Does Spiritual Direction Need to Happen Face to Face?

I have directed a spiritual directee or two over Skype.  We’ve even talked about setting up a prayer group for our young alumni through the use of Google Hangout.  In many ways technology can be a great help in keeping people connected to God.

But might this be a “disordered attachment” in some ways too?

That’s the big question that I am exploring with those who will take my workshop today at the Ignatian Spirituality Conference.  Essentially this boils down to a few easy and perhaps obvious points:

  • Spiritual Direction often works best when done face to face.
  • However, when the director and the directee already have a relationship, spiritual direction can and often is best served by doing something via FaceTime, Google Hangout or Skype.
  • The use of technology often saves time and money for both director and directee.
  • Sometimes people need to move on from a direction relationship so extra care needs to be taken to see if the person is in need of seeing a new director and it is not the director who is clinging to the directee (that they may very well enjoy meeting with).

Am looking forward to see what comes up for people in these relationships and how they’ve had successes and failures with this.  Has this also been able to help people cultivate silence in their lives?

All is well here and am excited to present today.

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.

Obsessed With Others…In Good and Bad Ways

Today’s NY Times has reporter Laurie Goodstein talking about Conservative Catholics (her term, not mine) being disenchanted with Pope Francis. One particular commenter stuck out for me.

Steve Skojec, the vice president of a real estate firm in Virginia and a blogger who has written for several conservative Catholic websites, wrote of Francis’ statements: “Are they explicitly heretical? No. Are they dangerously close? Absolutely. What kind of a Christian tells an atheist he has no intention to convert him? That alone should disturb Catholics everywhere.”

Should it? I’m not sure it should. Don’t get me wrong, I’d be gloriously happy if we had a bunch of new Catholics around, but I’m not sure I can MAKE anyone convert to our faith. I also think it would be haughty for me to think I could.

The truth is that we can’t control anyone and often, at least I find that there are many who are overly concerned about control. They need to have rigid rules and strict adherence to those rules–not merely for themselves, the one person that they actually have control over, but also for others. There seems to be a constant preoccupation with influencing others and their beliefs.

But shouldn’t we be obsessed with others? That’s the forthcoming question and my answer is a certain yes, but not with an eye towards controlling them and making them into who we hope they will be–any parent knows all too all well that this is a recipe for disaster. Rather, we need to be obsessed with people who are far too often left out. We need to be obsessed with those who face poverty, with those who can’t care for their children, with those who are elderly and lonely.

And by being obsessed and working closely to care for their needs and even more so, by changing the systems that keep people in vulnerable situations, we, in fact, convert others without controlling them or even saying a word.

We are most powerful when we are not merely living FOR others but also living WITH others. When we don’t exert our power over another but have the courage to be with people in solidarity. Giving people the freedom to be who they are and being humble enough to realize that we don’t always have all the answers.

A prime example: As the director of Campus Ministry there’s obviously a power imbalance between my students and myself. Less so, but still there, is a different kind of power imbalance between the campus ministry staff and myself.

I find that I’m a much more effective director with the campus ministry staff when I am open and honest with them. When I share my feelings with them. When I am able to be myself and allow them to see me as a person who cares for their professional needs and doesn’t just want them to complete tasks.

With students when I can care and empathize with their struggles and share a bit of my own, I find I can develop a deeper relationship with them. One based on mutual trust instead of my authority as an administrator. When I can treat each person as an individual instead of trying to get everyone to just get in line and do what I want, I find people are more willing to give me the benefit of the doubt most of the time, mostly because they know I have their best interests at heart.

When we are far too concerned about the results, we miss the person standing in front of us. We also keep people at an arm’s length–as if we only care about them as they relate to our success, our conversion rate, if you will, where numbers on converts trump caring for people despite what they believe and emphasizing that conversion lies in coercion instead of realizing that the conversion of souls lies in the person’s development in their relationship with God, not in their relationship with you.

