Are You Sirius?

Some of you might be familiar with The Catholic Channel on Sirius XM radio.  They offer a variety of Catholic programming, including my friend Nancy’s favorites, “The Catholic Guy” and “The Busted Halo Show.”

I’ve been invited to be a guest on The Busted Halo show this Thursday night, September 16.  The show runs from 7-10 pm, and they’ll be having me on for a teensy-weensy bit of that, from about 8:20 or 8:30 pm until, at the latest, about 9:00 pm.  I’d love to have you listen to the show, and leave your comments and questions here.

We’ll be talking about my experience as a Jesuit, my ministry with young adults, and my new book for young adults in their 20s and 30s, Already There.  If you don’t have Sirius radio, you can do what I just did, and sign up for a seven-day free trial membership.  It takes about 5 minutes!  Come join us!

Books in Mommyland

The Karen in Mommyland book giveaway has finished, and the winners are Praying Mom and Munches Mom (seems appropriate).  Thanks for all who participated, and to Karen for her help and enthusiasm!  Get the whole story here.  And watch for opportunities to get your own copy in the future!

Who Do You Think You Are?

When I was nearing completion of Already There, I happened to mention that I was finishing work on the book to a fellow Jesuit who wasn’t aware I’d been writing it.  In the nicest possible way, he asked me something along the lines of, “What makes you think  you have the experience/authority/knowledge (I forget the exact words) to claim to teach someone what the spiritual life is about?”  It was meant sincerely, not in an accusatory way.  My first reaction was surprise.  How is it, I wondered, that I had gotten this close to finishing the book without anybody else asking me that question? The second was relief, because I had an answer that I didn’t have to fumble around for.

The answer was that I was very deliberate to point out in the book that I didn’t have all the answers.  That I had some experiences that suggested answers, and that often those insights came from the experience of screwing things up.  I will never lay claim to being a guru who gets or has gotten everything right.  At the same time, I can’t pretend that I haven’t learned some things over the years that others might find it helpful to know about.  As flawed as my experience is or has been, God has given me the gift of being able to reflect profitably on those experiences and to communicate them verbally and in writing in ways that some people find helpful.  (This means also contending with the perception by some that simply by writing such a book I am being presumptuous or am full of myself, which I hope with God’s help I am not)

As unqualified as I sometimes feel to help others in their spiritual lives, I also have come to have some confidence that God can still use me in this way, despite my shortcomings.  Indeed, when I am offering spiritual direction or hearing a confession, I often find myself thinking that the other person should be sitting in my chair!  They seem to have a much better prayer life than I do, I think.  Or, they’re doing a much better job of resisting sin or temptation than I am! It’s very humbling to be put into this position.  And it’s even more humbling to know that despite my unworthiness, that through me God is able to bring guidance and consolation to that person.

Though it was not the case with the Jesuit I mentioned, people often do ask us questions like, “Who do you think you are?,” in an accusatory way.  As troublesome as it is, we all have to acknowledge that there is (or should be) a gap between who we think or know we are, and who God is calling us to be.  Otherwise, there would be no need to advance in the spiritual life, and no need for people like me to write books about how we are trying to bridge that gap, or at least shorten it.

There is a great and wonderful mystery contained in our realization of this reality.  We realize that we are all at different places in our relationship with God, and called to different things, and thus the more we find ourselves called upon to help others in their spiritual journeys, the more we realize the need ourselves to let others help us.

Each of us is meant in our own way to stand among both the guides and the guided.   Our challenge is to be humble enough to know which of these we are meant to be in a given situation.  We might think we are meant to lead, but realize we are being called to follow; and sometimes we are content to follow and find ourselves called to lead.  In both cases, we have to contend with our pride, and the question, “Who do you think you are?,” becomes very important.  But now it is not an accusatory affront, but an invitation from God.

I think one of God’s greatest challenges is trying to get us to match up who we think we are with who God knows us to be.  God doesn’t want us to think either too much or too little of ourselves, and God wants us to trust that by responding to our calling, who we are now is sufficient to achieve God’s purpose, even if we are not yet who we—or God—desire us to be.

The Need for Community

At her blog, Everything is Holy Now, my friend Becky shares about one of her favorite parts of Already There:

“For me, Mark’s words were both an affirmation and challenge. He affirmed the call I feel to belong to a community, and he challenged me to look at my understanding of community in terms of my Catholic faith. The reality is my faith life would have remained static if it was not for the community of friends and ministry colleagues who continued to foster my faith life by their examples, by their knowledge, and by their support. These people, along with my family, are concrete reminders of God’s presence in my life.”

I am grateful for her comments, and I recommend checking her blog out. She always writes insightful and thoughtful posts, expressed beautifully. One of my favorites of her recent posts is “Holding in a Laugh.” Mainly, because I want to go to the world of fuzz!

