The Rainbow Connection

From Niagara Falls yesterday, a rainbow followed us!

God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come:
I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.
When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds,
I will remember my covenant between me and you and every living creature—every mortal being—so that the waters will never again become a flood to destroy every mortal being.
When the bow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature—every mortal being that is on earth.
– Genesis, Chapter 9

And THAT…kinda reminds me of a song…

Now and At the Hour of Our Death

I enjoy flying but there is that moment where we take off and land that often gives me a slight version of the heebie-jeebies. As the plane picks up speed I make the sign of the cross as does my wife (unless she’s already asleep in which case I make one on her forehead for her). I almost always sit in the aisle because of my long legs and my bad knee. And besides, as Walt “Clyde” Frasier once said, “Always sit in the aisle, never in the widow! Who has ever heard of a plane crashing in the middle?”

Ah! Wisdom!

My friend Fr. Charlie Donohue once told me of a flight he was on days after his ordination that appeared to be headed to its doom—it just dropped quickly for no apparent reason, the masks fell…the whole 9 years.

In other words, your worst nightmare.

They eventually recovered and the pilots came on and assured everyone things were OK. The woman next to him breathed easier and they started talking about the experience. She began to slap him on his arm:

“AND YOU! You-(slap)-were-(slap)-so freaking-(slap-slap-slap)-CALM! How did you do that?”

He replied, “Well I just became a priest a few days ago, so I figured if I was going to die, well then, this would be a pretty good time to do so!”

Other friends had a similar story at a conference. Their plane to Chicago just dropped out of the sky. My friend and then Executive Director of NCYAMA, Michelle Miller, looked at the woman next to her and said,

“Hi we haven’t met yet. I’m Michelle and you’re probably the last person I’m ever going to see–so we should probably be friends.”

Thankfully, they were able to get the nose of the plane up and she reached her destination safely albeit not “uneventfully”. She reported later that she was no longer fearful of flying because “let’s face it, it can’t get worse that THAT.”

At her words I said, “I’m never flying with you! You just jinxed yourself! It could have been a LOT worse! The plane could have crashed!”

“Oh yeah!”

So as summer months lead to travel for many, my friend Ginny Moyer, is no different. Over at her blog she discusses her fear of flying and how it’s different these days because she’s the mom of two young boys.

But as we took off on the second flight of the trip back home, I looked over at Matthew as he pressed his face to the glass and exclaimed over the tiny people below. He was loving it, that swoopy feeling of the plane shifting direction, the novel feeling of being up in the air like a bird. There was no room in him for fear; it literally didn’t occur to him to imagine the worst-case scenarios. And I realized that I wish I were that way. I guess it’s the price of eating the fruit of knowledge, and maturity: I’ve been around long enough to read news stories of plane crashes and airline tragedies. He hasn’t. He’s in that age where it’s nothing but adventure, and excitement. He trusts, completely, that the air will hold him.

He’s got the advantage over me, in other words.

There’s an old saying, sort of a challenge, that I’ve heard often: What would you do with your life if you weren’t afraid?

Perhaps, that friends, is a metaphor for life. Because we’re all afraid of something. Facing our fears is indeed a part of being a mature adult. But it’s also a statement of faith. As Catholics, we should be able to live fearlessly because we believe that God cares for us, forgives us, and that even if we die, God will indeed welcome us, despite our failings to join with God in the beatific vision.

Do not be afraid. The most often used words in the Bible.

And yet many fear dying–or I should say not knowing for certain what lies on the other side of life. The opposite of faith is certainty…and because we are not God we are not certain of just about anything. Faith indeed is risk.

And that indeed can bring on anxiety.

But embracing that fear and walking into it often gives us a passion for life. It betrays our own strength that we might actually be a bit stronger than we actually are. It also, I think, betrays a belief in God–perhaps an unconscious one for many. Because each time we face our fears, even if the worst thing happens, we discover that God will be there for us, now, in this moment and even at the hour of our death.

If we are not afraid, we can accomplish much. What if we weren’t afraid to speak out for the poor–would poverty be eliminated? What if we weren’t so afraid to forgive others who wrong us? Would our world be more peaceful and harmonious? What if we weren’t afraid to stand up for ourselves when someone unjustly accuses us of something? Would we stand a bit stronger and gain the respect of colleagues and adversaries?

The truth is that we are often too afraid to even move. And in that paralysis, we entertain evil, giving it the power to tell us that we are not good enough–perhaps even that we secretly think that God might not care.

Today, let us pray for the strength to able to believe. To know intuitively that God cares for us and to push aside the evil one beckoning us to believe that he just might not. After all, the Devil knows us well and will prey upon our insecurities. May God grant us peace, look not on our sin, but on our faith. And may God protect us from all anxiety and allow us to wait in joyful hope for the day when we see God face to face.

