Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. Is Not Jesus And Neither Am I

Fr. Jim Martin, S.J. has a wonderful piece over at the Jesuit Post today on the 5 Best Pieces of Jesuit Wisdom He’s Ever Heard.

My favorite of the 5 pieces has been one that has been spoken to me by my famed Jesuit spiritual directors, Jim Mcdermott, SJ, Rocco Danzi, SJ, and Br. Chris Derby, SJ in some form. It sounds simple but for those of us who truly try to achieve much, and of whom much is asked, we may indeed suffer from a messiah complex. Fr. Jim reminds us that we are indeed not the messiah.

“You’re not Jesus.” After philosophy studies, I worked with the Jesuit Refugee Service in Nairobi, Kenya. It was fantastic work. (Needless to say, I had gotten over my worries about working in the developing world: I asked to go!) But gradually I started to fret about doing all that needed to be done. Our work was helping East African refugees start small businesses, which meant: meeting with them on a regular basis; checking on their businesses (tailoring shops, bakeries, restaurants, chicken farms); helping them navigate their way through government agencies; arranging for them to get medical help when they were sick; and just listening to them. How could I do it all?

After a few months, I confessed to my spiritual director, George Drury, a New England Jesuit stationed in Nairobi, how overwhelmed I felt. “Where did you get the idea that you had to do everything all at once?” he said.

What a dumb question, I thought. Well, I said, that’s what Jesus would do. He would visit them. He would check on their businesses. He would fix their problems. He would help to heal them. He would listen to them. And George said, “That’s true. But I’ve got news for you: you’re not Jesus! No one person can do everything. And even Jesus didn’t heal everyone in Palestine.” Accepting my limitations and my “poverty of spirit,” that is, my own limitations, helped me to do my best and leave the rest up to God.

Later on another spiritual director put it more succinctly: “There is Good news and there is the Better News. The Good News is that there is a Messiah. The Better News is that it’s not you!”

And it’s not me either. I’ve spent the last few days feeling blue that I had to cancel a retreat scheduled for this weekend because there just wasn’t enough interest. One of my colleagues reminded me that on our very secular campus providing a rich spiritual experience might just be a bit too advanced for our students–especially when we offer more than one in a given year. Perhaps smaller steps are called for? The term retreat often connotes “advanced” for many. Our student leaders don’t even think that it’s for them. One even said “I’d rather do habitat than sit around talking with others all weekend,” clearly not understanding the purpose of the retreat or even just being too afraid to be a bit vulnerable with others, preferring “doing over being” and never letting things get too deep with others and just keeping it superficial. It’s Christian Smith’s “Moral Therapeutic Deism”–essentially, a spiritual motto of “Just be nice because that’s all God requires” and not much else. It’s why alternative breaks get sold out quickly and the deeper more spiritual elements take a lot more effort.

Or not…

As a spiritual director I need to pay attention to the fact that these students need great care to open up to these deeper experiences. That I need to be patient with that.

Our students often don’t have the experiences that we have and nor do many even trust us enough to give them more than a free dinner. We are not even close to being trusted sources for many of the students. And I don’t know about you but I’m not going to go away with a bunch of people that I don’t trust. So why should they? More time, more time, much more time is needed to be spent with these students in settings that allow us to talk with them and to deepen their experience of college. Then and only then, will they be able to trust us enough to head away for a day or so on a deepening experience.

I often think that I have to do it all. And the truth is that I can’t. Doesn’t that just suck? God has to work on these people, to open them to the experience of His love and to use us in Campus Ministry where we can be most effective. But people’s conversion to being open depends on them and their openness to what Jesus offers them. I can’t change that and it happens on God’s time, not mine.

I’ve been thinking about the students that I have taken on retreat and sure enough, they’ve been the students who have gotten to trust me through break trips, casual conversation, experiences in classes, or even Sunday mass (imagine that!).

So today I will shake the dust from my feet and head out to gather the medical students for a lunchtime lecture. The few students who were interested in our retreat will get a doodle for a day of reflection down the road. And we’ll start trying to build up the trust factor a bit more. Perhaps by semester’s end next year, we’ll be able to pull off a retreat.

