Dec 31, 2009

Cloudy and Mild

For those concerned, I want to let you know that the situation in question has resolved somewhat. Not greatly, so ongoing prayers are needed but for now, it seems as if not more headway can be made. Suffice it to say, that while this was not a great resolution, for now, things are restful as we head into 2010.

Thanks for all the prayers and good wishes and even a few phone calls from close friends. Those went a long way with us.

For the coming year---I wish you peace.

Upcoming: A look back on a decade!

Happy 2010!

Hope your New Year is as good as my 2009 was.

From left to right top row:

1) My high school reunion which we planned on facebook. Class of 1988 Saunders HS in Yonkers. Awesome to see these folks again.
2) Where I always felt close to God--on a BustedHalo Retreat. Here in the library at Oak Ridge was the last team that I trained to lead a retreat. They are some of my favorite people. Jay, Jonathan, Maria, Kathryn, Joan, Abigail and Diane
3) A great happy picture of Haze the dog
4) Interviewing Paul Jarzembowski of NCYAMA with Pope Benedict XVI standing nearby.

Second row
1) Me taking the tour of the Mets' new home Citi Field.
2) At the after-party of Charis Ministries partners conference. Briana Colton, Fr. Mike, Jenene Francis, Catherine Mifsud and me.
3) On tour in Baton Rouge with my book.
4) St Joseph University Parish rolls out the welcome wagon

Third row
1) My beloved Marion and I at the family Christmas party
2) In Chicago with my world youth day compatriots: Briana, Melissa and Lori: Blessed art thou amongst women!
3) Christmas 2009 with Santa Claws, better known as Haze the Dog.
4) Citi Field with the old Shea Stadium Apple with college buddies Vic and Kevin.

Fourth Row
1) Blogger's Breakfast with Fran Rossi Szpylczyn and Paul Snatchko.
2) My wife, Marion and I at the breast cancer walk where we walked for our cousin and survivor, Angela.
3) Scoreboard at the first-ever Mets game at Citi Field.
4) Panel discussion at Catholic U with Melissa Cidade

Dec 30, 2009

Prayers Continue as my Patience Grows Thin

Blogging may be light in the next few days, although I will try to continue to keep things on pace. The aforementioned situation has not resolved as nicely as I would have preferred. In fact it is still a horrendous situation. Sorry to be so mysterious, but it's a private matter.

For today, I ask that prayers continue for my wife, for family and for the situation in general and all those involved.

For now, I'm praying for patience and wisdom and today's gospel has provided me with at least a small moment of solace:

There was a prophetess, Anna,
the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
She was advanced in years,
having lived seven years with her husband after her marriage,
and then as a widow until she was eighty-four.
She never left the temple,
but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer.
And coming forward at that very time,
she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child
to all who were awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem.

While we wait with much prayer for a hopeful resolution may we be blessed with Anna's patience and rewarded with the joy of witnessing that redemption that Christ brings to us all. We pray especially for this situation that we find ourselves in and ask that it be resolved safely and swiftly. We ask this through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

Discerning Priesthood: Kicking and Screaming

Tom Gibbons, CSP, a Paulist Seminarian and all around great guy has been blogging for BustedHalo on his experience as a seminarian. Today's edition was quite good. A snip:

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail… and ex-girlfriend no less… about a new television show that was going to be on that weekend: God or the Girl. The show is a four part series about four young men going through the discernment process for the priesthood, and at the end of the series they would each come to a decision. Gerry, knowing that discerning had been a big part of my life a few years ago sent me a link to the web site with the subject line, “Are you going to watch?”

Discerning religious life had been a big part of my life for over ten years, but two years before I had finally come to the conclusion that it was not for me; the idea of not having a family was too hard for me, emotionally or intellectually, to comprehend. So when I looked at the web site for the show and read about the stories of the four guys on the show I thought, “Yeah, I remember when I was thinking about that… Man that really sucked.” I turned off my computer and headed upstairs for bed.

Except that I couldn’t get to sleep… all night. Thoughts about the priesthood kept rolling around my head, emotions I thought I had put aside two years ago started coming back, and realizations about my life suddenly pushed through my conscious. Half way through the night, despite whatever things I wanted to do in life, despite the fact that I was still in love with Marie, despite very real reservations I have about the current state of the Church, and despite the fact that this would be totally up-ending my life, God was telling me...

Get the rest of this story here and a hysterical take on wedding gifts and ordination gifts as well.

And pray for our seminarians while you're at it. As the year ends they are often fraught with a number of discerning questions.

Dec 29, 2009

Today, I Need Prayers

OK folks, as many of you know I'm pretty naked on this blog and share a lot of personal information here. I try not to be inappropriate in my self-disclosure but at the least, I let you know what I'm going through and hope that you, dear readers, will empathize and perhaps even feel some resonance with the things you deal with in your own life. From where I sit, it is like a small group on a retreat without the confidentiality part. I share, you respond in the public square that is within this space.

Today however, I'm simply going to ask for prayers. The situation that I'm facing is a family issue and in the interest of privacy I'm going to withhold what the issue is and who it relates to. I will say that it does not involve my wife or I directly (or our dog!) but it is seriously worrisome for us and for our family. Suffice it to say, we're hoping for a good result to a situation tomorrow and so I'm asking for prayers for that today.

Today's Gospel speaks of Simeon who waited years for a situation to come to pass. May today we have that kind of patience that allows us to bear all things and like Mary, who has her heart pierced, as Simeon predicted, may we be able to bear any pain associated with this situation with humility. It is Jesus who saves both Simeon and Mary with the redemptive love that only God can bring.

And so, we pray:

Lord, if it be your will, allow this situation to resolve itself tomorrow. May our family trust in your love and care for us and through the intercession of all the saints and holy people that I have come to love and regard as partners in prayer (Fr Isaac Hecker, St. Ignatius, St Dymphna, St. Joseph, and St Paul the Apostle) may you help us through this difficult time for our family. For those who read this blog, I only ask that you hear their prayers and give to them what they truly need in their lives. We ask all this in the name of Jesus the Lord who can do all things for those who ask for His assistance. Amen.

Dec 28, 2009

Pope Attack Video

American Papist has this exclusive:

Papist goes on to say:

"[The pope] was down for about 30 seconds total, and he appeared to be just fine when he got up. A guy yelled "Viva il Papa!" and everybody started cheering and clapping, and the Holy Father continued up to the altar and proceeded with Mass. Some of the people near us seemed a little shaken, but the Pope sure didn't."

A terrible incident to be sure and how the woman gets so close is beyond me especially when she made a similar attempt in the past. We should pray not only for the Pope but for this woman who suffers dreadfully with mental illness.

I hope that security gets tighter for our Pontiff but not to the point where he seems distant from his flock.

Named After St Joseph

As a parishioner of St. Joseph's University Parish in Buffalo these days, I was particularly disappointed to not be able to go to mass there on the Feast of the Holy Family. After all, St Joseph has no lines in the bible and has a feast day that is royally overshadowed on March 19th by the great feast of St Patrick just two days earlier. So Joseph is inclined to take any feast day that he gets a mention!

One of the more remarkable stories that I've heard on the Feast of the Holy Family comes from my good friend, Fr. Ron Franco, CSP. This Sunday, since we were visiting friends and family in NYC, I went to the Church of St. Paul the Apostle (the Paulist motherhouse and the church that Marion and I were married in) and was hoping that perhaps this story would get a repeat performance in his homily. Alas, the good Father was not presiding. However, I will do my best to recall his story.

Back in the day, Fr. Ron's grandmother was pregnant and she decided that she was going to name the baby after St. Joseph. Unfortunately, she miscarried. Pregnant again, she again vowed to name the baby after the foster-father of Jesus. But after a second miscarriage, she cried out, "That St. Joseph is a jinx! Never again, will I EVER name a child after St. Joseph."

Who could blame her really?

When she became pregnant again the question presented to her was how was she going to decide the name of the baby since St. Joseph was persona non grata?

"That's easy," she replied. "I will just name the child after the saint whose feast is on the day that she or he is born!"

