Jan 31, 2010

The Question for Spiritual Seekers: Now What?

We talk a lot about serving the needs of spiritual seekers online but I often ask a bigger question to many of my colleagues.

Once they find you online...then where do they go? The truth is that in order to minister to this generation you need to hustle. That's a lesson that most don't want to hear and the biggest fear of luddites who refuse to put their homilies online or who constantly say that "online does not equal community" is that folks might stay online in favor of an actual, real time, face to face, community.

Michele Nuzzo-Naglieri of Headline Bistro gets this and the main thrust of my book extremely well and thus, gets a h/t as well.

Mike Hayes argues that, almost equal to the desire to find love, Millennials are also concerned with “security” and “truth,” and that the two go hand in hand. In a recent Catholic Focus episode, Hayes explained that for young Americans in particular, events in recent years (Columbine, 9/11, Katrina, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – to name a few) have induced both an overall sense of fear over the precariousness of life, and feelings of distrust in humankind. This in turn is causing many of them to search for something to hold on to that remains unchanged. “God” and “faith in God” have stood the test of time, and while Millennials would perhaps not be prepared to step foot into a church, they are looking for sources that point to the truth.

That being said, we are left to wonder where their search is leading them. They may find answers that are irrelevant to their questions or perhaps too simplistic in nature and either stop there or end their search, dissatisfied. How do we ensure that these modern seekers of God find Him? How do we ensure that they are finding the right gateways that lead them to a community of believers asking the tough questions and sharing insights? How do we provide for them a safe online faith environment until they are ready to take the next step? Time to apply our talents and creativity to the mission of digital evangelization.

As Pope Benedict says, “Life is a search for the true, the good and the beautiful” – let’s make sure we’re doing our part to influence where that search may lead.

Amen. All of this tells me that the most important thing for us to do is to look interesting online, to be a presence for the young people who are struggling to make good choices. We always have to be thinking of the next step, of where young people will be led. Many will find us online and what they find there says a lot to them about who we are, or more appropriately about what our websites or blogs or podcasts transmit to them about who we are.

And that is their first step in spiritual seeking and it serves as a test case for them to find out just who we are as church.

In other words...

If your website looks awful then young people think your church is awful. If it's not up to date than they think nothing has been going on since that last update. if you have wrong information on it than that says that you don't care enough about wanting them to get involved.

I'm assuming that in your case, none of that is true. And if so, then you'd best get to work updating your site.

Because in a digital world, where every piece of information needs to be at the fingertips of young people, if it doesn't exist online...then neither do you.

Jan 30, 2010

If I Have Not Love...Then I am Nothing

St Paul's 13th chapter in his letter to the Corinthians has gone the way of the romantic in recent years. We hear this reading most often at weddings but it seems to be viewed as saccharine words for the new lovey-dovey couple.

In fact the words of Paul were addressed to those at Corinth and it was based on the fact that the Corinthians were developing factions amongst the community after Paul had left them. Some would listen to him, another to a guy named Apollos and a third faction to Jesus alone. Paul tries to appeal to them that we're all in this together, but also that love is what will continue to help us overcome these differences.

My wife and I didn't use this reading at our wedding, simply because we had heard it so often already but we refer to it again in our daily prayer time together often. It is good to remind ourselves that our love for one another requires patience, kindness and not to put on airs. I think I need those reminders much more than my wife does. She always seems to be pleasant and not prone to arrogance as I think I have a tendency to do. One of the reasons I married, Marion was because she keeps me honest. When I get too big for my britches she lets me know that I'm being a jerk, a lovable jerk, but a jerk nonetheless. I try to do the same for her when she gets out of sorts in her own way.

I think many people simply don't understand what love really means, and what St. Paul is driving at today. Love means commitment. It means sticking it out in the hard times. Love means participating in the act of love when one doesn't feel like being loving--when one is grumpy, or tired, or even when you think the other person is being pig-headed.

Love is hard. But it indeed overcomes everything. Loving those who are hard to love-- an arrogant parent, an angry spouse, a sister who doesn't listen or a boss who doesn't appreciate you--is what we're called to do. It doesn't mean that we become doormats either though. Abuse shouldn't be tolerated and jerkiness is simply not a nice demeanor for anyone.

But I think many of us simply want things to be as we picture them. We place our own ideals, often unrealistic, onto our spouses. We forget that we fell in love with someone who has their own desires and tastes that may indeed come into conflict with one of our own. Marriages, I fear, fail not because there is a lack of love, but because most people simply give up when conflicts take hold. I love that Marion never, ever lets our disagreements fester. I'm ready to run away sometimes when I've simply had it and I always find her ready for me when I emerge from "the cave." I spend a lot less time in the cave now because I know that Marion is waiting for me, fully committed to our relationship and that makes it a whole lot easier for me to love her in return and stay committed during tough times when it would simply be easier for both of us to chuck it all.

This is a message however, not merely for my marriage, or any marriage but for all of our relationships.

Who is deemed "too hard to love?" The homeless? The child molester? Dictators? People with stupid prejudices? The unborn and the pregnant teen? The boss who drives you crazy or the one that fires you?

We need patience, kindness and a non-inflated sense of ourselves in order to progress into deeper love.

Are we willing to do that? I hope so, because if we all did that, maybe the Kingdom of God will have arrived.

Jan 29, 2010

Why Priests Should Wear Their Collars...and why lay ministers need something to identify themselves like it

Earlier this week I went to a campus function with Fr. Pat, the pastor of our North Campus. It's rare that I see him without his collar on, as he wears it often, especially when on "official business."

We walked into the gross anatomy lab, as I was getting a tour of the facility from Fr. Pat and a young man was getting ready to leave. As we were about to turn the corner the young man stopped us, out of the blue.

"Excuse me, Father..."

Fr Pat turned towards him and the young man broke down in tears within seconds.

"I just found out that my grandma died about an hour ago and I wondered if you would pray with me?"

I excused myself and let Fr. Pat and the young man sit together to talk and pray for a few minutes, sensing that he wasn't inviting me to prayer but that "the collar" called him towards an identifiable minister.

We just happened to be there that day. But had Fr. Pat not been wearing his collar or had I been by myself, that opportunity would not have presented itself. That symbol of ministry, the symbol of priesthood, the identifiable sign to this young man that said, "I can ask this guy to pray for me...I NEED him" was welcomed and not abhorred.

I could have been the campus minister there all semester, but for those not readily aware of me, or of my position (which I fear is most students, especially in the med school--one because I'm new and two, because many aren't regular churchgoers) would never have dared to ask me the same question.

Jesus asked us to "go out to all the world and tell the good news" and to "not hide our light under a bushel basket" but for the unaware, or the agnostic, or the sporadic attendee, we all need to be welcome signs of Christ's presence. For priests an easy way to accomplish this task is to wear the collar. For nuns, a habit perhaps (although most have "kicked the habit"--however many young nuns are trying to be more intentional about wearing theirs and some like the Felician Sisters here wear a very identifiable pectoral cross) does the trick as well. But for us lay ministers...it's more difficult. I'm pretty vocal about who I am, introducing myself to all I meet as the Campus Minister, but it's not as easily recognized. I'm considering getting a golf shirt with "campus minister" scrawled on the crest, maybe with a cross? Maybe I wear a cross around my neck over my clothes? Deacons have an identifiable lapel pin, but even that "whispers" their presence, especially to the young. Many deacons like to keep their presence as lay people in a parish and have found that "looking like a lay person" outside of the liturgy often makes them "more approachable" to many. However, I would argue that this is true only to those who are already initiated into parish life. What about when you head off to do prison ministry, or head to the hospital? For deacons, I wonder if their diagonal stole might serve more than a liturgical purpose, even over street clothes?

