One of My Favorite Easter Moments

PeterJohnTombI preached and presided at all the Triduum masses this weekend for the Visitation Sisters and their neighbors in Brooklyn.  Since their house was a place of limited technological sophistication, my homilies were given with mostly just some notes scratched down on paper, the old-fashioned way.  I’ll try to post some of my reflections later, but in the meantime, here’s part of my Easter message from today.

I’ve told this story before,but it’s always good for me to remember that one of my favorite Easter moments came during what was probably my most difficult year as a Jesuit.

Each year when Easter rolls around, I remember Mayo Kikel.

Mayo was one of the first teachers I met when I visited Jesuit High in Tampa the Spring prior to starting work there in 2002. She impressed me with her conviction that God wanted her there. She could easily have worked at a school closer to where she lived, but instead she made the extra long trek to our school each day. I have only met a few teachers like her, so convinced that they were fulfilling a mission. When I began work at the school the next Fall, she quickly became one of my favorite colleagues.

This made it all the more difficult when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. We were already to chip in and fill in for her wherever needed. But, amazingly, even after she started the cancer treatments, she never missed a single day of work. It was what she lived for. And though it left her with little energy to do much else, she came back day after day. None of us would have faulted her for taking a day off, much less complaining, but she rarely did.

As Easter approached, she came to ask me a favor. I was the Director of Campus Ministry and was in charge of the program for our once-a-week morning convocations, when the whole school gathered in the chapel to begin the day. She told me how good the boys at the school had been to her, and she wanted to use the convocation just before the Easter break to thank them. What she wanted to do, she explained, was to sing a song, an Easter song. Now this was not without its risks. Such an endeavor at a school of some 650 boys was just as likely to invite ridicule, as it was reverence. We talked about this, but she was determined. So we made plans.

When the day came, I stood up at the podium and said, “Mrs. Kikel has told me how wonderful you all have been to her during her illness, and she asked if she could do something to thank you.” The music began.

The song she sang was told from the perspective of Peter, beginning with a Peter all too aware of how he had failed Jesus. And, now that Jesus was dead, there would be no opportunity to make amends. Then it took up where our Easter Gospel reading began, with Mary come to announce that Jesus had been taken from the tomb. Peter runs to the tomb, John running up ahead. They find the burial cloths set aside, and Jesus missing, and they begin to realize what has happened. In the song Peter exclaims, “He’s alive!” “He’s alive!” “He’s alive and I’m forgiven. Heaven’s gates are open wide!” “He’s alive!” “He’s alive!” The song built until Mayo sang out the final, “He’s aaaalive!” And then something happened which even now when I think about it inspires tears. Immediately and without hesitation, every boy in that chapel stood up and applauded.

We speak a lot in our Jesuit boys’ schools about being “men for others,” and I have yet to see a better example of that than I did on that day. When we speak about Easter, we speak about everything being made new because of what Jesus did for us, and because God raised him from the dead. Things were made new for me that day. No matter what they did after that day, I could never quite see those boys in the same way again. They had stepped up when it was most important. And I can never think of Easter without thinking of Mayo Kikel who because of her humility, faith and courage was able to inspire such a moment.

Mayo beat the cancer, but was stricken just a couple years later with a rare disease which took her from us. But I will never forget her. Few people in my life have exemplified as well as her what Easter is all about.

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Meet the Author

Recently, I appeared on Radio Maria’s “Meet the Author” program.  

The host, Ken Huck, and I spoke about living a spiritual life in contemporary times, my book Already There, and briefly about my new book, Saint Ignatius Loyola–The Spiritual Writings.

You can listen to the interview here.

Listen to Me Now

Already There is now available in audiobook version.  You can sample it, and download it, at Audible.com.  You can ‘read’ it in about six and a half hours, which is about four hours less than I spent recording it!  For you multi-taskers, just imagine the things you can do while listening to the book :).  And you don’t have to wait for it to be shipped, you can download it immediately!  Get it here.

Approaching Easter

As we get closer to Easter, I’m reminded of a post I wrote about two years ago, on my previous blog.  I thought I’d share it with you as we look forward to this Easter.

When I think of Easter, I remember Mayo Kikel.
Mayo was one of the first teachers I met when I visited Jesuit High in Tampa the Spring prior to starting work there in 2002.  She impressed me with her conviction that God wanted her there.  She could easily have worked at a school closer to where she lived, but instead she made the extra long trek to our school each day.  I have only met a few teachers like her, so convinced that they were fulfilling a mission.  When I began work at the school the next Fall, she quickly became one of my favorite colleagues.
This made it all the more difficult when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  We were already to chip in and fill in for her wherever needed.  But, amazingly, even after she started the cancer treatments, she never missed a single day of work.  It was what she lived for.  And though it left her with little energy to do much else, she came back day after day.  None of us would have faulted her for taking a day off, much less complaining, but she rarely did.
As Easter approached, she came to ask me a favor.  I was the Director of Campus Ministry and was in charge of the program for our once-a-week morning convocations, when the whole school gathered in the chapel to begin the day.  She told me how good the boys at the school had been to her, and she wanted to use the convocation just before the Easter break to thank them.  What she wanted to do, she explained, was to sing a song, an Easter song.  Now this was not without its risks.  Such an endeavor at a school of some 650 boys was just as likely to invite ridicule, as it was reverence.  We talked about this, but she was determined.  So we made plans.
When the day came, I stood up at the podium and said, “Mrs. Kikel has told me how wonderful you all have been to her during her illness, and she asked if she could do something to thank you.”  The music began.
The song she sang was told from the perspective of Peter, beginning with a Peter all too aware of how he had failed Jesus.  And, now that Jesus was dead, there would be no opportunity to make amends.  Then it took up where our Easter Gospel reading began, with Mary come to announce that Jesus had been taken from the tomb.  Peter runs to the tomb, John running up ahead.  They find the burial cloths set aside, and Jesus missing, and they begin to realize what has happened.  In the song Peter exclaims, “He’s alive!”  “He’s alive!”  “He’s alive and I’m forgiven.  Heaven’s gates are open wide!”  “He’s alive!”  “He’s alive!”  The song built until Mayo sang out the final, “He’s aaaalive!”  And then something happened which even now when I think about it inspires tears.  Immediately and without hesitation, every boy in that chapel stood up and applauded.
We speak a lot in our Jesuit boys’ schools about being “men for others,” and I have yet to see a better example of that than I did on that day.  When we speak about Easter, we speak about everything being made new because of what Jesus did for us, and because God raised him from the dead.  Things were made new for me that day.  No matter what they did after that day, I could never quite see those boys in the same way again.  They had stepped up when it was most important.  And I can never think of Easter without thinking of Mayo Kikel who because of her humility, faith and courage was able to inspire such a moment.
Mayo beat the cancer, but was stricken just a couple years later with a rare disease which took her from us.  But I will never forget her.  Few people in my life have exemplified as well as her what Easter is all about.

