but peer in on the wisdom of creation.  God is the creator but also, God is “beyond us.”  None of us can truly create or father (or mother) all that God has done. God is bigger, deeper, more vast than any of us can imagine.  God is beyond the limits of our merely human constructions.  So we start from a position of humbleness and say that we can never really pin God down.  There is always an element of the unknown when it comes to the divine.

But we also believe that God breaks into human history at times too, do we not?  God interacts with us.  God wants to be part of our lives.  Sometimes that is hard for us to believe and I believe that this has always been true.  In fact, it was so true that God directly intervened as “one of us” in the person of Jesus.  That makes this a whole lot clearer and easier for us to understand now, doesn’t it?  So while God is “beyond us,” God is also “with us.”

And we also believe that God is not just “alongside us” but that God is “with-in us.” I hyphenated that to show that God is both with us and in our hearts; closer to us than our own heartbeat.  We fail to understand this as well sometimes thinking that God could never wish to be part of us.  In my mind, I believe this why Jesus gave us the sacrament of the eucharist. For the times when we can’t understand that God exists in the hearts of each one of us–we literally take God and put God inside of us–through the accidents of bread and wine.  Catholics, do the hard things first, I often say.  And so if we can believe that God’s essence can unite with a simple meal, we should be able to remind ourselves that God is with us always.

So “beyond us,” “with us,” and “within us.”  This is Trinity.  This is our meager attempt to try to classify God.  It is still incomplete, because God is far bigger than our definitions, but this satisfies me as a definition.  The word “kinship” also comes to mind here.  God seeks to be in kinship with us and therefore we have many ways to interact and experience God’s love in our lives.

In what ways have you experienced God as one who is “beyond, with or within you?”

Peace to Grant

As many of you know, I worked in radio for some 10 years. And one of the shows I worked on was a show called The Bob Grant Show. For people outside of the New York City area this may not be a household name, but in the 90s, Bob Grant WAS conservative talk radio. Essentially he invented the whole “hate radio” format. He would tell you all the things he hated, high taxes, big government, President Clinton (who he called Slick Willie and did a pretty good imitation of him to go with it) and plenty more. His signature catchphrase came each time some caller would make him so angry that he’d scream “GET OFFA MY PHONE, YOU JERK!”

For two months at one clip in my career, I was his interim producer. I booked guests, I screened calls, I directed the technical elements of the show and I enjoyed every breathtaking minute.

Now you have to be asking how in the world could I have enjoyed this. Well, truth be told, Bob Grant, the King of HateRadio, was one of the nicest gentlemen I have ever met. I agreed with him on nothing and I worked well with him because I’d find liberal callers for him to yell at and knew just how much to push him to get him to blow his top. It was all an act, well sorta…He truly was angry and did believe many of the opinions he held, but he never let his feelings spill over into our relationship.

Bob lost his job at WABC mostly because he was thought to be a racist. He made light of the Valuejet crash and said he was “being a pessimist” when he considered the possibility of the lone survivor of the crash being Treasury Secretary, Ron Brown ( who was also a black man). He ended up at WOR where I was working and I got to know him with my own jaded opinions at the time of having him become part of our team.

While I shared none of his political opinions, Bob was like the grandfather I never had. He was kind and funny and always made me laugh in a “oh, Grandpa!” kind of way. He had some opinions that were frankly awful, even embarrassing, but when you got to know him you realized that he also had a tender side. He praised traffic reporter, Kerrin McCue, for donating a kidney to his best friend. He was kind to women and showed respect to even the most liberal of his colleagues. Malachy McCourt, a known liberal rabble rouser, was even allowed to sit in as a guest host and on Bob’s birthday, McCourt was one of the first to call and wish him well.

Bob died around New Year’s Eve at 84. Reportedly, he had been in decline for a few months.

