Happy New Year: Ramblin' Rover

About the time many of you will be toasting in the new year, kissing your sweetie, and talking loftily of resolutions to come, I will be in a room of about 200 poker players that barely notice it's passing. I have no regret; I agreed to work this evening so others could enjoy the festive night with their friends/family.

Personally, I like to think I have more at stake than a few flighty resolutions for this upcoming year, however my goals do require more work. Seven more months to pay down the debt, 30 days to finish the autobiography and send it in, 4 months to finish everything else and wait to see what the Capuchins say. Indeed, 2008 will be a year to remember - and its still 11 hours away.

For this new year, I think there's a more appropriate song for me than Auld Lang Syne. I have nothing against it; I've stumbled drunkenly through the lyrics plenty of times before. I just happened to find a better Scottish song to ring in the new year.

I'll see everyone next year. Till then, I leave you all with The Ramblin' Rover by Silly Wizard:

There's sober men in plenty
And drunkards barely twenty
There are men of over ninety
That have never yet kissed a girl
But give me a Ramblin Rover
Frae Orkney down to Dover
We will roam the country over
And together we'll face the world

I've roamed through all the nations
Take delight in all creation
And I've cried away sensation
Where the company did prove kind
When parting was no pleasure
I've drunk another measure
To the good friends that we treasure
For they always are in our mind.

There's sober men in plenty
And drunkards barely twenty
There are men of over ninety that have never yet kissed a girl
But give me a Ramblin Rover
Frae Orkney down to Dover
We will roam the country over
And together we'll face the world.

There's many that feign enjoyment
From merciless employment
Their ambition was this deployment
From the minute they left the school
And they save and scrape and ponder
While the rest go out and squander
See the world in roving wonder
And they're happier as a rule

Oh there's sober men in plenty
And drunkards barely twenty
There are men of over ninety that have never yet kissed a girl
But give me a Ramblin Rover
Frae Orkney down to Dover
We will roam the country over
And together we'll face the world

If you're bent with arthritis
Your bowels have got colitis
You've galloping bollockitis
And you're thinking it's time you died
If you've been a man of action
Though you're lying there in traction
You may gain some satisfaction
Thinking: "Jesus, at least I tried."

There's sober men in plenty
And drunkards barely twenty
There are men of over ninety that have never yet kissed a girl
But give me a Ramblin Rover
Frae Orkney down to Dover
We will roam the country over
And together we'll face the world.

Cheers - To: "Facing The World."


Music and Discernment: The Freshman

I didn't get to add an entry for last week's song, and adding this now seems after the fact. I knew well over a week ago this was the song I wanted to post, but now that I'm in a different state of mind it gives the feeling that I like to dwell on my mistakes.

Please don't think me a constant downer, as I do love to be inspirational and helpful. Just this evening, I spoke with a young man who still had issues with his mother being Protestant as he began RCIA. I like to think about myself in a positive light; there are just times when I need to not only remind myself of my sins, but to find that one song that embodies my feelings.

Maybe it's my unique form of closure: using music to contain my feelings. It's like a picture of a summer on the beach; each time you pick up the frame and stare at the image, you're taken back to that place. You can almost feel the sand under your feet, can faintly hear the cry of gulls flying overhead. If you think real hard, you'll remember the songs you listened to that year, who your best friends were, and where the focus was in your life. Perhaps Photograph by Nickelback would have been a better choice.

Regardless, I will leave the pictures and photo albums to those from the last generation. My memories are contained on my mp3 playlist.

This particular song, written by Brian Vander Ark (another native of Grand Rapids), alludes to many issues and problems in the search of a relationship. My search of the song's actual meaning has lead me to the story of an abortion, rape, a fling with a buddy's girlfriend, even a car accident. I've never seen an absolute truth to the meaning of this song. That may be Brian's ultimate gift: to allow people to interpret and identify with his music without parameters.

That's the type of songwriter I like.

For me, The Freshman represents our misguided attempts to find happiness with the opposite sex, as well as our mindsets about heartache. Not every object we chase is material. My life has shown that we chase ideas, self-created ideas, about what happiness and love should be. The "I was young and dumb" excuse will serve me well the rest of my days, but the important thing for me to remember, as well as to share, is that no matter what happens in our lives we will get through it. God does not give that which we cannot handle.

I'm reminded of the movie Evan Almighty where Morgan Freeman/God says: "Do you think God zaps us with courage, or does he give us opportunities to be courageous?"

Other than the words, this is quite simply a beautiful song. I hope you enjoy. As always, the song is on the playlist below.

When I was young I knew everything
She a punk who rarely ever took advice
Now I'm guilt stricken, sobbing, with my head on the floor
Stop a baby's breath and a shoe full of rice

I can't be held responsible
She was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place

For the life of me
I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
For the life of me
I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen

My best friend took a week's vacation to forget her
His girl took a week's worth of valium and slept
And now he's guilt stricken, sobbing, with his head on the floor
Thinks about her now and how he never really wept. He says:

I can't be held responsible
She was touching her face
I won't be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place

For the life of me
I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
For the life of me
I could not believe we'd ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen

We tried to wash our hands of all of this
We never talk of our lack in relationships
And how we're guilt stricken, sobbing, with our heads on the floor
We fell through the ice when we tried not to slip

I can't be held responsible
Cause she was touching her face
And I won't be held responsible
She fell in love in the first place

For the life of me
I cannot remember
What made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise
For the life of me
I cannot believe we'd ever die for these sins
We were merely freshmen

Random Thoughts: My First Homily

Today as I prepared for work at the Poker Room, I let my mind wonder free about thoughts of the Capuchins, what it will be like to be a Postulant, and even what my life will be like after ordination. I thought about something my boss always tells me: "I would feel more comfortable talking to someone like you as a priest than someone who went into seminary at the age of 14. You've lived life, Vito. You have something unique that you bring to the table that other priests may not."

