Choosing your path

She was a blonde, and from a distance a very attractive one at that, but as you got closer the tell tail signs of years of alcohol and drug abuse, cigarettes and poor eating were advertised in the lines of her face. 
" They pushed a needle into her heart to try to save her" 
someone told me, assuming a shot of nor epinephrine to revive her, but she was too far gone. 

That is the first thing I saw after taking a month or so sabbatical from the soup kitchen. I stood there and all I could think of is " what a waste". 
How can anybody just throw their life away like that? 
As I stood in silence for a moment my mind reflected on something it completely blocked out from 3 years prior. It was a rainy day and Johnny was slouched over at the table with his half eaten breakfast on his lap. I usually dont let clients in that are drunk or high but this guy was always high so I went over just to make sure he was alright.
 " Someone is going to kill me"
 is what he said as I woke him out of his stupor
. Johnny I said, every week you have a new story why would anyone want to kill you? 
He told me some half baked story that really made no sense to me. I never am comfortable trying to talk to someone when they are in that condition yet alone when they try to grab my arm in desperation. I usually try to give some words of advise but I really did not think he would ever even remember having this conversation with me and so I moved on to more pressing issues.

 The following week I came in and I was told that Johnny was murdered. I felt a little numb, a little angry, and very very helpless. I thought what a waste that this 30 something very good looking intelligent white male with a 4 year degree was a little more than a report in some police file with a tag on his toe in the county morgue.

I thought to myself it is a shame that these types of people end up this way. 
But who are "these types of people?" 
Were they also not conceived with the same breath of God that I was? 
Were they not offered choices to do good or evil as I was?
 There are some moments in everyones life when you stand over a great canyon and just yell at God
 " WHY?" 
I have seen people like this too many times live a life of hell and simply die a meaningless death. But I was also reminded of those that were brought into the world with less and died a very noble death after living a life of very difficult choices. In my minds eye I heard a conversation going on that sounded like this.

Life is a test. 
It tests everyone from the greatest to the smallest and no one escapes it.
 Every little circumstance, every conversation, and every small event presents a choice that we must make.
 " How will I respond"? 
 That choice, and every choice we make in life from choosing what kind of dog food to buy to how will I respond to my crying child puts us on a path. 
Every man, woman, and child, chooses the path they are on and that path ultimately leads them to a destination. Free will in many ways for me is as difficult to understand as the mysteries of the universe.
 Life is not just some random set of events, each of us live life as if on a stage, the difference is that we can choose our character. That choice puts us on a path and that path leads to a destination. Villain or hero, sinner or saint and yet even these black and white titles may not be that crystal clear. 
We often judge by what we see from the outside but the greatest adventures we live and the greatest battles we fight are always within the human heart which judgement thank God is in the end, 
left to a merciful God.


To serve or be served

I am always amazed at how many people want to do good. When we look at the world at times it seems like it is literally falling apart, and yet suffering seems to be the glue that puts it back together again. I find most people want to do good but they don't know what to do, there is no one to lead them. It has been my observation that when people observe some one or something good happening, they simply want to be a part of it. Suffering brings either the best or the worst out in a person.They say you can learn more about the character of a man in 5 minutes of stress than you can in 5 years of good times.

Our country, our community, and yes our Church are going through some very stressful times. It is in these moments that heroes are made or dictators resurrect.

A democracy is always temporary in nature; it simply cannot exist as a permanent form of government. A democracy will continue to exist up until the time that voters discover that they can vote themselves generous gifts from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates who promise the most benefits from the public treasury, with the result that every democracy will finally collapse due to loose fiscal policy, which is always followed by a dictatorship. The average age of the world's greatest civilizations from the beginning of history has been about 200 years. During those 200 years, these nations always progressed through the following sequence:

From bondage to spiritual faith;
From spiritual faith to great courage;
From courage to liberty;
From liberty to abundance;
From abundance to selfishness;
From selfishness to complacency;
From complacency to apathy;
From apathy to dependence;
From dependence back into bondage. "Tyler" said in 1750

In my world I see us on the brink of moving back into bondage, the last rung of the ladder. It is sad that we are in the end of a great era, but I am hopeful for the future because as history unfolds her wings we are on the dawn of a new outpouring of spiritual faith, The stuff that greatness is made from.

