When You Survive a Shooting Only to Be Killed in Another

The Colorado movie theatre shooting gives us just one more look into the lives of young people who’s generation is marked by a number of random acts of violence. It’s so rampant in their lives that one person could in fact have been present at more than one random shooting now.

And I’m not talking about someone who lives in a gang infested area–that’s obvious. Two of my colleagues from my former career in sports pointed me towards this story of Jessica Ghawi, also known as Jessica Redfield, an aspiring sportscaster and prolific tweeter.

Ghawi was one of the 12 killed by a madman who threw tear gas into a movie theater filled with people about to watch the Dark Knight Rises. Sadly, Ghawi also was in Toronto at the Eaton Center Shooting just about a month ago and survived because she “felt funny” and went outside.

She blogged about being at the Eaton Center at the time.

What started off as a trip to the mall to get sushi and shop, ended up as a day that has forever changed my life. I was on a mission to eat sushi that day, and when I’m on a mission, nothing will deter me. When I arrived at the Eaton Center mall, I walked down to the food court and spotted a sushi restaurant. Instead of walking in, sitting down and enjoying sushi, I changed my mind, which is very unlike me, and decided that a greasy burger and poutine would do the trick. I rushed through my dinner. I found out after seeing a map of the scene, that minutes later a man was standing in the same spot I just ate at and opened fire in the food court full of people. Had I had sushi, I would’ve been in the same place where one of the victims was found.

My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rung out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.

I walked around the outside of the mall. People started funneling out of every exit. When I got back to the front, I saw a police car, an ambulance, and a fire truck. I initially thought that maybe the street performer that was drumming there earlier had a heart attack or something. But more and more police officers, ambulances, and fire trucks started showing up. Something terrible has happened. I overheard a panicked guy say, “There was a shooting in the food court.” I thought that there was no way, I was just down there. I asked him what happened. He said “Some guy just opened fire. Shot about 8 shots. It sounded like balloons popping. The guy is still on the loose.” I’m not sure what made me stick around at this point instead of running as far away from the mall as possible. Shock? Curiosity? Human nature? Who knows.

Standing there in the midst of the chaos all around us, police started yelling to get back and make room. I saw a young shirtless boy, writhing on a stretcher, with his face and head covered by the EMS as they rushed him by us to get him into an ambulance. The moment was surprisingly calm. The EMTs helping the boy weren’t yelling orders and no one was screaming like a night time medical drama. It was as if it was one swift movement to get the boy out of the mall and into the ambulance. That’s when it really hit me. I felt nauseas. Who would go into a mall full of thousands of innocent people and open fire? Is this really the world we live in?

This is too eerie and ironic to not be true unfortunately. This young woman at the start of her young career could have been gunned down a month ago and then ends up being randomly killed because she decided to go to a movie. I wonder if her “spidey sense” tingled again in the theatre last night only to ignore it this time around?

Some friends on Facebook and I’m sure more around the world are angry and hope to see the killer executed. Colorado reinstated the death penalty in their state in 1975 and three people await that penalty on death row in Carson City. None of their deaths will bring back the lives of those that they have killed (Two are accused of murder and another of conspiracy to one of the murders) and neither will that happen in this case. Capital punishment does not restore justice. What it does do is perpetuate evil. Evil wants us to go to that hopeless place where all that can be present is violence and revenge.

The killer whose name I won’t print because he doesn’t deserve any notoriety, should be punished obviously and I hope he gets put away in prison for a very long time to pay for his crime. That’s justice. But it is unjust for us to kill someone and disguise the same act that was committed as justice.

Today let us pray for the victims and for peace in our streets and in our hometowns and in the world. May we move away from evil and into God’s peace. But let us also pray for ourselves—that we do not let anger get the best of us and that we can move into a world where violence does not beget more violence and where we can learn to offer grace in the face of evil.

And for Jessica, especially, may you rest in the arms of God, who redeems you this day and holds you closely forever. And may our young people one day live in a world where they need not worry about simply going to see a movie or grabbing sushi at a mall.

