It’s easy for me to offer Jesus a litany of tragedies I’ve read about in the news. I know plenty of dying parents and sick friends and incarcerated brothers worthy of my attention in prayer. But it’s amazing what young lives can teach about life and prayer when I pay attention to God at work around me.
Our first meal was at a loud bar with gloriously cheap food. Our second meal was at our beloved parish, St. Ignatius Loyola on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We kept having these two meals over and over again. On Sundays, though, the food didn’t change. His distribution of Communion was never an isolated sacramental act, but the moment that gave clarity to the rest of our encounters. Meet my friend Carlos, a dear friend who helped redirect my life.
I love musicals. I love watching them, discussing them, debating about them, criticizing them, comparing them. I work out listening to soundtracks from esoteric musicals from the 1960s. I appeared in musicals every year from when I was 5 to 22, and wrote a musical in lieu of a philosophy final. God can find us wherever we are, and God found me right where I love to be: in a theatre.
I might be exhausted from the pandemic, or frustrated that I can’t control a math class, or anxious about the election, but that all pales in comparison to everyone I’m praying for. What my students have taught me, though, is that behind this faux-humility is my false belief that I can probably resolve my exhaustion or frustration or anxiety by myself. My students have taught me so much about prayer. Read and reflect with me about wisdom that can arise from seventh graders.
I had helped to COVID-proof the school with the other faculty members. I had hustled my way through the first weeks teaching a new subject. I had experimented with masks to be sure my voice could be heard over New York City traffic. Suddenly, none of that mattered. I was thrust into something totally new. I no longer needed to wear a mask, but wrangle a group of thirteen-year-olds I could barely see through their tiny on-screen boxes. As soon as I finished my first online lesson, I complained to Jesus in prayer. And that prayer was raw and real. Find out happens when you start getting real with Jesus.
It took two weeks of monotony and uncertainty to realize what I really relied on. And in my most recent quarantine, I experienced what millions around the world have been going through since March. And it’s something I pray we can all return to again, in person, to celebrate the ultimate celebration.
On a bitterly cold Thursday night in February of 2019, I was sitting on the ground hanging out with a group of folks experiencing homelessness down by the Chicago Art Institute. I spent most Thursdays this way, as chaplain to the student-run Labre Homeless ministry. Despite the bitter cold, we laughed a lot. After a particularly icy burst of wind rushed through, one of the men, named Wiz, looked at me and said “Gimme a scarf.” Jake Braithwaite, SJ, offers us a compelling parable about death and resurrection.
The Pope Francis Center in Detroit–a place where folks on the margins can get meals and other essentials–needed workers. Accustomed to relying on volunteers to help serve meals, stay-at-home orders put the Center in a bind. The pandemic had increased demand just as the staff was reduced to a handful of full-time workers. The head of the Center reached out and I was sent with another Jesuit brother to fill in the gap for a month.
My abrupt final days as a tutor at McQuaid Jesuit High School coincided with the famed Rochester Lilac Festival when a glorious garden in the middle of the city is filled with flowers and fragrance and visitors coming to soak it all in. A few weeks later I yearned to be back with the students and our jokes and routines and even the boring vocabulary tests.