My mind drifted from this conversation to my "gifts," and eventually to the idea of being in front of a parish administering Mass. One of my naughty little pipe-dreams is to take something from the Gospel and begin an Homily as if completely unplanned. I allow this thought to take over, imaging myself giving witness to a host of people. It doesn't have the true feeling of standing in front of a crowd of people, yet it gives me the change to speak what's on my mind. It's how my priest's sermons always sounded like. I take the time to imagine what I would say that could inspire or touch the lives of others.

It puts me in a better state of mind, being able to reflect on the Gospel in this way. But it also gives me a sense of purpose, knowing that the enjoyment I receive of contemplating the Word is part of what brought me this far in my journey.

Since these are always off the cuff, I'm not sure what kind of blog this will turn into. However I've thought about what it would be like to give my first Homily after being ordained, and what it would sound like. Perhaps it would be something like this:

About ten minutes before Mass started, as I was in the sacristy, it finally struck me that this would be the first time I stood up in front of a parish and actually delivered the Homily. I can remember being a boy sitting over there (pointing to where the alter servers were) and listening to my priest. He'd walk in front of the alter, he'd never stand behind the podium, and he liked to talk with his hands. He didn't read from a notecard or a prepared speech; he spoke to us...much like I'm speaking to you now.

And over the years, as my faith grew, I realized that being able to see him in that way, more as a person telling me about his life and his understanding of the day's Gospel reading, he was relating himself as a human being. He made the Gospel not as a lofty goal that we could never reach, but as the means by which we should live, and how we could incorporate it into our daily lives.

Today's reading from Matthew is a familiar one: the story of Jesus summoning his disciples. He tells them: "Come with me, and I will make you fishers of men."

"...fishers of men."

The part of the story that I always found fascinating, and something that stayed with me the entire time I considered this idea of becoming a Capuchin was how Peter and Andrew react.

"They immediately abandoned their nets."

Now you can look at almost any translation, and that adverb is still there: "Right away, At once, Straightaway they abandoned their nets and followed Him."

Right away. At once. Immediately.

The thought of that confuses me. Some 10 years ago, when I first heard that call to God, I didn't do anything immediately! When I first felt that pull towards the priesthood, I was scared. I was almost horrified! Here I was, content in my job, living the American Dream (air quotes); by my standards I was a success already. Why did I need to become a priest? Why did I have to give up all of this?

For me, it took years to truly understand what it meant to understand this calling. I had doubts, feelings of unworthiness, even the idea that I was trying to impress someone by becoming a priest. There was nothing I could do immediately, because I wasn't even sure what I was supposed to do.

And as I learned more and more about myself, I realized that I wasn't happy at that job. My life wasn't as fulfilling as I pretended it was. My gauge for success was this small scale of material items. And I would begin to wonder that maybe Peter and Andrew weren't too happy with where their lives were. Maybe the life of a fisherman was not who they were meant to be. Perhaps God had given them the desire, the wisdom, and the courage to do more with their lives...they needed simply to wait until they were called to do so. And immediately, they left their nets to follow Him.

Perhaps we're not so different from the Apostles. We all have in our hearts the desire to do something wonderful with our lives. We want to make people smile, we want to right that what is wrong...sometimes we just don't know how. Sometimes we just don't want to commit ourselves to doing too much. If there is a lesson to be learned, it is that we as Catholic Christians should make ourselves aware of that Calling that God has for each of us, and make ourselves available to do what is asked.

I'm not advocating that you should all give up your jobs and sell everything you own after you leave church. In fact some of you have already followed your call: being married, being a father, being an employer.

What I want you to understand is that we're all called to do more. Maybe not change the world, but to open our hearts to God and to those around us. I became a Capuchin because this is where God wants me. I'm not sure what I do next; God didn't give me timeline for the rest of my life. However these years later, I'm standing in front of all of you wonderful people, much like my parish priest stood in front of my parish, hoping that I was put here to affect the life of another as my parish priest touched mine.

eh, perhaps I'm not the greatest ad-lib speaker, but I like being able to let my mind wander and think.

The Beginning of the Story

The Christmas break has really allowed me to open up my mind and commit to writing this autobiography that the Capuchins are asking for. Worried about details or what stories to tell, it took a friend to realize that it's not about the "good or the bad" that really matters.

Over the past week, I've struggled with a way to begin this paper. Should I merely write a dry, timeline starting from birth and ending in the present? Should I write a frame story, centering everything around an important moment in my life? Several times I thought of just starting the paper like The Jerk: "I was born a poor black child."

The OFM Caps might get the joke, but it's probably not I don't think they asked for humor in the autobiography.

Tonight, in an attempt to finally get things moving, I decided to write my story in a way that chronicles the important times in my life, gives the factual history that they want to know, and allows me to reflect on my life and explain how these things have affected who I am and what I've gained.

Instead of writing one 3-5 page paper, I'm making 5 different one-page stories about an important time in my paste. The first I've composed centers around my graduation from high school, specifically when I performed at the commencement ceremony. The next is a story of when I was 9 and I watched my mother stand up to an abusive boyfriend. Other times in my life I'm contemplating are: the break-up with my last girlfriend, waking up from a seizure, spending Easter at a rest stop in Missouri (when I was working over the road), a day of working at the poker room, or hearing The Summons being played in church this past year.

Now that I've really gotten into writing this thing, there's not enough pages to cover everything I want to talk about. From initially thinking I had a dull life to trying to fit in as much as I can, I'm glad I took several days to really sit and consider my past. By telling my story in 5 short stories or chapters, I feel I am in touch with my true nature: a storyteller. While this type of autobiography may be unconventional for their purpose, perhaps it will show the Capuchins one of my greater gifts: to touch others with words and stories from my life.

Perhaps I'm just cheating and writing 5 self-reflective blog entries for this required paper. If that is the case, then let it be so. One thing that I've rediscovered during this discernment process is my love of writing, both fiction and non. Perhaps I will pick up my guitar again as well. Perhaps I'll rekindle that love of music I had before chasing more materialistic goals in life.

Either way, that is my story and I've finally find a way to start it. If God sees fit to inspire me in unusual ways, I'm not going to argue or try to fight it. Let's just hope it meets the requirements of what the Capuchins are looking for.

Enough of a break. Hope you all had a good Christmas. I have work and writing to do all weekend.