The Pope…On World Youth Day

In his “year in review” Pope Benedict the XVI mentioned much about the recent World Youth Day in Madrid. Rocco Palmo shared his message and you can read all of it here. But here’s my favorite snippet:

I would like to speak of one last feature, not to be overlooked, of the spirituality of World Youth Days, namely joy. Where does it come from? How is it to be explained? Certainly, there are many factors at work here. But in my view, the crucial one is this certainty, based on faith: I am wanted; I have a task in history; I am accepted, I am loved. Josef Pieper, in his book on love, has shown that man can only accept himself if he is accepted by another. He needs the other’s presence, saying to him, with more than words: it is good that you exist. Only from the You can the I come into itself. Only if it is accepted, can it accept itself. Those who are unloved cannot even love themselves. This sense of being accepted comes in the first instance from other human beings. But all human acceptance is fragile. Ultimately we need a sense of being accepted unconditionally. Only if God accepts me, and I become convinced of this, do I know definitively: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being. If ever man’s sense of being accepted and loved by God is lost, then there is no longer any answer to the question whether to be a human being is good at all. Doubt concerning human existence becomes more and more insurmountable. Where doubt over God becomes prevalent, then doubt over humanity follows inevitably. We see today how widely this doubt is spreading. We see it in the joylessness, in the inner sadness, that can be read on so many human faces today. Only faith gives me the conviction: it is good that I exist. It is good to be a human being, even in hard times. Faith makes one happy from deep within. That is one of the wonderful experiences of World Youth Days.

I had travelled to Sydney and to Toronto for the World Youth Day celebration and some experiences were central for me.

The first was the International Flair: All these people coming together and barely any hostility in the air. If only politics ran as smoothly. It goes to show what an attitude of peace can bring. I particularly enjoyed meeting a young man named Allen from Kenya and we’ve kept in touch a bit over the years. His spirituality gave me much hope for the present. Take a listen:

And we thought we had problems. Here is a young man dealing with the care and the financial burdens of people with HIV and AIDS. We need more inspiring people like him.

Additional gratitude goes to a bunch of lovely women from Chicago who I have kept in touch with for the most part. They were all different and had different perspectives on things. Lauren Gaffey (pictured, right) continues to be a colleague at Charis Ministries and is now a young mother. I remember the stress of organizing the trip was getting to her and she embraced me when we met at our hotel. I think we had met in person only once before that. Helping her relieve a bit of stress began the start of a week where we’d grow closer and she’s one of my closest colleagues today.

Brianna (pictured with the reaching Koala, left) also was a colleague who I now simply refer to as “Lil Sis.” We continue to share joys and sorrows, prayers and blessings. She’s found a new ministry through art and studies and even rounds things out by being an enthusiastic barrista at Starbucks. She can lift my spirits with a quick note on any day of the week.

Lori (supporting my bad back on the left) was the wise acre of the group, who always had a smart answer for everything. She could take it and dish it out with the best of them. Her faith is different from mine, hers a bit more traditional, but she often lets me know that she likes that we can have conversations and see one another’s point of view. I think she’s made me a better minister through our friendship and I pray that she brings others to similar places in her ministry.

Lexi (right) was the fun one. She could find a party in the middle of nowhere and her smile lit up every room she’d enter. She would remind us not to take ourselves too seriously and would always challenge me to loosen up a bit. I am grateful that I could recommend her to my alma mater, Fordham, where she now works in student activities.

Melissa (Below) was also one with whom I enjoyed spending time. She talked much of her family and the children in her family especially. Polish by nationality, she had more energy than just about anyone and was always up for something new.

These holy women were my favorite part of World Youth Day. This unexpected joy brought me closer to Christ, to the Magis of my life–to enjoy being with people especially in one on one experiences and in bringing them together prayer experiences where all could share their lives with one another. Some of the deeper experiences of discernment happened for me with them and they made me realize where I am most called in ministry.

So like the Pope, I am grateful for having been loved by God through these experiences. These people brought me to realize who I am most called to be and I hold those experiences close to my heart as I do each of them.

So today I pray for my traveling companions from Chicago. Next year at Wrigley!

Another Loud Cell Phone Train Rider Put In Her Place…

On the Metro North Commuter Rail, which I used to take every day into New York City when I still lived with my parents in Yonkers comes this story which makes me want to give the conductor a raise. When asked to lower her voice and to stop using profanity on her cell phone the woman replied that she wasn’t “a little hoodlum.” And began to prattle off that she was “too educated” to be on this train.

“Well, then, why are you?” Would have been my response.

I guess the Jag was in the shop. This one reminds me of one of my college friends who came from a fairly well to do family and referred to taking the subway as “peasant crap.”

Sigh. Doesn’t it just make you want to send them to Managua for a week to understand real poverty?

But then the real kicker comes from the train conductor…

The person who originally uploaded the video to Youtube (who has since removed it) said in the description that the woman “was talking too loud on the train when the conductor politely asked her to keep it down and stop using profanity or to take it to the vestibule.” After the altercation, the conductor came on the loudspeaker and reminded people to keep conversations quiet, “especially those people who went to Harvard or Yale or are from Westport.”

Pedigree often has no class. I hope the good folks at Harvard and Yale rescind her diploma.

But then she’ll call them and say that they are a bunch of (explitives).