When I was working with him, WOR was attempting to hire his old producer “Broadway Roy” Fredriks, who by the way was given that name because he was an actor and Bob thought it might help his career. They eventually did hire Roy and I was also up for the position. The program director, a kind man, named David Bernstein, told me that had a deal not been in the works I would have been given the job because I had done a great job in the interim and he promised me that the next full time job that came available would be offered to me. True to his word, I got the midday producing job in a few months. But the day they hired Roy, Bob came over to my cube and placed a hand on my shoulder and said: “Mike, you have done a great job and if this deal wasn’t already in the works, I would have been proud to have you as my producer.”

Classy.

Many people, certainly many democrats and minorities hated Bob’s opinions and he certainly contributed to the climate of hateful dialogue (or lack of dialogue) in politics. But I’ll just remember him for his sincerity and kindness to me and to our colleagues.

Perhaps God will forgive him for his shortcomings and he can rest easy in God’s loving arms today. May his family and friends be comforted today. And eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May Bob’s soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God rest in peace. Amen.

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One of the Meanest Things I’ve Ever Done

When I was a young college student, I worked my summers at a camp for gifted kids. I enjoyed it immensely. What I really enjoyed as well was having my first girlfriend, another counselor named Jennifer.

I enjoyed it, until she broke up with me at the end of the summer.

Fast forward a year and she was back working at camp and I wasn’t happy to find that Jennifer had returned as well. We decided to bury the hatchet and make the best of it.

While watching the children that afternoon Jennifer asked, “What are you doing this weekend?”

I replied, “I’m going to go see Dead Poet’s Society with my sister.” the acclaimed Robin Williams playing in the lead role as a prep school teacher.

Now I’d like to say this in advance…I’m about to ruin this movie for you if you’ve never seen this movie. So if that’s so…STOP READING NOW…just walk away. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Go on. We’ll wait…

OK so if you’re still with us.

Jennifer replies, “Oh I saw that with my mom. Just remember to turn your head away when the guy kills himself at the end.”

I yelled, “Well thanks a lot! You just ruined the whole movie for me.”

Now the truth is that I knew that Jennifer’s friend had committed suicide and it affected her profoundly. But I was more concerned about myself…well, that, and she broke up with me and I was still infatuated with her.

Come Monday, I had seen the movie and loved it but was annoyed because I knew the ending and the whole movie I was trying to figure out which character was going to die.

A colleague said to me, “Hey how did you like Dead Poet’s Society? I saw it too!”

I replied “It was great!”

And at that moment, I spyed Jennifer walking into the room. And I yelled,

“AND I THOUGHT THE BEST PART OF THE MOVIE WAS WHEN THE GUY KILLS HIMSELF AT THE END!”

Jennifer ran out crying.

Possibly the meanest thing I have ever done.

My sister told me to lay off of her. She told me that Jennifer’s mother had cancer and that things weren’t looking good. I ran after her and apologized. I told her that I would pray for her mother. Jennifer wasn’t really religious, a secular Jew, at best. She was annoyed at me finding out that her mom was ill. She was a private person which was a big reason that we broke up.

It’s amazing the things that stay with you. I often regret that moment, because I was so self-concerned and about a movie, of all things! I was less than charitable to her and she was also hurting, possibly from our break up and from the news of cancer.

We never know what someone else is carrying around. And our need for revenge is something that we should look carefully at when it strikes us. Do we really need to even the score, even when someone is mean to us? Or can we be better than this?

What would Jesus do? What would St Ignatius advise?

Well the first thing is to heal. I probably should have had it out with Jennifer early and told her how she had hurt me and heard her side of our relationship. Being young and immature (she was my first real girlfriend) was tough because my feelings were raw–a first break up–and now those feelings were hitting me each day when I looked her way. Denying my hurt and protecting myself was a sure sign of immaturity.

The second thing is to look for the good, for the loving. Had I truly been in love with Jennifer, I would have known how hurt she was by that movie scene and despite her indiscretion at ruining the movie for me, I would have been more understanding had I moved to love instead of revenge.

The third is to notice relationship. I liked Jennifer as long as she was providing me with feelings of security. When I had a girlfriend, I was “the man.” But relationships are not about power structures–they are about mutuality. And in that mutual giving, we find love and a deeper relationship with God.