A simple solution, to be sure. However, when the baby was born on March 19, that idea presented her with a conundrum. St. Joseph's Day. The dreaded jinx. But true to her word, Fr. Ron's grandmother gave her little girl the promised name. And so she became Fr. Ron's Aunt Josephine.

But even more remarkable was that Fr. Ron's grandmother renwed her faith with a great devotion indeed to St. Joseph.

I too, have been quite close to Josephs in my own life. My parent's were married in St. Joseph's Church in Yonkers and I too, was baptized there. My college roommate and close friend is named Joseph. My financial adviser is named Joseph. And the young man who has been such a joy for me to listen to in spiritual direction as his director when I often feel very close to God the most is in fact, also named Joseph. And now I embark on a new phase in my life at a church where Joseph is the patron.

An interesting character, St. Joseph has no lines spoken in the gospels. We know he was a craftsman or artisan of some kind, some say a carpenter, but others say he was a bit more than simply a worker of wood. And indeed his life was one insurmountable task after another. It's no wonder that Fr. Ron's grandma was able to reacquaint with the great saint after some time of trouble.

Joseph was promised that Mary would be his wife and then, one day, out of the blue, she ends up pregnant. Joseph's first reaction is to say simply, "Oh well. I'll just end this marriage deal quietly and fade out of the picture." We gloss over the fact that by law, Joseph had the right to stone Mary to death. Instead he shows mercy and restraint. I like to imagine Joseph tearfully, considering whether he should stone this woman that perhaps he has come to love, that in his old age he was looking forward to marrying. He can't bear to even think of doing that and so he walks away. It is great foreshadowing for a later gospel story of the woman caught in adultery who Jesus forgives and in fact, saves from stoning.

Joseph chooses to simply back out. But during what was no doubt a restless sleep, Joseph's insecurities play out in a dream. God comforts these insecurities by telling Joseph those words that we hear more than any other words in the bible: "Do not be afraid." In this case, God tells him to take Mary into his home and to raise this son who he will name Jesus.

The man who wanted nothing to do with this relationship, who was dismissive of the whole thing, now becomes the protector of God himself. God places His human body in the strong sure hands of a simple carpenter who indeed designed the plan that would keep both Jesus and Mary safe indeed, especially in a poor society where infant mortality was very high and where people didn't always live into their 30s.

Besides all this, imagine having to teach God! Imagine throwing a baseball to God and telling Him that he throws like a girl that first time out? Imagine teaching him how to make a chair--when you know full well that he probably knows 27 better and faster ways to do it? Imagine worrying if you were teaching him anything at all, or if you were actually doing a good job of protecting God from the ills of society? Would Joseph have to punish Jesus for being late? Would he have to help him discern his vocation in life? Would he be upset at his new ideas and his choice of ministry?

Joseph indeed has it tough.

But the fact that Jesus and Mary live as long as they do in no small way is due to this hidden saint. Joseph the silent provider does his job without any fanfare. We don't hear much about Joseph after the infancy narratives. We presume him to be dead during Jesus' passion and death because he is not with Mary at the foot of the cross. Joseph doesn't live to see God's plan fulfilled. But in my imagination, I often fantasize about Joseph sitting at the right hand of God the Father after the Ascension and after standing up, he runs, embraces his son and says, "Here you go, Son, I made this chair just for you."

Could we be that unassuming? Could we trust that God has the plan for us when we can barely understand what is going on around us, when all seems strange and unexpected?

Could we take such good care of God and moreover, do we let God take good care of us?

Today my prayer is one of imagination. I imagine Joseph in his old age being comforted by a sad Jesus at his deathbed. I think it is there that Joseph got a special gift. He got to see God seconds before his death and then again seconds after it. May we all be comforted by Jesus in our final hours and each day that we live to serve God with all that we are...

Even when times seem difficult.

Dec 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields
and keeping the night watch over their flock.
The angel of the Lord appeared to them
and the glory of the Lord shone around them,
and they were struck with great fear.
The angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid;
for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy
that will be for all the people.
For today in the city of David
a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.
And this will be a sign for you:
you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes
and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel,
praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Dec 24, 2009

R.I.P. Schilllebeeckx

Influential Dutch theologian Edward Schilllebeeckx has died of natural causes today at the age of 95.

NCR has the story

Schilllebeeckx was one of the most influential theologians during and after the Second Vatican Council, interpreting the meaning of the council to Catholics throughout the world. He was a major supporter of the reforms that came out of the council. His books were translated into many languages.
After being educated by the Jesuits, Schillebeeckx entered the Dominican Order in 1934. He studied theology and philosophy at the University of Louvain. In 1941 he was ordained to the priesthood.
During the Second Vatican Council, Schillebeeckx was one of its most active theologians. He drafted various council interventions for Dutch bishops such as Cardinal Bernard Jan Alfrink. Because he had been a "ghost writer" for the Dutch bishops' pastoral Letter leading up to the council in 1961, he was rendered suspect with the Congregation of the Holy Office, led at the time by Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani.

While the Vatican rejected some of his ideas, Schilllebeeckx avoided censure from the authorities. His ideas on Eucharist and priesthood challenged the idea that the two are absolutely intertwined, noting that this was not an absolute in the early church and more importantly that the current linkage was keeping people away from the Eucharist.

A frequent visitor to the United States, Schilllebeeckx had much contact with young adults and noted smartly:

... that most young Catholics are “choosing their own vision of Christianity.” He said he feared the institutional church did not “have enough movement toward Jesus Christ.” And he spoke about his soon-to-be-published book, a collection of 60 of his homilies, with a title still being fine-tuned: something like Weren’t Our Hearts Burning Within Us: Theology as a Model for Proclamation.
As for the future, Schillebeeckx is optimistic, “always optimistic.”
“I believe in God and in Jesus Christ,” he said, as if to ask: “And what else would one need?”

Indeed, Rest in Peace.

Brooklyn Diocese: Currents Studio Collapses

The holidays often bring with it unexpected disasters. In this case I received this horrible note from our friend and fellow blogger Deacon Greg Kandra, who I often refer to on this blog as "the good deacon." Deacon Greg recently left CBS TV where he worked for many years to take over a budding new TV operation with the Brooklyn Diocese at Net TV as their news director. He has been producing a show called Currents on the diocese's NET TV (New Evangelization Television). As opposed to many other efforts in "Catholic TV" Currents' set looked extremely professional and their staff were the consummate broadcasters. Read below and be heartbroken.

(Here) you see a photograph taken on the afternoon of Tues, Dec 22, of what remains of our beautiful studio.

At 3 o'clock, just as we were set to start taping the show, the anchors and I were chatting in the studio, going over copy, when we heard a loud "thump" on the roof. Must be reindeer, someone joked. Ha ha. We got ready to start and we heard a louder THUMP, and the lighting grid began to tremble and groan, and it looked for all the world like the roof was about to cave in. "Get out!," one of the technical directors yelled. We scrambled, grabbed our things, and streamed out into the parking lot. No one could figure out what was going on. Someone called 911 and the fire crew went in and looked around. The rest of the grid had started to come down right after we fled the building. Part of the interview set was damaged. Fortunately no camera equipment was hit. It was a miracle no one was hurt.

Long story short: the studio is out of commission for about three months. Maybe longer.

We're figuring out a Plan B for continuing to tape "Currents" in the new year.

I'm not one to solicit funds often, and Deacon Greg is probably too proud to ask for this himself. So if you've got a Christmas shekel to spare, drop them a donation here.

Although It's Been Said...Many Times, Many Ways...

Nothing was quite like this Christmas break...

Actually it wasn't quite Christmas break, I was a college freshman and they were fighting.

My college roommate, Joe and his then-girlfriend Lori parted ways at the Christmas break in anger. It was over something stupid to be sure, but both were convinced of their rightness and of the other's stupid, pig-headed ways.

Joe and I had made plans to stay on campus at Fordham until they threw us out. Our families both lived close by and with free time giving way to finals, we hadn't spent much time together and wanted to celebrate a bit of Christmas cheer together.

