Do You Have the Time?

Time..don’t run out on me.

It’s a phrase that I’ve mentioned often in ministry as being an element that is essential to the development of faith. I challenge spiritual directees to prioritize their relationship with God by dedicating at least 20 minutes a day to prayer with the hopeful development that 20 minutes will turn into 40 and 40 will turn to 60 or more. What I find is that most people fall between two extremes: they don’t pray at all, or they find that they crave more prayer and end up exceeding my minimal requirement.

Prayer for me, is also a time-consuming matter. I need to brush out distractions and simply be–but also learn how to mix prayer into the rhythms of my day. For example, after lunch each day, I find myself energized by my colleagues in the student affairs division, who I often eat with close to daily. It’s the one time a day that our paths cross and it gives me insight from other seasoned directors and insight into the tone of the college. As I rise from the table each day, I say to myself, “Thank you, God for these people who fill me with joy.”

To become our prayers, to immerse ourselves in relationship with God, we need conversion–we need to be changed and to be constantly asking for change in our lives. But then also to have some constants that we remain dedicated to in order that they might call us to be critical of who we are becoming. For example, when I write I find myself more awakened to the joys in my life: the students I serve, the colleagues I enjoy, the wife I love, the dog warm on my lap, the sunshine on the water or a good hearty laugh. Writing for me is often a form of prayer and when I dedicate time to it, I find myself centered and relaxed and better able to get through the day–or better put, excel at work and be more open to relationships with others.

One of our graduate students, Matt Gorczyca on his blog, Gorc Meets World (which you should be reading if you are not) had a similar experience regarding writing that sums up my own feelings of getting back into the swing of blogging.

For the first time in a while I was fully immersed in my writing. I was filling pages with ink and typing blocks of text into blog posts. I felt like a machine – but not the kind that I have been the past few months. No, instead of being programmed by the day, with circumstances of an alarm clock, a boss and a pillow dictating how I spent my time, this time I was in control. It was as if I was a transformer. I’ve never seen the movie, but from what I’ve heard it’s basically when machines take over the world. Well I was my own writing machine taking back my world.

I felt revitalized and back to my old energized, creative self. It all came back to giving myself time. All I needed was a few hours in a coffee shop and I was back in my mode of writing. I didn’t have the distractions of a TV, a workload, chores or even people. I was retreating to a world that I could feel like myself again. And boy do I feel more alive than I have in a while.

Amen, brother! Thanks for waking me up as well. It is often difficult to dedicate some real time to all the things we want to do. But it is not impossible to dedicate regular time to the things that give you life. This is the Ignatian Examen at its finest–where we move towards consolation, all that brings us life and away from all that lands us in the dumper.

So some New School Year Resolutions are forming for me:
1) Write–just write. Often, if not daily.
2) Connect with someone new each day.
3) Invite people into opportunities with Campus Ministry often.
4) Exercise daily, even if I just stretch and then vigorously at least three times a week.
5) Rejoice in our retreats, spiritual direction and the things I get to do that bring me more life, bring to me the MAGIS.
5) Identify consolation intentionally twice a day, if not more often and write about it as much as possible.
6) Enjoy a good laugh, good times with friends and love and appreciate my wife better than I already do.
7) I’ll get killed for this but, write about the dog more. The Hazehayes blog may return!

And thanks Matt, for reminding me who I should be more often and what I am called to do.

The Jesuitness of Pope Francis

charis_logoSo my colleagues at Charis Ministries in Chicago have asked a rather provocative question:

Why Should Pope Francis attend a Charis Retreat?

And so I would like to offer the Top 10 reasons why a Ignatian Retreat and specifically a Charis Retreat would benefit the likes of Papa Francisco.

images-11) A Transition is a Great Time for a Retreat: Pope Francis is in the midst of an unexpected transition. Moving from Argentina to Italy alone has got to be jarring, never mind the move from his simple quarters to the Papal Suite in the Vatican (reportedly, the Pope said it was too large for him and said “You could fit 300 people in here). So I’d like to recommend that he attends a What’s Next Retreat–which is based specifically on the experience of making transitions. You should join him if you’ve gotten a new job, moved to a new city, graduated college or graduate school, entered the job force for the first time, just gotten married or divorced or are expecting a child. Transitions are crazy! And Ignatian spirituality focuses us on the principle of indifference—trying to have the faith that says that no matter what befalls us and no matter how scary things are, God will get us through anything.

2) The Value of Silence: Each Charis retreat really values silence and the opportunity to take time away from the noise that often constantly surrounds us. Do you remember those first moments on the Papal balcony? The Pope actually asked for silence and you could hear a pin drop in the square as people prayed for our new Pontiff. Perhaps we all need just a few moments in our lives to cultivate silence for even just a short time.

