Gather the Fragments

From yesterday’s gospel:

Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him,
“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish;
but what good are these for so many?”
Jesus said, “Have the people recline.”
Now there was a great deal of grass in that place.
So the men reclined, about five thousand in number.
Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks,
and distributed them to those who were reclining,
and also as much of the fish as they wanted.
When they had had their fill, he said to his disciples,
“Gather the fragments left over,
so that nothing will be wasted.”
So they collected them,
and filled twelve wicker baskets with fragments
from the five barley loaves
that had been more than they could eat.

From next to nothing came a great abundance. There were even fragments left over. In some sense fragments were all they had–a little boy’s lunch and nothing else. Some say it was the generosity of the little boy that moves the crowd, that his act opens the hearts of others. Perhaps a plausible situation and perhaps it’s why Jesus asks the disciples what they should do to feed the crowd knowing full well what was ahead.

It’s the fragments that are left over though that we should pay attention to because fragments are often useless things. How often to we refer to a break up or a death as “leaving one’s life in fragments?” Often there doesn’t seem like anything could restore us.

And therein lies the heart of this story. It seems hopeless. People will go hungry if they don’t come up with a solution. And the little boy provides and obvious one: Share what little you have and what do you know they ended up with 12 baskets left over.

When our lives end up being fragmented what do we do with what’s left over? Do we wallow in self-pity? Do we fall into desolation and stay there hoping that our misery loves company? Or do we look to what might be consoling? We might not find much but, we might find that the desire to be consoled is in fact, consoling–that God finds us anyway, even when we believe that God is absent in our lives.

It is when we are at our lowest moments that we most need God and it is where God gathers up the fragments and shows us great abundance. God shows us our resiliency to get past whatever might be bringing us so low. God offers us unlimited forgiveness for the times we may have cause irreparable harm to another. God shows us that we’re now stronger for the journey and can stand a bit more confident and healthy next time. God ultimately shows us where He has been working all along, even if we didn’t notice it at first. God, always just beyond our reach and reason, shows us that indeed He has not only been with us all along, but also has suffered with us intimately, closer to us than our very heartbeat, lying in the broken fragments of our lives.

It is those fragments that we can look at now –those times in the rear view mirror, that we have lived through, lived past, lived into and found God, lurking for us, gathering our fragments and making them into something stronger.

And so, if God gathers the fragments of our lives, then we too, must be gatherers—for the beloved, love in return. There’s an old song that the Parish Mission Team in New York’s Archdiocese sang so many years ago called Kindling Sticks:

Once there was a wonderful father
The father gathered all of his Sons
He said life is a bunch of kindling sticks
And he gave each a single one

Now you see how easily broken
Is a single piece of wood
They heard every word he has spoken
But none of them understood

Then the father in all of his wisdom
Spoke once again to his sons
Showed them a bundle of kindling sticks
And he gave each a single one

Now tie all the pieces together
And break them if you can
But the kindling couldn’t be broken
By the hands of the strongest man

And I, I my brother’s keeper
And my life lies in the palm of my sister’s hand
We must watch over each other
As the Lord our God commands.

So today let us gather up the fragments of our lives and stand strong, not merely for ourselves but for those who sit broken and bruised today.

May your prayers, be mine today and know that I hold them together bound up in the love that God gives us.

And God will make with the fragments of our lives, much abundance.

The Shepherd

Jesus often uses the image of the Shepherd to describe God’s love for us. Being a shepherd is actually a very thankless job and it’s an appropriate one for Jesus to use. Some scholars say that the “Good Shepherd” image is more like the “crazy” shepherd because no shepherd in his right mind would go chasing after one stray and leave the 99.

But God’s love for those who stray is just as boundless as it is for those who follow him without question.

But here’s the even tougher part…imagine the great joy the shepherd might have in recovering that lost sheep…only to turn that sheep over to the owner who puts the sheep to death.

Now that just seems mean.