Having A Pet Makes You Healthier and Makes Ministry Stronger Too

Told ya so. From WebMD:

People in stress mode get into a “state of dis-ease,” in which harmful chemicals like cortisol and norepinephrine can negatively affect the immune system, says Blair Justice, PhD, a psychology professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and author of Who Gets Sick: How Beliefs, Moods, and Thoughts Affect Your Health.

Studies show a link between these chemicals and plaque buildup in arteries, the red flag for heart disease, says Justice.

Like any enjoyable activity, playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties, he tells WebMD.

“People take drugs like heroin and cocaine to raise serotonin and dopamine, but the healthy way to do it is to pet your dog, or hug your spouse, watch sunsets, or get around something beautiful in nature,” says Justice, who recently hiked the Colorado Rockies with his wife and two dogs.

Agreed. There’s nothing like running or walking with my dog, Haze while the sun sets. Marion joins us sometimes for a family walk as well. He gets to go out three times a day and I usually do the morning and evening walks. On days I don’t get to the gym I at least walk an extra time with Haze during the day, sometimes sneaking away for a quick jaunt during the work day if I’m traveling between campuses.

But how, might you ask has haze furthered my ministry?

I have but five examples of things my dog reminds me of each day. They all have made me a better minister:

1) Hospitality: No matter what Haze gets up and runs to the door every time I come home (or when anyone comes over). Sometimes he’s sleeping and he wakes up and makes his way over a bit more slowly but he still comes over. He’s excited to see a friend at the door and I put my hand down to him and he lowers his head in submission. This can be translated loosely from dog language into English as: “My house is your house, what can I do for you.”

2) Empathy: If I’m having a bad day or if I’m simply sad, Haze will jump up on my lap, give me a quick lick on the face and then settle in to my lap and simply be there with me. Somedays he just sits next to me touching my leg to feel the heat from me (Chihuahuas get cold) and we share a symbiotic relationship. He gets heat and I get to pet him and calm down.

3) Care for the Elderly: There’s two little old men in our neighborhood who Haze visits regularly on his walks. The first one gives him cookies and Haze can’t pass his house without bounding happily even if he’s not around. The second is man with a deep drawl who asks Haze to talk to him each time he comes around. Haze yaps happily knowing intuitively what he wants. Today, in fact, he ventured over to him and got a nice back scratch for a long time while we all talked together. That dog has made me a lot of friends.

4) Give thanks for food: All I have to say is “Haze? Food?” or “Haze? Treat?” and he jumps up like it’s the only meal he’s ever going to get. I often imagine people who are hungry are quite thankful for food, any food. The joy of being fed is always joyful. Am I as joyful for my meals?

5) Forgiveness: I once clipped Haze’s skin in his harness and he yelped uncontrollably for a few minutes and when I’d try to release the harness, he’s snap at me because I was hurting him further. Finally I jimmied the thing off of him bringing relief and he ran away from me into his crate. I thought the dog would never want anything to do with me again. I sat on my couch and cried because I had hurt the dog. He came running up to me and literally started licking the tears out of my eyes. “It’s OK pal. It’s over.” I do believe that God forgives us the same way. Our sins are completely eliminated and we have no need to hold on to our past. Don’t we all sometimes hold resentments against others? God doesn’t. God completely forgives us 100%–no lingering of resentment is there. Dogs do the same thing reminding us of God’s mercy and how we’re called to the same kind of forgiveness.

So I am better… a better minister in the church, a better husband (after all, my wife got the dog for me), a better friend…and healthier to boot because of my dog. I’m so glad that Chihuahuas live a long time, but even a dog with a short life can bring joy that lasts forever.