Merry Christmas: A Christmas Carol

Have a wonderful holiday. I'll be away from computer for a few days.

Here's something I hope you enjoy until I get back. Personally, I laughed 'til I cried:

The Trouble With Women, Part II

It's Christmas Eve, and I can't focus my mind around the holiday for any good purpose. Perhaps I'm working too hard, maybe I'm not spending enough time with my family, or maybe I'm just recalling the hardships of last Christmas: the precursor to the end of a year-long relationship.

It's been almost a full year now, and while I've done my best to forget about my ex-girlfriend, I realize there's a part of me that still doesn't feel right about it. I've written about the situation extensively (3 part blog), and have said a lot of my feelings about it already. One thing that I haven't said, and something I have to be honest with myself about: I really don't miss her, and I feel like an heartless prick because of it.

There are still unresolved issues of anger surrounding last Christmas. As I tried to understand what this "calling" was all about, I accepted the fact that my relationship was heading towards the end. While the holidays are neither a time of depression or resentment, it brings back a collection of thoughts that I try to push away.

Starting in my twenties, I found myself attracted to women with low self-esteem. During the next ten years, I'd find myself involved with numerous women who were either abused (physically or emotionally), leaving bad relationships, or picking up the pieces of a broken heart. There were some women so depressed that they couldn't keep their affairs in order. It may sound heartless, but I was attracted to women with "baggage."

Admittedly, most were not actually close to being called a relationship. Yet my heart went out to these women. I remember each of their faces, both smiling and sad. I offered my shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear to listen to. I honestly wanted to make them feel better about themselves, life, and their future - but I also wanted them to see that I was not that kind of person.

Three women I met by giving roses on Valentine's Day. Three I met selling cars. I was the proverbial nice guy throughout my life, and while being the nice guy doesn't get your as far as being a bad guy, it was how I felt women ought to be treated. It felt at ease being the sensitive guy, making it easier for women to talk to me.

Thinking about that autobiography makes me ponder my own personal relationships, where they went wrong, and what I would have done better. I think that by entering a relationship as myself, rather than some mechanic trying to fix another person's problems, I would have made both of us happier. I gauged the success of the relationship not by how happy we were, but by how much better her life was now that she was with me.

Perhaps I need another 17 years between this incident before I can truly look back and be reflective on my actions. For now, I only see a guy who tried to change another person, for his benefit and for hers, and managed to alienate another person from his life. For all my anger, all my disdain, all my feelings that I keep in the back of my mind, there is that part of me that misses hearing: "I love you."

Tonight, as I assist the Bishop as a Eucharistic Minister for Midnight Mass, I'll remember that where I'm headed isn't to hide myself from who I am or what I've been. Just watching the news this morning, it's horrible to see all the death and violence happening on Christmas Eve. But this is our world, these are our lives. And while we can't change the world, we can learn from our past and face others with a better understanding of life, love, and friendship.

I'm not trying to hide from who I was; merely learn more about this person I have become.

Merry Christmas, and may you enjoy this holiday season with your loved ones.


Meme: Greatest 80's Rock Songs

Whether you're a professional Air Guitarist or you just can't put those leather pants and pink scarves in the closet, ther's no letting go of rock from the 1980's. Long permed hair, heavy make-up, spandex...and that was just what the guys wore!

It's okay to admit it: you know who the real guitar heros in history are. Did you save that denim jacket with all the band patches on it, or all those pairs of ripped jeans? Whether you dressed the part or not, the hard rock of the late 80's showed us how to rock out and look good at the same time. I don't care what anyone says, hair bands will always have a special place in my heart.

No power ballads on this list; we're here to bang our heads and rock all night. Let's take a look back at my 10 favorite rock songs of the late 1980's.
  1. Once Bitten, Twice Shy by Great White - Awesome song by a great band. It's unfortunate that the only thing they'll be remembered by is the pyrotechnic fire in Rhode Island.
  2. Kickstart My Heart by Mötley Crüe - Interesting thing about this song: when I play it in the car while driving on the freeway, the spedometer mysteriously creeps up to 95+ MPH! It wasn't till they laid off all the drugs that their music got really good.
  3. Pour Some Sugar On Me by Def Leppard - One of the cornerstones of 80's hard rock, this song alone catapulted the sales of the Hysteria album to over 4 million copies. And it is one of the greatest strip club songs of all time (so I've been told).
  4. Livin' On A Prayer by Bon Jovi - It might not be cool to like Jon Bon Jovi, but he's proven his worth by not wasting his fame and money on boose, drugs, and loose women. A staunch Democrat, it almost seems ironic how the song reflects his stance on social justice and charitable works. 100,000,000 Bon Jovi fans might be wrong, but how many rock stars own an arena football league like Jon?
  5. Paradise City by Guns n' Roses - Admit it: the first time you saw Slash playing guitar and wearing that top hat, you wanted one as well. The last two minutes or so of this song make you wanna go crazy. FYI: head-banging requires practice...use caution when rocking out.~
  6. Still Of The Night by Whitesnake - The video to this song always stuck in my mind, because during the interlude, Vivian Campbell was using a violin bow to play the guitar, reminiscent of Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. If you were a guitar player like me, you'll remember that Whitesnake went through a handful of great guitarists, including Steve Vai, John Sykes, Adrian Vendeburg, and most recently Reb Beach.
  7. Youth Gone Wild by Skid Row - Before their career was destined to the memory of their Power Ballad I Remember You, Skid Row was slated to be one of the harder bands to come out in 1989. Sometimes our success is also our downfall.
  8. Cold Blood by Kix - You have to be an aficianato to remember this one. Here's a hint: its the band that wrote the anti-suicide song: Don't Close Your Eyes. This was their second good hit before being lost to obscurity. I found it wonderful how I sang along to the music video, remembering all the words.
  9. Talk Dirty To Me by Poison - The beginning of it all: the hair, the make-up, the jewelry. Before we'd ever think of calling it glam rock, Poison represented the guy parents never wanted their daughter to bring home. Yesterday I saw a guy with pink/blue hair, eyeliner, black fingernails, and several piercing. If I had a daughter and she brought him home, I'd throw him head-first out of the house. Funny how time catches up with us.
  10. One by Metallica - Before any fans get upset, I realize Metallica had a different sound and persona than the other nine bands I listed. Kirk Hammet never wore make-up that I saw. However Metallica's And Justice For All album broke them into the mainstream with this track. Most people have heard this song at least once, exposing an entire new audience to their intense sound.
Almost all of these songs can be found at projectplaylist.com, the site where I pull all my music for my weekly song blog. If you've not heard a song on my list, stop and visit. Warning: excessive listening may cause spontaneous headbanging!
Consider thineselves tagged.