Actually, I was just avoiding my parents. After my first taste of freedom I wasn't much looking forward to returning home to live by my parent's rules once again. I loved my mom and dad and my parents had done much to sacrifice to send me to college, but admittedly, I was enjoying college and the sheer joy of being independent.

Joe for his part was also avoiding things. The horror of Pan AM Flight 103 crossed the newswires just a few hours before this. And Joe knew that the crash would make Joe's father, a flight engineer for Pan AM, not much fun to be around. Besides, the girlfriend who he had just pissed off was also near his home and he wanted no part of her.

The clock ticked while we sat and watched episodes of Cheers interrupted by news reports about the Pan Am crash.

Hearing about the loss of life and how several of the students on the flight were college students from Syracuse, a school I nearly attended, hit us hard. Life was indeed precarious and it was Christmas, how would these families ever celebrate the holidays with any kind of joy again?

"What kind of God allows this to happen on his own birthday?" I quipped. Joe just shook his head as if he didn't know, or didn't have any easy answers. "If I were God," I said arrogantly, "I'd have a major party on my birthday for everyone that would put Super Bowl extravaganzas to shame!" Joe laughed, a bit nervously. We needed to laugh a bit.

The flight made him realize how stupid his fight with Lori was and I, too realized that in my family, Christmas was going to be wonderful. We were lucky to have such joy in our lives. Heck, we were lucky to BE alive.

"I gotta go tell her...NOW" Joe yelled.


Joe said, "I gotta get on the subway to go to Brooklyn and tell her I'm sorry."

"Joe," I protested, "it's 11:30 at night. You ain't getting on the subway alone at his late hour in the Bronx!"

So stupidly, I agreed to go with him.

What happened from there was a crazy whirlwind of activity that you just knew wasn't going to end well.

Somehow we took three trains to Brooklyn, and after nearly 2 hours or so, we showed up at Lori's house to find it (duh) completely dark. Not wishing to wake up her entire family, Joe decided to throw rocks at her bedroom window.


A light on in the bathroom. I wacked it with another pebble. Being a high school baseball player still came in handy.

"You break that window and I'll break your nose!" Joe yelled.

Again no response.

After this disappointment, we walked to Joe's other friend's houses hoping to find a place to crash, but we only found unlighted houses. Joe became discouraged and angry.

"Well what do you want? It's 3 in the morning!" I yelled. "Joe, look, it's cold and I'm tired. My dad's coming at 8 in the morning to pick me up. Let's just go back to Fordham at this point."

So off to the subway for the long 2 hour journey back to the Bronx. And it was there that we met him.

He was drunk. He was smelly. He was smoking on the subway and sloshing out of a brown paper bag!

He didn't ask us for money. He wasn't aggressive or angry. He pretended not to hear the conductor who told him to put out his cigarette. He sang in a way that only a drunk could sing. Bad and loudly.

But mostly, he was tired and he wanted us to know that.

"Guys," he said slurring his words, "I like you guys. I AM TIRED! So I's gonna sing you a TIRED song. Just for you."

He then proceeded to sing "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire." A song about being home and the beauty of a home at Christmas. Every note was somehow magically on key. Until...

"And so I'm offering this simple phrase...
to kids from one to ninety-NINE"

We both cracked up, but the old man could sing, drunk and all. He flew in for a big jazz-like finish. We applauded and our offer of a tip was refused. He said:

"Look...They can take away my house. They can take away my kids. They can even come and take away this ol' bottle. But they can't ever take away one thing from me...."

"They can't take away what's up here in this old coconut or here in my heart. They can't take away my talent."

I just about melted.

"That's three things!" the subway conductor roared, "and put that cigarette out!"


As we exited and said good-bye, he only asked for a prayer and to remember his song. And so I have, twenty-one years later, remembering the details as if it were yesterday.

It was indeed a secular song, but one that has taken on new spiritual meaning for me since that night. It reminds me of the many Christmases that people spend alone, on the streets, without family, perhaps not in their right mind. For some at the holiday time of year they are lonely after the death of a husband or wife, or like that year when parents mourned the loss of their child who died in a plane crash over Scotland because of the madness of terrorism. It reminds me now that the world still is, and always has been, a broken place, and that it still needs a savior.

And it also reminds me that our savior was born in a similar lonely place, to two people of little wealth, surrounded by smelly filthy animals and the keepers of sheep. The angels sang of a king that night, and I think perhaps my friend on the subway sang just as sweetly. For we remember that we really don't need the lavish gifts and parties, the latest computer or phone, or even a good book to read. All nice things to be sure...but what we really need is God. And God realizes that we miss his presence so easily in our human imperfection. So God decides to fix that problem by becoming one of us, by entering our world as Emmanuel, "God with us." The king of kings has the throne of a feeding trough, with itchy hay and cows mooing into his ear.

God lurks in our lives each and every day, sometimes in the strangest places. And quite often, we miss seeing his presence. This Christmas, may you hear the soft sweet song of Jesus singing to you, even in secular verse, to welcome you home into his embrace on the day of his birth. May you be able to recognize Jesus, even in the strangest places when you hear his voice singing to you.

And although it's been said, many times, many ways....

Merry you.

Dec 23, 2009

Yes Fordham, There is a Santa Claus

A retroactive Hat Tip to my classmates Joe Squillace and Tracy Crimmins from Fordham University where this story originated at Christmas 1991.

Joe and Tracy were students at Fordham and spent a good deal of their time doing what some would say was a thankless job: Running the Community Service Organization's "Give A Child a Christmas" campaign. They would gather hundreds of toys by asking the college students to simply go out and buy a toy for children who lived in the poorer section of the Bronx.

The job of organizing and preparing for the huge Christmas party was gargantuan. But Joe and Tracy in the midst of their studies and activities would somehow spend lots of sleepless nights getting all the gifts together and they'd even plan the party that would bring much joy to a bunch of children who were often jaded and skeptical that Santa could ever exist.

Occasionally there would be glimmers that would make it all worthwhile. Like the time when someone donated a huge teddy bear to the campaign. It was one of those huge bears that you win for throwing 150 balls into the clown's mouth in a row at the fair. They kept that bear unwrapped in the back room thinking it was too "off the charts" in comparison with the other gifts. But when one little girl came forward and said: "There ain't no Santa Claus and I ain't even gonna get what I asked for at this stupid-ass party," Joe sprang into action. "Well what do you want?" he asked. She simply said, "A teddy bear, not that it matters." Poised in the closet almost magically behind her was the giant bear. And just as magically, Joe, dressed in Santa's big red suit, asked his compatriot elves to open the door. There stood her bear. Just as she had asked. She hugged that bear longer than I ever had seen anyone hug anything. Pure magic.

But the next story takes the Christmas Fruitcake...

At the end of that very same party, when all of the other students had put in a long hard day's work, Joe and Tracy gathered up the remaining toys and lugged them all to the subway to bring them down to another children's home so that they could distribute them to other needy children in the area.

On the subway, after their long journey, Joe and Tracy were enjoying a scenic ride on the elevated #4 train back to Fordham. They spied a little girl of about 5 or 6 years old sitting across from them. A child of the Bronx, she rode the subway with her mother, back home this day. "She had big beautiful eyes," Tracy told me. "The kind you can't ignore!" They made pleasant conversation with her.

Tracy: "So are you ready for Santa Claus to come?"
Little Girl: "Nope! Santa doesn't come to my house."
Joe: "What? C'mon! What do you mean?"
Little girl (with mom looking nervous): " mommy told me that the South Bronx is too far from the North Pole for Santa to come all that way. So Santa doesn't come to our house because it's just too far, even for flying reindeer!"

Joe and Tracy knowingly looked at the child's mother and played along.