But that’s exactly what happens with God. Suffering does not cease in the world simply because we follow God, nor does it cease when we return to God after falling astray. The shepherd can’t take suffering away. In some ways the shepherd knows that these sheep will suffer, will die and there’s not a darn thing he can do to stop it.

So the shepherd embraces our own suffering. God becomes like us–and enters human life, including our suffering and death and the shepherd leads himself to the slaughter.

For us. And more importantly to show us that no suffering is beyond God’s healing mercy. Despite the evil that is constantly all around us that makes it very hard to believe in God. Despite the fact that people get killed just for going to the movies. Despite the fact that children die and parents suffer and there is a whole lot of pain in the world…God doesn’t abandon us!

God is the shepherd who hates to see his sheep suffer.

And therefore God redeems all suffering through the cross of Jesus Christ. We need not be afraid of anything, even death, because God will make a way out of no way. God somehow, even when we think it’s impossible, will bring us into a new life, where no suffering will ever harm us again.

None of us will escape suffering in our lives. Some of us may be suffering right now. Know that the Shepherd suffers along with you.

And will bring you to a place that is beyond all your wants and needs…even beyond death…to new life.

Is He Not the Carpenter’s Son?

In many working class families, there’s often a strange dynamic at play. Parent’s want their children to succeed, but they also don’t want them to succeed so much that it brings a certain haughtiness to their demeanor. As an example, my Chemistry teacher in high school, Tom Ferraiola, once told me a story about how his family would make their own wine, a typical Italian tradition. Tom, a working class kid, did well in school and ended up studying chemistry at Manhattan College and later at Niagara University, a stone’s throw from where I am now in Buffalo. When he’d come home the parents would invite him to come make wine with them.

During the fermentation process, the liquid would start to bubble, a sign that the yeast was feeding on the sugar and producing alcohol, a typical chemical reaction, known well by Tom.

“Now it’s boiling.” Tom’s father would say.

“Dad,” Tom would counter, “It’s not boiling, it’s fermenting.”

“Hey who the hell do you think you ARE, college BOY? I’ve been making wine for 35 years and YOU’RE going to tell me about it?”

“But Dad, it’s NOT boiling. It’s just not.”

“Get the hell out of here. I’m making wine.”

I’m sure Tom just threw his hands up in the air and gave up, knowing he was right but not feeling the need to own that. He laughed a bit when he told us the story, showing no ill will towards his dad. But in many ways something deeper is going on here, something that is often ingrained in cultures of working class people that works against them.

Pride. And sometimes that’s a good thing. People hold on to what little they have. In Tom’s case, his father was a proud winemaker, and a good one. It was delicious and he’d share his wine with the neighbors and they always looked forward to it. He was proud of the place in the community that he held as “the wine guy.”

And Tom’s comment threatened his status because he knew how to make wine but he really didn’t know what was going on in the chemical process. And when pride is threatened, people often need to defend themselves, or otherwise they will feel stupid or silly.

Or they’ll be jealous that someone like them, is a bit smarter than they ever thought they could be.

Jesus, also grew up in a similar working class environment. Joseph, a carpenter was well-known in his community. He probably made most of the furniture for people in the neighborhood. Jesus, worked alongside him and probably had the same reputation as dear old dad.

So when he begins to teach with great authority, there is the air of “Who the hell does he think he is?” in the community. “He’s no better than us! Didn’t we teach HIM the scriptures from when he was a little kid?”

You can just hear the defensiveness. He can’t be better than us.

When, in fact, he’s better than us all.

The interesting thing is that when this happens, when this pride seeps into the community, the one who has learned much often mutes their own abilities so that others won’t feel bad. It’s another defense mechanism at play. One does this to “keep the peace” and perhaps even to show a bit of respect to those who care much about them.

And in today’s gospel, we see this very dynamic at play. Jesus is unable to do any “mighty deed there. Apart from curing a few sick people.”

Oh is that all. He just cured a few people. No big deal.