Until then, I’ll let Jesus continue to work on both them and me.

Haiti’s Only Earthquake Engineer

As we think about some of the huge tragic events of the past few years, events that will have lasting traumatic effects on this generation of college students, Haiti’s earthquake is one that I know will come to mind immediately. From Pat Robertson’s stupid comments about how Haitians deserved God’s wrath, to the large numbers of student relief workers who participated in an alternative spring break or another project, to the Haitian students I’ve met who lost friends, family members and watched a country, their country disappear before their eyes.

One person at UB, who I’d like to meet, is Pierre Fouché. The University website tells us his story:

A Fulbright scholar, he had come to UB in 2006 to study earthquake engineering. He had hoped to bring his expertise in seismic design back to Haiti in time to help prevent the kind of disaster that occurred on Jan. 12, 2010.

When the earthquake hit, he was about a year away from completing his PhD.

In a way, he had run out of time. His family survived, but government estimates of the death toll were terrifying: more than 300,000 lives lost.

Fouché forced himself to set dread aside and think about the future.

Eventually, new cities would rise from the rubble: new homes and churches, new shops—new places where new generations of Haitians would make new friends, fall in love and share new memories.

Fouché vowed to do what he could to make those new cities safe. His contributions would be humble—a small part in a massive reconstruction effort.

But he was determined to help.

As one of few Haitians with earthquake engineering training, he fielded media calls from across the U.S. to raise awareness about how substandard, unregulated construction had contributed to the scale of destruction. He talked to National Public Radio and ABC’s “20/20.” He penned a column for CNN describing how proper building codes could have saved lives.

The academy often drives us into action, calling us to make our contribution, taking us beyond the classroom while still holding on to that search for knowledge.

See for yourself:

What ways have people taken their education to that next level, beyond the walls of the classroom to express that search for truth in contributing to the greater good for others? That’s inspiring. That’s wonderful to see. That’s an incredible contribution. But most importantly….

That’s education at it’s finest.

Med School Mornings

I’ve been avoiding heading back to the gross anatomy lab the past few weeks, not because I was uncomfortable around dead bodies, but more because I was uncomfortable around the live ones.

It makes me feel awkward to not be a doctor and to be around med and dental school students who are learning about the human body. I often would feel useless, especially when students don’t “get” what it means to be a Campus Minister. That first day one student asked me if he was making the right kind of cut into his cadaver. Another asked me “Is this a ligament or a muscle?” Fr. Pat, the priest and director of our North Campus Newman Center, has it a bit easier. He actually took the class for a year. He gets a scalpel out and makes cuts! When I’d tell them that I’m not a doctor one or two, actually looked at me like “Well, what the hell are you doing here, then?” And that’s an understandable reaction.

So I had to think about how to be involved with the students beyond the “I’ll catch you if you pass out” phase. Or even the “I’m here if you need to talk phase.” I had to consider my own gifts and talents. I had to consider the students needs.

And I had to not be a pain in the ass to anyone.

So I made “stress guys.” What are stress guys?

Isn’t he cute? And he doesn’t look like me at all! =) He actually has a tuft of purple hair, but mine fell off recently. You can make these yourself with your own logo at National Pen.

He’s a doctor too! See his scrubs! Big teeth for the dental students. And he serves a purpose! He’s a stress ball.

This past Friday, the students had their first exam. So I woke up at the God awful hour of 6:30 (I recognize one 6:30 per day–that one is not it!) to get over to the lab before the students were lining up at 7:45 for an 8AM test.

As they walked in notes in hand, fast-paced and tight as all hell, I threw or handed them “the stress guy.” Reactions were all positive! They ranged from “He’s so cute!” (mostly the females). To “Wow that’s such a great idea!” One dental student said, “This guy is awesome! It’s a shame I’m going to destroy him!” Many laughed. One female student had the best line, “These are so great and they are really helping all of us! Way to go, St, Joe’s. Mike, we have another test on Tuesday. Candy might work there! I’m just sayin!'”

Now that’s a student that I’d like to get to know better. Snarky and smart. And I already bought the candy!

Even the head of the lab, Dr. Dannenhoffer had a positive reaction. “Hey, they like these Cupie dolls!” he bellowed.