We need to give people freedom and be obsessed with their lives, not with our own.

Can We Heal Wounds?

When the horror of September 11th came upon the United States my friends with children fought vigorously to keep their children away from the television screen. Others even fought to keep themselves away from the images we know all too well from that day. Many wondered what to tell their kids when they returned home from school and some even hoped that their teachers hadn’t spilled the beans.

I wondered to myself if this were a healthy approach? It makes sense that we don’t want people, never mind children to be exposed to horrible images that could have traumatic effects on their psyche. But what about telling them about what happened? It seems that many of my friends tried to seal the information from their kids for at least some time, usually before one of their friends remarked about the dreadful news.

I started to think about other things that people don’t tell their kids because they don’t want them to worry. Finances are hard. Mom’s got cancer. There was an accident. Your dog went to heaven. It seems anything that is bad is taboo for children at times and people only tell them things that they need to, only when absolutely necessary.

Slate had a great article today that got me thinking about this. They claim three real reasons that college students (and the rest of us, they claim) are more stressed out than ever before. I’ll riff on each here and add a fourth that stems from them and will add some thoughts about what I see amongst my own students and colleagues.

The first is a lack of community. One colleague of mine said: “I knew there was trouble when I found two student residents in their room arguing with one another–but they weren’t yelling at each other, they were TEXTING and IMing while in the same room! I put a stop to that and made them hash it out.”

Human contact and kinship help alleviate anxiety (our evolutionary ancestors, of course, were always safer in numbers), yet as we leave family behind to migrate all over the country, often settling in insular suburbs where our closest pal is our plasma-screen TV, we miss out on this all-important element of in-person connection. As fear researcher Michael Davis of Emory University told me: “If you’ve lost the extended family and lost the sense of community, you’re going to have fewer people you can depend on, and therefore you’ll be more anxious. Other cultures have much more social support and are better off psychologically because of it.” Another factor that adds to this problem—especially among young people—is our growing reliance on texting and social media for community, which many psychologists say is no substitute for real human interaction. When you’re feeling most dreadful, you don’t run to your Facebook profile for consolation; you run to a flesh-and-blood friend.

I think about my own students with this one. One of the most popular clubs on campus is our Christian Life Communities, a weekly prayer group of sorts that invites people to do a short form of the Ignatian examen in community. We discuss the highs and lows of the week and provide a meditation and a time for affirmations and prayer requests. It’s one of the times in my week that I feel I can really connect with our students and I start to hear just what people are carrying around with them. This is safe space and sometimes when I hear what people are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking, never mind getting a degree. I feel the same way about the students I’ve seen in spiritual direction. And I often feel that they are unprepared for all that life is offering them and impressed that somehow they are still able to function at such high levels.

Professionally, I notice the texting more amongst outside younger colleagues than amongst my students at Canisius. I communicate with many people via text. And sometimes it’s inappropriate. There are some who try to conduct business via text when it would be faster and easier to call and have a conversation. Indeed texting is somehow more efficient but then again, it can lead to problems. My staff does this well. We text when necessary. When we need to get a message to someone quickly and think they are in a meeting or can’t talk. Or when the message is a quick one that requires some kind of action “Can you grab cider for the meeting?” would be an example.

The second is information overload which I discuss at length in my book, Googling God. There’s so much information out there that you can’t possibly consume it all. Our students often ask for bullet points and other quick soundbytes of information and I often give it to them because they just don’t need one more thing to read and information is bombarding them at high rates all the time. I don’t ever not recommend reading and I give them plenty to chew on when I think there’s a book or an article that is worth their time, but I also try to encourage that there’s not a rush to consume this information–to savor the reading process and to enjoy reading and gaining information. I often feel that college would be more enjoyable if we just let students finish when they finish. Now that’s an impossible business model to sustain, but from my own perspective I was able to work and do two graduate classes per semester and I enjoyed that immensely. I found it difficult to take 5 undergraduate classes and hold all that information together while working at the radio station and socializing and all of my campus ministry involvement.