So what are you waiting for? Go rescue a dog. And you’ll get a friend who’ll make you just a bit better than you already are.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Chaput Shakes Up Philly Archdiocese

Hat tip to Deacon Greg who exclusively reported on this from the Catholic Media Conference in Indianapolis where Archbishop Chaput announced the following:

From Philly.com

On Thursday, Chaput announced deep and drastic cuts for the church back here in Philadelphia, including 45 layoffs, the consolidation of several offices and ministries, and the elimination of its print newspaper, the Catholic Standard & Times, a very old reading habit for local Catholics.

“It’s the end of an era,” said Susan Matthews, a former Standard and Times editor who runs the Catholics4Change.com website. “With over a million Catholics in the city, it was not only a source for news but for historical records.”

In a news release issued Thursday, the Archdiocese said it would be closing the paper and suspending the production of its monthly magazine, Phaith.

The diocese said the website CatholicPhilly.com would continue to be the official source of news for the Archdiocese.

We all know this is because Archbishop Chaput smartly is looking ahead in anticipation of further financial troubles down the road because of the sex abuse cases that will soon make Boston look like a day at the beach.

However, this further piece troubled me greatly and will go overlooked:

The Archdiocese will merge or combine 19 offices and ministries. The Office of Youth and Young Adults, which operates the Catholic Youth Organization, will close, though the Archdiocese said the youth sports programs will continue on “with no change on the local level.”

Right. Because God forbid kids can’t play soccer, while legions of 20 and 30 something adults go without an official office at the diocesan level and largely go ignored in parishes. I hope when he realigns these offices he smartly puts young adults and campus ministry together as opposed to youth and young adults which are hardly the same thing.

This is not a time to ignore the very group that has been affected by the sexual abuse crisis. And because Archbishop Chaput is a smart guy, I will trust that while the Archbishop has closed the young adult office he’s also transferring the responsibility of caring for youth and young adults to someone else’s job within the Archdiocese. Let’s pray that THEY make young adults a continued priority because their list of priorities is going to be lengthy.

That said, this also is an opportunity for Philadelphia’s young adults and individual young adult ministry organizations at the parish and vicariate levels. You need to step up and plan something big on your own to ensure that young people are heard in the diocese and more importantly to show your bishop that you can be self-sustaining in this time of trouble, financially and otherwise. Know of my prayers and know that my phone is always on for you should you want to bounce ideas off me. Busted Halo® has young adult ministry in a box which could prove to be a very valuable resource for you at this juncture.

So today let’s pray for Philadelphia Catholics. May they be able to be served well and trust that God will see them through the tough times.

Retrenchment or Renewal? How About Neither?

NCR has an excellent article by John C. Sivalon, M.M. on the upcoming “assault” that is expected on theologians as the Vatican starts the “year of faith.” Fr. Sivalon does a nice job in outlining how different factions in the church view Vatican II. Something we pointed out in a similar way here last week.

The hermeneutic of mission sees in the documents of Vatican II an attempt by the Church to rediscover in its past the kernels of fresh understandings and ecclesial structures that respond more authentically and relevantly to what the Council called the modern world. This hermeneutic sees the Council Fathers confirming tradition as a foundation upon which faith can continually build and grow as its context changes. It also sees God as continually present in history and culture, graciously offering new perceptions for understanding and interpreting the fullness of revelation.

The hermeneutic of retrenchment, on the other hand, sees in the documents of Vatican II the restatement of ossified doctrines in language that can be understood by the modern world. The hermeneutic of retrenchment regards tradition as a wall which functions to deter erroneous understandings. It also tends to see the modern context of the world negatively, often assigning to it labels such as secularism, relativism or pluralism. As Benedict says, “whereas in the past it was possible to recognize a unitary cultural matrix, broadly accepted in its appeal to the content of the faith and the values inspired by it, today this no longer seems to be the case in large swathes of society, …” The hermeneutic of retrenchment, hence, longs for the past; for an idealized age of Christendom.

Ricky Manalo, CSP, a Paulist priest recently pointed out at a gathering in New York. something valuable about Vatican II that we so easily forget. Vatican II was the church’s response to MODERNISM. But within that council, POST-MODERNISM was beginning to climb into their present day. In some ways, Vatican II was outdated before it even began to be implemented, and yet, much of it was such a breath of fresh air for the church and was well received not merely by Catholics but by the general population.