I want to talk about two men that met me today at the soup kitchen. They are very busy men running a large organization, they have families and responsibilities and yet they came down today because they have a deep desire to serve. They want their organization to revive their spirit of service.

They see that in order to grow we must inspire, we must serve. Selfishness, and entitlement is a failed experiment. It has been said by the greatest teacher that " The greatest among us will serve the rest"

and in the words of a dead president, "let us not ask what our country ( community, organization, or church) can do for us, rather ask what we can do for our country."

Real Leaders, Servant leaders right now are more precious than gold, harder to find than diamonds. As we look next week to another election day and are discouraged by the choices that are again presented to us. Do not be discouraged for in the words of Mother Teresa, "we are not called to success, but rather faithfulness"

If I may be so bold in adding a thought to Mother Teresa's quote, I believe it is in faithfulness that make us a success.

Mother Teresa said something else which if every man, woman, and child, followed, the world would be plunged into a utopia. She said, "don't wait for someone else to do something great, do it yourself!"


Blowin Sunshine


I thought I was a celebrity!


  " How are you, you fantastic person?'

" You are how old? you look like an athlete in his prime!"

" You really are an amazing person"

" Hey Champion, its GREAT to see you"

" I bet that you could do anything"

These are only a sampling of the words I am showered with whenever I see Charlie's smiling face at the soup kitchen each Saturday!

Many of the stories I have written on this blog are sad and sobering stories, 
I thought it was time for a change of pace.
This is a story about what each of us is capable of doing with each passing moment of our lives.

I met Charlie some time ago, he knew nothing about me.
Working with so many at the soup kitchen so often one has to be on guard because there are as many "characters" at the soup kitchen as there are in a fat Webster dictionary.

At first I didn't know what to respond with or how to react because if you are from the same planet as I come from, flattery is a red flag, and unconditional love and acceptance is about as rare as kryptonite.
My first thought was
" Is he for real?"

Like clockwork he would show up each week serving faith missions finest coffee.
"Want a cup?" He would ask a homeless man
Only $20 for you, milk and sugar are extra!
Thats how he would break the ice with all the new people that came to the Kitchen.
Then he would let out one of his wonderful laughs as the man slowly broke a smile back at him, not quite sure if he was kidding

After that he would whip out his magic tricks to bring all the children to life.
"Do it again!' cried the kids as Charlie would would remind them that a true magician never repeats a trick but because they were such special kids he would make an exception just this one time, each time getting the same chuckles and giggles from his young audience and even from a couple of the adults passing by.
The kids smiling eyes were like rays of sunshine as they pierced through the toxic mist of their broken lives.

Charlie, reminded you of who you really were, and who you belonged to.
He reminded you that life is not a spectator sport, it was meant to be lived and lived to the fullest.
He made you feel like you were the King's very own kid.
Then he would tell you a story about the hero in the latest novel he was reading.
He would get real close to you, look you right square in the eyes and tell you that you remind him of that character.

No matter what the need, if you asked Charlie it would be done as if it was the most important job in the world.
I know he will probably object to me writing this about him because he never assumes the limelight.
That is always reserved for the one he is speaking with.

At the end of the day he quietly sweeps the corners and edges of the dinning room
stopping to talk to each person that walks by
asking them how they are doing and if they would like one final cup of his famous coffee.

Why do I write about Charlie?
He is only just 1 single solitary ordinary man!
How could 1 ordinary person make a difference?
The truth is, He reminds me of something Mother Teresa once said .
" Make the ordinary, extraordinary!"

When a person Mother Teresa was helping asked her if they should convert to Catholicism
she would ask them what religion they were.
If they were Muslim, she would say, " become the best Muslim you can be.
If they were Hindu, she urged them to become the best Hindu they could become.

Charlie, never preached, he was simply Charlie
He brought light where there was darkness
He brought out the best in people

Anybody can serve coffee, tell a few jokes, or perform a few cheap magic tricks, but what is so mystical and magical about Charlie,  like Mother Teresa, he would become totally present to whoever he was speaking to, and make the ordinary disappear with a simple wave of his magic wand,

... and reveal the extraordinary!



Her name was "Chastity" she was a very pretty woman with clean but visibly worn cloths from repeated wear. She came over to me and asked me if I could help her. At first I thought she was a volunteer because she seemed like she could have been the girl next door.