It seems to me that the mighty deeds that others in the community didn’t mind was when he’d cure a relative or someone close to them.

But perhaps if he went and found a leper and tried to break the ritual purity law–then perhaps he was met with much resistance.

Who does he think he is?

Pride runs deep. Paul even talks about “not becoming too elated” in our second reading. Jesus doesn’t have an inability to perform a mighty deed, but the pride of the community keeps his mighty deeds at bay. Can’t you just hear a crazy uncle saying:

“Don’t you go an touch that leper…he’s dirty. And leave that crazy woman alone. She has a demon in her!”

And Jesus, who knows better…who knows more about these people than anyone else, Jesus, can’t shake off what is ingrained in the hearts of the community.

Pride.

We don’t have much, but we’re sure as hell better than those lepers. Those dirty bastards.

What about us? Where does our pride get in the way? Do we sometimes shudder when someone young points out our own hypocrisy and show him or her the door? Or do we notice our own humbleness and admit that we are not perfect people?

I remember a service trip where I brought people to New York City and at one point I thought I’d give them a tour of St. Paul the Apostle, the Paulist mother church where Marion and I were married and where I had spent so much time as a parishioner and of course, at BustedHalo which was housed in the rectory next door.

I pointed out some of the more unique pieces of the church…a center ambo, the tomb of Isaac Hecker, the Paulist founder, and a hopeful saint one day and more. I encouraged them to walk around and look at the various side altars where there were tons of descriptions of the artwork and the history. I then snuck into the bookstore to chat with an old colleague for a few minutes. When I returned, there were all of my students, kneeling in prayer in various pews scattered throughout the church.

“Well they certainly didn’t learn that from me.” I said to my colleague who was quite impressed with them.

“Guess they have something to teach me, too, huh?”

And they do. Constantly. And I am humbled often and sometimes pride gets in my way too.

Today, let us pray for the gift of grace. The grace to be able to see God working in others to make them all they can be. That might mean that they have much to teach us, even if we have taught them in the past. God isn’t finished with any of us…if we remember that…we just might be able to see God standing right in front of us.

And if we don’t, we might mute the power of God, who needs us to cooperate with Him so that God might do mighty deeds in each of our lives and through even the least of us in our communities.

May we be humble enough to see the Carpenter’s Son and to know that He has much to teach us.

20 and 30 Somethings “Lean Left”. What Does That Mean for the Church?

Interesting article in the Sunday Times a week or so back…:

In this economic downfall, the older conservative crowd seem to think that they are getting the brunt of the tough times. In essence, the young have it far worse, which one would think would lead to a backlash against government, in general…but it turns out…

Meanwhile, education spending — the area that the young say should be cut the least, polls show — is taking deep cuts. The young also want the government to take action to slow global warming; Congress shows no signs of doing so. Even on same-sex marriage, where public opinion is moving toward youthful opinion, all 31 states that have held referendums on the matter have voted against same-sex marriage.

Over the long term, obviously, the young have a distinct advantage: they’re not going away. So one of the central questions for the future of American politics is whether today’s 20- and 30-year-olds will hold on to many of the opinions they have today, a pattern that would be less surprising than glib clichés about aging and conservatism suggest. Until recently, as the presidential results from the 1970s through the 1990s make clear, Americans did not grow much more conservative as they aged.

And while today’s young are not down-the-line liberal — they favor private accounts for Social Security and have reservations about government actions to protect online privacy — they certainly lean left.

No one knows exactly why, but there are some suspects. Having grown up surrounded by diversity, they are socially liberal, almost unconsciously so. Many of them also came of age in the (ultimately unpopular) George W. Bush presidency, or the (ultimately popular) Bill Clinton presidency, and pollsters at the Pew Research Center argue that the president during a generation’s formative years casts a long shadow, for better or worse. Hammered by the economic downturn, young voters say they want government to play a significant role in the economy.