A friend of mine was a volunteer down at ground zero after September 11th and he reported something similar. That symbol of the priesthood invited him to be a presence for many. When workers found two vertebrae in the wreckage, the priest was immediately found and a makeshift prayer service for those remains occurred--at the workers request.

So I'd like to hear your stories, priests and ministers...for those who wear their collars, tell me the good and the bad of wearing it. For women religious, how do you make yourself present to those you minister to? Campus and other lay ministers, how much harder is this for you? For those in the marketing or fashion field, what might you suggest for us lay Catholic ministers?

Maybe our friend Peacebang, whose blog should be on your must-read list might have an idea or two as well?

Don't misunderstand....this is not about recognition in terms of haughtyness...but rather it's about serving the needs of those seeking someone in their time of need. With few priests around and some not wearing collars, I wonder how many opportunities fall by the wayside?

On the other side...

The Blog "in Him We Live And Move And Have Our Being" posted this great story the other day.

A sick man turned to his doctor as he was preparing to leave the examination room and said, "'Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side."

Very quietly, the doctor said, "I don't know."

"You don't know? You're a Christian man, and don't know what's on the other side?'

The doctor was holding the handle of the door. On the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness.

Read here to find out what the doctor said to his patient after this.

Jan 28, 2010

Who will anoint the sick and the dying?

Deacon Greg asks this important question...and gives this example from the Washington Post

"He said 'I'm a dying man, and I want to see a priest,'" Mary Baus remembered. "All they said was that they didn't have one."

Baus survived, but his wife said it was a traumatic event that left both her and her husband shaken.

"There used to be a chaplain available if you needed him," she said. "Or you could get a priest to come to the hospital. Now it's not for sure that you will see anyone."

Finding a priest to be at the bedside of the dying is becoming harder and harder across the country. The shortage of priests has been a problem for years, but its implications become most clear at dire times for the ill.

I agree with Deacon Greg who says that Deacons would be great here to use as ministers of the sacrament. My thought is perhaps even a new clerical position intentionally called "chaplain" that could administer anointing of the sick and the Eucharist only--a bet a lot of Catholic doctors would sign up.

It's an important position. I remember when I worked in Calvary Hospital as a volunteer with pastoral care, all people really wanted was someone to talk to and someone who could pray with them in their dark moments. It would have been great to have some kind of ritual that we could have done together on a regular basis at a moment's notice or to be able to administer the anointing of the sick. I'm sure it's a question that will come up at the med school with me often. It's going to take the laity to really speak up about this.

So what are you waiting for? Start writing your letters to the local bishop or to the USCCB.

Haiti: Moving Towards Hope and Away From Pat Robertson's God

Joe Paprocki, Fr. Rick Malloy and myself collaborated on an article for BustedHalo® responding to Pat Robertson's comments on the Haiti earthquake resulting from God's wrath. A snip:

When we look for God in this tragedy we have no further place to look than the faith of the Haitian people — a religious people, to be sure — to give us a glimpse of where God truly can be found. After 11 days, a man named Wismond Exantus was pulled from the rubble, surviving on small snacks and drinks from the hotel’s gift shop that collapsed all around him. When a large group of Haitian people heard about the possibility that someone might still be alive beneath the rocks they gathered somehow, still hopeful, despite all that they had been through.

Would any of us have that same kind of faith?

This is also the faith of the people we see in Scripture. The religious battle, in matters of tragedy, is not between a vengeful God and his faithless creatures; rather, it is between faith and hopelessness. While it is true that Scripture cites examples of God’s response to sin being characterized as wrath, it is also true that often God is also persuaded to relent from unleashing His wrath, as when Moses interceded for the Jewish people after they idolized a golden calf (Exodus 32: 1-14). Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s wrath and mercy always go hand in hand, with expressions of love, mercy and forgiveness far surpassing those of anger. Despite the popular notion that the God of the Old Testament is an angry God, His own people – Israel – continually characterize God as “slow to anger.” More importantly, Scripture reveals to us that whenever God’s people turn away from their sins, God is quick to show mercy. God is always trying to set the world right, out of love for us, though we never really seem to get it all right anyway.

Hopelessness is the place where the evil one hopes to lead us when disaster strikes and our sins take hold of us. And yet, God stays faithful to Israel, even when they disobey him. Israel in turn, returns to faithful practice, despite their faith being tested by exile and slavery. In the book of Job, Job stays faithful to God, refusing to believe that God would smite him for nothing. This sinless man believed and his glimmer of hope in God’s faithfulness is enough to triumph.

Read more here and continue to pray for those who lost their lives and who try to recover from the earthquake in Haiti.

Jan 27, 2010

Memento Mori

At every cemetery's entrance, Fr Pat Keleher tells me, these words are inscribed: Memento Mori (Remember the Dead). Today I went with the good Father over to the medical school for their Memorial Service for those who donated their bodies to the Human Gross Anatomy Lab.

Indeed it was a moving day filled with an outpouring of gratitude for these people who have allowed these students access to their bodies, so that they might better understand and learn about the intricacies of the human body.

Books and models just don't tell the whole story when it comes to the human body. Being able to see a touch and probe an actual human body allows these students to gain not just hands on experience with the body but to examine and see how disease effects the body as well.

An anonymous letter from one student said it perfectly: "The gift of these bodies makes Human Gross Anatomy truly 'human.'"

I've never really thought about this type of gift before, but it truly is one of the more altruistic things one can do. The overwhelming sentiment of the day was that these people had this type of altruism in mind. The letters read by students from family members expressed that very clearly. Their generosity went well beyond, heck, it even literally transcends the grave, avoiding it altogether. Truly death could not hold their gift of self, a gift that might transmit life to another.

I decided to be a donor of my organs some time ago, but now I think I have been inspired enough to consider the good I can do beyond this life with my old bag o' bones.

Besides, it's not going to be of any use to me once I return home to God.

Next semester I plan to volunteer at the lab as someone who assists the students when they get queasy or uneasy or even come to the realization that they're not cut out for medicine. As a minister to medical students it provides me with an opportunity to help them get in touch with their own existential questions, which undoubtedly will come up when time is spent amongst the dead.

Pray for these students today and pray for those who help them be the best doctors they can be.

For even death cannot hold back our desire to give life. And in gross anatomy labs around the country, we see a place where "death delights in helping the living."

Jan 23, 2010

Grant Peace to Desme

Oakland Athletics prospect Grant Desme is trading in his glove for a collar. So says this article.A snip:

The A's prized prospect exited the season with a head-turning presence, accompanied by a bat that produced 31 home runs and a speedy 6-foot-2 frame that stole 40 bases in Class A ball -- making him the only player in Minor League Baseball to enjoy a 30-30 campaign.