Joe: "Oh I see. That's too bad, huh?"
Little Girl: "Nah, it's OK. I already got my gift from Santa anyway."
Joe: "Now wait a minute! What do you mean? Santa doesn't come until Christmas Eve, everyone knows that!"
Little Girl (giggles and says): "I told you silly, the South Bronx is too far! So what Santa does is he gets a bunch of his helpers together at this place called Fordham and every year he makes sure that the gifts get there EARLY. So we get our Christmas a bit earlier than everyone else! We go every year for my gift there."

At this juncture Joe and Tracy were desperately trying not to openly cry.

Joe asked her one last question:

"Did you get what you want?"

"I ALWAYS get exactly what I ask Santa for!"

And in unison, as they walked out of the subway car, Joe and Tracy responded tearfully together:

"So do I."

As we await the magical season of giving, may we be reminded that God, sometimes might not give us what we want, but always gives us exactly what we need. In fact God holds nothing back from us and gives us his very self.

May we be able to recognize that gift this Christmas and may we be able to give that same gift of love to others.

Merry Christmas.

Addendum: A bunch of my classmates just informed me that Virginia O'Hanlon (yes, THAT Virginia) is also a Fordham graduate. They granted her a doctoral degree sometime after 1912. Surprise, surprise!

Dec 21, 2009

Christmas Makes Bethlehem a "City-Symbol of Peace"

To all those praying for peace in the world but especially in the Middle East, the Pope's words today have rich meaning.

From Zenit:

Noting the prophecies regarding the town of Judea in the Book of Micah, which foretell a "mysterious birth," the Holy Father spoke of the "divine plan that includes and explains the times and places of the coming of the Son of God into the world."

"It is a plan of peace," the Pontiff noted, adding that it makes Bethlehem a "city-symbol of peace in the Holy Land and in the whole world."

"Unfortunately," he explained, "Bethlehem does not represent an achieved and stable peace, but rather a peace that is laboriously sought and awaited.

"God, however, never resigns himself to this state of affairs. So, once again this year in Bethlehem and in the entire world, he will renew in the Church the mystery of Christmas, the prophecy of peace for all mankind."

"Christmas is not a fairytale for children," Benedict XVI continued, "but rather God's answer to the drama of humanity in search of peace."

"We are expected to throw open the doors to welcome him," the Pope said, referring to the Messiah. "Let us put ourselves at the service of God's plan with faith.

"Even if we do not fully understand it, let us entrust ourselves to his wisdom and goodness. Let us first seek the Kingdom of God and Providence will help us."

A Home More Ways Than One

A h/t to our favorite Deacon for this gem from the Responsibility Project from Liberty Mutual.

Dec 20, 2009

Unfriending Facebook? A Spiritual Challenge

I can't really understand the point here:

From Today's NY Times:

Facebook, the popular networking site, has 350 million members worldwide who, collectively, spend 10 billion minutes there every day, checking in with friends, writing on people’s electronic walls, clicking through photos and generally keeping pace with the drift of their social world.

Make that 9.9 billion and change. Recently, Halley Lamberson, 17, and Monica Reed, 16, juniors at San Francisco University High School, made a pact to help each other resist the lure of the login. Their status might as well now read, “I can’t be bothered.”

“We decided we spent way too much time obsessing over Facebook and it would be better if we took a break from it,” Halley said.

By mutual agreement, the two friends now allow themselves to log on to Facebook on the first Saturday of every month — and only on that day.

In my world, Facebook actually makes my time on the internet "shorter." I go on maybe 3 times a day by leaving the tab open for most of the day and taking a 10 minute break once an hour to check in on friends and colleagues. It's been the source of finding out about a friend's car accident and the illness of a colleague's father. I scored tickets to a ballgame and was able to catch up with a friend who happened to be in town and hadn't realized that I had moved.

Most importantly, Facebook makes me a trusted source to literally over a thousand people who call me (albeit loosely) friend. People are able to see the short posts (or not so short, some days) that I blog here through the notes application. I often ask my network "questions" to get a quick straw poll or to quickly get an honest opinion from people that I trust quickly. Facebook has led me to chance meetings with friends of friends and most of the speaking engagements I've gotten lately have come from and are planned on facebook. In fact, one of my colleagues convinced me to come to Buffalo during a chat on facebook!

Facebook is about connection and being open to that possibility of being connected to someone who needs some advice or information--perhaps at times on mundane subjects, but that is nothing new. People have always gotten advice from other people, as opposed to institutional sources. There's more legitimacy in a friends using Tide and recommending it than the advertisers telling you that it gets your clothes clean. Becoming a trusted source is why sales teams are able to make that last sale happen and what keeps a congregation from leaving their church when they can't stomach the latest hate message from a group that comes from someone speaking in the name of Jesus and claiming they speak for an institution.

And that today, all happens faster. Instantaneously. We have an opportunity to be in connection with those who doubt, question or simply need someone in a moments notice. And while that can lead others to compulsion, the eschewing of the technology is not the answer. Learning to control those compulsions are. For some using Facebook once a month might be al they can stomach, but I think that might be the exception rather than the rule. For the rest of us, using facebook with better intentions might be what we are called to do.

And so: today's challenge: For one week, Christmas week, can we more mindfully use our status updates to not only spread the good news of Christ at his birth, but also try to reach out to others who may not often hear from us or to send a message of support to those who need it. Maybe we can use facebook to find a source we need to help another or to spread the news of someone else's good work just a bit farther.

Whatever the case might be, sharing and responding to the mundane might not need capture our attentions. Instead weeding out that insignificance to respond to what truly moves our hearts and attracts our souls can indeed be something we spiritual social networkers might more intentionally be mindful of this final week of Advent.

Dec 19, 2009

Is Your Christmas Tree Up Yet?

The Pope loves Christmas Trees...thus sayeth Zenit

The Christmas tree -- with its journey from a dark forest to the brilliance of decorative lights -- represents every Christian, called to share the message that the Light of the world has become man.

This was a comparison made by Benedict XVI today when he addressed a delegation from Belgium, which provided the Christmas tree for St. Peter's Square this year.

"In the forest," the Holy Father said, "the trees are close together and each one of them contributes to making the forest a shadowy, sometimes dark, place."

"But here," he continued, "chosen from among this multitude, the majestic tree that you offered us is today lit up and covered with brilliant decorations that are like so many marvelous fruits."

"Leaving aside its dark garments for a brilliant explosion, it has been transfigured, becoming a beacon of light that is not its own, but rather gives testimony to the true Light that comes to this world," the Pope suggested.

A lovely reflection and very true. We have a dog and don't like the smell of Chihuahua we get a small plant-like Christmas tree that we put our favorite ornaments on each year. I'm also afraid he'll pull down a larger tree. Sigh, the things I do for this dog! But the tree, small though it might be brings me much joy--just like the dog does for that matter. I'm off to get it today in fact.

What do you do for your Christmas tree? What Christmas tree traditions do you have?

Dec 17, 2009

You Are Going To Die...Perhaps in the Pulpit...

...if this guy keeps this up.

This video really sickened me because of the arrogance of the preacher. I like the fact that he at least pointed the finger at himself time and again, but I think this called for a gentler hand. Sitting in front of you is a family that has lost a loved one and you choose to concentrate on their sinfulness and berate them for not attending mass?

Listen for yourself...

Now my general opinion of this particular homily notwithstanding...the homily at a funeral I believe can serve the purpose of evangelization that I believe the preacher intended here. I wish I knew what the Gospel and the other readings were but here is a homily that I hope when I am ordained to the diaconate someday, I might get to deliver. Tell me what you think...

Funerals have a way of making us all think about our own mortality, don't they? On Ash Wednesday we Catholics mark our heads with Ashes not to merely show others that we are Catholic but to remind ourselves--literally to impress on our brains--that we indeed have limited time to spend here on earth.

And we are reminded of that fact each and every time that someone whom we love dies.

We all talk about legacies, about what we will leave behind on this earth long after we are gone. And the hard truth is that most of us will be forgotten. I mean how many of us have any first-hand knowledge of our great-great grandparents or could even tell us a bit of their history? The traces we all leave behind us, fade with the decades that pass.