3) Simplicity: If nothing else, the new Pope loves being with people and sharing stories of his own. That’s precisely what Charis retreats are based on. The experience of finding God in everyday life is where we all are. So the retreats meet us firmly on that ground and then moves us to consider where God might be in that experience. I read today where the Pope called the newsstand where he got his morning paper and cancelled his subscription. Can we find God in the simple moments of the day like buying the morning paper or riding the bus. It seems to me that the Pope can help others understand this well.

4) For the Least of Our Brothers and Sisters: Charis Retreats always center on the experience of the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus. The Pope has seen much suffering in the slums of Buenos Aires and the experience of the global south certainly knows poverty much better than we do in the United States. Do we have the ability to see God in these experiences of poverty and how are we poor ourselves? For the least provides an opportunity to reflect on the experience of serving others who are in need instead of merely doing a good deed and then going on our way. Have we been able to name where we find Christ in these experiences?

5) Ignatius and Francis: Why would a Jesuit take Francis as his name? Well, it’s actually quite appropriate! Ignatius was a big admirer of Francis. During his period of convalescence he read all about Francis and placed himself in the stories of Francis and in his imagination he discovered that he enjoyed imitating the life of Francis much more than the gallant knights that he had tried to become like before. On Charis retreats, you’re able to use these imaginative exercises where you place yourself in the stories of Francis, Ignatius and Jesus and other imaginative scenes. By putting our creative imagination at the service of our faith we find that we meet God more clearly in these experiences and are able to more readily integrate our deepest desires about who we most want to be into action.

6) Contemplative in Action: Ignatius implores us to be people in the world but not of the world. To be contemplative in action, to not merely experience our lives by living them but also by reflecting back on our experiences. With the number of stories we’ve already heard from Pope Francis, I am certain that he shares that value and has reflected deeply on his more than 75 years.

7) Forgiveness: Charis retreats always center on the experience of being a “loved sinner.” And Pope Francis has clearly talked about a God who always forgives us in the early days of his Papacy. I often lead the reconciliation service on the retreats that I coordinate with one of our team members. And it’s always a moving experience to see people come back from the sacrament of reconciliation renewed and refreshed in the forgiveness of God’s love. Imagine being able to go to confession to the Pope?! And imagine being a priest and hearing the Pope’s confession?!

8. Servant Leadership: Charis retreats are run by young adults for young adults. They are based in peer leadership where we serve the needs of one another. We now have a Pope who is doing that with his brother priests and more importantly, brother Cardinals. His spirit of collegiality would fit in well on a Charis retreat and while he’s not a young adult, I could see him leading us as spiritual director and showing other priests the importance of being with young people.

9) Magis: The great Cardinal Tagle of Manilla once reminded us that we don’t just work for the glory of God, but rather we work for the GREATER glory of God. We stretch ourselves beyond our usual modes of participating in life, to become somewhat uncomfortable, to reflect on matters we often have no time for in our busy lives. We do so in order to define what the Magis is for each one of us. We discern, rather than simply decide who we are to be. The Pope has been echoing those words in the early days of his papacy and it’s pretty clear that he’s working not only to fulfill the demands of the Papacy, but also to show each of us where greater glory resides in the experience of fulfilling our roles in life. Sitting on a weekend with Charis Retreats, we hope to find that greater glory that calls to us, that helps us become all that God calls us to be.

10) Open to Questions: Don’t you get the feeling that you could just ask Pope Francis anything and he’d answer you with love? That’s a great principle of Ignatian Spirituality, being open to the questions and exploring all facets of them. We come to God with all of who we are: our hopes, our dreams, our gifts…but also our fears, our doubts, our insecurities. Charis retreats offers a non-judgemental sacred space to explore those aspects of who we are.

Lastly, the Pope should come and join Charis Retreats in the great spirit of Ignatius, not merely because he’s a Jesuit and not merely because Charis expresses much of his own personal spirituality and not even because the Pope needs to be around young people. Rather, the Pope should be able to take some time for himself and renew his own sense of where God is calling HIM! Young people in their 20s and 30s are eager to share their journey of faith and have been moved by the Pope sharing much of how he sees God working in his life even in the simplest of ways.

Be it a bus ride, a morning paper, a visit to the slums, a phone call or even a simple kiss and hug, Papa Francisco is able to share with his actions and his words just how vibrant God is working in his life.

And that’s exactly what happens on a Charis Retreat.