An exceptional performance and MVP honors in the Arizona Fall League followed, so surely Desme was close to getting a call, most assumed -- if not for a trip to The Show, then at least for an invitation to Spring Training.

Yet, Desme insists he'd already received the call long before his final at-bat in the fall came and went -- the one that would take him to bigger and better places.

It just so happens it wasn't what the A's organization -- or anyone else, for that matter -- had in mind.

The call, Desme announced Friday, came in the form of priesthood in the Catholic church.

"Last year before the season started, I really had a strong feeling of a calling and a real strong desire to follow it," the 23-year-old said. "I just fought it."

Thus, Desme chose to play out the season as a test of sorts, "just hoping and praying about it."

"As the year went on," he said, "God blessed me. I had a better year than I could have imagined, but that reconfirmed my desire because I wasn't at peace with where I was at. I love the game, but I aspire to higher things."

I kinda know how he feels.

While not being good enough to become an athlete, I was good enough to be a broadcaster. For 10 years of my life I tried to give broadcasting a go, with limited success. I produced a lot behind the scenes, did some small on-air things for the stations that I worked for and felt like I was just spinning my wheels. I was a snotty 20 something who thought that I was better than some on the on-air staff (and I can honestly say that I was in certain cases) and didn't need to go an earn my dues somewhere outside of the world's biggest media market. Still, that limited success was enough to earn me a spot as a minor league broadcaster in my hometown for the Yonkers Hoot Owls.

And I was pretty good. My partner and I had good banter and people who showed up at the games would tell us that we did a good job. I sent tapes to major league broadcasters for advice and they liked what they heard and advised me to just be patient that my time would come. At the end of that season, I believed that I was a good broadcaster. I had proven to myself that I indeed could be a solid broadcaster.

But I wasn't excited about it. I complained through most of the season and when one of my high school coaches showed up to take in a game he noticed my negativity. "You look like you could use a break from this season," he said to me.

He was right.

Even other radio colleagues noticed my lack of enthusiasm, despite a lot of talent. One even mentioned that he saw my energy rise after a returned from a weekend retreat that I had led with my parish and that he had never seen that side of me before.

So I searched my heart and I found much peace after admitting that I was scared to leave one career for what might lie ahead. Friends encouraged me to seek the advice of others and after meeting with many other ministry professionals my fears began to subside. After meeting with a bunch of major league broadcasters, I found myself less envious of their stature and more excited about making a choice for ministry rather than for something for which I just lacked passion.

So I hope that Grant Desme has a great life in the seminary. I hope he discerns well and that he becomes a good priest. Because we need good priests and more importantly, we need men and women with a passion for ministry.

Let's all pray for that today.

The Gospel According to Blog

America Magazine's Fr James Martin, S.J. blogged on the Pope's Message for the World Day of Communications today in which he essentially encourages us to blog the gospel.

This is an essential message for all those in the Catholic church who disparage new media. About ten years ago I remember speaking with a long-time observer of the Catholic church, and asking why so few Catholic leaders--especially some in the hierarchy at the time--seemed to have so little to say about television. "They don't watch it," he said bluntly. It was infra dig. That was pretty shocking, and it reminded me of someone who told me that those who proudly say that they don't watch television are actually saying that they know nothing about the culture in which we live.

Today the same could be said about the new media--the Internet, Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. Some of these developments, to be sure, are a mixed bag, a blessing and a curse, to borrow from Scripture. (What man-made creation isn't?) The Internet, which boasts Wikipedia and thousands of sites for reputable news sources, can sometimes seem like Newton Minow's famous "vast wasteland," filled with hate-filled blogs and, well, pornography. (One of the most popular songs from the musical "Avenue Q" is "The Internet is for Porn.") Youtube, a marvelous place to find clips of movies and songs that you thought you'd never see or hear again, is also the home of, well, more porn. Facebook, a terrific way to keep up with friends and trade photos, is also the originator of the minute-by-minute account from "friends" telling you that they're cleaning their bathroom.

But guess what? That's where people are congregating today and if we want to emulate Jesus we should remember that he went out to see people, rather than simply letting them come to him. (He did some of the latter, but much more of the former.) The history of Christianity is in large part the history of the church using to great effect the latest media, sometimes even inventing media, to evangelize.

Read the whole thing as Fr Jim essentially gives a history of Saints who use modern methods of communication for their time.

Fr. Frank Desiderio, CSP who ran Paulist Productions for many years once told me that we're really extending the message of Jesus when we use media. Jesus used the media of his day: itinerant preaching--parables or story telling, if you will. St. Paul was a letter writer and Paulist Founder and now Servant of God, Isaac Hecker was a publisher. So blogs like this one and sites like BustedHalo® are simply doing what Jesus and his followers have always done.

So blog the gospel, facebook the psalms and tweet Catholic social teaching because there is where the message of Jesus needs to be most alive.

A h/t to the Jewish Journal for the pic and to America Magazine.

Athletic Voodoo

I'm not always a superstitious kind of guy but when it comes to the Jets I kinda fall into that faction who gives some credence to athletic voodoo. My dog has a Jets jersey and so do I. When the dog wears his the Jets consistently win. When I wear mine, it's a mixed review. Guess what he'll be wearing come Sunday.

However, the Jets being the Jets (the team hasn't won the Super Bowl since 1969) will do all they can to jinx their way out of the playoffs. Take this shirt for instance:

What are they thinking? Ok it's irrational, I admit it. But this is more presumptuous than the Obama Nobel Prize.

Still the thoughts of jinxes and hexes and all those things that we sometimes lend our own thinking too is perhaps the stuff of a lack of faith. Do we really believe that a jersey or t-shirt holds that kind of power over the hard work of an entire team of professional athletes? Do we hold so little hope that we become a self-fulfilling prophecy?

What does God think about all of this? I suppose it's all in good fun at times but what happens when we apply the idea of divine retribution to situations like Haiti? We're giving credence in a sense to folks like Pat Robertson when we speak of even this kind of athletic voodoo.

Guess what folks? God's not rooting for the Jets. Or the Colts. Or the Vikings or the Saints. Well...maybe the saints...just not those Saints.

Instead God hopes that we can challenge one another to become the best that we can be. Much like an athletic competition, we compete not for God's love, rather we look to one another to better ourselves and the world.

May the best team win.

Pst. Just in case, Haze will wear the jersey! =0

Jan 22, 2010

Can't Make the March for Life? You can now...

Relevant Radio is conducting a virtual march for life. Perhaps our avatars will run into each other? Personally speaking, I like this idea a lot more.

Bride and Groom Donate Reception Money to Haiti

A Concord Pastor gets a tip o the hat for pointing me to this story. As the prices of weddings get insane here is someone who truly puts money in perspective.

Guests at the Bogen-Nicholson wedding in June will have an interesting tidbit when they describe the couple's big day: The bride and groom served peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Duluth native Leah Bogen and fiance Will Nicholson were eating breakfast and chatting about wedding plans on Sunday morning in their Maple Grove home. At the same time, Bogen was reading the newspaper and was struck by a story from Haiti that included leg amputations and unsafe medical conditions.

The contrast of the earthquake devastation and the party planning struck her.

She made a decision right then and there to donate the money they planned to spend on the reception dinner — 25 percent of their wedding budget — to people in Haiti. Her fiance didn't need any convincing.