For now, I am the legacy that my father leaves behind. I've worked for my church most of my adult life and my father, an Irish immigrant and a simple school custodian with an 8th grade education gave his very life for his family. My mother would often yell at us that he would work a lot of overtime so that we might be able to do all the things that they dreamed for attend college. Those dreams became a reality for my father, lived out in my own doing and being and in my sister's years of teaching the poorest and the most destitute children.

Yes, these things were more than enough for my father. They weren't haughty goals, nor did they provide riches for him in terms of monetary wealth. What they provided for him were opportunities for love. Over 60 years of love for him to love my mother--especially through years of illness. Over 50 years (sorry, Kathy) of loving my sister throughout her life and over 40 years of love for me.

And it is more than enough of a life for all of us.

My father also made sure that the church and God was a part of that love because my father knew what it meant to be loved by God. Often we are too busy to even notice the love that God offers us even though our holidays betray the very rhythms of God's love for us. We see this at Christmas when we remember that God loves us enough to share in our humanity. God becomes one of us and experiences the full range of human emotion and experience. And later God cares enough to even experience our death. And because of that great sacrifice of sharing our life and our death, God shows us that love is what always defeats death. For when Jesus dies everything ends and begins anew. God's sacrifice defeats death...this self-gift gains us a life eternal with God.

But it's all too easy for any one of us not to appreciate all that God has done for us, isn't it? I know I barely appreciated all that my father had done for me. And his gifts were very visibly tangible...I clearly have been gifted by him with education, love, and a very precious gift of his time--especially in caring for my mother for those many years.

So how much more have I forgotten about God's gift of life? How much have we all forgotten about what has been offered for us and to us? Doesn't this gift that God gives to us seem simply awesome?! Why aren't we all shouting for joy at this and shouldn't this make each one of us burst at the seems for the simply chance to say thanks to God each Sunday at the very least?

We indeed have limited time. And my father knew this. My father knew of his own limitations. And yet, my father spent most of his time loving and some of his time being mindful of the times that he too forgot to love. We call those times sinful and my father would be the first person here to admit that he was a sinful person at times. But he also would be amongst the first ones to rejoice in the fact that our God, the God of second chances offers us all the opportunity to try again--to get it right--to love more deeply and to appreciate what God has done for all of us.

We celebrate my father's life, a life of love, a life of sacrifice and a life that we will miss today. But I am here today to tell you that while my father will one day be forgotten on this earth, our God will never forget a single one of us. The door is always open for God to welcome us home. We trust that God has mercy on all of our own hidden sins and on my father's. Today let us pray that we have the trust that God indeed loves us, offers us His very life and that God's life for us is more than enough to fulfill us while we are here and will continue to be all the love we will ever need.

A h/t to the good deacon on the bench.

Dec 16, 2009

The Green Pope

"How can one remain indifferent in the face of problems such as climate change, desertification, the degradation and loss of productivity in vast agricultural areas, the pollution of rivers and aquifers, the loss of biodiversity, the increase in extreme weather, and the deforestation of equatorial and tropical areas?” he asked.

“How can one overlook the growing phenomenon of so-called ‘environmental refugees,’ meaning persons who, because of environmental degradation, have to leave – often together with their belongings – in a kind of forced movement, in order to escape the risks and the unknown? How can we not react to the conflicts already underway, as well as potential new ones, linked to access to natural resources?”

“These are all questions,” Benedict XVI said, “that have a profound impact on the exercise of human rights, such as the rights to life, to food, to health and to development.”

- Pope Benedict XVI on the environment in his World Peace Day message.

'nuff said.

Generation Lost?


And a h/t to my main man, A Concord Pastor.

Dec 15, 2009

Feels Like Home To Me

The Atlantic Monthly's Daily Dish has this to say about my new hometown.

Buffalo" (NY) and "beauty" do not normally occur in the same sentence. We're talking about a city 'belted' with derelict factories that's been losing population for a generation. It's struggling to demolish thousands of abandoned houses. It's been known to get snowed on for 100 days in a row (I was there -- with a long driveway and no snow-blower).
But Buffalo has elements of beauty dear to a few doughty hearts (e.g., my wife's - she's a native). These include Olmsted-designed boulevards radiating from an Olmsted central park (Delaware Park); a number of early twentieth-century architectural icons; lots of big, boxy beautiful Victorian houses that can be had for a relative song; a handful of long, graceful commercial and residential avenues that make a vital urban enclave; a surprisingly vibrant arts community; and prices that make it almost like living in another country.
In recent years, too, Buffalo has become a site of the triumph of imagination over physical reality in two ways that have caught my heart.

Read more here to see what else is endearing to the author. I would say in the short time I've been here what I love about Buffalo thus far is this:

1) The people: Everyone is seriously friendly here and it doesn't take much to connect with people. Everyone is willing to help and there is a real community feel to just about every place that I've venutred.

2) Dogs: Buffalo is a dog city. Dogs are welcomed just about anywhere and people are shall we say, "neat" about their pets and understanding when your pet has issues (as mine does) with other dogs.

3) Traffic: Or rather, the lack of traffic. I enjoy driving in Buffalo as opposed to NYC where I am always on high alert when behind the wheel.

4) Great food: Wings, naturally are what they are known for but beef on weck, Friday fish fry (not a Catholic city at all he said sarcastically) and all kinds of ethnic food (Polish, Greek, Indian, Chinese, etc). You won't go hungry here.

5) Best...choir...ever: At St Joseph University Parish the 11:30 mass has a choir that boarders on a Pentecostal style, quite vibrant and fully alive is the best way to describe them. The quality of the music here is simply astounding. I hope that I can help to bring a similar spirit to the student's 8PM mass--perhaps a slightly different vibe--but in terms of quality, just as good.

Needless to say, I am enjoying my new home. Wife and dog are loving it here too.

Advent: All About Commitment

I recently did an evening on discernment at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee which about 40 young adult attended. I mentioned briefly that fidelity was a virtue that we can use to give ourselves a self-check on our desires. That when we think we've landed on the thing that we are called to be we might want to ask ourselves if this is "all about us" and what present commitments we might have to maintain before we head off to take on this new venture, or even if we should.

A young person in the audience asked a great question: "What if you're married and you've discovered that you want to head career wise in a new direction but your partner doesn't support your decision? "

Wow! It gave me pause to just think about that possibility and also provided me with my moment of grace for the day. When I decided to start to pursue some new options my wife, Marion was so supportive. She was afraid to be sure because BustedHalo® and the Paulists were so generous to us over the past 9 years, that indeed that made any decisions very difficult. But Marion knew that I was called to minister to young people. She would watch me come alive on retreat or when I'd be through with a spiritual directee or when I'd preach a reconciliation service. She knew that this was what made me feel most alive and that "most alive" person was the man she fell in love with.

Talk about someone who knows about what it means to be committed to someone else. Fortunately for me, Marion was also able to re-capture some of her desires in her new job teaching deaf children again after years of teaching special ed.

But what if you are not in the same boat? What if your partner thinks that you are not called to your vocation or to an avocation? I think there are two schools of thought here:

1) Perhaps you are not called to what you think and this person who knows you intimately can see that better than you can? Perhaps they are providing a wake up call and that this calling is only about your selfish needs? Maybe you failed to take into account how your actions would impact your partner? All this is good fodder for reflection.

Or 2) Maybe your spouse doesn't have your best interest at heart? Maybe they never did! Maybe they don't understand what it means to be committed to someone else and they have only their interests at heart? Maybe they don't want someone who is fully alive because it makes them look bad or "less than". Perhaps they don't want to share the spotlight?

Regardless, in both cases an examination of commitment comes into play and advent is the perfect time to re-examine our commitments. God re-commits to humanity at Christmas by giving us Jesus. God indeed chooses to give His very self to us in the person of Jesus, who in turn, experiences all of our humanity, including death. But many times we forget about what a great commitment that is. We get caught up with our own feelings of how cute the Christ child is in the manger but we often forget that the wood of the manger also comes along with the wood of the cross.