"Can you help me load my bike? "

"What do you mean" I said.

 She said "I lost my job and can't pay for my car so they took it, and now I am trying to feed me and my son but I can only carry a little bit of food on my bike. I am doing the best I can, trying to smile and stay happy for my son but I don't know how long I can keep this up. How can I find work when I don't have a car or have decent cloths for an interview? I don't want a handout, I want to work" as she tried to hold back a tear.  "You know what the worst thing is though? Its how so many people look right through me because they think they know what and who I am, as if I were invisible, or if somehow I choose this way of life. Its so hard to keep my dignity, my self respect when I feel like no one can hear me or see me. Do you know what I mean?"

I was about to say something " appropriate" but I felt  God nudge me. He has always given me a word to say in these moments and this moment was no different, but what was spoken did not come from my lips or my head, it came from my heart, perhaps even God's own heart.
I looked at her intently and just wrapped my arms around her and hugged her tightly as she laid  her weary head on my shoulder for a deep long cry. At first I could feel her body ridged and unyielding but then I heard a deep sigh as if she resigned herself to receive Gods love through this broken stranger. The moment became somber, sacred, and holy as if grace was watering a dry and dying flower neglected in some forgotten corner of a sun scorched garden. 

"Thank you so much for the food she said, I think I feel better now,  I think I feel less invisible now, yeah, thats it "

" You are most welcome, I said. Please come back.... 
I would like to "see" you again.

 There are many incredible people I meet along my journey who want to make a difference in the world. Some of them tell me they want to go to a far off country to work with the poor.
 I am always in awe as to what they expect to find there.
Is our next door neighbor's blood a different shade of red from those in Africa? Does not our sisters tears in India contain the same amount of salt ?

Mother Teresa once told me that despite the fact that she traveled the world and saw every economically deprived society, she said that New York suffered the greatest poverty. She said "In Calcutta when I give a woman a cup of rice because she hasn't eaten in 2 days, she will will go and share some with her neighbor who hasn't eaten in 3. Loneliness is the greatest form of poverty she said and here in New York  people are the most isolated and alone in the world! 

You don't need to go further than your own backyard to feed the poor.....everyone hungers, rich and poor, but not only for food!


The parking lot

I was asked to make sure everyone was gone from the soup kitchen before I locked up. After checking all the rooms upstairs and down I was able to turn the lights out and head home for a short nap before I would go out for a wonderful diner with about 10 friends.
When I went to my car 3 of our homeless were sitting and talking and eating some of their leftovers in the parking lot.
 "Arent you going home?"
 were the words that felt natural to say but I caught myself.
There was a time when I would look at people like this and would be afraid of them. I think back and wonder why? I went over to simply say my goodbys but they were so excited to talk with me. I was exhusted from staying out the night before a bit too long and had every intention of giving them a token 
" NY minute"
and be on my way back to "normal life"
But something happened, I was taken in by their stories. The hopes longed for, the lives lived on the street and the realization that for them that this conversation might in fact be the best thing that happens to them all week. 
 I heard the words of the master say, if you do this to the least of my brothers you do this for me.
Suddenly I felt like an honored guest. Instead of just listening, I tried to really be present and before I knew it, what seemed to be charity on my part became a lesson in life for me. I was taken by their simplicity and even generosity. One of the men reached down in his old greasy and worn pants pocket, he had about $1.75 in change and gave all he had to another man who did not have enough for a metro card.
I started to think  how so much of my generosity comes from my abundance rather than my need, I have never given freely all that I had before like this man! I admit I felt my ego engage when I first thought I was being noble  by "giving my time" to what the world called " nobody's".
But I soon felt humbled in this mans presence, He has become my teacher.
Our conversation was interrupted by a call on my brand new i phone  when I realized that I had spent about 2 hours in that parking lot after everyone was suppose to go home. You see what  changed in those 2 hours was my perception of reality. When I came out I saw 3 homeless people in the parking lot that I felt needed to leave and  go home.   
When I drove off after our simple conversation I realized that the  parking lot was their home.