"She totally blew me away," said Nicholson, a University of Minnesota Duluth graduate. "I'm still in awe. I was very impressed. How do you say anything but yes to that? It's such a selfless and thoughtful thing. It's hard to get excited about planning a wedding when other people are having such a terrible time.

"We've got friends and family who are happy and healthy and nearby and well-fed. My family doesn't need another fancy meal."

Do I have enough mindfulness within me to give up the things that I don't really need so that someone else might have the basics?

Do I care enough about those who go without that I am willing to do the same in solidarity?

Can I love those who need so much more than my love?

Today be moved by this couple and their commitment not only to each other, but to the poor on their wedding day.

Dolan to Haiti

Whispers in the Loggia reports:

Archbishop Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York and Chairman of the Board of Catholic Relief Services, will attend the funeral Mass for Archbishop Joseph Serge Miot, Archbishop of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, who was killed in last week’s catastrophic earthquake. The funeral will be held on Saturday, January 23, 2010 in the plaza in front of the demolished Cathedral.

Because he is the Chairman of CRS, the Archbishop was asked to attend the funeral by the Papal Ambassador to Haiti, Archbishop Bernardito Auza, and the surviving bishops of Haiti. While in Haiti, the Archbishop will also take the opportunity to offer support to CRS workers already working in Haiti and assess the progress of relief efforts being undertaken by CRS so as to help determine how the Church in the United States can best respond.

Prayers for NY's Archbishop as he heads off to mourn the death of Archbishop Miot and to access the needs of the country. I was struck by the fact that the funeral will be in the plaza in front of the demolished Cathedral. That has to be a tough place to witness to this man's life. The Cathedral's collapse along with the city's speaks to the need for public worship and gathering. This was where everyone came to pray--indeed why should that change now?

A church is never marked by a building itself, but rather by what it is that the church inspires the community to be. In this case, scenes from this funeral should be a remarkable symbol of the faith of the Haitian people. Don't miss it.

And if I go before ye, play this at my funeral...and remember all those who made a difference

This is from a 1997 tour of Ireland of the Notre Dame Folk Choir and it was their last song of the tour. I'm not a grad but I've always admired the student's and their dedication to the liturgy. You can see the realization from some of the seniors that it's all over--they won't be singing together after this moment. Look at the faces of these young lads and see the exchanges of hugs and the hand holding and the tears shed. This is a Campus Minister's dream to forge such a bond.

In many ways they bring me back to my own college days at Fordham when I was part of the Emmaus Retreat Team with their campus ministry. I'm beginning to put together retreat teams in Buffalo and I hope I can create a similar bond like the one that was created amongst my classmates. I can remember after leading a year's worth of retreats (6 in total), that our student team members travelled up to our retreat house for one final evening together. We held hands as we prayed and sang and laughed and remembered a great year, a year that would not have been the same without the experience of being "on the road to Emmaus."

While the miles separate me from many of those people, I'm in touch with almost all of them to this day. They clearly made a difference in my life as a Catholic, as a minister today and as someone who hopes to make a difference in the lives of others. I've been a retreat director for years and have had strong bonds with many of the team members but none could ever equal the kind of bond that we had that wonderful Senior Year of college at Fordham. It's hard to equal the kind of bond we had living in close proximity and then sharing on such a deep level with one another.

Have you had a group like that in your life? A grouo that was so tightly connected that you almost couldn't think of doing something without calling at least one of them and even today when you get back together with them, it is like the hours were few since you last got together. Who are those people in your life that touched you so deeply and brought you to that place where you realized that not only were you there with one another but you were there with Christ?

Jan 21, 2010

After Baptism...Nothing Was Ever the Same

This week I was gifted to be one of the many presenters at the Diocese of Buffalo's Millennial Milestones Conference. The Diocese's foundation is offering grants on young adult ministry initiatives and so the diocesan staff put together a two day conference providing workshops on who young adults are today (My presentation), leadership, parish initiatives and sacramentality.

Dr Jerry Galipeau, D.Min. who you can meet over at the Gotta Sing, Gotta Pray Blog provided me with the most emotional experience of baptism in some time.

He began speaking about visiting the church where he was baptized and it struck him that "my little head was in that font and from that moment on, nothing was ever the same." He noted that his parents thought so much of him that they baptized him into the Catholic community of faith and everything from then on, changed. Because he was Catholic he had studied for the priesthood and instead of choosing ordination he chose the path of parish ministry as a lay person. A gifted musician and liturgist, he has been gift for the church for over 50 years now. It all sprang from that initial moment of water running over a little baby's head.

Dr Galipeau had us all go to the chapel and remember those who were present at our own baptism. Parents, grandparents perhaps, Godparents. A priest. Perhaps some of us, unlike myself, were baptized as adults? What a profoundly different experience that may have been. I know my favorite moment every year is the Easter Vigil, when many adults are newly baptized. It's an amazing experience to watch and to walk with these people as they study in the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA). I remember my good friend Sr. Jeanne Hamilton led RCIA classes one year at Fordham and when the Vigil was over she reported, "I feel like I just gave birth...12 times!"

I approached the font thinking of my parents and my Godparents. My parents are such strong reminders of what it means to stay faithful to God as they have lived married life for nearly 60 years together. My Godmother I can barely remember but I do remember her being very dedicated to me and to my education. She was always encouraging me to read and to learn and to most importantly, stay out of trouble. My Godfather was another story. A World War II veteran, my mother's brother, Patrick, who every one called Bubby, returned from war changed. The big worry of my baptism day was whether or not he'd show up sober. My mother, always the encouraging one, said that she wasn't worried and that he was going to be the godfather and that's that. She believed in him and I think that was all that mattered to him. With his sister's trust, he came and held me over the font and everything worked out just fine. He became someone I looked forward to visiting and who cared for my mother and my family more than most. I even read the second reading at his funeral which I think was one of the first times I was really representing my entire family at a formal event.

Nothing was ever the same.

As I took water from the font, I did so with much gratitude for that changing day. That day when I became part of the church and where indeed, nothing would ever be the same again. I scooped up a large quantity of that water, more than ever mindful, that my life has been blessed with great people, great churches, great pastors and great colleagues in ministry.

And because of my little head being dipped in the font of new life, I have been baptized into new life and need to recall that changing moment again and again.

Abortion: Everyone's Problem

I'd like to introduce you to the coolest nun I know. She is Sr. Bernadette Reis of the Daughters of St Paul. Why is she so cool? Because she listens to the needs of the world and to the confusion of young people and responds with both charity and challenge. This article on BustedHalo® is the clearest thinking article on the Pro-life cause that I've read in some time. It challenged me to think about what I'm doing for the unborn and yet didn't vilify anyone else in the process. Here's a snip:

While Catholics receive information from their bishops urging them to vote pro-life, I don’t ever remember hearing with as much emphasis other ways that we can help to change the reality of abortion beyond simply trying to overturn Roe v Wade. Have you?

What would happen if every one of us were involved, if every one of us made it our responsibility to change the reality of abortion, regardless of whether Roe v. Wade is overturned?