I find my present students are great at balancing their time. Many are involved in much and have heavy duty science majors or are working on a big time business degree. I never knew how the medical students kept up at UB and the pre-meds are just as impressive at Canisius. But I do notice their anxiety. I do notice that it is not easy for them. And I do see them when they get overwhelmed by their to-do lists and the pressure of being good students and having a social life and trying to figure out what they would most like to be and do with their lives.

Some are brilliant: They’ve realized that they are never going to know everything that someone else thinks they should know. It took me years to get that idea through my thick skull.

Finally here’s the last major point:

Put simply, Americans have developed habits for dealing with anxiety and stress that actually make them far worse. We vilify our aversive emotions and fight them, rather than letting them run their own course. We avoid situations that make us nervous. We try to bury uncomfortable feelings like anxiety and stress with alcohol or entertainment or shopping sprees. Psychologist Steven Hayes, creator of a highly effective anxiety treatment formula called acceptance and commitment therapy, told me that we’ve fallen victim to “feel-goodism,” the false idea that “bad” feelings ought to be annihilated, controlled, or erased by a pill. This intolerance toward emotional pain puts us at loggerheads with a basic truth about being human: Sometimes we just feel bad, and there’s nothing wrong with that—which is why struggling too hard to control our anxiety and stress only makes things more difficult.

Amen! We protect ourselves way too much. And we protect others from our sadness and what we perceive is their sadness way too much.

Interestingly enough, comedian Louis CK hits the nail on the head with this: (warning: vulgar at times).

Perhaps our call is not to remove our student’s sadness or stress, but to help them more appropriately deal with that. We often do this in community on retreats, prayer groups, spiritual direction and on more than a few occasions by collaborating with our counseling center.

Our students need us and more importantly, they need community, they need time to chill to detox from information and they need to share their fears in a safe space where they can actually feel their emotions and be supported by peers and ministers.

In a world that is marked by terrorism all too often, anxiety is ever present globally and we have fewer resources to turn to because everyone is so busy that we have a hard time paying attention to those who need us. Older Americans might note that they were afraid of the Russians or of the bomb–but their community structure was much more intertwined with one another than our students’ lives are today.

This is our call as higher ed professionals and as Catholic Campus Ministers. As Pope Francis put it in the recent interview in America Magazine:

“I see clearly that the thing the church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…. And you have to start from the ground up.”

Heal the wounds… the wounds that are felt deeply and all too easily pushed away. Help people to feel their wounds and then to not be afraid to place your hands in the wounds of Jesus, like Thomas and allow the healing that God has to offer to take place through you, even in small and simple ways. This is ministry.

And it is where we always encounter God waiting for us and asking us to heal wounds.

It’s 6AM…And I Get to Do Ministry Today

So I woke up by the paws of a hungry dog prodding me to give him his morning kibble. My wife usually handles those duties and she did the same this morning, “I got him, go back to sleep.” God love her, she knows I have a long day today as I do most Sundays. Everyone else has the day off but my sabbath day is usually another day during the week because on Sunday, I’m out being a huckster for the Lord. I’m far from a morning person, but this morning I’m up!

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Oh sure, being the Campus Minister is hard enough work. “Like herding cats,” one colleague from another campus once remarked. “No.” I replied, “It’s like herding MICE. They’re faster and they can hide much easier than the average housecat.” And at a secular university, rife with atheistic viewpoints all around me, the mice scatter in twenty different directions. And to belabor the metaphor, Jesus said we have to gather the sheep together and not lose one, to search endlessly for that one and rejoice when we find that lost one.

He didn’t say anything about mice and yet here I go…

My campus is a unique one. I’m at the smaller of two University of Buffalo campuses plus a third downtown campus that will explode soon into a brand spanking new medical campus by 2017. Our larger main campus, is pretty straightforward…it’s where most undergraduates have their classes and the administration folks are over there and essentially it’s what most people think of when you mention UB.