My favorite comment came from a student who is involved with us in Campus Ministry already. “Thanks for getting up so early just to give these to us! That means a lot to me. We need your prayers today too.”

I had to replenish my “stress guy stash” after the first section had gone into their exam. I walked across the campus back to my office and as I did an overwhelming feeling of peace came over me. The sun was still rising over the campus and I just stopped and felt such gratitude. It was a feeling of being useful and sharing a bit of my own helpfulness and support. It was also goofy enough to break the tension. I’m sure the students who don’t remember my name will at least remember me as “The Stress Guy.” The counselor/spiritual director side of me knew that sometimes students don’t need an hour of sitting down with me. Some just need a bit of a tension release. The preacher in me felt the spirit of St Francis (or whoever said) say “Preach the gospel at all times. When necessary, use words!” I felt smart, and amongst medical students who are obviously brilliant people, I felt amazingly intuitive and intelligent.

But it’s not about me, it’s about these students.

Being on a secular campus is tough. Nobody goes to UB for the Campus Ministry as they might at Notre Dame or Fordham or Catholic U. So it’s up to me to get them to discover us. Numbers at mass are up this year. So that’s a plus. But it’s not about numbers, it’s about influencing a campus with the spirit of the living, breathing God. The God who breaks our tension. The God who occasionally makes us laugh. The God who is restless and cannot bear to not reconnect with us. The God who stretches out his arms in love and calls us to do the same.

Today, pray for all students and campus ministers that they might be able to influence one another and live in the dynamic tension of University Life.

Reflection – Wedding at Cana: The Turning Power of Jesus

So I’ve got a story about a wedding…

Three days before my wedding…I went down to the restaurant where we were holding our reception to check on some items that I had brought down there for safe keeping just a few days ago. Some picture frames of family weddings that we were going to place around the room. A pair of bride and groom stuffed animals–elephants to be precise. And of course no wedding is complete without favors–and so Mike and Marion had M&M’s wrapped in tewel bags as our wedding favors.

All the plans were in place. Things were moving nicely…except when we got to the restaurant the manager asked to speak to Marion and I “in the back.” Anytime someone asks to speak to you “in the back” that’s never a good sign.

And this was no different. Somebody stole our stuffed animals and an expensive picture frame. And the piece-de-resistance the restaurant had stored our M&M’s n a cabinet and that cabinet had been infested by ANTS who found their way into our chocolate treats! And therefore now the restaurant was crawling with ants as well.

What a mess…

My wedding was a mess – Here’s another mess,

Isaiah has been saying that it’s going to be sunshine and rainbows in Jerusalem–but when the people return back from the exile–it’s a mess.

But Isaiah is not going to budge.. and he predicts now that it will be even better than they imagined. He even says that he won’t shut up until the day that Jerusalem will be the crown jewel of God’s kingdom. That God will rejoice over Jerusalem like a groom rejoices in a bride.

And if that isn’t enough we’ve got another mess…They run out of wine at a wedding. It may not be ants in the chocolate–but it’s still a mess. And we all know what kind of messes weddings can turn out to be. Your aunt says something stupid, your uncle gets drunk, your sister is jealous and can’t stand the bridesmaid dress you picked out and is snotty all day.

So in this case…the wine runs out and when the wine runs out…it’s a big problem because the whole wedding is now at risk. One of the families didn’t take care of things. So the whole thing just might be called off. Imagine a broken hearted bride and a family embarrassed. A fight could break out between the two families, an aunt might say something stupid, an uncle might get drunk and a sister might just get fed up because she’s been in that ugly dress for 3 days day and she’s the one who deserves to be getting married anyway. Ugh, what a mess, what a mess, what a mess.

So Mary sees all this and asks Jesus to intervene as she knows that he could. She looks to Jesus and interestingly asks him to perform his first sign not for her, but to help out someone else.

And Jesus’ response “My hour has not yet come” may very well mean “oh so you think you have problems?” Because let’s face it…Jesus knows that this little family squabble is the least of his problems and the least of this couple’s problems. Life is often a mess. Marriage is often a mess. Human experience indeed is messy.

