Wednesday, June 16, 2010
A friend pointed out something to me the other day that is quite funny. If you search my name on Amazon.com, you get four results: my two books, my author page and an issue of the Spiderman comic featuring Spiderman and Barack Obama on the cover. I have no connection with this particular comic book (or any comic book, for that matter), but I do find it funny that this should come up. Though the explanation seems little more than that there are two people involved with the comic, one named "Mark" and the other named "Mossa," it still seems in some ways apropos. Though I was never avid comic book reader or collector, I have always been fascinated with superheroes. Certainly it must go along with my interest in sci-fi and fantasy (which is about all I read when I was a kid), but I've always been fascinated by stories of people with special powers, or those who make the most of what they have. When I was just beginning to read, I loved also to read stories about strange phenomena like the Bermuda triangle or Easter island. It was about that same time when my best friend and I would play "Batman & Robin," plotting strategies against our evil enemy--his older sister.
Thus, all my life I have believed that we are capable of doing more than we think we can, even what some insist might be "impossible." That is why, as a Christian, though I often let fear get in the way, I have always taken Jesus at his word when he said that we can do greater things than we think ourselves capable of, even greater things than he! I have found this to be true, not necessarily in dramatic "superhero" type ways, but often in simple ways. For me, this is apparent in moments in ministry when I find myself doing things that I thought I'd never do, overcoming anxiety to enter into someone else's pain to the extent that in some way I can feel it too, or saying or doing just the right thing, and later wondering and being amazed knowing that "just right" thing came from somewhere beyond me. I could not have come up with that on my own. I could not have done that, without God.
As far as Barack Obama, I don't really have much to say. And, unfortunately these days, you can't mention a political figure without sparking a firestorm of contempt or even hate in some people. But one can hardly deny that simply by being elected president, he accomplished something many thought to be impossible. To get there, he too had to get to a moment when he thought the "impossible" possible. This was a key moment for me in my discernment to become a priest. Some priests, perhaps, knew they could do it long before they actually did. For me, it took a while before I got to a point where I thought, "you know, I just might be able to do this," and it wasn't until I got there that I was able to apply to the Jesuits, and get started in the process. That was about 15 years ago, and I celebrated two years as a priest, just this week. Not only has it proven to be possible, but it seems like I've been doing it much longer than that!
It doesn't take the bite of a genetically altered super-spider for us to do amazing things. Jesus said with just a little faith, we can do the impossible. What impossible things have you done lately? Or what might you be being called to do?
Sunday, June 13, 2010
As I sit on the porch of my former residence in New Orleans this week, watching the streetcars go by, I realize that though it’s been five years since I’ve lived here (and 15 years since that fateful first visit), I always feel at home here. There are three places that I can say that about. The first is, of course, Massachusetts, where I grew up, and where I still have spent the majority (about two thirds) of my life. The other is Columbia, SC, where I spent five of the most important years of my life, years without which I could not possibly have ended up where I am today. It is impossible to speak of that time as “only” five years, because so much happened during that time. Likewise the two years I actually lived in New Orleans. It’s hard to explain, but I knew after my first visit to New Orleans in 1995, that this place was going to hold a significant place in my future.
I started reflecting on why these places hold such significance for me. True, I haven’t lived many other places, but there are places I have lived, like Tampa (with apologies to my friends there), where I’m not sure that I could have ever felt at home. I realized that these places do hold something in common. They are each places that marked significant turning points in my life. Massachusetts is home in a much more ephemeral sense. The town in which I spent the first years of my conscious life—thought I now have almost no connection with it—still seems more like home than the town in which I lived most of my time “growing up.” I always felt an outsider there, which I was reminded of when I attended my nephew’s high school graduation there a couple of weeks ago. Any affection I had for that town lasted perhaps only the two-and-a-half years it took me to finish grade school there. After that it turned into a personal hell which I would soon have to escape from by going to school elsewhere. Yet, my interest in books and literature stems in many ways from that time. It was the librarians who provided an important way station for me, where I could escape for at least a little while. They nurtured me and knew me in ways that many of my teachers didn’t or couldn’t. My “hometown” would really only truly become important as the home base from which I engaged a broader world. My desire not to be there led me to so many different places, meeting friends and having experiences that I would not have had if my urge hadn’t been so often to be elsewhere. Already then it was beginning to become clear that I was destined to be the most traveled of my family.