This question has been nagging me ever since my brother, Dominic, and his wife, Cynthia, took in a young woman with a brand new baby. Cynthia befriended her while volunteering at a local home for unwed mothers; but once she gave birth to her daughter, the young mother had nowhere else to go. Dominic and Cynthia were newly married — and they took her in. When they looked for a different apartment, and later for a house, they looked for one that had adequate room for themselves, their guest and her baby. For the last three years, they have provided a home for her and her daughter.

When I was homeless, you opened your door...

Do we ever take things that far? Do I ever take things THAT far? We provide the homeless with a place to sleep in the shelters that we run but would any of us ever dare to take a complete stranger into our home--perhaps not even a complete stranger?

I've said this on this blog over and over again: Just because abortion is legal doesn't mean that it should be the one defining factor that puts a halt on us taking care of mothers and their children. And if abortion were made illegal we'd still be faced with the same challenge: how do we care for these people?

That's a question that many in the pro-life movement don't spend enough time thinking about. Perhaps if we all thought about it for just five minutes a week...we'd needn't worry about this horror anymore? The good sister Bernadette gives us all pause to consider just how much we really do care about all those that are often deemed too hard to love.

Jan 20, 2010

Basketball League for Whites Only?

Fran over at the Parish Blog of St. Edward the Confessor pointed me to this article on Thinkprogress.org

A new professional basketball league called the All-American Basketball Alliance (AABA) sent out a press release on Sunday saying that it intends to start its inaugural season in June, with teams in 12 U.S. cities. However, the AABA is different from other sports leagues because only players who are “natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league.” AABA commissioner Don “Moose” Lewis insists that he’s not racist, but he just wants to get away from the “street-ball” played by “people of color” and back to “fundamental basketball.” Lewis cited the recent incidents of bad behavior by NBA players, implying that such actions would never happen with white players:

“There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing,” he said. “I don’t hate anyone of color. But people of white, American-born citizens are in the minority now. Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.” [...]

He pointed out recent incidents in the NBA, including Gilbert Arenas’ indefinite suspension after bringing guns into the Washington Wizards locker room, as examples of fans’ dissatisfaction with the way current professional sports are run.

Are you kidding me? We have a black man in the White House and yet overt racism still continues. Anybody else offended by this?

What cities would possibly allow them to have outposts? Well...they are supposedly looking to the Southern part of our country--where perhaps they'd have a better reception. What could some possible team names be?

Kissimmee Klansmen comes to mind. No offense to the great city in Florida.

God Moments? Roger Ebert on Dining, Not Eating

Roger Ebert, who you may know has lost the power of speech from his battle with thyroid cancer has also lost the ability to eat and drink as well. He opines possibly the most wonderful and touching piece I have read on dining with others in some time.

Here's just a snip from this long blog post:

I came across this sentence in its web review, and it perfectly describes the kind of place I like: " A Greek-style chow joint replete with '70s wood paneling, periwinkle padded booths, a chatty wait staff and the warble of regulars at the bar. Basically, if you've ever had it at any place that starts with Grandma's, Uncle's or any sort of Greek place name, you can find it here." Yes. If a restaurant doesn't serve tuna melts, right away you have to make allowances.

So that's what's sad about not eating. The loss of dining, not the loss of food. It may be personal, but for, unless I'm alone, it doesn't involve dinner if it doesn't involve talking. The food and drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguments and shared memories I miss. Sentences beginning with the words, "Remember that time?" I ran in crowds where anyone was likely to break out in a poetry recitation at any time. Me too. But not me anymore. So yes, it's sad. Maybe that's why I enjoy this blog. You don't realize it, but we're at dinner right now.

Indeed. One of my last jobs in radio was producing the very fine radio program of Arthur Schwartz called Food Talk. Which I always thought should just have been called "Radio Dining." We would eat out often, for work. And while the food was significant, Peter Lugar's steak (actually, the bacon, tomato and onion appetizer was more memorable and as tasty), Oceana's salmon, Foley's Fish House's Crab cakes, or even a Nathan's Hot Dog (with a great snap in every bite) it was the conversations with people that I remember most. Arthur was and still is, a real character and often around a meal he would be lively and entertaining.

The same is true here in Buffalo. The hospitality that Fr Jack Ledwon, our pastor and especially, Sr Jeremy Midura and Patty Spear, two other members of our parish have shown us has made Buffalo a home for Marion and I. Often that hospitality centers around a meal. Even our daily staff lunches help us get to know one another and revel in each other's lives and stories.

That is often what we remember about meals--the who rather than the what. Interestingly, Roger Ebert speaks of remembering root beers and cheap candies, "especially the blacks, reds and greens," which I despise, but hey, everyone's got their own palate. But the interesting thing is that it seems that the memory of those things takes him to a place that is just as satisfying. Once you get a taste of something apparently, it is yours forever.

Perhaps that is true about most things. I know I have memories of times spent with my wife that nobody can ever take away from me and all I have to do is to recall those memories and I am there once again, enraptured by the googly-eyed passion that I was feeling at the time and to make things better, moments after I remember, I look at Marion and the moment is here again. Memory, even without action, often influences emotion and satisfaction.

Most things that we value are lodged in the heart and in the mind and they don't take much to recall and transport us back to what is truly important. I know, I need that reminder and Mr. Ebert provided that for me today.

Yet, in our own religious tradition of Catholicism, it seems to me that Jesus had the same idea when he said "Do this in memory of me." We recall and ritualize this by doing something simple, eating a meal of bread and wine in appearance, but in doing so we literally harken Jesus--do we not? Remembering, in fact, makes it so, makes it real, makes it Christ. Someone says the words and perhaps we quietly say them too, and we recall the story of Jesus giving us His entire self, God gives us all that He can be in human appearance so we might become all that God is in glory. While the apostles had the only actual experience of that living breathing Jesus and we only have their remembrance, it indeed is enough for all of us...for nearly 2000 years enough.

Today think of a fond memory and let yourself be transported there...remember and it will simply be so.

As for myself, I'm off to Ireland and I'm not even taking a plane.

A h/t to Deacon Greg for pointing me here and prayers for Roger Ebert

Jan 19, 2010

Millennial Milestones

I'm speaking today at the Diocese of Buffalo's Millennial Milestones conference, an all-out effort to appeal to the needs of the young adults of the diocese. Rumor has it that there's a big crowd coming--so pray for me today. If I bomb these, folks know where I live!

Seriously, Buffalo is a struggling city and lots of young people have been moving out of Buffalo in recent years. So the diocese is hoping to do lots with the young people who are here and choosing to stay in the city.

Most especially, we need to pay attention to our University Communities. At UB alone there are about 13,000 Catholics on both the North and South Campus. Canisius College, a fine Jesuit institution, Buff State, D'Youville, and Daemon College are also in town--so we have no dearth of University students.

Many people did great ministry to Gen Xers, focusing on community, social justice and perhaps even not focusing as much on items like catechesis or devotions. Today as the millennials come to us with a different set of religious longings, we perhaps need a different approach. Community and Social Justice are still important but tradition, devotion, and a knowledge of what the church stands for is also important as well. We need (and perhaps we always did, but there may not have been signs of this as an obvious longing at the time) a mix of contemplation and community. Extroversion and introversion, are balanced a bit more today, if you will. The world has turned even further towards the self and we as people of faith need to accept people where they are but also, turn them towards relationship with a wider world that takes them beyond their own self-centered concerns.