The Trouble With Women, Part I

I haven't spent much time blogging, as I am straining my brain to figure out how to begin this autobiography that the Capuchins are asking for. Part of it stems from a lack of direction: where do I start? What do I highlight in my life? Is this small event important enough to add, or am I leaving out something that should be told?

Those excuses have served me well, as they've covered up a greater truth about this autobiography: there's times in my life I don't like reflecting on. In grade school I was a quiet kid and was often teased for being Mexican, for being poor, for not having a dad. I thought about the one and only time I cheated on a girlfriend. I thought about situations where I completely lied to get out of. For every good moment in my life, there was a time for me to be shameful, to be guilty, and even to forget about.

What I've noticed is most of these times center around relationships with women - a part of my life that has been surprisingly hard to manage. They are hard for me to discuss because the topic evokes emotions that I'm not comfortable with. It's easier to forget pain than to face it. It's easier to pass the blame than to accept being wrong. Sometimes the lie we tell ourselves is more pleasing than the reality we wish to face.

As I attempt to accept the mistakes and the quirks of my personality, I've tried hard to sit in contemplation of different aspects of my life: my spirituality, my relationship with Jesus, my discernment, even my "worth" in living up to the expectations of religious life. One thing I've conveniently side-stepped is my attitude towards relationships and women.

This is a big topic, and I'm not sure how long this will be, so I'll start with my "first" and end with my most recent relationship of a year ago.

I had a girlfriend when I was 15, right before my mom and I moved to Michigan from Iowa. She was a very pretty "Iowan farm girl:" straight blond hair, blue eyes, and a wonderful smile. What I failed to see at the time was her intellect, her passion for social issues, and her interest in anything besides me. The easy answer is always: "Hey, I was 15! I was dumb." But if that were the case, why do I feel guilt and even shame about treating her as a trophy...a plaything to satisfy the stirrings of an adolescent kid?

Before I give the wrong impression, let me say that we never had sex; never even came close. She was too smart for such a thing, and I was too nervous about such a thing, despite my machismo attitude. Rather, she satisfied a personal need of mine beyond the carnal.

When we are depressed, we sometimes buy things to make us feel better. If we feel insecure or low in the self-esteem department, we buy superficious things to improve the way we look or appear. In this way I felt I used her. Rather than being in tune with another soul, I flaunted her like a college kid with an iPhone. Instead of being a friend to someone I was dating, I worked on my status at school. While I never said a mean thing to her or ever fought with her, I treated her like garbage without even knowing it.

Eventually she had enough and one night we broke up. Rather, she broke up with me, citing that it would be easier since I was going to be moving Michigan that summer of 1990. It was hard for me to handle because I realized at that moment that I was losing more than a trophy; someone I cared about no longer wanted to be with me. I'd never done a good job of showing my true feelings, and now it was too late.

I soon realized that having a broken heart will make you act like a moron. She said the reason we were breaking up was because I would soon leave. In some last ditch effort to win her back, I started telling people that I was in fact not moving. I told this lie to friends, teachers, everyone I could. Perhaps it was an extension of what I wanted my reality to be. I didn't want to move and leave my friends. I'd finally established an identity, I had a girlfriend, I was a somebody! Why give it all up?

When that didn't work, I became cold. I feel she really want to be friends, but I figured my heart had been broken already. I wasn't going to toy with emotions I could neither understand nor control. While I pretended to have closure, I spent the rest of my time in Iowa lying to everyone, including myself. Quite frankly, I became one of those "crazy ex's" you hear stories about.

That part of my life stuck with me well into my high school years in Michigan. One of the first songs performed by my band was entitled "Allison's Song" - an attempt to put my soul on the line and say everything that I've been typing for the past half hour. At some point I had her address and sent her a letter with the song lyrics. I don't remember getting a letter back.

Even now as my fingers write this entry, I stop every 5 minutes to clench my fists and think: "Why were you such an asshole, Vito?!" Usually when the memories flood in, I shake my head to clear my thoughts. But tonight I kept thinking about her and what exactly that feeling was that I kept hiding from. As I kept thinking and remembering, my stomach began to clench up, my head started to hurt, and I could feel tears welling up inside. There wasn't just guilt hiding there. It was a sense of loss; something was missing from within me and I could feel it. These 17 years later, I realized my heart still had the scar from where it was broken.

The deeper I delve, the harder it is to sit with these thoughts, but I continue...trying to reach some sort of closure. Instead of remembering the past, I think about contacting her or meeting her in a coffee shop; maybe a coincidental meeting in an Applebee's or something. There's part of me that wants that, a small voice that tells me I should look her up and try to start a conversation. But that voice has always scared me, because I don't like the road it leads down. Will I turn into some weird stalker? Am I going to break my heart again? I happened to find her via Google, and she's not married. Dare I say anything at all?

It's painful to keep thinking this way, but I have to ask myself: "What do I want?"

I take off the blinders, let loose the id, and allow my mind to roam free. I envision meeting her somewhere. We talk. She smiles. We even share a laugh or two. I cringe as my thoughts wander, scared to see what kind of obsessive fantasy springs forth. But as the daydream ends, there is no second meeting. There's no twisted sexual desires or even far fetched ideas of getting back together. There is balance. There is peace. There is a man and a woman talking and smiling about the foolish ideals of youth, and when it's over they walk away happy for the opportunity to see someone from their childhood years.