I would summarize from a Catholic perspective and say in my experience, today’s young people simply put want something to believe in. Something solid that they can depend upon. From the church’s standpoint, it doesn’t look like the church is one of those things right now. Why? Clearly it’s the church’s hypocrisy. For many it’s starting from the disappointment of the sex scandal which also may confirm for some a belief that the church is nothing more than a money grab, or a means of control. Even religious people that young folks know, often fail to live up to expectations. Some may also feel bored and disappointed by their experience of flat liturgy, others by a lack of reverence and piety amongst Catholics in parishes. There’s no real hard and fast rules here–everyone is different. Some lash out at vibrant hand clapping music at mass and others love it. Some long for contemplation and others want an active socially conscious faith.

Some are saying that those who identify as Catholics and participate who are young tend to lean “right” at least in terms of their Catholicism, if not completely politically as well. Indeed those may be the young adults you see in your pews, those who are “usual suspects” but they rank amongst a small number of 20 and 30 somethings overall and probably don’t factor much even in the occasional church goer. These who describe themselves as “Orthodox” (or some even more extremely call themselves “fundamentalist” Catholics), have found the church to be a “sturdy something” that they can latch themselves onto, but others haven’t found the same thing. In fact, the very principles that some find to be solid and true, others look at with a more critical eye and find alienating.

Any marketing genius knows that the “low hanging fruit” need not be catered to as much as the fruit that one might need a small ladder to reach. Most young people aren’t angry with the church, they just don’t find it worth the bother. In other words, they have better things to do.

But here’s the thing, often we leave them to their own devices–and that’s a recipe for disaster. Do we set up formal time for them to get together and pray as a community? Often we don’t (I know I don’t. And I also know that if left to MY own devices, I’ll blow things off rather easily). This is true amongst those who lean left or right. They have often led very pre-programmed lives, even on retreat when I give people free time in the afternoon, they often want something programmed. So I charge two team members with organizing some fun activity, usually something outdoors and another something indoors.

The truth is that people want to belong, but they often don’t know how. And that’s not liberal or conservative, that’s just a longing for comment and more importantly, mentorship. So few are coming to sit in a chapel unless there’s formal time set aside to do so. We wouldn’t think of not having a formal mass time and just telling people to show up when they feel like it. But we often do this with things like confession (just make an appointment), spiritual direction (oh they’ll come if they need it), retreats (the same folks come at the same time of year), prayer services (well, they’ll just come in when they need to pray). Well, some do, but others need to be prodded and moreover, reminded. Doing things a bit more formally helps remind them of the need to set some time aside or to fulfill their obligations as Catholics.

So I do think it’s accurate to say that young people as a whole lean left–in terms of religion, they might not even know what it means to lean left or right.

What they hope for is to find someone to LEAN ON instead.

Are You Done?

In conversations with some colleagues and one of my spiritual directees, the subject of continual discernment with regards to careers came up. We mentioned that many in ministry burn out and while some of us even confessed to “feeling burned out” sometimes we simply put our shoulder to the wheel and continued on, taking some time for self care along the way.

Others simply stopped.

And there’s no shame in that, because they simply didn’t have any other way to cope. But they weren’t angry or frustrated or even looking for a new career. They just stopped.

Many of us in middle age who have been in our careers now for some time mention the fact that they’re “done”. They’re heading towards retirement and simply are biding their time in their career, continuing to do what they do without much fanfare. Some do this because they’ve chosen a family. The need to put 4 kids through college keeps someone moving in their career, but not exactly moving forward. They just go to work every day but there’s not much thought behind it anymore. They like their job and can do it well and it pays the bills. Is there something more challenging for them out there? Perhaps, and perhaps they long for it. But they’ve chosen family over career and they are happy doing that. One father of a college student simply said “I’m just done. I go to work each day to put my kids through college.” Another parent of a colleague was a doctor. On Saturdays he could have been out on the golf course making all kinds of business deals, but instead he’d be home with his kids. He would report that it was his choice to do so and while his practice didn’t suffer, it probably didn’t grow either and he was just fine with that.