The Eagle

I am embarrassed by how I look, by how I smell cried Tim as he looked right at me with blood shot eyes. I need a place where I can rest, where I can get my respect back, my dignity, even just for a short time.
Tim would not go for food stamps or other government handouts, he felt that the governments handouts only enslaved the poor, made them dependent on a new slave master. He wanted what ever other man in the world wants, to work for his daily bread with honesty and dignity.
I lost my sister, she was the best friend I ever had! When will the pain leave me he asked?
They say that time heals but for me years only seem like moments ago.
He began telling me stories of his family growing up here on Long Island. How at the turn of the century they owned a large parcel of land. He spoke of a time in his life when he remembered life being noble and honorable.

Now I must interject here by saying of all the people I speak to at the soup kitchen, Tim is in fact one of the most noble, humble, and grateful men I have met. He is a very tall intelligent and handsome man. I asked him, do you want me to help you go into rehab and get you  housing? No, I am not ready for that yet he said. I said Tim, how long has it been, how long are you on the street. The answer was all too familiar; years.
Many men I speak with, I try to encourage to give them confidence, but Tim was very different. Tim was an eagle trapped in a cage and unable to soar.  I wanted to tell him what every boy needs to hear to become a great man. I wanted to answer a question that haunts men more than
 " who am I? " 
or even 
" Is there a God? ".
No, unless this one single question can truly be answered by the boy inside, the man  will remain trapped inside the prison that holds him captive. That one single question that all men want  answered is

 " do I have what it takes to be a man?"

 A silent moment hung in the air around our table, my heart wanted to reach into this beautiful man and release the wings that have been dormant for oh so long!
There is nothing special about me that could ever touch that hidden woundedness and bring light into that darkness. Only light itself can do this. But are not we all called to become the light of the world.?
Did not the Master Himself tell us we could do all things?
There are moments in each life where we see the face of God,
for me Tim revealed one of these moments.
I looked straight into his weary tearful and bloodshot eyes and felt at that moment to say,

 " Tim, I believe you were made for greatness, you have what it takes to be a great man, it already lies within you!"

Tim just looked at me in silence, I knew those were the words that he has been longing to hear most of his life. Was Tim magically transformed even though that was what he was longing for all of his life?
"I don't know"
I do know the following week he sought me out, he wanted to talk and " eat more"
The food we were giving him at the soup kitchen was more than just meat and potatoes.
He told me how grateful he was for all my kindness and invited me to dine with him. This was a man who just weeks before  would only eat alone.
We are not called to change peoples lives but we are called to tell them the truth. Only when people  come to know the truth about who they really are can transformation begin to happen.
I think of all the lies that I sometimes believe about myself, the cage I have built that locks me in, but more importantly locks others out. I think of all the living I have missed because I did not know the truth.  In each of us there is a small fragile little child that simply wants to be loved. That we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves
Cathedrals are magnificent but they do not hold a candle to the temple we each possess within us, we are church not made of bricks and mortar but of flesh and blood and the light that burns within each one of us still burns even if we don't believe it. 
That is not religion, its truth.


A hurricane Christmas message

I want to take a moment in my very hectic life to send you a very special thank you during this Christmas season. The Hurricane literally turned my life upside down.
A little over a month ago I felt like George Baily in the movie
"it's a wonderful life"
 as he sat desperately sitting at the bar getting drunk telling God he was at the end of his rope.
There were many other issues that were going on in my life prior to the storm that was pushing my stress levels through the roof and I felt I was having difficulty keeping it together. However when my house was destroyed I simply did not think I could handle any more stress and yet here I am to write this email to you.
As a matter of fact, that is exactly why I am writing to you. You see, here it is only a month after hurricane Sandy and I still feel like George Baily, but somehow I no longer feel like that desperate George Baily at the end of his rope. Instead I feel like the George Baily at the end of the movie when the whole town rallied around him and instead was called the
"richest man in town".
 One of the reasons I can honestly feel that way is because of you, yes, that's right, YOU!
You may or may not know what an impact you have made on me but let me assure you, this whole event has simply changed my life, and although I wouldn't wish what I am going through on anybody, I wouldn't choose to wish it away for myself even if I could.
You see I don't believe that anything is a co incidence including what we believe is tragedy.
What may seem like a tragedy to us may in fact be a blessing. We have a tendency to say something is good or bad because it makes us happy or sad, makes us feel good or bad but I have learned that often our greatest teachers in life are adversity, suffering, trials, and disappointments. I have thought back in life to moments that I thought I would die if I didn't get something I really wanted more than anything in the world only to reflect on that situation now and realize it really isn't significant or even not good for me in the long run.
So many people have said in the aftermath of the storm, how could God allow this to happen, yet I have heard many incredible stories of lives transformed by the storm. The point is, this wasn't the first tragedy in my life nor will it be the last but if we are open to change then perhaps, just perhaps God takes it and turns it into something good.
When the homeless heard I was homeless as well, so many of them that hesitated to trust me or accept me, came up to me after I said grace over the meal and hugged me, even invited me to stay with them!  They seemed excited about showing me how to get by!