What evidence has my partner giving me that they are indeed committed to who I am becoming? Do they want what's best not just for me, but for US as a couple? What do i have to compromise to maintain a healthier marriage relationship and yet retain an individual identity as well?

To not make that commitment, or to not take it seriously is to not understand the sacrament of marriage and may even be grounds for Annulment, depending on the case.

For those of us who do understand marriage and who live it, each day....

May this Advent be a time where you rejoice not only in your commitment to one another but also in God's commitment to all of us.

Dec 10, 2009

Proverbial Wisdom: Who Have We Forgotten?

"The LORD permits not the just to hunger, but the craving of the wicked he thwarts." -Proverbs 10:3

Hmmm..the homeless and the starving might have something to say about this...but perhaps it's the latter part of the proverb that we need to focus on?

Injustice reigns when the wicked attempt, merely attempt, to satisfy their own selfish desires. Even those who are hungry often are the ones who most take care of each other. ABC TV recently had planted a disheveled looking man who passes out on the street to see what people would do. Take a look:

While the hungry and destitute often suffer, their hunger often subsides slightly. One often gets used to eating less or not eating every day, but what one never gets used to is being ignored by their fellow human beings. The homeless often report that they learn not to ignore the needs of others who are on the street and they begin to form a type of community, a dysfunctional one at times, but like all communities, at heart they usually have the best intentions. Wicked desires never quite hold their novelty. People get bored and move on to perhaps a different wicked desire perhaps, but often they also mend their ways. Noble and just ways are what most fulfill us and bring us closer into union with each other and with God. Jesus becomes this model of looking deeply at the intention of our desires. Even the Pharisees, who were the religious authorities of the day don't always measure up by forgetting about the hungry and poor in their midst.

When everyone else forgets, God remembers the unforgettable ones. Who have we forgotten this advent? And how will we plan to remember them?

Dec 9, 2009

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.

Dec 8, 2009

Silent Monks Sing Hallelujah

A Hat tip to the lovely Lexy Janda, via Facebook. Hysterical.

Remembering Dave

14 years ago, my college classmate and junior year roommate Dave Connors died after battling a long illness. It was tough for us to see someone so young die at 25. We all were afraid and confused and frankly angry.

I was a producer at a NYC radio station and upon hearing the news of Dave's death I promptly took an old school reel of tape and chucked it across the studio. I was angry at God, at death, at heart disease and at the fact that I didn't get to say goodbye to Dave.

But time provides reflection after tragedy and when I look back at the time I shared with Dave I'm not filled with sadness but with joy. Dave provided us with much laughter during his stand up comedy routines. It was his way of disarming people. His sickly body would make people treat him differently. People would pity his situation and Dave hated that beyond belief. He knew that he was probably not going to live very long and he wanted to spend that time having fun and not being sad. He'd cheat death with what he called sick humor. He'd offer to play the "dead pool" where you draft famous people who you'd expect to die within the year for points. Dave would always draft himself.

"I guess I'll have the last laugh if I win, sorta." he said to me. We'd all cringe but it made us more sensitive to the fact that Dave was conscious of his limited time.

That was a huge awakening for me. It's easy for me to immerse myself in busyness and ignore the needs of those around me. In college I was driven to be a successful broadcaster but I was missing spending time with friends, family and other mentors who engaged my passions that i misdirected towards radio instead of ministry.

Dave's illness got me on track. And I hate that. Why did it take tragedy to wake me up? I nearly wasted friendships like Dave's and when I look back at our time in college together, I don't remember feeling sorry for Dave but rather, I see all of our friends rallying around Dave and his family and a young man rallying us not towards death but towards a greater appreciation of life itself.

Dave was not particularly religious. He struggled a lot with his faith and with God. A seminarian had a big influence on him towards the end of his life and helped him gain a greater awareness of God in his life. For me, God was always around Dave for like Jesus, Dave gave us all of Himself and held nothing back. His parents gave their very lives to him, supporting their only child all the way to his death, a tragedy that no parent should ever have to live through. And lastly, Dave gave us a reminder that we all really need to support one another in those dark hours. Despite his illness Dave was one of the most giving people I ever met. He always had time for people and for helping and serving others. He loves his family and reveled in bringing joy to others.

It is no surprise to me that Dave died on December 8...the feast of the Immaculate conception. Like Mary, he accepted his lot in life despite knowing that pain was on the other side. Today I hope he is able to not merely be free from his pain but also to be free to laugh with great abandon and understand how much he was loved by all those he touched.

Dec 4, 2009

Getting Something For Nothing: The Just Do It Mentality

Today's proverb is a doozy:

Proverbs 10:2
"Ill-gotten treasures profit nothing,
but virtue saves from death."

I've been following the Tiger Woods fiasco and it never fails to amaze me how some people expect to get away with just doing whatever they feel like doing when they feel like doing it. There's no retribution for their actions that enters into possibility for them. The rules don't apply to them. They have nothing to limit their consumption be it greed, sex, food, drugs or whatever.

Nike's moniker for years was "Just Do It" and Tiger Woods seems to have taken that literally. His alleged affair is just one more note on the kind of stars that believe that the world is simply their own personal playground and they are the ones who have all the toys and don't have to share with others.

The virtues of temperance and fidelity are often checkpoints for us. Is my desire based on an unhealthy addiction that I feed all too easily. Do I keep in mind my present commitments and responsibilities? Or do I cast all of that to the wind? The latter seems to be all to easily dispensed with in a country where the divorce rate is close to 50%. Do half of the people who get married really understand the notion of commitment? Do both parties in a marriage understand that they will sacrifice for each other and that "no matter what" they need to be bound to one another working on the issues that face them?

Will both parties always have each other's back?

Or will one violate their sexual commitment and the other take a golf club and start swinging?

It seems to me that Tiger's empty virtues lead him to gain these ill-gotten treasures and if he only had a bit more humility he may not be in the headlines today.

But who am I to talk?

Often I forget my own commitments to my wife. I choose other things over spending time with her and some of those things are actually good my ministry or even writing this blog. But they need to come secondarily to my marriage. And I need to remember that.

So I am off tonight to spend the weekend with my bride! In New York City for a day and then on to our family Christmas party (her side of the family). About 100 family members gather together to simply recommit ourselves to one another as family and to celebrate God's re-commitment to us at Christmas, where God embeds His commitment in human flesh, in human experience. God becomes one of us, as Joan Osbourne once wrote so we might "make our way home."

It is in that anticipation of this human God who loved us not only enough to take on our own flesh but also our own death, that we rejoice. It is not an ill-gotten treasure to be sure. But it is one that should indeed call us into virtue.

Dec 3, 2009

Proverbial Wisdom Returns

At a recent scripture session we decided to discuss the book of Proverbs. It was actually a challenge to find something to say about the proverbs. But I realized that I had started blogging by actually meditating on the proverbs in blog form. So for Advent I thought perhaps there might be some wisdom for me to glean from the Proverbs. So I will try to take two lines a day, a Proverbial Couplet, and see what comes to mind for me to reflect on.

Proverbs 10:1:

"A wise son brings joy to his father,
but a foolish son grief to his mother."

My mother always was more critical of me than my father was (and is--they are both still alive!). My mother was always the one who doled out punishment and my father would always be forgiving and would look for a silver lining somewhere.

I have come to realize over the year that these are really two faces of God. God can be all-forgiving to be sure but God also expects a lot of us. Often we try to favor one over the other. God is either a lover OR a judge, but actually God is both. God wants us to do well and to live up to the expectations he has for us to become all that we are, nothing more, but more importantly, nothing less.

My mother would often be the one who would challenge me and would get me involved in things that would stretch me beyond my comfort zones. My dad would be the one who would support me when I found out that perhaps I was not as gifted in say, art or music as some of my friends were. I was not expected to be perfect and my father would let me see that it was OK to fail as long as I tried my best.

And therein lies the main point: At the heart of wisdom lies effort and risk. One has to get beyond fear to make attempts to discover who who really are, to be unafraid to try new things and not to be the fool who simply makes excuses as to why they are unable to make any effort at self-discovery because of pride or fear of embarrassment.