Houston, We Have No Footage

How in the world does this happen?

An exhaustive, three-year search for some tapes that contained the original footage of the Apollo 11 moonwalk has concluded that they were probably destroyed during a period when NASA was erasing old magnetic tapes and reusing them to record satellite data.

“We’re all saddened that they’re not there. We all wish we had 20-20 hindsight,” says Dick Nafzger, a TV specialist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland, who helped lead the search team.

“I don’t think anyone in the NASA organization did anything wrong,” Nafzger says. “I think it slipped through the cracks, and nobody’s happy about it.”

I guess some intern took one giant step too close to the bulk erasing machine without reading the label.

The Last Bastion of Civilized Travel

A doozy from Yahoo News:

A woman who was escorted off an Amtrak train by police this weekend after she allegedly refused to stop talking loudly on her cell-phone has the Internet cheering her fate.
Civilians and quiet-car champions are supporting her ejection for violating policy at high volume during the 16-hour journey. It doesn’t help her cause that she became belligerent when confronted about it by one of her fellow passengers.
KOMO News reports that Lakeysha Beard says she felt “disrespected” by the incident, though passengers said it was Beard who was being rude by refusing to stop yapping while sitting in one of the train’s designated quiet cars. She had not stopped talking since the train pulled out of Oakland, California, 16 hours before it reached Salem, Oregon, when a passenger confronted her about the talking. That’s when Beard got “aggressive,” KATU reports, and conductors stopped the train so that police could remove her and charge her with disorderly conduct.

Amtrak’s quiet car should be standard fare for all trains. I can remember someone talking all smoochy pie on one end of the phone while I tried not to throw up. (Full disclosure: I’m sure my wife and I are “that lovey-dovey couple” whenever we travel together. But at least we’re nauseatingly quiet about it.)

But hearing one end of the conversation is just flat out annoying. I really want to write a one person play called “Conversations on a cell phone.” Some things that I have heard, no lie:

Young woman: “Hi Cheryl. OMG, I have to tell you something (editor’s note–she really said OMG). I went to the movies with Bradley and he took me inside the bathroom and I can’t believe that we (expletive) in the bathroom. I mean he (expletived) the crap out of me. Then we went into a trashy motel and there was a mirror on the ceiling and let me tell you seeing my big (blank) up there was quite a site.”

Finally I turned around and said, “Um honey, we’re in the room too.”

Red faced she ran to the bathroom and finished her conversation and presumably had a cigarette.

A friend one time told me the story of being on a LIRR (Long Island Railroad Train) where a passenger was talking extremely loud on his cell phone. He patiently waited until he ended his conversation and then took his phone out and called his wife. The rest is priceless:

“(Shouting) HI HONEY!”

(Silence)

“Oh no, honey, nothing’s wrong at all. I just wanted to be a jackass on a cell phone.”

A wild cheshire cat grin then came on his face as the rest of the car exploded in applause.

Message received.

May the Road Rise Ever to Greet You….

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Today is graduation day at The University at Buffalo, UB to those of us in the know here. Many of the students who I have come to know are graduating this day. Fortunately, many are sticking around the Buffalo area including Lauren Imbriano who will be a Catholic Volunteer here as well.

A few nights back I was invited to one of my favorites, Zach Tomasik’s, home for a pre-graduation dinner. I assumed this would be a graduation party with his classmates and friends along with his family. Imagine my surprise when I showed up (20 mins late!) and found the house quiet with just his family and him ready for a wonderfully cooked meal that Zach had cooked himself and him at the ready with a prepared grace, thanking each of us for his support throughout his college years.

It was a wonderful night with a great family and made me feel grateful to be just a small part of his college experience and to be appreciated for that.

But the truth is that I do grow close with the students I serve and they become just as much of a part of my life as well. So when Ryan Undercoffer gets into law school, I too, am elated. When Jarrett Steffen tells me that he’s been accepted to the Carmelites, I can’t help but be excited at the prospect of one of our own being amongst the members of the priesthood, especially one who I know has the potential to be a great pastoral leader. Ellen Krasniak heads into further study at our physical therapy school and Marie Hardy studies further as well. Both are great students and more importantly people who care about the least of God’s people.

There’s a whole bunch more that I don’t have time to mention but suffice it to say that I will miss the close contact we have had with these groups of student from this class. It’s difficult to say good-bye to all they have meant to Campus Ministry and so we will just offer them this simple blessing from the Notre Dame Folk Choir:

An Irish Blessing:

May the Road Rise Ever To Meet You
May the Wind Always be at Your Back
May the Sun Shine Warm on Your Face
May the Rain Blow Soft on Your Field
And Until We Meet Again…
May God Hold You In the Palm of His Hand

As Buffalo Celebrates St. Patrick’s…

Today is the Buffalo St. Patrick’s Day parade. The Irish have always had it rough and so, we look to another greenie to provide us a bit of sympathy.

And while we’re at it….

And more seriously…

Happy St. Patrick’s Weekend to all those of Irish descent, especially my father, Michael Sr who is from Waterford, Ireland.