 I do not pretend to know the mind of God nor do I wish to try, but one thing I do know. When I felt alone you were there, when I was overwhelmed and afraid, you were there, when I needed a hand or someone to talk to you were there, when I was hungry you fed me, and when I needed an emotional hug it was you that was there. I even felt the prayers of those who could not be with me!
..... I don't want to get all preachy and theological on you but the truth is
.... you were Christ for me.
 Religion has nothing to do with this!
When we do these things for one another we in fact release a side of God that always exists in every human being even if we don't believe in Him.
That is His incredible goodness.
 It is said that God is love and when we act in love we simply act more like God, so thank you for choosing to act in this way for me.
 It has rekindled a very tried faith and helped me to more fully believe in Him again!
I was told by more than one person during this crisis that they were thankful that I allowed them to help me.
I was blown away by this and quite honestly didn't understand what they meant.
 I was told that I always helped everyone else and that although they wanted to help me in some way, the opportunity never happened. I am so grateful that the opportunity to help me became available because I really needed your help, emotionally, physically, and yes even spiritually!
This became an incredible experience.
 I think that allowing someone to help you is in fact an act of charity on your part even if you don't need it,
but a necessity if you do.
This tragedy in a sense has been kind of a funeral, you know how at the funeral everyone gathers around but then the real pain happens months after, when everyone Else's life goes on as usual but you must still deal with the grief.?
 I am counting on you to be there as I work through this thing, maybe not so much physically involved but I know there will be those days to come when it seems rough again and life is throwing another curve ball and I need some moral support.
So I want to thank you for being there for me in the past but more so for the future that lies ahead. I have found in all my work with people that it is in sharing their tears even more than their laughter that we experience the true meaning of life together.
That is where we find our passion.
So maybe during this Christmas season as you perhaps glance at the baby Christ child laying there in a straw manger that He in fact lives within you even if you don't believe it,
because I have seen Him there with my own eyes.


A pair of socks

"Thank-you Thank-you God bless you"
was the greeting I received from George.  A gentle man, a traveled man,. and a very educated man. He came from the other side of the sea, with 6 years of very specialized training yet not a job in sight. He said materialism is what causes such sadness in America. When expectations are high, disappointments also run high. He filled me with a sense of peace, he seemed to have a wisdom beyond this world. He was poor in the eyes of the world,... yet so very rich!

I am amazed at the charity of the volunteers. Dr's, lawyers, homemakers, builders. We come from such diverse backgrounds yet there is so much giving. One of the most interesting phenomena is how some that do not profess a faith necessarily seem to be the most Christ like!
I was taken back when last week  there were a few of us cleaning up and about to leave, when a homeless latino came in drunk asking for something. Almost everything was gone and locked and after a few attempts to understand the man, we decided that he wanted a pair of socks because his bare feet were blistering and bleeding in his worn and mis sized sneaker. One of the men who I never expected started taking his shoe off to give him his socks; at first I thought he was joking but then realized that he was serious! Christ sometimes comes to us in the most unexpected ways through people we see as simply "ordinary" This man has no real desire for religion but from where I stand at least for this moment I am given a new meaning of Church.
We are all there for different reasons, but there seems to be something that gives back so to speak, seems to fulfill an emptiness. It seems that the old bible verse is really true, 
"It is in giving that we receive"!


The Philosopher:

He is  kind of a troubadour, he wanders place to place never quite knowing where the next day will led him. He is a people watcher, a life observer you might say.

 Today we were talking about why people do the things they do. 
He insisted that there was ultimately a self serving reason why all people did everything.
 I countered by asking him if it were possible to do something simply for the sake of love.