Today we ask ourselves if we indeed became wise as we grew up? Did we really try lots of new things to search our very souls? Was it a mother who encouraged that search and was dad simply a support in that period of self-discovery?

Dec 2, 2009

Advent: Waiting in Hope

Which kinda makes me want to do something like this...

Even Charlie Brown's admonition at the close calls me into greater introspection of my own experience of waiting. Am I waiting hopefully or am I just haphazardly flailing my arms and doing nobody any good? What is this experience calling me into?

Joyfully waiting is not easy or even fluid. It can be messy and frightening but we live in hope and that should at least bring us some joy, enough joy to make us want to dance.

I think the kid in the back doing the jump rope dance was way ahead of his time.

Dec 1, 2009

Hope's Season

The word "Hope" has taken on many different meanings for me this Advent. Throughout the season we wait in hope for a savior and the savior surprises us, not because the savior is God, but because we find God in a feeding trough for animals!

Indeed sometimes surprises are not what they are cracked up to be.

About 2 weeks ago, my friend and colleague Hope Villella, (who many of you know from her former position at the National Pastoral Life Center where she worked as the director of The Roundtable, a social justice forum) was in a serious car accident near her new home in South Dakota. She broke a bone in her neck and back and seriously broke her left hand (yep, she's a lefty!). For the next 12 weeks she'll be in a Halo brace to keep her neck from moving. Her spinal cord wasn't damaged, so thankfully she'll be able to walk again and the doctors expect a full recovery from all her injuries--but she'll be out of action for some time.

Hope has been a great friend and ministry colleague. We both discerned leaving out high profile gigs for direct ministry jobs--her working on an Indian reservation in South Dakota and me in Buffalo at UB's Campus Ministry. If you asked us 3 months ago or so what our biggest fears were we both would have had varied answers surrounding new positions in ministry. And while we spoke a few weeks ago about the challenge of driving again after being in NYC for so long (where a car isn't needed), I don't think anybody would have envisioned that something so horrible could happen.

And yet, Ms. Villella's first name encourages us in a season where we can easily lose hope. The days grow darker and colder now and each tragedy gets heightened because we have naturally reacted to our environment's dankness. The gray skies of Buffalo can make me ponder life's insignificance until sheer simplicity can make me awaken to the beauty of the mundane. I can only imagine that my friend is thankful at this juncture that she survived and has a good prognosis, but also that she sits with fear and wonder about how this could happen and how her long term recovery will go? It can't be easy for her but she has a lot of family support --and if family can't support you than I'm not sure who can and she's already joking on facebook--talk about inspiring.

I'm not sure what Advent and Christmas holds for Hope this year, but I do know that for me, Advent has always been a sketchy time of year. While I know that Christ is coming, I'm not all that patient about it. In fact, I'm not all that patient about anything. I want to jump start the ministry program and finish my Christmas shopping and serve the needs of the students and be a good colleague to the rest of the parish and complete the three other projects I have going.

And in this "sketchy time of year," where my patience wears thin, I realize that indeed I have only the hope of God's breaking into humanity to rely on and because of that, all my worries can indeed melt away into the Advent snow.

For hope, is more than enough. Hope is what keeps us alive. Hope is what enables dreams and ideas to flourish.

But hope is also painful and I can't imagine how painful it must be for Hope right now. I can't imagine what it must be like for Hope, to wait without moving--to sleep without moving--to lose the use of your good hand and before test results come in, having those feelings of anxiety of what lies ahead.

At many liturgies, we hear the words that we live in a sure and certain hope...and perhaps that is all we ever have. And we'd rather have certainty than hope.

But God always gives us what we need, even if the expectations of what we wanted are dashed. And so if we don't have certainty--what do we have? We have hope and God tells us that it is all we need and we need nothing more.

But once we lose hope, we indeed lose everything. We fall into dispair, hopelessness. Indeed it is my idea of hell.

So tonight, let us pray for Hope. Let us pray that she can practice patience, get support from friends and family and simply rest in the peace that God provides.

But let us also pray that we find Hope in something this Advent. For me it's the inspiration of a young woman who already has started typing messages and cracking jokes on Facebook not long after she had to wonder if she would ever walk again.

It indeed is that time of year: It is Hope's season...

In more ways than one.

Nov 27, 2009

Advent is Here and BustedHalo® wants to know...

What Are You Waiting For? The BustedHalo® Daily Jolt Advent Calendar has arrived and is chock full of great advent quotes surrounding the theme of waiting.

The reality for most of us however is that Advent simply becomes the anxious weeks of shopping and holiday planning that precede Christmas Day. In the bustle of the holiday season, it is usually difficult to keep in mind what we are actually waiting for before Christmas. While many of us won’t be able to completely avoid the Christmas onslaught, it is still possible to maintain some connection to the spiritual foundation of the season. Our 2009 Advent Surprise Calendar is based on our popular Daily Jolt feature in which we offer readers a small bit of contemplation/inspiration and couple it with a “microChallenge” that encourages them to put these spiritual moments into action in their daily lives.

In traditional Advent Calendars, children open different calendar windows throughout the season to reveal special surprises. Busted Halo’s® Advent Calendar combines that sense of surprise with the opportunity for reflection and action found in our Daily Jolt feature the rest of the year.

Daily reflection, action and prizes
Each day of Advent, the calendar will open a new link to a chance at winning a great prize, an opportunity for reflection and a microChallenge. Like our Daily Jolt, the reflections chosen for the Advent Calendar come from some very unlikely sources, and the microChallenges help you to act on your spiritual inspiration in simple — usually very small — ways you’d probably never considered.

So check it out and come back each day to try to win something great.

Nov 25, 2009

Counting Your Blessings?

I want to scream every time someone uses the terms "we've been blessed" or suggests that one "counts their blessings." Often this leads people into believing that God favors one group or individual over another. A friend said one day that "If God shows his blessings to those of us who have much, what about those who are in devastating poverty?' A fair point.

Jesus seems to rail against this idea of divine retribution. That God doesn't show his favoritism to the rich and powerful nor does God smite sinners with illness or poverty. It seems to me that "counting our blessings" may actually be a sinful act of pride: We think that God loves us more than anyone else.

So then what the heck is the point of Thanksgiving?

Perhaps the point is to simply realize that we are not always in control.

That the gift of life itself is enough to be thankful to God. That God everlasting forgiveness, a free gift to all, is even more of a thankful moment for us all.

And for those of us who have been born into good circumstances, by the mere randomness of the world (with a nod to those in the scientific community), today should not merely be a day to take stock of our bank accounts, jobs, houses and cars and to say like the Pharisee, "Whew! I'm glad i was not born into such poverty." Rather, when we realize that God shows love to all the world and that we are called into that same kind of love by Jesus through his own gift of self, we too, have an obligation and an opportunity for self-giving.

Often those of us who have little or nothing are indeed the most generous. But even in our own communities, families, or dare I say churches, are we truly generous with our time, our funds, our gifts? Do we offer what we have for the world in need or do we simply store up for a rainy day?

So how will we spend Thanksgiving? Is it a day that we simply gorge ourselves on a bountiful harvest that pilgrims and indians believed incorrectly were signs of God's favor, or are we more sophisticated in our belief in God?

Some initial thoughts for an "alternative Thanksgiving":

1) Simply volunteer some time at a local shelter or soup kitchen.

2) Invite people over who indeed are needy...perhaps emotionally rather than financially even.

3) For many, spending time with family or friends that they don't often see or that they may even neglect might be a nice mindful way to engage with the holiday.

4) How about a Thanksgiving fast? To think about what we consume at great lengths and then to mindfully consume less?

5) What can we do to renew the earth's resources? Can we consume less, use better products, buy organic, support local businesses?

6) Planning a Thanksgiving Day mission trip to a poor part of the world might indeed be a larger scale event.

Indeed, I also will suggest that I'm not trying to be the Thanksgiving Scrooge. Have your turkey with all the fixins! Enjoy it. But also be mindful of those who don't have anything and to consider what role we play in giving what we have in our bounty to those who have none.