It’s interesting that the place which I spent so much time escaping over the years, has now become a place I frequently visit. It’s not because people in town know me, or that it’s a place of “old friends” (I said ‘hello’ to my former next-door neighbor there a couple of weeks ago, and it was clear that he had no idea who I was). Rather, I go there because my family is there. I go there because my sister and her family (and, at times, my parents) live in that same house we grew up in. Now, strangely, I’m content to just stay there with my niece and nephews and my family, playing games, talking or watching TV. There is no reason to escape. It is a place more special and more “home” now because I have watched my niece and nephews grow up there, not because I grew up there. This home is the place where I left my family behind for a different world, and also where I learned, however late, that I could love and cherish my family in my sincere, but still imperfect way.
Wednesday, June 9, 2010
Especially for those of us who continue to live on an academic schedule, summertime is when the “hyphenated” part of Jesuit priesthood can become most pronounced. We tend to take a break from our regular work, and do something else for a time. Summer is also the time when we typically do our annual 8-day retreat, spend some time with family, and vacation with other Jesuits for a little while. It is sometimes hard to figure exactly how to fit all these things together, but it is also nice to be able to look forward to these things each summer. Right now, in fact, I’m spending a few days in Mississippi, near the beach, with several other Jesuit friends.
This summer is especially interesting for me, since it will be pulling me in multiple directions. My “job” this summer starts in a couple of weeks. Along with a few others members of the faculty, I’ll be accompanying students from Loyola University in New Orleans on a summer program abroad in Belgium. There I will serve as one of the priests for the group and also teach a course in Catholicism. It will also be a new experience for me, as I’ve never been there before. Like most of the students, I will be experiencing most things there for the first time! I’m also looking forward to putting aside my own studies for a bit, and just teaching. Teaching is one of my favorite things!
In the meantime, I will also have my writer’s cap on as well. Some time during the course of the summer, perhaps even while I’m still in Belgium, my new book will be released. I’ve already begun doing various things to promote the book, and that will continue through the summer. I’ve also got a new project I will be working on, a book which will focus on some of the spiritual writings of Saint Ignatius Loyola. Along with teaching, that will be another part of my summer “job.”
When I return from Belgium, I’ll go straight to Atlanta, where I’ll be helping to lead the young adult retreat at our retreat house there, for the third straight year! They haven’t gotten sick of me yet! Last year we had a full house, and it’s a wonderful retreat. If you are a young adult living near Atlanta, come join us the first full weekend of August!
Then it’ll be back to New York City to finish up some of the summer’s work, and get ready for a new school year at Fordham. The end of summer always leaves me feeling refreshed, tired of traveling and looking forward to learning and teaching some new things. This year I’ll have the added challenge of balancing my life as an author-priest with my life as a student-priest. But I think this added challenge will probably be good. I’ve found over the years that often it is when I have the most going on, that I get the most done! No doubt that has something to do with why I chose this life.
Happy Summer, everyone!
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
The promotion wheels are now in gear and spinning!
You can now catch the first glimpse of my book, Already There: Letting God Find You, at Amazon.com.
It's now available for pre-order, so why wait?!
I'm happy to say that I like the cover!
As we get closer to publication, there will be updates on the book's web companion--Spoiler Alert--which features a Soundtrack for the book, suggestions of movies to watch before reading (that'll keep you busy until the book arrives), and the latest news. I'm allowing moderated comments there. And if you want to know more, you can always catch me at the e-mail link on my blogger profile page.