He chose to tell me this cute little story that appears to win his argument.

" There once was a judge who had a pig, the judge loved his pig and took it everywhere with him. Each morning all the people of the town would go over to the judge and greet him good morning because he was a very important man. One day the judge's pig died and there was a funeral for the pig. That day everyone in town attended. Not more than a week later the judge himself died but there were none to bid him farewell.

I said none? There was not one person at his funneral?
 He said maybe his father or mother, or a few from his immediate family.

I asked why so few came? 
He said because all they wanted was what they could get from him.

Was he a good man? " 
No, not really was the answer"

" Then why did anyone show up at all " I asked   
He responded " I guess they were obligated"

Perhaps, ....
... or perhaps they simply came because despite all his faults they chose to love him anyway.


Today a Spanish man had a seizure
I called the medics.
A hundred pair of eyes watched as the man convulsed.
There was nothing to do but watch.

Some of his companions tried to open his closed spastic fingers
while another held him down.
9 medics showed up
and carried him away.

I talked to his friends with my very poor broken Spanish
and with a little help from my friends.
I asked them if they understood what happened to him.
It's the alcohol, they said, he gets this when he drinks too much.

So I asked them this question,
If he stopped drinking would the seizures stop?
"Si" was the answer I received.

...It seems we all have sins in our closets,
some can hide them better than others.
The alcoholic and gluttons sins are obvious to all,
but then there are those sins that hide
deep within the recesses of our soul,
pride, injustice, deceit, dishonesty, lust

So I ask another question,
perhaps rhetorical
Do even the best hidden sins surface sooner or later?
and doesn't sin not only effect others but more importantly the one who sins even more?
" Si " 


Today Lauren told me how she could not go on since she lost her husband 1 year ago. Life has been hard but now it seemed unbearable. 

A hot meal, a pat on the back, and the usual " I'll pray for you" just would,nt be the right formula for this woman. In fact, there is no formula. Grief is a living death! It scorches the heart, bleeds the body, and isolates the mind...
...Once, there was a very old man who lost his wife, he refused to talk to anyone. Friends, neighbors, and family were shut out from the shriveling soul. One day a neighbor saw a little boy coming out of the old mans house and asked, " How did you get the old man to let you in?" The little boy answered " I cried with Him!"

Across the room I recognize a young man standing alone up against the wall. He stands, and he watches, but he does not move. There is neither smile nor frown upon his face, he is simply there.
 " You are Fr. Dan" I said. ""We have met before". 
"Yes, I remember" he said.

"How are you?",
 there was a moments hesitation. 
"I am taking some time off."

 He looked at me  without saying a word but you could read all the words spoken from the reflection seen within his eyes.

There are men who give their lives so others may not die, but sometimes  the reaper is too much for them. We belong to a family but if we their children do not let them rest, if we do not nourish and give back to replenish their strength their vows cannot sustain them. 
When I look into His eyes I see a reflection of myself,
 giving yet broken, 
healing yet wounded. 
Again, what can I say?. 

So I embrace Him hoping that the pain 
I carry for him can be enough, 
but it is never enough!
 Only when my pain, my blood mingles with the Savior 
can my wounds speak to his broken heart. 
He walks away, but I never 
 know if he is healed.
A man is reading a magazine, it requires a post graduate degree. He speaks of things beyond the minds of the upper middle class and yet he finds himself homeless, looking for answers no book can ever give. 

Why do these things continue to happen is the question he asks? 
It's been 40 years!

The dark and empty night cannot answer. 
He calls out for the maker to touch him, 
to put him to sleep in a warm and secure bed,
 but the journey never seems to end, 
there are only small glimmers of light along the way, 
but mostly darkness.

"I am a human being!" cry's his spirit,
but what does one have to do to make them see?
The yellows of yesterday only seem gray today and the poor as the carpenter has told us will always be with us.
So what is the point you might ask?,
 week after week , year after year, 
They continue to want, 
They are given clothes yet remain naked!
" We want more fish, we want more loaves" is their cry but they do not learn how to use the net

Perhaps all I really have, is my own brokenness to offer.
 Perhaps I suffer so that I can show them the 
nail prints in my own hands. 
Perhaps I am no more than one of them in disguise 
just trying to find my way home.