We all make choices in life. John Scarano, my mentor for my CCMA accreditation once said, “You can be a great minister or a great family man, but you probably can’t do both at a high level.” I know my own wife often complains about the amount of time that her workaholic husband spends with his students. I’ve dialed it back a bit this year, spending more time with her and it’s been great to have her company. We often do things together in ministry, like marriage prep and cooking for the students. We don’t have children, so we can do this well. But even without children it can be tough.

I’m not close to done. There are still benchmarks for me to hurdle and books to write and students to sit with and listen to. I’m feeling more generative lately and lately this ministry has also given me some new life and insights into myself. Like my love of spiritual direction with students and helping them discern who they are. I’m also finding out more about myself and my maturity. I used to really get upset when I’d have disagreements with people, and I still do. But now I can be calm in those moments and ask myself what is really going on here. I’m not perfect at this and still get defensive, especially if I get blindsided by something unexpected, but I can articulate my feelings better in the moments after and see where I need to move forward.

So I’m far from done with ministry. I’m saddened sometimes by others who simply stop, but also feel for their frustration, especially in today’s polarized climate in the church and in our political life. When I look at that, even just superficially, I wonder why more people haven’t stopped doing the good work that they often do.

So today, let’s pray for courage and energy to “keep on, keeping on,” despite obstacles, despite disagreement, disappointment or just plain exhaustion. May we remind ourselves that God is with us and can provide us comfort, guidance and rest. And when we actually are done, may God provide us with the rest for his “faithful servants” and by his grace, allow us to be satisfied with all that we have done with our lives.

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.

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.

And speaking of classmates…and Graduation Memories

A Happy Birthday to Paul T. Daly today. One of my many college suite-mates. Paul hails from the great state of Texas and has a voice that I’d run my mother over for. Give this a listen for some of his work on Texas High School football.

My favorite ever Paul Daly line from our radio days was: “That would been a great catch….

had he caught it!”

Yep–that would’ve helped!

So since it’s graduation week and everything here’s a quick story. Paul was busy covering the ECAC Baseball Tournament that Fordham was in so he got back to campus just as graduation exercises were completing. He was a year behind me in school, so he wasn’t graduating.

Now I wasn’t the best student as an undergrad. And when Paul departed for the tournament, I hadn’t gotten my final grades. And let’s just say Medieval Literature was not my best subject and I needed a C- in order to graduate.

And that indeed was going to be a close call.

I made the grade but in the age before cell phones, Paul had no clue whether I was going to walk or not.

So here is Paul racing to Edward’s Parade on that day and he gets there in the middle of names being read. They just started the “H’s” as the names are read alphabetically. He’s waiting for “Hayes” to be read.

When they got to “Iagone” he said his spirits really dropped.

“Oh no! He didn’t make it. Man!” He sat there depressed for me. He wondered if my parents even came or if I were even out there or if I just went the hell home.

They read the last name and it occurred to Paul that they got from H to Z rather quickly.

Fr. Pascoe, our dean, then took the microphone and said:

“And now, Fr. President, I call the names of the candidates for the Bachelor of ARTS degree in Fordham College!”

And the crowd went ballistic. Paul thought for a moment. He asked the person next to him, “Whose names was he just reading before?” Turns out he showed up while the Bachelor of Science degrees were being read.

He thought, “Wait! Mike’s an English major. English…Arts. YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! WOO-HOO!”

Of course he then thought, if they don’t call his name this time…

But they did. A second piece of irony. But first, a second story.

So my freshman year, I was placed in second year spanish. Now that would have been fine if I remembered anything from my high school spanish class. I was lost and I wanted to add/drop into first year spanish. I had to go to the dean to do this. And let’s just say that the modern language dean who I will be merciful to and not name, was having a bit of a bad day.

“What do you want to change and why?” he growled at me.