So apologies again, Jennifer. I hope you are well and that you have found love for a lifetime.

Where There is Darkness…

This weekend I got to do a reflection on our Sunday readings here at Canisius. I really enjoy doing these and for the first time I got to do one where the only light was given my candlelight and some small spotlights. Check it out.

Man it was hard to see my notes, which I really use as a crutch. Memory is not my best trait these days. And Jack Collins my preaching coach often chides me:

“Mike, if you can’t remember what you’re going to say, there’s no way that they will.”

So I do my best with memorizing it and keep some note cards at the ready…just in case.

In this case I only looked down towards the end which I really wanted to get right. But my 43 year old eyes in the dark made it difficult.

My friend Jaime, reminded me of what St Francis would say:

“Lord, where there is darkness, let me be light.”

And that indeed gave me some comfort because I received a bunch of nice comments from folks afterwards…so apparently, I may have brought light to those in darkness.

Light is a rather important symbol for me. When I was little boy I had this irrational fear of the dark (and also of clowns! In fact, I used to think that clowns would try to eat me up in the dark). I would need mom or dad to walk me into the bedroom to make sure that Bozo wasn’t hiding under the bed! I had a night light which gave me great comfort. But the real light in that room was my mother and father who would comfort my fears and give me some peace and just a little light to show we that there was no need to be afraid.

Perhaps, just a little light is all we really need? I remember being at a candlelight service during a parish mission in my hometown and at the end of the service the priest giving the mission asked out parish to hold our candles above our heads together. And it was as if we had just turned on the lights.

Light always breaks the darkness.

So where are our dark spaces? Where might we need a bit of light today? What might we wish to uncover so that we need not fear anymore?

Maybe it’s time to let a little bit of light in…and just as I delivered a reflection last night, though it was dark–that light enabled me to be Christ for others for just a few minutes. And it was more than enough. All were fed and all was grace.

It is our willingness to be light for each other, that brings grace to fruition. May this week be filled with the light you need so that you might find your days not filled with fear but with God’s grace.

Who Does That?

One day Marion and I were out walking Haze the Dog and at one point he decided to well…do his “business”.

“Give me a bag.” I said to Marion.

“I didn’t bring any.”

“What do you MEAN? That’s like taking a baby out without diapers!” I said.

And then I followed up with “WHO DOES THAT?”

My darling wife, ever quick with a retort, said, “Um, YOU could’ve gotten a bag too before we left the house. Who does THAT?”

Touché.

And I believe moments like this are what the story of the Good Shepherd in the gospel is all about. Jesus is asking the crowd “Who does that?” when he speaks of not a good shepherd, but perhaps an insane one. If a shepherd left a flock of 99 sheep to go off and chase after one, he’d come back to find 30 more scattered and 20 more stolen and maybe even a few slaughtered. I mean really…who does that?

Or if someone lost a coin, maybe the equivalent of a quarter…wouldn’t they just write it off and not worry much about it? I mean who would really sweep their whole house to find ONE missing coin when they are well enough off to have 9 more?

Who does that?

God does.

We are the lost ones and God in his infinite forgiveness waits for us, keeps watch for us and rejoices when we are found. God searches for the one who is lost, even when that is impractical because each one is important for God.

And if you think that’s even close to the limits of God’s love…

What if you wished that God were dead? Like the prodigal son wished his father was when he asked for his inheritance.

What if instead of God writing YOU off, YOU wrote God off instead?

Well..what happens is that God waits and waits and even when all hope seems lost, God waits some more and when God catches sight of you, God RUNS and embraces you and there are no words necessary. God had already forgiven you.

Who does that?

God does. Always.

But the bigger question comes to us from God when God asks us “Who does that?”

When I get impatient with my wife, God asks “Who does that?”

When I ignore the needs of the poor, God asks, “Who does that?”

When I struggle to find time for needy students, God asks, “Who does that?”