So I’m conducting Charis’ What’s Next Retreat in the Buffalo area on June 7-9…that’s the one focused on transitions. Perhaps the Pope will need a mini-break from this whirlwind tour he’s been on and I would love to provide him with an opportunity to be with us….even if just in spirit. (Email me for information:

ignloyAfter all, he is and always will be a son of Ignatius. That spirit has made him all that he is.

And now it inspires all of us as well. Seeing God in all things is our challenge and taking just a bit of time to examine that in our lives is something we all should do and need to do.

And if that’s good enough for the Pope, than it’s good enough for all of us.

Hearing Everything

Becky Eldridge reflects ironically on the noises all around her as she seeks silence on a young adult retreat this week. It is there that she finds God all around–in parties, music, baseball bats and in helicopters searching for a murderer:

Turning back to the young adults breathing deeply in the silence and in their time with God, I found myself overcome with the understanding that God was somehow in all of these moments at the same time: God speaking to each young adult uniquely in their silent prayer, God celebrating within the joy of the party, God savoring the experience of community at the baseball game, and somehow, at the same time, God was in the search for the young man (helicopters on a hunt for someone who had shot a cop the day before), comforting the family and friends of the fallen police officer and comforting the family of the man on the run, and offering wisdom during the decisions of both the man and the officers who sought him.

An amazing moment for Becky where the whole world just comes alive.

Ignatius reminds us that God is in all things, holding us all together in what I often call “dynamic tension”–including the good and the bad alike. Much like the wisdom literature where the age old question of not just bad things happening to good people, but even moreso, good things happening to bad people, is explored. God is in the midst of all of it.

And so are we all. Perhaps that’s important to reflect on today.

There is much to pray and reflect on. There is much to notice. Can we even remember all the needs of those who ask us to pray for them? Do we bother to slow down and even see (or hear!) the vast amounts of things going on in the world?

It reminds me of this scene in Superman Returns:

Perhaps this is just a glimpse of what God (rather than Superman) hears–or more likely how we might perceive how God hears us.

But what do we hear? Are we deaf to the call of the poor or the downtrodden? Do we hear even our neighbor’s cry for help? Can we listen with intent for the unspoken cry of another close to us–when we know they are just slightly “off key?”

The good news is that God listens this deeply to all the recesses of our hearts. All of us. Perhaps we are called to the silence each day so that we might be able to pray and respond more often to what we hear and to even hear what we most are in need of ourselves.

Naming Grace

Retreat is always an introspective time for me to consider how our students at UB are being served by Campus Ministry and personally, what my role is amongst the students.

I’ve become the “old guy” on the Campus Ministry staff. My lay colleagues are all in their 20s and early 30s. While our directors are older than I, my younger colleagues are quick to inform me of my now middle age. Being bald doesn’t help although it’s become fashionable for younger guys to be bald.

I often also think that my age is an advantage. I’ve reached a maturity which many students trust and think that I just might have something to say. I’ve gained the respect of colleagues and I think (or hope) that I’m approachable as a minister.

One student appreciated the opportunity to recharge her batteries this weekend and often appreciates that our 8PM mass at St. Joe’s has a kind of “peaceful vibe,” as she put it. She wraps up her week by taking that intentional time with us and then heading home to decompress further, readying herself for another intense week of school.

Our students who presented talks made me think just a bit more about how much work goes into these presentations and that they trusted our ministry staff enough to be a bit vulnerable themselves. Their stories touched the hearts and minds of those attending and provided ample jumping off points for the rest of the group in their small group discussions.

St. Ignatius would be excited about creating “contemplatives in action” –people who are dedicated to seeing God in all things. Sometimes we just need a step back to think a bit about who we are and what we are doing in order to return to the everyday with a renewed sense of peace and perhaps purpose. I know I was able to take some moments for quiet on the weekend myself and it renewed some convictions I have about who I am, where I am being led by God and where I need to be challenged to be the best person and minister that I can be.

Upon returning from retreat, I was able to catch up with some former Catholic Volunteers from our Catholic Charities Service Corp who were here for a big reunion of former volunteers. Helping some of them discern their futures and working with them in one on one settings has been quite a good experience for me. Some of those times were some of the more intense experiences of where I have felt God working in my life, through me for the volunteers and also touching me to see things in new ways and opening me up to my own gifts and talents as a minister. The same has been true for many of the students who seek me out for Spiritual Direction and who have retreat experiences with me as well.

Sr. Lois, who I was training a bit this weekend to provide Charis Retreats in her area saw me standing next to a statue of St. Ignatius and replied “You know there’s a bit of resemblance there!” Curtis, one of our students, touched the top of Ignatius’ head and then my bald dome and stated that his head was a bit smoother.