But because Mary asks and more importantly, because Mary has faith in her son, Jesus changes the ordinary water into choice wine. In fact, there is more than enough–at least 120 gallons–the scripture tells us.

So what does this mean for us? Well… life is no less messy today and we need to turn to Jesus and have the faith that He can indeed turn it around. In fact, when you think about it we do this all the time, even unconsciously, because we’re so confident that our lives will be messy that we turn to this church each week and turn not only wine but bread into God’s body and blood so that we might become what it is that we receive. So that when we leave this building, we might experience Jesus working within us–giving us the strength to turn the mess into joy. When we believe that the turning power of Jesus can indeed change the world–well, that’s when the party can start.

Anyone who’s done a mission trip knows exactly what I’m talking about. Because when we are willing to sweat drops of water for others–we become drunk with passion for those we serve. We help others to turn it all around, to be in the mess of their lives, even if for a moment and then become enraptured with concern for those we serve.

And when we experience the “turning power” of God working in the world, we always have more than enough. And we all have more than enough gifts–St Paul tells today that all of our gifts are important–no matter how different they are from one another.

Our gifts are all good enough for God. But we often don’t believe that. And I’m here to tell you that even when you think that you are a mess…that you’re a sinner, or a bad Catholic, or not good enough–that God is telling you that you are choice wine–the overflowing gift of Jesus to the world. You are more than enough. You are more than gifted.

This semester I’d like you to not only believe that you are gifted but also to share that gift with the world–to heal the world of its own mess.

How? One easy way: Haiti.
This week we have heard a lot about Haiti and the earthquake that destroyed an already poor country–in fact, the poorest in the Western hemisphere where 80% of the people live on less than $1/day.

We don’t take up a collection at this mass, but I want to ask if we can be enough for the people of Haiti. Just $1/day, $365/year is often what people live on in this poor country. We usually have more than that to spare. People lived in the garbage dump before the quake hit their country and I shudder to think what a mess their country is in today. Our leaders both political and religious have asked that we take up a special collection for the needs of Haiti tonight. If you have your cell phone and perhaps you’ve already done this –take them out right now and text HAITI to 90999 that will send $10 to the Red Cross disaster relief fund or if you’d prefer, drop some money in the basket. And if you really can’t afford a $1 or $10–pray for the people of Haiti tonight because that’s a gift too–and it is no less important than giving your dollars.

Secondly. I’d like to ask you to do one more thing: Ask yourself what is your gift? What do you have to offer this church and this campus ministry? We need your gifts and talents and while we’re all busy and tied up with our own studies and activities–can we think of just one thing that we can be involved in here? It might be reading or being a eucharistic minister. It might be going on our retreat or our alternative spring break. It might be working on one of our service initiatives or simply taking an interest in learning more about your faith. We’re not just running a Newman Center but we are thinking about what ways can you turn an ordinary semester of water into a party-filled semester of wine.

Whatever it is–pick at least one thing to get involved in this year and I promise to help you use your gifts for the good of this community and for your own spiritual enrichment. Because that’s my gift–ministering to the needs of students. You’ll get a listing of events tonight that our student leaders who have recognized their gifts have put together for you to get involved in as well.

For when we turn water into wine–we experience God in our life just as he experiences us. It is our gifts that we share with the world that allow us to be a sign to the world that we believe that with God’s help we can indeed change the world. That while disasters strike all around us on many different levels. Ants in the chocolate, a crazy aunt, no wine at the wedding, an earthquake…our God can turn it all around.

And when we let ourselves be turned–when our water of our sweat makes us drunk with passion…we can rebuild the city that will be a crown jewel once again–be it Haiti, Jerusalem or Buffalo. When we are turned, we realize our gifts are more important than our sins. When we are turned we are like a groom and a bride who realize that their wedding day is not the stuff of ant ridden chocolate candy but is only about an overflowing commitment to one another.

When we are turned …We become Jesus…and that is more than enough for all of us.

Milwaukee Bound and Updates in My World

Weather permitting I will be at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, the land of my wife’s sister and her family. Looking forward to speaking over the next few days and being near family. We just took part in the grand family Christmas party (pictured here) last weekend which gathers most of my wife’s large Italian family together. Always a fun time.