Our South Campus is different. We have all the pre-professional schools at our place: Medicine, Nursing, Dentistry, Architecture, Health Sciences and Social Work. A new pharmacy building has just opened (complete with a Tim Horton’s) right nearby the church which sits on the edge of the campus tucked between two parking lots. Further afield on the other side of campus are two residence halls, one of international students and one of freshman undergrads. And just when it couldn’t get any more diverse, our neighborhood is the party central neighborhood. Tons of students, many upperclass undergrads and graduate students call University Heights home and they are from all kinds of backgrounds.

And each semester I have to remind myself of one very important thing:

Nobody goes to a State University for the Campus Ministry, much less, the Catholic Campus Ministry.

Sure, you might go to a Catholic School like Fordham or Canisius because you went to a Jesuit High School. Or you might go to Notre Dame because of their Catholicism. But the admissions office at a State University isn’t exactly touting the marvels of a University parish in their package.

And so, it’s up to me. I have to be open to the students inviting not just Catholic students into Sunday mass, but also inviting the university to continue to be open to conversations with us. We do lunchtime lectures for our medical and nursing students. We hit the neighborhood and do community service gathering students who want to give back and also students who have run afoul of the university’s policies. We offer break trips that seek to do more than what MTV’s Spring Break has to offer.

I’ve found myself walking amongst who I call “the living dead” at our medical school. The sacred bodies of those who have donated their bodies to the medical school for medical students to dissect and learn anatomy while they too, are being dissected, dealing with the emotions involved with probing into another human being’s most intimate parts.

I’ve been an actor in the Behling Simulation Center, playing the role of a family member or patient for those who are studying to be doctors, physician assistants, nurses and physical and occupational therapists. I’ve had to cry when they tell me I have lung cancer or that my child has asthma. I try to be the difficult family member who keeps asking questions and getting in the way. And they tell me that I help make it “all too real” for them.

And I mostly try not to be a creep. Because there are plenty of “religious creeps” out there.

“Are you saved?” “Don’t you love Jesus?…don’tcha? Don’tcha? DON’TCHA?”

The list of things I’ve heard about how some folks have been approached (more like attacked) by religious types on campus really disgusts me some days. And it makes my job a thousand times harder because now religion has a bad name.

I think the University faculty like to see me coming because they know I’m simply not a nutburger. And that’s good because they are the trusted source for many of our students, if not most. And they help me be a better minister.

Some days, my job is hard. Walls are put up and I could try to scale them or go around them, but most of the time I just need to gently knock on the little door that most people miss in that wall. And when that door cracks open I simply have to make a sales pitch. We’re all concerned with the students and their academic success. We all want to develop better people for the world’s needs. We all want students and a university that we can be proud of.

Some seek me out after having a good experience with me at mass, or a community service event or an alternative break. One student tells me that he dreaded having to sit next to me for a 9 hour bus ride to New York City and by the end of the ride he didn’t want to sit anywhere else. I get to hear their troubles and anxieties in spiritual direction and their longing to be closer to God, to have lives of deep meaning, heading in the direction of Rahner’s “infinite horizon.” Even the ones who don’t espouse Catholicism long for connecting deep with the divine. I guide them as a spiritual director and when I hear what some are dealing with I’m surprised they are walking and talking in an all too wounded world, never mind, going to school to get a degree in the midst of such chaos.

I play games with numbers each week, trying not to get to disappointed when students say “I’d love to do service, or come to mass, but I’m so busy” noting their eclipsed spirituality and wondering what I might be able to do on their terms to engage them in their too busy schedules. I remind myself that Jesus started with 12 and this week we read that most of those that they recruited all went away leaving Jesus to wonder if the 12 he started with were going to leave too.

It’s just crazy and always messy and some days I suck at it but most days I think I do pretty well…and God is right there in the mess of it all.

I can’t sleep this morning not out of anxiousness or nerves, but rather because it’s the exciting start of a new semester.