So today, pray for Buffalo, for their leaders and for the diocese. Pray for our Bishop, Edward Kmiec and his staff, especially Greg Coogan who has put much of this day together. May we inspire the lives of young people and bring them into a closer relationship with Jesus. Amen.

Jan 17, 2010

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.

When God is All You Have...

A beautiful reflection from A Concord Pastor today:

A snip

Just a few minutes ago, I saw video of hundreds of Haitians processing through the streets of Port au Prince singing hymns and clapping their hands. The commentator mentioned that all through the night you could hear groups of people throughout the city gathering and singing together...

When God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith...

The faithful Haitian people are human beings. This week we've seen them bleed and die; we've heard their cries of anguish, their weeping over the loss of loved ones; we've seen them beg for something to eat, something to drink, for a place to go... but they know in Jesus a God who chose to suffer with his people and they believe their God is with them...

When God is all you have, you do not let go of your faith...

Don't for a moment think that I'm trying to "spiritualize" the plight of Haitians this week. Their loss and pain are real, as real as their faith in God -and conversely- their faith in God is real, as real as their loss and pain.

If anything, we may be the ones in need of a deeper spirituality in the face of this tragedy.

True. I keep thinking to myself, "What if this happened here?" Would our churches fill much as they did on Sept 12, 2001 the day after that horrifying day. Would we be able to awake to the possibility that God needs us and loves us and quite often we are too blind to notice until something terrible happens?

Don't misunderstand me, I'm not saying this quake or any future natural or man-made disaster is an intentional wake up call from God. But perhaps, it might serve as a wake up call to us who often forget about faith and who languish in the security of the United States. Other people need us and our gifts and often we are too busy with our own mundane affairs to care.

Can we be the overflowing gift to Haiti with our own excess? I think we can. We simply have to want to become what it is that we have received.

I Have a Dream...

We think about that Dream today. As an African-American sits in the oval office, as a country of primarily black people need our help, as racism and gang violence plague many American cities, as children go hungry....

We miss your words today, Dr. King...but we remember and believe that we have overcome much already and we shall overcome again, one day.

Martin Luther King - We Shall Overcome!

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Jan 16, 2010

The Priestly Pooch

Deacon Greg brings us a story of a priest and his best friend and a parish who "gets it":

For those who think dogs would be such a distraction in church...here's the story of how one is renewing a community.

Our Lady of the Holy Cross Catholic Church got a new priest last summer, the Rev. Don Buhr.

With Buhr came Elijah, also known in this North Side parish as the Church Dog.

Elijah is a Labrador and border collie mix who attends every Mass that Buhr celebrates.

"A dog in church -- I know it doesn't sound right and doesn't seem right," Buhr said. "But this dog is a gift from God."

Elijah is slim and black with white paws and a splash of white fur on his chest in the shape of a cross that, Buhr said, marks the animal as "a real priest dog."

Buhr, 69, insists that Elijah smiles at people he likes. "But it's the stupidest smile you ever saw," he said, stretching his lips and gritting his teeth in imitation.

When Buhr came to the church, he asked the parishioners if it would be all right if Elijah attended Mass. He said he didn't want anyone's prayer to be disturbed. So far, he said, no one has complained.

Buhr's last assignment was at a country parish where Elijah was allowed to roam the fields and woods.

The dog has made a smooth transition to the inner city. He is the terror of squirrels and other animals that trespass on the parish grounds.

Inside the church, however, Elijah is as gentle as a lamb.

During Mass, he tends to quietly meander.

He may stroll onto the altar to sit beside Buhr or server Brittany Pfaffenback, 16. At one Mass, Brittany petted Elijah with one hand and rang the bell with the other.

"I'm a dog lover so I'm glad to have him around," she said....

The priest hopes that word of the Church Dog will spread and perhaps draw people to the parish.

"Maybe there are some dog lovers out there who haven't been to church in a while," Buhr said. "And they will come and meet this special dog."

Read more on this--it's a great story.

Hey Fr. Buhr, why not do a special "pet mass" once a month so Elijah might meet some friends? That would get the dog lovers in the door!

Honestly, I'm amazed that my dog, Haze, who has attended mass here and there, in a few parishes downstate and who is welcome in the parish center here in Buffalo and who is not always the best behaved, was absolutely quiet at all times in church, sitting quietly on my lap or in his crate. Better behaved than most small children, I might add. I understand that people might find it distracting and Haze has no dander so while allergies isn't an issue with him, I'm sure that would be a case in some other instances. Still, I think one random quiet dog couldn't disturb a whole lot, but certainly the dog needs to be well trained.

Ripley and Quigley, our Pastor Fr. Jack's English Sheepdogs have the run of our parish center and I'm always happy to have Quigley stop by my office to sniff my sneakers and then Miss Ripley comes running after him out of sheer jealousy. My new pals sometimes come in when I'm in the midst of my few minutes of prayer that I try to take every hour and rather than seeing that as a disturbance, they instead always bring me a new awareness of appreciating all of God's creation--even when Quig is a bit barky or Ripley a bit pushy (sheepdogs are herders, so they often push their nose and body against my leg to tell me to get moving!). Our parish loves them and has embraced them especially as they welcome people into church from the rectory yard. They're probably not well-behaved enough to just roam around during mass (neither is Haze) but in their own way those dogs are a huge part of our parish family and I do believe that many people come our way because they know we love dogs and they figure if the church is run by a bunch of people who love dogs, then they can't be bad folks!

Evangelization by canine- Francis would be proud.

A hat tip to the Good Deacon and to STL Today for the pic.

Jan 15, 2010

Living with Uncertainty - A Haitian Young Adult Reflects:

Mirlande Jeanlouis from BustedHalo reflects on the Haitian earthquake where she has several family members in more than precarious positions. This was one of the more honest reflections I've read on the disaster and in a young adult world where certainty often reigns supreme, her experience is quite harrowing.

Last September my mother returned to Haiti after a seven-year absence from her home country. It was a brief trip involving minor family matters and she came back telling us how amazed she was at the economic growth she had seen. Many families had personal computers or cell phones. Some of the small villages had better roads and bridges. After the tragic events there this past week the country my mother visited just a few short months ago no longer exists. In the wake of the earthquake I keep thinking of the “what if’s:” What if my mother had traveled last week instead? What if I had gone to visit her? What if my sister had finally found the money to spend Christmas, New Year’s in Port-au-Prince? The “what if’s” are choking my family right now. Since Tuesday we don’t even know how sad to be.

There is a distinct difference between mourning for a country and mourning for a beloved niece or cousin, and in my family’s New York City home we’ve been vacillating between both of those states. My father, an emotional guy by nature, started crying Wednesday morning. We got an e-mail about the village he grew up in; it had a church with a kindergarten attached. Both structures collapsed killing everyone inside. His aunt with lung cancer was pulled out of the rubble of her home, with her life and not much else. My mother has a cousin and sister living in Port-au-Prince that she speaks to at least once a week. Both women have several children. She hasn’t heard anything. Over the past week my mother, who is a quiet person, has become even more silent. My siblings and I are worried.