So I will attempt to do some blogging from the road, time permitting. Some updates from my new work:

Student leaders are poised for next semester and that makes me happy. We’ve done a lot of thinking about next semester and now I feel a bit more confident for the following semester on UB South.

My colleagues on UB North are looking forward to the opening of their newly built Newman Center next semester as well. So that’s exciting also.

I should start pod and videocasting next semester as well. So stay tuned for that. Toying with some names. I own and have a small website tied to it for brief updates from our ministry but it needs more work, thinkest I. Am really considering “Catholics in the Buff” for its provocative name. “Buff Catholics” or simply “U in the Buff” also sounds good to me.

Most of the students are in graduate school so time is of the essence for many of them, so I am grateful to all of those who dedicate just a bit of their time to the ministry and hope that this will grow over time.

Investing in UB’s Campus Ministry

We had a great fund raising evening last night at St Joseph’s University parish for the UB South Campus Ministry. The evening was a tasting event that included wine, beer, food, desserts, cider and a whole lot more. Many items were up for auction as well. I even scored a pair of prime Buffalo Sabres seats for a not-so hefty sum.

It’s impressive that the “regular parishioners” have made such a huge commitment to Campus Ministry. They bring in a lot of donors and the entire parish comes to the event to support students that many of them don’t even know. They’ve also entrusted that money to me, in a way, to do programming that would be worth the investment that they have made. It’s humbling and a huge challenge.

In 1991, the diocese asked the parish to become a University Parish and it would have been very easy for the parish to balk at that prospect. But they didn’t. They took on the challenge of that merge extremely well and made a commitment to be part of something bigger.

Their commitment shows. Now my job begins with the search for new and better student leadership and further engagement with different programming for the students.

Special thanks goes to Marianna Moffitt and her family for not merely taking the lead in putting this fund raiser together but for making it an elegant event and doing all of the work to pull it off. She is a dynamo and we are thankful to have someone so generous with her time and resources working for the needs of the students.

Today let us pray for all of those benefactors who serve the needs of ministry and often go unseen. We need you. We need your talent and your time and yes, we need your dollars too.

Think about donating to your favorite ministry today…

And then go do it.

UB Students Rock!

A capacity crowd came over for dinner on the North Campus last night and a good deal of students stayed to hear lil’ ol’ me talk about discernment. Great insights were shared around the tables and I felt good about it…this was an abbreviated version of a talk I’ve been giving for the past 9 years but I felt like people were attentive and engaged.

In particular, there is a small group of students from the South Campus who made their way over to the North side who stayed to hear me, their campus minister. Now that’s dedication and a nice vote of support. I can tell that they’ve been waiting for someone to start ministering on this campus. So we’ll hit the ground running this weekend.

My job is going to be challenging as the folks who come regularly will need to be accentuated by others who can bring different gifts and help provide us with some different activities. Then we start to get a critical mass. But the folks who are already engaged are so nice and so dedicated to being part of the ministry that I know that they will be a great help in helping me to engage the rest of the campus.

There are 27,000 students on UB’s campus. 50% of them are Catholic. Take another 50% and that makes about 6750 Catholics on one campus which is a huge pool to shoot for. I’ve got a lot of work to do.

I loved the fact that the students asked me what possessed me to come to Buffalo from NYC. I replied that the job was open and the great Patty Bubar Spear who is our youth minister encouraged me to apply. Another friend Ann Marie from the Center for Ministry Development also has an office at our church, so I was enthused by the possibility of working with them and then when I met the rest of the staff I just knew it was a good fit.

But the real answer is that I’m here for them. That God has led me to realize that I’m called to be a pastoral minister for young people. To guide them in their prayer, to give them opportunities to serve others, to lead them on retreat and to simply give them an opportunity to socialize with people they are proud to be associated with.

We’ll start feeding people soon and then the numbers will start to jump. It will take some time to learn the place but that’s not an excuse. The Spirit waits for nobody and I think it’s already beginning to flourish here. A huge hat tip to Katie Trapp, my colleague over on North Campus who has done such a great job and whom I will have much to learn from and much to share with as well.

Sunday is a big day. I get to do a reflection on the Gospel and on World Youth Day.