I get to do ministry today.

And that is more than enough for me.

8PM this evening…St Joseph’s University Parish at UB South…come and see what I get to do.

Millennials to Boomers: We KNOW We’re Not Special

Some time ago, David McCullough, Jr wrote a commencement speech for Wellesley High School which, in my opinion, was a dirge and quite frankly inappropriate. Essentially, he told them that they were not special. There was an overlying assumption that millennials feel entitled and special. I didn’t blog it because I thought it was overdone and not at all an accurate depiction of how millennials see themselves. It was actually more of a depiction at how millennial parents see millennials.

Millennials don’t see themselves as special. They see themselves as people that everyone else THINKS sees themselves as entitled.

The truth is that millennials live very fearful lives. In a angry rant against the McCullough rant, Sierra over at the Phoenix and the Olive Branch has a lot to say about what millennials face:

We grew up accruing praise, but not self-esteem. We learned that praise was a parenting strategy, not a sincere reward for merit. We stopped listening when you told us we were smart, brave, beautiful and unique. “You have to say that because you’re our parents,” we told you. You agreed.

So we looked to our teachers to learn where we stood. They couldn’t tell us the truth, either. “Did I get an A because I really wrote an exceptional essay, or because my teacher was afraid to deal with my parents?” We learned to suspect the latter.

When our teachers couldn’t tell us, we looked to our bosses. They despised us: the pampered, electronic generation who doesn’t know the meaning of hard work. When we worked hard, they were surprised. But they cynically assumed we were only working hard to build our resumes. That 16-year-old who went on a humanitarian relief trip to Haiti? Just another yuppie trying to pad her Harvard application. What would it take to convince you that we really care? Even the things we do for fun – playing sports, joining a band, riding a horse, writing a story – you have made into a competition. You’ve taken our creativity and told us that it matters not because it fulfills us, but because we can sell it to a college and reap the returns on our “investment” decades from now. Every little thing we do must be harnessed for profit. And you wonder why we seem to have no spontaneity left.

You have done our work for us, then called us lazy.
You have threatened our teachers, then told us “just an A” isn’t good enough.
You have gotten our jobs for us, and called us underachievers.
You have recorded everything we do, like researchers breeding a better mouse.
You have made us trophy-seekers, then mocked us for our walls of worthless awards.
You have pitted us against each other in a fight for success, which has become survival.
You have given us a world in which even our college degrees are meaningless because there are just too many of us.
You have made us depend on you. When we followed your instructions – went to the best schools, got the best grades, took the most internships and did the most independent study projects, met the right people and got into the right grad schools and chosen the right majors – we’ve ended up stuck in your basement because nobody in your generation is willing to pay us a living wage.
Then you called us the “boomerang” generation that refuses to grow up. When did we have the chance?

Accurate! And I love a great rant, especially a justified one. Many millennials see me for spiritual direction. The thing I think they fear the most is screwing it all up. Many have trouble settling on a decision because they think they have to figure it all out tomorrow. Others fear a mistake they made in their younger years and think there’s no way they can ever be forgiven for that mistake. Others don’t realize the inability they had to be free to make a decision and hold themselves hostage to a life they need not live, knowing no way to change course. Others simply beat themselves up for mistakes or what they see as failure when they don’t meet exalted expectations.

When I hear of what some young people are going through, I’m frankly surprised that they are walking and talking, much less, doing well academically or finding a job.

Listen to more of Sierra here:

We learned something else along the way to becoming “special.” We learned that you depended on us. For validation. For certainty that you did everything right. If we did not succeed, it reflected badly on you. When you told us that you loved us and that we were smart, beautiful, creative, independent, and destined for greatness, what you implied was that we must be all of those things or that you would cease to love us. That our lives would cease to be worth anything. That we might as well die if we’re not the best.