When I struggle to forgive those who have hurt me, never mind someone who might wish I were dead…God asks “Who does that?”

God asks each of us to find it in our hearts to be able to forgive with ease, to rejoice when we find someone who lost their way to our hearts. And to help them find their way back to us and to open our hearts to them despite the inconvenience or difficulty we might have in doing so.

And perhaps that is why we need to come here? For we come here to this altar despite our shortcomings and God welcomes us back even before we walk through the door. We come here sometimes unable to forgive others but it is from this altar that God shows us how to love one another by stretching forth for each of us and God gives us all that God has to offer, body and blood.

Who does that?

God does.

May we be able to rejoice in what God has done for us, so that when God asks us the question “Who does that?” We can say with confidence, “I do.”

And in that moment there will be much rejoicing.

Even the Dogs Eat the Scraps

There’s a reference to dogs in today’s gospel and I will take full advantage of that to talk about my dog!

Most people believe that the reference to dogs in the gospel of Matthew is a negative one. Jesus says to a Caananite women who asks his assistance “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

Ouch. Oh no he didn’t just call her a dog?

Well..wait a minute. My dog waits eagerly by my dinner table in anticipation that I might throw him a piece of meat. He never fails to do so. ANd he trusts that I will give him something. It’s a learned behavior and I know…I shouldn’t feed him from the table and I usually don’t. I take a piece of meat and place it aside and then put it in his dish when I am done with my meal. If he’s patient and certain that I am a good and gracious friend, he is secure in knowing that he will get a reward.

And perhaps that is also true for us.

How often are we unlike the Cannanite women and we have no faith that God will take care of us? How often do we fall into hopeless desolation and think there is no way out of situations? How often do we think we know better than God what is best for us? And we then fail to see good things when we can’t see beyond our own misery.

God calls us to be faithful. To look for some sign of consolation that surely appears if we but look carefully for it.

For even the dogs know that at the dinner table there may be a scrap or two for them and they are so grateful for even that much and eagerly await even that small morsel.

The Canaanite woman teaches us to be persistent in knowing that if we ask God enough, enough will be provided. Perhaps that is not what we think we want, but it will always be what we need.

And sometimes for me, the warmth of a loyal and loving dog is more than enough for me to see all that God has offered me.

But He Did Not Know What He Was Saying

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration in which appears one of my favorite lines in all of scripture in Luke’s gospel:

“As they were about to part from him, Peter said to Jesus,
“Master, it is good that we are here;
let us make three tents,
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

But he did not know what he was saying.

It makes me laugh each time I read it.

But then it makes me think…

How many times, Lord, did I not know what I was saying? How many times have my words been haughty, or arrogant, or just downright hurtful? How many times did I rush to talk to try to impress someone and have it blow up in my face when I said something stupid? How many times did I think I had all the answers and in reality had none and needed to take more time to listen before I would speak?

And then, how many times have I heard others say things that I found hurtful or mean and reacted with the same kind of hatred back perpetuating the cycle of violence in speech?

I did not know what I was saying.

There are plenty of times that I react harshly when just waiting in silence and contemplating what I should say would do nicely.

And here Peter clearly misses the forest for the trees. Jesus is overlooking Jerusalem, where his exodus will take place. Alongside Elijah and Moses, Jesus sees both His end and our beginning–a new kind of promised land.

And while Peter witnesses this…a foretaste of what will be for us…a glimpse of the Resurrected Christ…he also responds with the wacky…

“Let’s build some tents! Let’s never leave! This is awesome.”

Um, no…rockhead. You don’t know what you’re saying.

We can’t ever stay on the mountain top. We need to go to Jerusalem and it is there that we will need to suffer in order to die and rise to new life.

photo 1[2]I just welcomed back a group of women from Canisius who spent three weeks at an orphanage in Poland and if anyone knows about this it is them. They had their emotions pulled and prodded throughout that time of being with the children. How many would they have liked to take home with them? How many of them wanted to stay there forever? Jen, (pictured with me, right) the group’s leader even flirted with the idea of not returning.