Meanwhile I’m supposed to be studying for a Neurology exam, working at my school’s library and finding bloggers for “Busted Borders.” Instead I’ve been watching CNN, MSNBC and the local news in hopes to see someone we know in the footage of a ruined hospital—it hasn’t happened. Somehow, I am supposed to be living life as if someone I know is not sleeping on the street petrified of being in a building. I don’t know how to do that.

I am supposed to be living life as if someone I know is not sleeping on the street terrified of being in a building. Is it possible to be positive with such uncertainty?
Is it possible to be positive with such uncertainty? In my 24 years of life I have had an abundance of control over what happens. If I studied hard I got good grades. If I worked I got better pay or a promotion. If I gave someone respect, usually respect was given to me in return. Powerlessness is not a feeling I am used to.

Say a prayer for Mirlande's family, as I am tonight. Read the rest of her article on BustedHalo.com® and then pray for young adults who can add another tragic event to the myriad of tragedies that have marked their young lives.

Question Box: Is the Holy Spirit a bird?

This is a common misconception that just as Jesus takes on our human form that God also takes on a dove's body and therefore we perhaps might want to think about worshiping a lovely white bird. We see this question come up most often when the Baptism of the Lord is the gospel passage on Sunday, as it was this past weekend.

However, it is not the case that God becomes a bird. If we read the scriptures carefully we see the following scenarios:

The Holy Spirit is said to be LIKE many things in scripture including flame, winds, and a dove. We need to look carefully to see what the scripture really says:

From the Baptism reading:

After all the people had been baptized and Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, heaven was opened and the holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased."

It doesn't say that the spirit 'took the form of a dove" it says that the spirit descended upon him LIKE a dove. So we don't know what the spirit's form looked like only that it was flying apparently.

The dove is a symbol in ancient times (read jewish culture) of the predominance of spirit over matter. Thus they were also the poor man's offering to God. People brought doves to the temple when they couldn't afford anything else as a sacrifice--again symbolizing a spiritual offering as being dominant over material wealth. It was therefore also a symbol of freedom for the poor--our offering is as good as someone who gives 1000 shekels.

So the symbolism the author is using here is rich indeed...

God offers Himself to us--Jesus though hidden in this material form is really God incarnate. The spirit of his essence dominates over the material human form.

It also symbolizes that the simple carpenter's son is more than meets the eye--the dove points us to that.

Moreover, Luke is writing to a Greek audience and the dove was perceived by the Greeks as Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and thus also invested with erotic connotations. As an attribute of the fertility goddess, the dove became a symbol of love between human beings, and between the deity and the worshipers.

So here we have Jesus who is God become man, we see the interplay between man and God. The dove, a female symbol is juxtaposed with the male voice that offers this new creation as part of the self-offering of God--the result of a male-female union of the divine. The Holy Spirit comes to the virgin through the Father and the result is the union of God and man. The Spirit literally embodies in a female to produce the male Jesus.

In general, the dove has become the symbol of the holy spirit (which often in modern culture takes on a female connotation) and quite often it is used as a symbol of peace, dating back to the Old Testament when God sent the dove with the olive branch in its mouth as a sign of peace and covenant.

Jan 14, 2010

Why is there suffering?

Our buddy Paul Snatchko had great and insightful words yesterday. So a wave o' the cap over to him.

Considering the tragedy that has taken place in Haiti, the final verse of the Psalm at Mass today stings:

“Why do you hide your face,
forgetting our woe and our oppression?
For our souls are bowed down to the dust,
our bodies are pressed to the earth.”


It’s the question of the day.

Why does God permit the earth to rumble beneath us?

Why did God permit the earth to move under Haiti, the poorest nation in the Americas?

And, frankly, the most truthful answer is that we simply do not know.

I believe in an all-powerful God. I do not know his will. I do not know why he permits his creation to suffer.

Lord, why do your pilgrim people face so many obstacles along the journey?

But, this I do know: no purpose is served by claiming that natural disasters are the reaction of a vengeful God. No purpose is served by asserting that our Creator singles out certain peoples for punishment because of the supposed deeds of their ancestors.

That indeed is a question that has no answer, much as Karl Rahner would say that God Himself is that same unanswerable question.

Why God permits such suffering in the world is indeed the big question that plagues us and has for centuries, perhaps for all time. This Sunday we will talk about the wedding feast at Cana--the first of Jesus' signs. And while some think that this may be a negative sign of God's wrath, I cannot allow myself to think that God would serve such a purpose.

Life is messy and nobody knows that better than Jesus. He knows of our suffering and he experienced it. Our God of suffering lives today amongst the families and friends who mourn all those who have passed. May we be bold enough to allow ourselves to suffer with the Haitian people, to feel their pain and to transform that pain into redemption--even in some small way.

We love the Haitian people and feel for their needs. The bigger question than "Why does God allow such tragedy to happen?" should be even more obvious to us. I think God asks us the same question:

Why do YOU allow such suffering to happen?

When radio hosts say that we've already paid for the Haitian relief with our taxes, we should start asking if we are all really committed to the human condition. And more importantly, what are we going to do about it?

God Moments: Knowing What's Enough

It's amazing how often we fail to see God all around us, or even right in front of us.

Haiti and Nicaragua are the two poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. I have visited the latter several times and we've heard much too sad news about the former for most of today.

I blogged earlier about Pat Robertson's stupid comment which claimed in short (and I paraphrase here) that Haiti has been under some kind of curse by God. If that's the case then God must hate an awful lot of people.

Two-thirds of the world live on less than $1 per day. Anyone here make more than that? We probably all do. Therefore we are amongst the world's elite third. I'm sure Mr. Robertson makes more than the top 10 percent of the world. Maybe even the top 1 percent.

I haven't been to Haiti, but I have seen poverty in Nicaragua. I've seen people living in garbage dumps scavenging for food to eat and goods to resell. I've seen young men who long to simply go to school working in the garbage dump, hoping that one day they will be able to leave this place of destitution. Most don't. And the truth is that most die in the poverty that they live in.

The orphanage that I visited in Nicaragua was for abandoned and disabled children. Elvira was one of the little children that I loved to hold in the early mornings. Some love the morning paper, some a nice hot cup of coffee, some the Today Show, some quiet time to read or pray and some a big breakfast but I have never been more satisfied in the morning than I have been by simply holding this little girl in my arms in those early morning hours in a developing country.

Elvira couldn't walk and couldn't talk. She could giggle a little and her smile was broad and wide. All she wanted was to be touched and to be held. Poverty has a way of letting you appreciate the simple pleasures of a touch, a morsel of bread (without butter or jam, I might add), fresh water or a place to call home. It was Elvira who allowed me, the one who was supposed to be offering service, to get in touch with what it means to be poor. For I was unable to fix Elvira. I was unable to cure Elvira's illness. Elvira didn't need an iPod or a Wii.

All Elvira needed was me. I was enough for her and she was more than enough for me and she has been up to today--even though I sometimes need to remember that time spent with her and recall that fulfilling feeling of being and having enough.

Can we be enough for the people of Haiti? Can we call upon ourselves to live simpler, love deeper and reach farther than we usually bother to do? We should be able to be more than enough. Just $1/day, $365/year is often what people live on in this poor country. We usually have that to spare. Think about making a donation today to Catholic Relief Services or to the Jesuit Relief Services or to a charity of your choosing. We don't know poverty in our country as they do in Haiti and that indeed is a crime in which we are all complicit by our indifference.