With students like these….is it any wonder I’m not working at Macy’s?

I’m hoping that Ignatius’ spirit is also embedded in my own. I think I have been able to use the Exercises in a way that helps others discern more vividly where they are called in life or to be able to see things a bit more clearly as they are and to dismiss fears and the lack of confidence that some have in themselves.

So “the old guy” has discovered that he’s still got a lot to offer our students. My trainer at the gym told me that I’ve become a good mentor to one of our student-athletes who works out with us each morning–that I push him a bit more and are open enough to let him see the real me—the one who can’t run as fast anymore, who has lousy knees and who struggles with a few extra pounds. But also the one who pushes hard and won’t let others get too down on themselves and who can walk with others no matter what dark path they want to take me down.

It looks more and more like Ignatius has created a mentor out of me. And for that, I am grateful and look to try to do more of that in my ministry. I need to take more opportunities to get in front of students so that they might consider me more often as a mentor, a trusted source. It’s in that vein that I have been renewed by the presence of Ignatius prodding me to see myself at my most joyful moments and to embrace them with grace.

Tonight I pray that my students, my colleagues and you, dear friends, can find that kind of joy in your own lives. The joy of finding grace leads us into greater communion with God and with each other.

Naming grace is where God needs us to be. It helps us see ourselves as God does–with our foibles, yes, but also where we can love with great abandon.

And that grace, which we name, is all that we ever will need.

Ignatius vs. Francis

So we had out retreat team follow up meeting last night. My colleague,

St Ignatius of Loyola
Julianne Wallace, who has a great Franciscan heart remarked that while the retreat was a great experience, she admitted that Ignatian Spirituality just isn’t her bag. She also had just spent a week with Franciscans, a spirituality that does speak to her. So she wondered if that had something to do with it.

I pressed her a bit. Not because I didn’t believe her, or found her comment distressing, but rather because my own experience with both spiritualities has been more complimentary than diametrically opposed. I find that both Ignatius and Francis are concerned with the poor, both look to find God in all things, both are filled with a grace experience in which we are called to experience a poverty of spirit, realizing that God is really all we need. The retreats I’ve experienced with both orders have been good experiences.

Some of the other influences for me is that I have had good experiences when I’ve done retreats with younger people and not so much when there have been older people around. Perhaps it’s an energy thing, the young people give me a lot of energy. Often baby boomers fall into a bit of a superficial spirituality in retreat circles where heart often not only trumps head, but pushes it out the door.

Recently, one of our Catholic volunteers expressed annoyance that when he seeks an intellectual experience in faith circles he’s often told to only focus on how he feels about these things. “Don’t we need both experiences?” he remarked. Agreed.

Back to my colleague, Julianne, she expressed the centering on joy that Franciscan spirituality offers as opposed to Ignatius having a more intellectual outlook. Not that Ignatius’ outlook is DEPRIVED of joy, but there’s certainly a different feel to going to a Franciscan retreat, than an Ignatian one. Again, I’d also caution that Ignatius always talked about looking at one’s feelings as a primary means of experiencing God and then reflecting on those feelings. Naturally, Ignatius was also a great admirer of Francis, so I’m sure much of his outlook is based on Francis’ work.

I tease, Br. Dan Horan, saying that Franciscans should often read Jesuits. Perhaps there are Jesuits who should also spend time centered in a Friary being in community and working together on things. Perhaps Franciscans are a bit more communally centered than placing so much emphasis on the individual?

I also commented to my co-director, Greg Coogan, that we might like the Jesuits and have studied much about him, but even with all that we’re not Jesuits. The same would be true if we centered our focus on a Franciscan theme. Greg, also made the comment that most of the younger people probably could care less about what “brand” of retreat we run as long as it is for young adults. I think that’s on the mark.

At the same time, I’m always looking for opportunities to merge the church a bit closer. After all, we are all Catholics, not merely directed towards one particular saint. We preach Jesus, not Ignatius or Francis. I often joke with Franciscan friends that if the Franciscans would quit breaking themselves up into smaller groups of Franciscans they’d probably run the world!

I suppose eventually one would have to pick a particular tradition to focus on. While working with the Paulists we often merged a bit of Isaac Hecker’s thoughts in with Ignatius. Perhaps Benedictine hospitality, Francis’ joy, Ignaitus’ exercises and our modern efforts as lay people all have something to offer to these weekend experiences. Our partners in Charis ministries, an Ignatian retreat organization, surely will want to continue to be identifiable with Ignatian spirituality, but I am glad they are open to our experimenting and staying open to other traditions as well.