The truth is that millennials are tired of being lied to. They want someone who will tell them the truth, not spin or fluff. They want to be challenged, not coddled. They want to live a life of meaning but also want to be able to make mistakes without fear of retribution. They want people who don’t have a vested interest in their success to actually care about THEIR goals and dreams and not make it some sort of prize for their own mantlepiece. They want the freedom to be able to discover who they are—so simply put they can become all they are called to become.

Considering I do a good deal of writing about millennials and am not one, I can see the backlash coming at me too–and perhaps deservedly so. These folks are not who we have molded into being. They are simply themselves.

One millennial who I direct, taught me much about direction with millennials in particular. They were frankly stuck in believing that their worth was dependent on how another might see them. I tried, with limited success, to get them to realize that this isn’t true. That God has already made them valuable simply by the gift of life itself. I mostly journeyed with them in their struggle, not trying to get them to see MY point of view but rather asking questions more about their image of God and their image of themselves.

It wasn’t until they were able to sit with much of these images in mind in silence at adoration that they realized how forgiven they already are and how loved they are by God, despite failure, despite the past, despite confusion. Once realized, self-worth came flooding the psyche and true healing and more importantly, true living could begin.

My lesson is that Christ is the one who awakens people to themselves, not me. I have the honor of walking people towards seeing Christ more clearly so that Christ can do the healing needed for people to become all that they are. My greatest gifts are often patience and listening for the gentle voice of God within these people, that I can point them to more directly–so that they hear that voice of God in their hearts.

In my new book Loving Work, I recommend trying to find out what you are passionate about and try to harness that passion into a drive for the lives, not necessarily their careers. Some are able to do this well. Others have no clue what they are even passionate about because they’ve never had the freedom to think about what life would be like outside the rat race. Most simply can’t yet hear or feel God’s stirring inside them because their lives are too cluttered with what everyone else thinks they should be doing. It blocks most of what can occur in developing a passion and also drives people into a desperation, where they take what they can get because often they have no other choice. We haven’t given them the luxury of a world where they can find their passion, instead we give them a world where they must find work, any work.

Even McCullough, in the midst of stabbing our supposedly inflated egos, urged us not to do anything that we didn’t love or feel passionate about. You know what? We don’t have that luxury. That idea is a relic of days gone by. We are not the generation that finds itself in creative abandon. We are not the generation that goes off in search of personal fulfillment and the satisfaction of a job well done, only to come back millionaires. We are the generation that takes whatever work we can get, that knows no matter how hard we try we might not succeed. We know our lot, and it’s not nearly as bright as yours. Woodstock? Ha. Like any of us could afford to take time off to lie around smoking and writing songs. Don’t accuse us of your ennui: we’re too busy trying to find a job.

A bit much here, one doesn’t need a Woodstock to discern where God is calling them. What one needs is silence in a world of noise. And that silence is often absent and frightening when they engage with it. Others have filled their lives thus far with the clutter of fake praise, empty promises and one more bad Taylor Swift song. They don’t know whose voice to trust and don’t have enough confidence to trust their own.

Millennials post-college now, more than ever, need mentors who will be patient, who will help them REFORM meaning in their lives, because they have often missed that step thanks to those wisdom figures (well, not really) who simply pushed them to believe not in their own specialness, but in the people that their generation hopes they will become.

It’s time for millennials to shirk off the promises that their parents and teachers offered to them and move into the challenge of becoming free. To engage in solitude with who they most wish to become and where mentors will wait with them, in their freedom to be mentors and to not make it all about the mentor-guru. Tony Robbins wannabes beware. It’s not about you. It’s about THEM.

Read the rest Sierra’s whole note. It’s quite something. And then, listen to some millennials in your life. And gently let them know that you’re there for them.

Loving Work: The New Book

So, I’ve been working on a book with Orbis Press (who has been such a pleasure to work alongside) on discernment regarding work issues. It’s a short book but one that I think will help lots of people understand the ideas behind discernment. It’s filled with stories from my life and others that connect to issues and ideas around discernment.