Perhaps that's all I want: a chance to tell her I was young and dumb, and that I know what I was doing and that I'm sorry. The daydream is nice, it gives me a feeling of warmth. I realize I'm not looking for a lost trophy. A trophy can be replaced; fancy items can be rebought. When we lose a friend, we lose part of ourselves. Only now, many years later, can I understand that.

Just so I don't end on a depressing note: When I was done feeling sad and lonesome about being 15, I cranked up the hair-band rock and played some air guitar until I could laugh at myself again.


Discernment and Music: No One

Driving home from work after a stressful day, I heard the beat of Alicia Keys' new song No One coming through the speakers of the car. I've heard it many times before, but it was only after a good conversation with my spiritual director that a deeper meaning resonated from this track.

Earlier today, I had a wonderful lunch with my quirky yet contemplative S.D. We talked about vacations, my trip to Chicago, the Spiral of Life (I'll delve into this on another blog), and inevitably about my job. I explained how each day more and more people were learning about my vocation - poker players, charitable organizations I worked with, and fellow employees each learned about my desire to join the Capuchins in a new way. I talked about how their reactions were never against me, but usually something like: "Wow!" "Dude, that's crazy." "No way! Do you not like women anymore?" "I could never do something like that. That's pretty awesome to actually attempt something like that."

The thing she said afterwards resonated through my mind for the rest of the day: "No matter how hard you try, no matter how long you've known them, no matter how close you are, there are some people that will never see you as this type of person...and you should be at peace with that."

In this year plus that I've been discerning, there are those that see me differently because of my vocation. There are those that treat me just the same, and there are those that no longer talk to me. What she had told me made complete sense, and I realized that's still something I'm working on. I, like anyone else, seek validation for things via my friends and counterparts. When this "priest thing" first started, I told close friends because I wanted that affirmation - that response of: "Yeah, I think you'd make a great priest."

Unfortunately for men and women in my situation, that isn't always the case. Religious life is an esoteric calling. We are all called to be Christ-like, but not all are called to be sisters, monks, priests, or nuns. For those that neither understand nor agree with the role of religious life, we find it hard to get the same encouragement one might receive if discussing marriage or a career change.

All day, I thought about the responses I'd heard from co-workers, friends, and the like. While most were supportive, very few were able to bridge the gap of Vito the Guy and the Iconoclastic Ideal of A Priest. I realize I may never fit that perfect image, and I've done my best no say otherwise. Yet despite my attempts to "keep it real," the fact that some of my friends may never accept my decision is disheartening. For if others are not convinced of my vocation, how can I ever convince myself that this is not another crazy idea?

I spent the day with these thoughts, keeping them in the back of my mind. On my drive home, they creeped out of the locked box of my subconscious. There will be those that can never understand my call. There will be those that will never picture me as a friar, even if I wore the habit and the rosary hung from the twine cord. They were lonely thoughts, and I felt very depressed.

As the song began on the radio, I asked myself the key question that really matters with regards to discernment: "What is my motive?"

If indeed this was another crazy idea of mine, what is the motive behind my idea? If it were merely a backlash because of my bad relationship, would I worked as hard to pay off the debt and secure living arrangements for my mother and I? If this were some way to make my mom or my family happy, would I have included them more in my spiritual journey? I rarely go to the same Mass as my mom, and if I really wanted to make her happy, I'd just do the laundry or leave the toilet seat up.~

The thing that keeps me going is that I continue my journey out of a genuine love for God and happiness with my life. I don't plan on entering the Postulancy to impress my friends, to prove to anyone that I am a good person, or to show how apostolic I can be by working with the poor. My overwhelming love for God and his Eternal Grace is what lights my fire and drives me to live my life these days, and while I'm sad that not everyone can experience that kind of love, I know that no one, despite their words or actions, can ever steer me away from that source of power.

Perhaps her song was originally intended as a love song from woman to man, but as I hear it now, Alicia Keys' song: No One sounds like a triumphant praise of the Almighty, and how she will never be separated from His Grace. Needless to say, after hearing the song in this new light, I could not hold back that wavering tear.

Simply writing the lyrics does not convey the message of what I felt. So having read this, I give you the song again, and maybe some of you who find it hard for a guy like me to find a Calling towards the Capuchins can see, through my eyes, what it means to love God so much, you'd dedicate the rest of your life to serve Him....

Stormy Weather

If you happened to look at the post time, it is not a trick: it's almost 5:30 AM when I'm writing this entry. I got back into Grand Rapids an half hour ago, eager to leave the city because of bad weather.

After a long day of visiting different ministries in Wisconsin, we got back to St. Clare's Friary around 10:30 CST. The thought was to take a long siesta, wake up Tuesday morning, and have a leisurely drive back to Michigan. Unfortunately, I learned about the ice storm headed right for Chicago, threatening to make any driving treacherous.

I have a meeting in 2 hours with the other pitbosses of the poker room. I was hoping to tele-commute this morning on my drive back, however I was told "...it is very important that I attend the meeting." After saying my goodbyes, I hopped in my car around midnight local time and drove back to Michigan. Oddly enough, I don't feel tired at all.

The inclement weather was also an excuse: I needed time to think about the past few days, my interview, and where the next step was for my life. Not only did I have a host of paperwork to hand in, but I began to outline my autobiography, a requirement from everyone applying for Postulancy.

Yet just like leaving a job interview, I became frustrated at the memory of that three hour discussion. We talked about my history, my faith, my family, my medical condition, all the while the vocation director was furiously scribbling down notes while I talked. Maybe I should have said less? Perhaps I should have said less about my mother?

It was a rough ride home.

Next to me lies the packet of material I must also turn in for my application: transcripts of all my schools, doctor/dentist/optometrist exams reports, an affidavit notarized that lists any debt I may have, numerous release forms for personal background checks, updated baptismal and confirmation records, and a disclaimer page, stating I've never pretended to be a priest, had sexual relations with a minor, or participated in a murder or abortion. There's more here, but you get the idea. After taking a humbling look at the past mistakes of my life, I must gather more information than any college would ever ask for.

I can't help but sound cynical. I've had nothing but encouragement to apply and see what this call towards religious life might really be. Yet when I actually take the first step, it was like taking a pie in the face in front of a crowd of people. Humility didn't explain the experience; I felt shame. I'm no good to call these guys brothers.