I have no pre-conciliar experience being born in 1970. My students also do not have that experience either. What we long for is not a retrenchment theology, which reaches back to a time before we could fathom. Nor do we long for renewal theology. Renewing modernism isn’t what’s called for here.

Fr. Sivalon continues his thought by bringing up what he believes is the Vatican’s next move towards insuring retrenchment:

Thus, the action against LCWR and the other actions against loyal voices of faithful Christians open to discerning God’s wisdom in modern culture, should be seen as initial forays of shock and awe to soften the strongest areas of resistance, before the actual onslaught begins. That major assault is scheduled for October of 2012, with the opening of the Synod of Bishops on the “New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith.” The first working paper (Lineamenta) for this synod clearly sets forth the target of “New Evangelization.”

But will this Synod be a reaction to post-modernism or just more thoughts on modernism? It seems to me that we’re still addressing matters from 100 years ago.

Guess what? Few care.

Speaking for myself, I would simply say that what I hope for is something that looks forward rather than back to the 1960s or long before that. What we need is an Ecumenical Council that meets not for renewal but for progression forward into a new age. The Post-modern age has moved well beyond modernism. A quick look at art world even show us how much. What I long for these days is a church that can stop arguing with itself and instead draft an argument for simply believing in Christ today. Why should anyone, young or old, consider Christ in a post-modern world? My students more easily chuck religion altogether in favor of rational science because religion these days, especially the Christian religion, looks quite irrational, from the loony evangelical Christians, to the inner fighting in Catholic circles, to the liberal Protestants who cam’t seem to define themselves well either. It’s why so many eschew religion and simply pick Jesus or some amorphous kind of deism to follow privately. While this lacks community, a needed element of religion in my opinion, participating in community often comes at too high a cost and the search for a good community takes too long and often falls well short of expectation.

Often a priest friend of mine likens his job as a pastor to being the first mate on a ship. The ship is sailing well and everyone’s having a good time on board doing their jobs or simply enjoying the ride. But then he looks back and finds the captain in the back of the ship with a shotgun blowing holes in the back of the boat. Now we’re taking on water and the ship in sinking and we’re going nowhere fast.

Not to point fingers, but it seems to me that there’s not much creative and exciting leadership on either side here. Instead we have one voice saying that the progressive nature of this council hasn’t yet been completely implemented.

To which I would reply “Great! That means we’re only about 150 years behind!”

The other side says, “Ugh! Why did we even have that council? They screwed everything up! We need to look back before the council for the true church and just wasn’t that a grand time for Catholics?”

To which I would reply, thanks for pushing us back another 100 years or so.

It seems to me that we need the young to rise above all the arguments from the past two generations and actually define what it will mean to be Catholic. The problem is that the co-opting has already begun with folks from both camps trying to snatch up folks from either side and keeping them firmly entrenched.

Perhaps what the church really needs is to not open a window as they did with Vatican II, but to open the doors and welcome the voices of the young who are outside of our experience for the most part and to listen to their longings and what they wish to express. The young will need a plan to bring the church into the PRESENT–not the future and certainly not the past—because we are the church right now and we need the church to address the problems of the present age, not the past.

So we need to let go of our agendas and simply listen. Time to drop the retrenchment and drop the renewals and move into progressive ministry that addresses Christ in PostModern culture.

Or we can allow the church, to become an old dinosaur that’s stuck in the mud, unable to move beyond itself or speak to a new age.

That indeed will be tragic. I hope I can continue to contribute to a more progressive conversation, but most of the time I’m labelled as “too conservative” by those in renewal camps or “way too liberal” by those who seek retrenchment.”

That leads me to believe that I’m on to something–and the students who are active and who keep out of the firestorm and simply worship, serve and profess their faith in so many ways in the postmodern world today, just might be able to save this church.

And I pray that they do.