I told him. He looked in his book.

“There are no openings in first level spanish.”

I said to him, “OK so what do I do now?”

Now I’d like to take a second here to tell educators that your response to this question should be “Just take another class and don’t worry about it and take it next semester.”

That was not the response I got.

“Well..we’d LIKE you to finish your language requirement by the end of your sophomore year (which means 4 semesters of language culminating in taking a literature class in the language). So if that’s the case, then you need to start with another language.”

So I say, “OK, fine, give me Italian.”

“No sir. No openings in Italian first level either.”

“OK, give me French.”

You guessed it…no openings in French first level either.

So me being me, I got angry. And I believe I said something along the lines of “Can you please just tell me what freakin class I CAN take?”

And incredulously the dean said, “Well you have a choice!”

I said in the deepest depressing voice ever, “Oh goody, that’s a thrill. You can’t imagine my joy. I am nearing orgasm at that news.”

Yeah that probably didn’t endear me to him.

My choices you ask: Russian or German.

Now I’m nothing if not logical…but if I had half a brain I would have just walked out of the office and told him off and went to my academic dean. But I’m a dumb freshman, the first in my family to go to college.

So I think deeply. “Well, Russian is a different alphabet. German is kinda like English (oh no it’s not!) so I’ll take German.”

“Splendid.” the dean said. And off I went with my new class.

Which I was now in two weeks late.

And I never caught up. I got a great big F.

There goes the GPA. Law School…forget it.

My professor and I tried everything. I just couldn’t do it. I got a tutor (who was kinda hot, I might add). I studied so much German my OTHER grades started to suffer. And then I realized that this just wasn’t going to happen. I passed 2 tests of 4. If I remember right I got a 37 on the first exam. A 58 on the second. A 78 on the third and a 62 on the fourth. That’s a 59 average. Failing by one point.

I got a 55 on the final exam. 6 more points and she would’ve passed me with a D.

I got all B’s in my other courses and a giant F in German.

And then I took four semesters of spanish starting with the next semester and finished the language requirement a semester late–which nobody ever said “BOO” about. And the interesting thing was that I was making the same mistakes in spanish, but the difference was that, say I misspelled a word throughout the exam….my spanish professors would take only one point off.

My German professor would take 9 off for every time I misspelled.

Sigh.

OK, so back to graduation…

Who read my name at graduation….?

You guessed it. The one professor to ever give me a failing grade.

I ran into her just after I graduated. I was still hurt because I begged her for a D but she wouldn’t budge. She had the audacity to ask me to carry some boxes up some stairs for her and another dean.

If the other dean wasn’t about to cry, if I said no–I think I might have left her standing there with the boxes.

But we are a religion of forgiveness, after all.

So up the boxes went. We had a cordial conversation and I told her I was graduating and had a job lined up at WFAN.

She seemed relieved. I could almost read it in her face.

“Well, I’m glad you’re getting out of here because you were a train wreck in my class.”

So basically I was a B student in most classes and a A student in theology and philosophy and the occasional writing class. But when it came to German or any language that sounded like German….

Well…not so much.

So when she read “Michael F. Hayes, Jr, English” I cringed and offered a soft smile her way.

Then I saw Paul.

He was jumping a hooting and howling for me. From complete disappointment to complete elation… for me.

I grabbed my diploma and hugged Fr. O’Hare. Fr. Pascoe our dean, looked at me and said, “Thanks for being such a big part of Campus Ministry (I served as an acolyte).”

Even then…there was God nudging me towards ministry and away from radio.

A quick look at my grades tells the tale:

English Classes: 2.8
Theology and Philosophy Classes: 3.2
Foreign Language: 2.136 (which aint bad considering I got an F in one of the five classes).

Is it any wonder I graduated with an M.A. in Religious Ed, Summa Cum Laude (3.83) nearly 13 years later?

God sometimes has to howl at me.

Even louder than Paul did on graduation day.

Happy Birthday, Tex.