But also think about what is enough for people. Money goes a long way but time and presence often matters so much more. So when and if the opportunity presents itself...go to a place like Haiti and see what nobody should ever have to see and let it change you. Go and meet the Elviras of the world, who have nothing to offer you but their smiles and for whom YOU are more than enough.

It will change you. More than the pictures on CNN, more than the casualty numbers you read. The experience of these people will change you.

And if "enough" of us do that, we can change the world.

Driving and Snowing and Praying

So I've been in Buffalo now for nearly 3 months and it's beginning to feel like home. Don't worry New York City friends, we still miss you, but people here are so hospitable that we are able to enjoy the thrill of returning to the big city and yet still long to be back in Buffalo. Here's what home looks like when it's not covered in snow.

I've put nearly 400 miles of daily commute miles on my car and driving is seemless for me most of the time. I did sideswipe our business manager's bumper in the parking lot about a week ago (I just turned into the space a bit too quickly) but it was just a tiny tap, not enough to cause any damage and he was understanding about it. (I'm sure he'll make fun of me for the next oh, year or so). The funny thing is on the open road I feel very comfortable, but when I head into a parking lot I get very uneasy for some reason. I think people lose all their sense when they head into a parking lot. They dart out from between cars with no regard for cars or pedestrians. I have taken to finding the closest space as soon as I turn in and not caring how far I have to walk.

Everyone warned me about the snow. We had an easy month of December with very little snow (I missed the only really heavy snowfall while I was in Milwaukee) but January has been rough. It never seems to stop and because it is rather cold here and there is less foot traffic the snow just seems to pile up for days. Now, it IS a nice white color and gives the place a serene look so that's a major plus over New York City slush. So to my NYC and Washington, DC friends who claim that I have jinxed myself for making fun of y'all when you had your gigantic snowstorm, I have only one thing to say:

Buffalo laughs at the snow. We're well able to handle it.

My major complaint about the snow is the constant cleaning of the car windshields. I forget to factor into my morning commute the time it will take to clean the snow off of the car and that turns an 8 minute commute into more like a half hour depending on the amount of snow that has fallen.

So today let us pray for those who have no home in the winter months. For those who we find freezing without coats and gloves. We pray for those who are unable to heat their homes and who can't make ends meet in this still harsh economy. We pray that the cold and gray winter months that keep some people depressed who suffer from mental illness will soon lift their spirits with the joy of spring.

And we pray for your prayers...whatever they might be today.

Jan 13, 2010

"I cannot imagine Haiti Could Suffer Even More"

Over 100,000 dead. What a sad day.

The National Catholic Reporter has more first hand harrowing details. Tom Roberts reports.

The Jan. 12 news that a 7.0 earthquake had hit Haiti near the capital city of Port au Prince held a special poignancy for me because I had just finished writing a story for NCR about an October trip I took to Haiti’s northern section and the Dominican Republic.

It would have been difficult to imagine anything getting worse in the poorest country in the hemisphere, where very little works, where 80 percent of the population lives in poverty, where a series of tropical storms battered portions of the country in 2008 and where chaos, violence and political instability are everyday fare. And in an instant things got much worse.

The trip in October was sponsored and planned by Catholic Relief Services, which has worked in Haiti for 55 years. It’s one of CRS’s largest operations and includes dozens of international staff and more than 200 Haitians. John Rivera, director of communications for CRS in Baltimore, said Jan. 12 that all of the staff in Haiti appeared to be safe.

Karel Zelenka, CRS country representative in Haiti who has had experience bringing relief to war zones and areas affected by natural disasters, send a communiqué calling the earthquake “a disaster of the century,” adding, “we should be prepared for thousands and thousands of dead and injured.”

Experts say that an earthquake of this magnitude would cause significant damage in most places. It is reasonable, then, to expect the effect to b e multiplied in a place like Haiti where there is negligible infrastructure, poor communications and where building standards are lax, if not non-existent.

“We have a terrible problem with communications – only incoming calls,” wrote Zelenka. “We tried to organize this morning and contact UN, OFDA and Caritas. We might be running out of supplies ourselves – water and food. … No organized rescue efforts yet– all done by individuals with bare hands. Damage incredible all around, but our offices seem fine. Some major buildings are gone – the hotel Montana, the National Palace etc.

All (American Airlines) flights canceled until this weekend. UN has only 4 helicopters, two were seen early this morning doing surveys, otherwise no movement of any rescue vehicles / people. Most in a shock. …On radio stations only wild music. People have been screaming and praying all over the place throughout the night. It is a disaster of the century, we should be prepared for thousands and thousands of dead and injured.”

Read more about it here.

The Luddite Blogger

We've been heavy hearted today so...here's a bit of highbrow comic relief. A blog by someone who claims to be a luddite. Hysterical.

Curses! After felling an oak tree and chopping it into bits for winter warmth, I lit my candle and went to the kitchen to retrieve some refreshment. My candle fell on Remembrance of Things Past, and well, the book is indeed remembered and past. I loved that book. (sob)

It was probably my first foray on to the slippery slope oif my life, buying a book from a printing press. First the press, now the computer...I feel my connection to the natural world sifting through my fingers like ashes. Specifically, the ashes of my now destroyed book.

Now go read some Proust!

Quake in Haiti Leaves Midwest Mission Trip Grounded

In St Louis, plans for a mission trip to Haiti get derailed:

The phone was ringing off the hook at Holy Redeemer Parish in Webster Groves Jan. 13 after a massive earthquake hit Haiti, where members of the parish have worked for years to foster better living conditions for the people.

The parish supports St. Jean du Sud in southern Haiti, about 170 miles from the capital, Port-au-Prince, where the damage from the quake was centered. One Holy Redeemer parishioner who has been there since mid-December was unharmed. She is teaching English to a group of young adults who volunteer with the Webster Groves’ parish medical mission.

Holy Redeemer parishioners have spent weeks preparing for a mission trip to Haiti, mostly in packing donated medical supplies. A small group was set to go Feb. 6 to help bring water to the rectory and a medical team of about 20 was set to leave Feb. 13. Those plans are on hold until it is determined if flights will be arriving in Haiti and other questions are answered.

Parishioner Harry Bahr said the packing of supplies will continue. A decision will have to made on how to help the people of Port-au-Prince, he said. Members on the mission trips usually stay at a guest house in Port-au-Prince. Bahr received an e-mail message from the woman religious who staffs it who noted that it was damaged. But in an undamaged area with a medical supply room and battery backup three doctors set up a triage center.

A Haitian family he knows also are OK, Bahr said. But he said he can understand how extensive the damage can be. “Port-au-Prince is like a stack of cards. Once those houses start going, there’s nothing to hold them.”

St. Louisan Dee Leahy of Mary Queen of Peace Parish in Webster Groves was in Port-au-Prince during the quake. Her son, Mike Leahy, said family members had not heard from her, but a CNN reporter called him to inform him that she is unharmed. Dee Leahy is working with the Missionaries of Charity there and is planning to extend her stay, her son said.

Read more here and God bless this parish for their dedication.

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