I know I should trust in God. I know there are men with far worse sins that have gone on to do greater things. I know that God forgives, and I should accept his forgiveness. Yet I still feel as if I'm not the person they're looking for; now that they really know me they'll toss me aside for sure.

On the way back, I started thinking about my prayer life, my confessional life, and perhaps I haven't been living up to my obligation as a Catholic. Perhaps my worries aren't about the Capuchins, but my critical view of myself not doing everything I can to improve my relationship with God.

So this week, besides working on the first term paper I've had to write in 13 years, I'll be working on me. Besides just writing an autobiography, I can start to better build my spiritual life in the right now and prepare myself to be an instrument of Christ.

Maybe the bad weather wasn't such a bad thing. It seems I do my best introspective thinking behind the wheel.

Discernment and Music: One Thing

My mind has been completely focused on this upcoming weekend with the Capuchins, as it is slated to be my initial interview regarding Postulancy. Try as I might to write about something other than this pivotal moment, I can't pull myself away.

Each day closer, my gut clenches tighter, I feel the tension in my back, and I reflect how the outcome of this weekend is another one of those momentous times in my life. In my great metaphor, I can only move forward, hoping the green light doesn't change to red.

Despite my obvious anxiety, I've been rather quiet in my personal life. I've only spoken of this concern with one other, and my spiritual director is on vacation until I return. Perhaps I have no one to bounce my fears off of, except for God. But if God is the one the called me, what fear should I have?

It reminds me of the fear I had last January, driving to my mother's house at 2AM. I'd broken up with my live-in girlfriend after she refused to believe I had a calling. "If Catholics take people like you to be priests, I'm glad I'm not Catholic!" still echos in my sub-conscious, as I remember being yelled at. Leaving with only the important things of my life, I knew I'd lived through one of the toughest parts of my discernment.

And during that drive home, with snowflakes gently falling onto the windshield as I heard the snow crunch under the tires of the car, the occasion was marked with a song, softly playing on the radio. As always, the song spoke not only about why I'd done what I'd done, but of the mountainous task yet to come.

Almost a year later, I stand as a better person, yet I hold onto the fears like on my first step. Will they think I'm good enough to join? Do they think I have a calling, or will their psychologists tell me I have a deep rooted issue with commitment, or an obsessive dreamer with a Messianic Complex?

It is human nature to worry, to stress over something to come. There are times I just wish I weren't so damn unsure about where my life is supposed to lead.

Restless tonight
'Cause I wasted the light
Between both these times
I drew a really thin line
It's nothing I planned
And not that I can
But you should be mine
Across that line

If I traded it all
If I gave it all away
For one thing
Just for one thing
If I sorted it out
If I knew all about
This one thing
Wouldn't that be something?

I promise I might
Not walk on by
Maybe next time
But not this time
Even though I know
I don't wanna know
Yeah, I guess I know
I just hate how it sounds

It I traded it all
If I gave it all away
For one thing
If I sorted it out
If I knew all about
This one thing
Wouldn't that be something

Even though I know
I don't wanna know
Yeah, I guess I know
I just hate how it sounds

If I traded it all
If I gave it all away
For one thing
If I sorted it out
If I knew all about
This one thing
Wouldn't that be something

-Finger Eleven

As usual, the song can be found in the player at the bottom. I found it rather fitting to play it while proofreading this blog. It gave it that "Movie Trailer" feel.

Discernment and Music: Meant to Live

There's really not much to say, since the song says everything and it's association is self-evident. When this song was released in 2005, it coincided with the time in my life where I started to doubt the importance of material things. There was something else important I was missing. I wasn't sure what it was, and it would take a bad relationship and a spiritual awakening to put my on the right path years later, but I sensed that something greater was needed to complete me.

As always, I've added the song to my playlist, located at the bottom of this page; for your listening enjoyment.

Fumbling his confidence
And wondering why the world has passed him by
Hoping that he's meant for more than arguments
And failed attempts to fly

We were meant to live for so much more
Have we lost ourselves?
Somewhere we live inside
We were meant to live for so much more
Have we lost ourselves?
Somewhere we live inside

Dreaming about Providence
And whether mice and men have second tries
Maybe we've been living with our eyes half-open
Maybe we're bent and broken

We were meant to live for so much more
Have we lost ourselves?
Somewhere we live inside
We were meant to live for so much more
Have we lost ourselves?
Somewhere we live inside

We want more than this world's got to offer
We want more than this world's got to offer
We want more than the wars of our fathers
And everything inside screams for second life

We were meant to live for so much more

The Hero Factor: Separating Reality from Fantasy

With all this talk of religious life, brotherhood, and being accepted, it's only right that I ask myself a very important question: Why?

I found myself thinking, and my train of thought led me to a new and mysterious place. I felt the need to write it down, but it took a few days to actually construct the entire thought. I apologize for taking a few days to get this updated.

Taking the side of the advocatus dioboli for a few moments, it can be said that there's a romantic side to the notion of dedicating one's entire life to Christ. This charism of helping people in need, leading a moral and just life, teaching others, exhibiting traits such as chivalry, piety, and obedience - all those things are highly reminiscent of the knights of old.

As we've seen in the media, the epic struggle of good versus evil, of finding one's purpose in life, of being chosen for a specific purpose, and the fulfilling of a destiny are all plotlines and stories that have kept us enraptured. Whether it be the story of King Arthur, the Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, or even the Star Wars saga by George Lucas, it's plainly obvious that stories with this high fantasy storyline draw the hearts and minds of many people.

We enjoy these stories because the show the struggle of good conquering evil. We see how powerful forces aid the chosen people in their time of need. We are immersed in a world where we don't worry about wearing the newest outfit or driving the coolest car. The people who are most revered are those considered honorable, charitable, heroic, and a champion for those who cannot fight for themselves.

Is it not surprising that people would want to live out these fantasies? The popularity of Role Playing Games such as Dungeons & Dragons and Palladium has continued to grow over the 30 years of existence. While it is estimated that 4 million people world-wide play the pencil and paper version of D&D, the growth has continued via the internet, where it's estimated that some 20 million people play World of Warcraft in China alone.