Win a Book

Karen in Mommyland was not only kind enough to write a review of Already There, she’s giving a way a couple of copies:

I mentioned to Fr. Mark last week that I was planning to host a giveaway of Already There here on my blog and he liked the idea so much that he offered to contribute a signed copy. So I have not one, but two copies of this great book to offer up for this giveaway.  To enter this giveaway simply leave a comment.

To enter, just leave a comment here:

Thanks to Karen for doing this, and to all of you for your interest and participation!

An Early Review of Already There

Karen in Mommyland has been kind enough to provide a review for Already There. Here’s a taste of it:

“I liked how incredibly readable the book was. While reading Already There I just got the feeling that I was hanging out with a good friend. It’s engaging, it’s interesting, it’s humorous and it has the ability to be life changing.”

Read the whole review here.

I am grateful.

On Being At Home, Part 2: The Reason I’m a “Southern” Jesuit

“South Carolina” is the answer to the question I’m often asked: How did I guy from Massachusetts end up a Jesuit in the New Orleans Province? The summer after I graduated college I worked at a summer camp in Western Massachusetts, where I worked with several young women from South Carolina. I think they were the first people from there I’d ever met. There was something about them, and how they spoke about the place that fascinated me. So, later that year, when I was applying to graduate schools, the rather strange possibility of applying to the University of South Carolina seemed a little less strange.

I know it might seem funny, but my decision to apply to USC was influenced by what might otherwise have been an overlooked “personal touch.” I was applying to grad schools from out of the country, and didn’t have a fixed address. The newest information catalogue was not available, but instead of sending me a form letter, or not responding at all, someone had taken the time to write me a personal note asking me to let them know what address to send the information to me, when it became available. Still, as the acceptance—and rejection—letters came in, my best offer was from Catholic University in Washington, and it seemed I was going there. But, I thought, I had nothing to lose in writing the other places I had been accepted, and seeing if they had something more to offer. I got only one bite. USC offered me a teaching assistantship, which was exactly what I was looking for.

So, South Carolina became the first place that I lived on my own, far away from home. My first friends were the other students in the program, many of whom I liked very much. But I also felt the pull of my spiritual roots, and started getting involved at the Saint Thomas More Catholic Student Center. There I met several friends who, though now we’re scattered all over the country, I still keep in touch with. I also felt another pull back to youth ministry, which led me to a local parish, and a deep, abiding friendship with a group of people who continue to be some of my closest friends. And, because they were “locals,” many of them having grown up in South Carolina, and because they continue to live there, which (sadly) I don’t, South Carolina is a special kind of home, which I try to get back to with some regularity. I write about my experience in South Carolina in my book, Already There:

“I enjoyed my activities at the university’s Catholic center, but I also felt God stirring that desire to give retreats to or teach high school students,as I had done in the past. I arranged a meeting with the youth ministry director in the parish. Remarkably, she already had six people who had volunteered to help that year. I was excited by the prospect of working with such a large team. She, on the other hand, as she admitted to me only some months later after we’d become close friends, had been prepared to suggest I try another parish, since they already had more help than they needed. But we hit it off almost immediately, and when I told her about my desire and my past experience, she couldn’t say no. A few years later, she was one of the first people I told of my decision to apply to become a Jesuit, and the first I asked to write a recommendation for me.

The result was a dream team of sorts. We eight became fast friends and quickly discovered how well our skills complemented one another’s in our work with the parish’s youth. The youth program not only grew and improved, but so did we, because of our care for the young people of the parish and each other. The total impact on my life seems disproportionate to the amount of time it lasted—only about two years. It was an experience of friendship and community I continue to cherish, I’ve carried the picture of the eight of us in all my moves since then, even though that experience could not be sustained. One man was in the army and was transferred, one woman got married and moved to another state, one could no longer find the time, and two of us felt called to answer the need for a youth ministry director at another parish.

Such times, such friends, are great gifts, even if, inevitably they can’t be beside us forever, let alone a few years. By drawing out the best from us, they directly contribute to our becoming what God desires us to be. These were, and continue to be, some of the best and most important friends I’ve had in my lifetime. When I was ordained a priest in New Orleans, after celebrating Mass with friends and family, my next stop was South Carolina. I needed to be with my friends there because, though I had gotten my training from the Jesuits, these were the people who had inspired and nurtured my gifts and my desires in such a way that being a Jesuit and a priest became a real option for me. There’s little coincidence in my mind in the fact that four of them were with me that day, listening to the same priest talk, when God placed the question in my mind, “Why aren’t you doing that?” In our work together, and in our care and love for each other, they had already, in a sense, asked me the same question.”