As time grows a bit closer to the release date in October/November we’ll be pushing this a bit harder. But I have several workshops planned that your parish, diocese, organization can choose from on discernment. Everyone will come away with a process to help them in their individual discernment. Suggestions for spiritual directors and others who help people discern can also be offered.

This was a fun book. It’s a book I always wanted to write and the stories were such fun to recall. Some funny, some tragic, some moving and all of them helpful to the process of discernment.

As we head into the home stretch, we’ll tell you how to buy it.

Millennials Want Spiritual Directors

The Boston Globe reports an uptick in people seeking spiritual directors, especially amongst younger people.

Driving the growth are millennials like Weaver, who are more apt than previous generations to identify as “spiritual but not religious.’’ Ed Cardoza, Weaver’s spiritual director and the founder of Still Harbor, a South Boston nonprofit, mostly sees people in their 20s and 30s.

Some, he says, are evangelical Christians who have a strong relationship with Jesus but realize, after arriving in Boston from the Midwest or South to study, that they differ with their parents’ church over political or sexual issues. Others have little religious background but find themselves undergoing a spiritual awakening and do not know where to turn.

“What you recognize is there’s this growing population of folks who are out of the purview of traditional institutions,’’ Cardoza said.

That’s been my experience for sure. Lots of young people want to make time for this and seek a trusted source to help them make the big decisions of their lives. Some even like a group experience of doing this while others prefer a one to one companion.

The other group seeking direction according to the Globe are people who are thrust into a spiritual search because of traumatic experiences—again proving my book. The $20 is in the main, Boston Globe.

Ardently faithful people of all ages form the other major group seeking spiritual direction. Often, they are confronting a trauma or transition or want to deepen a particular aspect of their faith or practice. Asking their priest or rabbi for spiritual direction is not always an option. Often clergy limit the number of sessions they have with individuals in order to focus on the broader congregation. Many also lack the training to provide the kind of “sacred listening’’ required in spiritual direction.

In a society that is increasingly comfortable hiring experts as private consultants – personal trainers, personal organizers, life coaches – the decision to seek out a personal spiritual director no longer seems as exotic as it once might have.

I am offering this experience in Buffalo for students, faculty and staff and young adults and the occasional non-young adult. It’s been a great blessing for me in my ministry to sit and listen to the stories of others and seeing where they find God and helping them to form their own image of God more tangibly.

The truth of course is that spiritual directors really don’t direct anything. The real director is Jesus, we just companion people and keep them connected to Christ by pointing out where they might be more open and able to see God working in their life.

A young woman who has been one of my directees reminded me that often she’d come to me with the same experience that was troubling her. She felt disconnected for months and she sometimes wondered if direction was working. Together we stuck it out and she started to see glimmers of where God was working in her life and then, while praying in a Eucharistic Adoration service, she encountered the forgiving love that Christ offers her in a new and intimate way.

I think that’s what people really want from spiritual directors. They want someone who points them back to experiences of God and encourages them to remember that consolation is not far off, even when it seems that God is absent in their lives.

Spiritual direction is a ministry of listening. We hear where people are meeting God and try to connect them to that experience. We listen for God’s voice creeping in through the words and situations of individual souls who long for connection with the divine–especially when times are not good and things happen that are unfair or tragic and one just can’t seem to make sense out of it. But ultimately, God is really the director and my job is to point people in God’s direction.

People are often drastically in need of someone to talk to in a disconnected and alienated world. Some even desperately will seek having a spiritual conversation online through email, Skype or Facebook. And since St. Ignatius said allowances should be made for people to experience the spiritual exercises should be made, I find no issue with that kind of relationship in spiritual direction. Or I at least have no issue with experimenting with that.

That said, if you’re looking for a spiritual director, I’d be happy to help you find one–or even be your director if that’s a good fit for us. Spiritual directors international is another good resource.

Spiritual directors have been a blessing for me in my life. I pray that they become a blessing for you as well.