I've mentioned before how I used to play Everquest, an MMORPG with a plotline similar to the Lord of the Rings. There are dragons to slay, castles to pillage, magic treasure to find, and an entire world to explore as a haughty fighter, a shiny paladin, or even a wise priest.

I also mentioned the existence of guilds: player-made groups to help achieve common goals and develop a closer sense of community - working together as a unit (family, brotherhood, team). Keeping in theme with the epic stories such as Chronicles of Narnia and the Dragonlance series, players often tried to emulate that sense of chivalry, honor, loyalty, and of course victory.

Here's an example from an Everquest guild called Sapientia:

The Sapientia of today is not a pure raiding
guild. We endeavor to maintain a balance between building bonds of
enduring trust, respect and friendship among our members on the one hand and
coming together as a single force to vanquish all mobs that dare stand in our
way on the other hand. There are days when we raid for hours at a time,
and there are days when we relax and do a little tradeskilling or questing or
exploring or whatever strikes our fancy; it's what we enjoy most out of the game
and it's how we define fun. Our community is casual in the sense that we
do not have planned raids every day and attendance is never strictly
mandatory. Even the way we distribute loot is not based on "points"
accumulated through raid attendance. Yet we almost always enjoy tremendous
participation in our raids and events by our members. It's a testament to
our guild that so many of our members cheerfully take part in what we do without
being compelled to do so.

With such an overwhelming influence of this fantasy world, along with the obvious attraction to that sense of brotherhood, family, or just a sense of belonging, is it possible that this entire thing about feeling called to a religious life is just an extension of that fanatical attraction come to life?

For many years, I belonged to a similar guild known as The First Seal. We stood for loyalty, truthfulness, humility, helping others, and many of those same charisms that most people would never associate with a video game. How is one truly honorable in a video game?

The best way to describe it is this: in an anonymous setting like the internet where people can assume any persona they wish, there were those of us who didn't want to be the malicious, scamming, offensive, childish, stalking, selfish, greedy players. We wanted to bring something good to this "online world."

As I look back, I must admit how wonderful it felt to be included in something like that. Even my nom de guerre, Severaen, was a tribute of yet another high fantasy character Severian, of the Gene Wolfe series. I've not played EQ in over a year, yet there are times I wish that guild still existed; and there are times I wish the sense of brotherhood had never gone away. And there, right there, is where I must truly question my intentions.

Am I actually so devoted to God that I am willing to sacrifice possessions, a wife, and the freedom of being on my own to be part of a religious order? Or am I looking for that next fix of chivalry, inclusion, and obedience? Are not the Capuchin Franciscans a guild writ large (well, writ real); where instead of slaying virtual monsters on the internet, they fight monsters such as hunger, poverty, sickness, and famine on the streets of our cities? If my desire leads me towards a religious life, is it because God put that desire there, or because I'm trying to carry on where a video game left off? Am I trying to be a knight in shining armor, or a humble servant of God?

The squires of the Middle Ages, on the eve before achieving knighthood, were bathed and dressed in a white robe, gave their confession to a priest, fasted that evening, and kept vigil all night - preparing their spirit for the duty they were committing to. I can admit to myself that I am drawn to that kind of devotion, an overt display to God and to others that I wish to devote my life to the service of others. Yet is this idealistic ceremony the only draw for me? Will I become bored after committing myself? Will I find I've made the wrong decision? Are my desires blinding me to the message I should be receiving from God?

My situation is a unique and complicated one. It's taken days to actually follow the line of thought, yet now that it's all written out, I can see a correlation between that fantasy life of being Severaen and this new life of possibly being Fr. Vito Martinez, O.F.M. Cap. I'm not worried that Sev was a fake part of my personality, or that I attempted to make others happy without being true to who I was. I feel the opposite: I'd like to think that being Severaen opened me up to accepting some of those traits in real life and not just on a video game.

My worry is that I cannot log off of real life. When I was done being a hero, I simply turned off my computer. When I didn't want to slay Quarm or be that chivalrous ranger, I didn't have to play the game. Am I ready to live up to that kind of morality each day of my life, or will I grow tired of it, just as I've grown tired of Everquest, and eventually disappoint myself and the others who have prayed for me thus far?

Perhaps the answer to the ultimate question "Why?" isn't that traditional, Catholic, response: "To save my soul and the souls of others." Maybe when they ask me "Why?" I'll tell them "Because I still want to be a hero."

While some of you might not understand the confusion I face, perhaps you can leave with a smile, knowing that someone who wanted to be a hero, a vanquisher of evil, a defender of the people, considers the Capuchin Franciscans and all religious orders to be capable of the same heroism as the fabled paladins. =)

Catching Up, Part 3

Unfortunately, I did not make it to Mass at the CIC at Noon. I'd stayed up late completing a blog, and had to drag myself out of bed around 11:15. Despite missing church, today was not a waste.

I spent a lot of time visiting with friends, old co-workers, even my spiritual advisor at my parish church. Just taking the time to sit and talk reminded me of how I'd spent last month - sitting in a soup kitchen in Detroit and talking with people over lunch.

As of right now, I've visited the Capuchin Franciscans about 4 times this year. I feel more and more welcome each time I go, and it reminded me why I was working so hard to accumulate so much money.

At the end of October, I had the chance to visit the Capuchin Monastery in Detroit, as well as some of the other ministries in the greater Detroit area. Until then, I'd only gone to see the O.F.M. Caps in Chicago at the Formation Friary...a house with little outside ministry. This would be my first glimpse of Capuchin life in action.

After working at the car lot until 6 that night, I remember racing across I96 from Grand Rapids to downtown Detroit. Despite the ugly weather, I was able to make a '97 Honda Civic fly at 90 mph as I hurried to get to the Monastery before everyone headed for bed.

The monastery (technically it is a friary, however the locals took to calling it a monastery and the name has always stayed the same) was a beautiful place located in a very bad part of town. Near the monastery is a Capuchin soup kitchen, where meals are served at lunch and dinner for all that come through the door - no questions asked.