Nov 24, 2009

Light Blogging is Very Possible This Week

Tending to some matters of family importance over the next few days until the day of the Turkey.

So blogging indeed may be lighter than usual. Apologies. It must take precedence. Indeed I will attempt to do something special for Thanksgiving.

Nov 23, 2009

Ignatius and the World

I've been thinking much about how strange it must have been to be an early follower of St. Ignatius. Being a "contemplative" engaged with the needs of the world was a new mindset, different from old school monasticism which didn't fiddle with the machinations of living and praying within monestary walls.

Much like ourselves, these folks found that the needs of the world left them little time for prayer, so Ignatius encouraged the use of his examen at least once per day. Seeing God in all things gets easier if you try to do that daily. The spiritual life is about mindfulness and seeing beyond sensory experience to find God lurking there.

This past week I had the pleasure if hearing the stories of several students during an imaginative prayer meditation and the deep sharing that followed. It gave me confidence that God indeed continues to lead me to places that I will find much fertile ground with which to serve.

At the same time the search for those who are healthy and who have much to give to leadership is taking precedence. I imagine Ignatius must have faced similar challenges but also saw similar rewards.

Today pray that good things continue to happen and that we can see God in all things.

Mobile Blogging from here.

This Advent be the Cross in the Classroom (and elsewhere)

Msgr. J. Patrick Keleher - "Fr. Pat" to those of us at the University of Buffalo had a great line in his homily referring to those of us who are Catholic on "secular campuses. He stated that on a Catholic campus there are crosses in each classroom (well, most campuses anyway). I would add to his comments that while outward signs of catholicity are important, sometimes they serve to be the only sign of Jesus on the campus at all.

But Fr Pat provided the "wake up call" for me this week when he said, "On this Campus, WE are the cross in the classroom."

Whoa. An awesome image. And never a truer statement was said.

Because if other people don't see us as the cross then we have truly lost what it means to be Catholic and not one outward symbol can help us spread the word of the gospel.

St Francis has been attributed to the phrase: "Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary, use words." Actions indeed speak louder than words. In the past few years actions indeed have spoken quite loudly when it comes to Catholics. The clergy sexual abuse crisis placed our priests in a precarious position. Several of my good friends who are priests reported not wanting to wear their collars in public. One even said that a mother pushed her child to the other side of the sidewalk when she saw him coming the other way. Economic scandals in parishes and dioceses have often hit the headlines and recently the story of a priest who fathered a child out of wedlock was one of the top NY Times stories.

Actions indeed speak louder to those around us than words do.

So what's a Catholic to do? It seems to me that the time has come for all of us to reclaim what it means to be Catholic. At one point being Catholic was far more associated with people who did good works than it is today. Today in fact, being Catholic seems to be associated with being backwards, or some kind of sexual misfit or some kind of right wing religious zealot.

I don't want to be associated with those things, in fact, I don't think any of that is what our faith is about. And yet, a lot of people will say it is so. Image is indeed everything.

However, I DO want people to know that I'm Catholic despite all this. And I sense that perhaps you do too. Because we indeed have much to offer the world. We have a God who gives others second chances no matter what they do. We have a God who dares to become less than He is, so that we all might become what He is. We have a God who has a boundless love that death can no longer hold. We have a tradition of 2 millennia that for better or for worse has produced far more good than evil in the world.

But we cannot afford to be silent about this. This advent, I'd like to invite you to simply identify your Catholicism in the following way:

I'd like you to think about doing something for someone else each day. It need not be grand or sweeping, just simple. Whether it's serving the poor at a shelter or doing grocery shopping for the little old lady next door or even simply offering a service to the community at no charge...whatever you choose. When you have your task completed you then have one final thing to add.

Tell those you serve that you are Catholic. Moreover, tell them that you pray for them or that your faith influences your decisions. Now this can't be a note of condescension to others, but rather one of humbleness and service to others and to your faith.

Because grandness is not our moniker. The cross is. And the bottom line is that if we become the cross in the classroom and everywhere else we go in the world, then that means we are called into suffering with the world. Indeed we are brave enough to face suffering for another because we know that our God can indeed defeat that suffering with the cross that we become.

And in the end we become so much more--we transcend that suffering so that the cross becomes not an implement of destruction but one of power--the power that defeats death.

And the power that can reclaim Catholicism as a religion that is immersed in the world's suffering and works to defeat it with our love. Sure we'll break a sweat for justice and we'll make sure we leave a mark on the world in a positive way,

What will you do this Advent? Share it with us here.

Nov 22, 2009

Word of the Year: Unfriend

Fran pointed me to this on Facebook:

"Unfriend" has been named the word of the year by the New Oxford American Dictionary, chosen from a list of finalists with a tech-savvy bent.
Unfriend was defined as a verb that means to remove someone as a "friend" on a social networking site such as Facebook.
"It has both currency and potential longevity," said Christine Lindberg, senior lexicographer for Oxford's U.S. dictionary program, in a statement.
"In the online social networking context, its meaning is understood, so its adoption as a modern verb form makes this an interesting choice for Word of the Year."

Fran also points out that God never "unfriends" us. No matter what we do, how far away we may turn from God we are always in God's news feed.

I'm also reminded that we are also called to stay connected to one another--no matter what and no matter what someone else may do. Besides being at the heart of marriage, it is also at the heart of our concern for the least of those amongst us--as well as those close to us, who sometimes we are all too ready to chuck to the curb when they annoy us "for the last time." We're called to stay in the network, to hash out our differences, to forgive 70 times 7 times.

Not an easy task for any of us. But it's all-too-easy to give up hope. It's easy to simply hit "unfriend" and move on. And moreover, it's harder to tell when those around us who have abused their power or our trust can no longer remain in our networks for our own safety and perhaps even harder to let that person go because they are really the ones who hit "unfriend" first.

It seems to me that this is all about relationship and our own need for control. We want to control our decisions in who we associate ourselves with and who we don't. And there's wisdom there but there's also the shadow side of alienating those who we dismiss too easily or superficially.

Who can depend on you staying in their network when the chips are down? Who knows that you'll keep those lines open when they are in their darkest moments? And when you are in trouble, know that Jesus is always there pointing you towards someone in your network who might remind you that God indeed is never far away.

God is always in connection...we always have access and grace allows us to know that the lines of communication are never down.

It's what we call prayer. Simply put, it is staying in the conversation with God. Talking but also staying still and listening with God. It is noticing what is all around us and how God has a hand in all of it. And often we think that God doesn't answer our prayers, that requests go unanswered. Grandparents still die, children lose limbs, our children don't kick the drug habit despite our constant prayers. So some would ask why we should stay in connection?

God indeed doesn't always give us what we think we want in prayer, but as anyone who prays knows deeply: God may not give us what we WANT but he always gives us what we NEED. A kind word, a helping hand, the knowledge that we are not alone, the gentle caress of our spouse or the warm embrace of a child. Even the loyalty of a good dog can somehow be enough for us. It is the pleasures of simple gestures that really get us through the tough times. Those are what we always remember most.

And they all spring from a one word plan: love.

Love causes us to stay in the commitments that we are in and indeed enables us to get through the challenges that befall us. And when we think about committing to love one another we need to remember that on this last Sunday of the year where we celebrate Christ who is King, a King who went unrecognized, rejected and crucified. His love that brought him to Calvary also brought him well beyond that road.

And as we end this year and head into Advent let us remember that the God we believe in understands being unfriended and as he lies in the manger this Christmas, know that God's commitment to us is indeed that God is always amongst us. Not a click away but in the deepest stirrings of our own hearts.

And because of that commitment, when it could have been easy for God, who constantly has been unfriended by our sin, God who comes to us anyway, calls us to stay in the network with the world: connected, not loosely, but intimately with everyone.

It is His love for us that defeats death.

Staying connected...defeats death.

Showing concern...defeats death.

"Unfriend" is the word of the year they say...and I say nonsense.

Unfriend is the cop-out of eternity.

Googling God

Googling God
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