But she did not know what she was saying.

For she was changed on this “mountaintop experience” and now the real work begins—for after we are transfigured, we can no longer be the same. We have been changed. When we experience Christ’s transfigured life and realize that this too is meant for us…we can no longer live in the happy-go-lucky world of the mountaintop. We need to go and do whatever this change calls us to do. For these women it might be to be more sensitive to children who need someone to parent them, even if for a short time. It might be to consider the needs of adoptive children here in the United States and to see how we can change laws so that children can find good families to keep them safe and loved. It might be something else.

What mountaintop do you wish to stay on that keeps you from the scary Jerusalem experience of your life? The place where you will most be changed is where you will meet Jesus on the cross and then transforming from THAT experience is where you will be changed the most. It is where you will most appreciate and find new life, better life.

And it is where you will most find God, even if you think it is somewhere else where you are comforted most by God’s presence.

In spiritual direction, I often tell people that it’s the things and the places that most frighten them, that God is probably calling them to look at most carefully. It’s in the relationship that needs to change or the job that just doesn’t work.

God just might be offering you something else.

And that might be a bit scary.

But it is also what gives us a deeper experience of God in our lives and allows us to live more richly.

For the women of Canisius who have returned from Poland, we say “Well done.” You left the comfort of the United States and ventured to another country and were a bit uncomfortable in serving the needs of others. And now we continue to challenge you to go beyond the next hill. To come down from this amazing experience of Poland and to see where you have changed. And to be changed again. To become women for others in a different way, one that may be difficult for you, but nonetheless, better for your growth as a person and better for the world who experiences the gift you are to all of those you encounter.

And most of all, know that on that journey you will meet God. And that finding that presence of God in these new experiences will be life-changing and will provide more than enough for you to be all that you are, nothing more, but more importantly nothing less.

And that gift of yourself is all that God asks of you.

And dayenu, it is enough! You are enough! And you are a blessing to each of us and to all you meet. Amen.

Don’t Bother

In reading today’s scripture the words don’t bother came to mind quickly. We have Moses asking God to kill him rather than to put up with the people complaining about not having meat and having to settle for manna. (Our vegans and vegetarians now love Moses).

Then we have Jesus who goes off to be by himself only to have people follow him and then run out of food. Jesus says the the disciples who can feel the weight of the burden of feeding all these people on them “Give them something to eat yourselves.”

And the disciples basically say that it’s impossible because some little kid is the only one with food (liars!) and all he has are 5 loaves and 2 fish. Now everyone thinks that it’s cute that the kid will give up his lunch, but that ain’t about to feed everyone.

And so Jesus could have said “Kid, don’t bother! Eat your lunch!” But instead he shows the meal to all and the crowd is moved. So much so that those hoarding food gave to others and that whatever shortfall there may have been was changed by God to satisfy those who were hungry.

The point of the story is that God never says “don’t bother.” God says “You darn well need to bother.”

We need to care for one another and when we do so others get involved too by our inspiring example.

There’s a further point in the gospel and our reading. Moses could have not bothered with the grumbling people, after all, he’s the one who is talking to God. But instead he asks God’s advice and is unafraid to complain to God. He could’ve said “don’t bother” but something inside beckoned him to grumble to God about it.

And so it should be with us. We need to grumble a bit and we need to take time for those who need someone to bother. It will take some time for us to care for the needs of others–but we can never say don’t bother. We need to make a minimal effort to care for the hungry, the needy—and we can never do it all. But God will redeem the suffering of those that we can’t reach.

I always resonate with the child who offers his lunch so that others can eat in the gospel story and then I resonate with Moses who basically throws his hands up in the air and says “Why do I even bother!?” But then he asks for God’s help anyway.

Today let us pray for the patience we will need to keep us bothering with everyone else and to know that we should be bothered by the fact that more than two-thirds of the world will be hungry today. We can indeed do something about that instead of not being bothered. Let us pray that for today, we will be bothered and in turn, bother to do something about that.