Thoughts For the Week, part 1

Part 1 of my interview about spirituality for young adults, and my book, which aired this past Sunday, is now available at Spirituality For Today.  You can find the link on their home page, along with links to articles and other interviews, or you can go directly to the interview by clicking here.  This was a panel interview with three interviewers, so there is a good variety of questions and comments from them, as well as from me.

Sting Does Jesuit Poetry

There is another Jesuit poet besides Gerard Manley Hopkins.  British Jesuit and poet Saint Robert Southwell lived from 1561 to 1595, when he was executed during the English Reformation.  He was one of many priests who secretly ministered to the Catholics in England during this time and, like many of the others, was arrested, accused of treason, imprisoned and eventually executed.  Despite his young age and the circumstances under which he lived, he did manage to published a couple of volumes of poetry during his lifetime.  Though not as well known as Hopkins, he considered by many to be of comparable talent as a poet.

Here, the pop singer Sting does a very interesting interpretation of Southwell’s poem, “The Burning Babe“:

PsalmSongs 2: What I’ve Done

Confession is a way to start over.  This might mean confessing your sins to God in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, or confessing to another person some way that you have wronged them.  You might not expect a song of penitence and remorse from a band like Linkin Park, but this is exactly what we have in “What I’ve Done.”  It’s a song about washing oneself clean and starting over.  It’s a song about coming face to face with our own sin, and having to find a way to start again.  Though there’s some uncertainty about the possibility of forgiveness here, the refrain asserts the singer’s need to find it: “So let mercy come, and wash away what I’ve done.  I’ll face myself.  To cross out what I’ve become.  Erase myself, and let go of what I’ve done.”

This is not about self-annihilation, but about the freedom that comes when we accept mercy, and know ourselves to be forgiven.  The song also suggests what is often the case; that, frequently, the hardest person to forgive is myself: “Today this ends.  I’m forgiving what I’ve done.”

It’s a brief song, that’s also short on lyrics, but still it manages to say a lot.The video also reminds us that this is not just an individual thing.  We have to face the consequences of what we do as a community, and seek mercy for that too.  Not so that we can forget about it, but so that we can start again trying to make it right.  See the video here.

PsalmSongs 1: Where I Stood

If you spend some time reading or listening to the psalms, you know that they often speak of the deepest desires, joys and pains of the psalmist, which are often feelings we can relate to.  We all know the pain of abandonment, and the joy of knowing that someone is there for us, as well as the desire for relationship with God, and with others.  People didn’t stop writing psalms in ancient times.  It’s just that we don’t call them that anymore.  We call them pop songs, rock ballads or hip-hop beats.  We hear them all the time.  And, sometimes, we really stop to listen because a particular song speaks to our experience—who we are or who we want to be.  Sometimes a song, like a psalm can tell us what God wants to say to us, or sometimes it simply just resonates deeply with the experience of being human.  Occasionally, I’m going to introduce you to a song that I consider a “PsalmSong,” and explore what it might say to us, to you.

“I don’t know what I’ve done, or if I like what I’ve begun,” begins Missy Higgins’ song, “Where I Stood.”  It’s the voice of a woman grateful for a relationship that has taught her a lot about who she is, and what love is really about.  But it is also the story of a woman realizing the consequences of what she has learned.  As much as she loves the person she’s addressing in the song, she has come to realize that she is not the best person for him, and that it would be selfish to hold onto him, even if he wants to be held on to.  She realizes that she has to move on without him, for his good and hers.  The refrain expresses it well:

“I don’t know who I am, who I am without you.  All I know is that I should.  And I don’t know if I can stand another hand upon you.  All I know is that I should.  ‘Cause she will love you more than I could—she who dares to stand where I stood.”

Many of us have been in relationships that we’ve found it hard to let go of.  And some of us have realized what this song realizes: that love conquers all, but not always in the way we imagine.  Our love for someone doesn’t necessarily mean that the two of us are meant to be together forever.  Sometimes it means letting the other person have a better life, a life we cannot give them, because we love them.  This is hard, and painful, but also right, and this song expresses all these emotions so well.  And, perhaps surprisingly, amidst this flurry of emotion, there is that gratitude that I spoke of at the beginning, because this woman knows she wouldn’t have been able to see things this clearly if not for having had the relationship she is letting go of.  “You taught me how to trust myself,” she says, even if at the same time she might wish he hadn’t.

Check it out on YouTube.