The next day we learned about the ROPE program, sponsored by Capuchins in Detroit. We listened to grown men, hardened by prison, drugs, and a life of crime, come close to tears as they spoke about the Capuchins, the chance they gave to those men when no one else would, and the spiritual direction to turn their lives around and find peace in life and in spirit. Men that would still be lost in the system and living on the streets now support themselves by working as bakers and selling their wares to local churches throughout the Detroit Diocese.

After visiting one soup kitchen we went to the other side of town, just in time for lunch. Rather than just watch the poor be fed by volunteers, the brother in charge had us get in line, eat lunch, and strike up conversation with those we sat next to. We were instructed not to group up, but rather to mingle with the others.

I could tell some were a little apprehensive about sitting and talking with total strangers, especially in that type of setting. I felt I had an advantage on the others, not only because of my ability to initiate a conversation with just about anyone, but I remember the times my mother and I ate at the Salvation Army in Iowa. Being poor was nothing new to me; I'd lived that life already.

Despite what many would think, the people there were not destitute or all homeless. Most were hard-working people, just trying to make ends meet in a city with a dying economy. Two of the men I ate with worked full-time jobs, yet ate lunch at the soup kitchen to save money for their families. Even I know that 40 hours a week doesn't always pay the bills.

After touring the city, we trekked north for an hour to visit the Capuchin Retreat Center in Washington, MI. Not only did we have the opportunity to tour the facility, but we were given 2 hours of personal reflection time in which to walk the grounds, pray in the chapel, or just sit and ponder what the day has meant so far.

Being the traveler that I am, I chose to brave the rainy conditions and walked outdoors through the trees. Looking back, I don't so much remember how cold or windy it was; I remember thinking: "So what have I learned so far from this weekend?"

As I walked through the trees, my mind kept falling back to the first stop with the men from the ROPE program. One look into their eyes and you could see the sincerity of their gratitude, the conviction of their belief, and their never-ending praise for Fr. Stadmeyer who first got the program off the ground.

What struck me wasn't just how these men looked towards the Father as some embodiment of Christ. In our way, we as humans have the ability to be Christ-like when we stop and offer to help our fellow human beings. What struck me was how Father Stadmeyer stood, humble yet smiling, as if he'd done nothing more than what the Lord asked of him. These men owed him their lives, yet he was content in knowing they were safe.


For those two hours I thought about humility, about my life, and how I still walked a fine line between personal materialism and a personal spirituality. I wanted my life to lead in one direction, by my lifestyle required me to go another. I knew I'd have to make a choice, sooner rather than later. I knew I had to decide if I was really going to try and follow this calling, or if I'd push it to the back of my mind like so many other ideas. Was I really ready to see what God wanted me to do?

I left Detroit on Sunday, knowing I had a big decision to make. I knew I'd have to talk with the Vocations Director about taking the next step. I knew I'd have to decide what job I was going to work at until next fall. I knew I'd have to take some time, hopefully at the Retreat Center, to better prepare myself for a year of postulancy.

I've already taken too much time. I have a meeting this morning at 8AM, and it's already 4:23.
Perhaps I'll make it to Mass this afternoon if I don't drive home right after breakfast.

Creating New Habits

While the transition hasn't been smooth, I've achieved my first and most important goal: freeing up some personal time to focus on the more important things in life. By working only 4 days a week, I finally have the free time to do...well...anything.

Unfortunately I've used this past week to catch up on watching movies and playing video games.

Perhaps that's one of my draws to religious life: the structure and schedule of a daily routine. While my previous life was hectic and always on the move, I never felt like I was "wasting" time, if that makes any sense. When Project A finishes, move on to Project B. By the end of the year, I'd created such a personal schedule that I had no time to just waste.

If you know anything about my past, I'm pretty good at wasting time.

Left to my own devices, I can spend days accomplishing nothing. Doctors say it's a side effect from the Dilantin, but I think that's just an excuse for me to be lazy. There are days I struggle to just get out of bed - where I must coerce myself out of bed because of something important that must be done. Creating a personal schedule has been the easiest way to combat that this.

Now that my life has taken a turn for the better, perhaps I was on to the right idea, just focused in the wrong direction. A personal schedule would still keep me on task and focused, yet I have time to focus on what is truly important now: my spiritual life. And while I've done plenty of reading, I haven't actually taken advantage of my free time yet. It's a perfect opportunity to start some good habits.

At noon everyday, the Paulists at the Catholic Information Center of Grand Rapids have Mass. Part of religious life is being able to meet your brothers for morning and evening prayer. While my mornings start around 10-11AM, there's no reason why I shouldn't be able to attend Mass each day, just as the Paulists do. Besides, I feel if I can start the day off with the energy I feel after attending Mass, I'll never have an issue with being lazy again.

Of course, I thought about doing much much more. I thought about taking the Eucharist to the home-bound or even the sick and bed-ridden in the hospital. I considered volunteering a day out of my week at Mary Free Bed or God's Kitchen. I have so much time where I can make a difference in someone's life, I think to myself. Why should I waste one second?

The answer, I tell myself after much thought, is because of my other bad habit: I like to dive into projects rather than pace myself, eventually losing steam and all interest. I'm considering the rest of my life, not some side hobby. I need to find my limits and work within them, rather than running full steam and hoping I never have another seizure.

Tomorrow I will start my day off with the Paulists. Hopefully I have a good story to share when I next log in.

Discernment and Music: Thank You

Last Thursday I stood at the head of the table, giving the prayer before the Thanksgiving feast. As I mentioned before, I'm often appointed to the "religious" positions in the family because of my vocation. I don't mind. I don't feel I'm being looked up to, I feel rather they see something in me that I am still yet discovering...much like my ad-lib speech at my grandmother's funeral.

Rather than use an established prayer of Thanksgiving, I spoke from the heart and offered thanks for both the good and bad things that happened in our lives. I thanked God for the rough times in our lives, because it reminded us how close of a family we were. I thanked God for the times when money was scarce. because it reminded us that our "wants" and our "needs" often get confused. I thanked God for the hard journeys in life, as it made it all that much better when we got through each struggle.

As I continue to read and understand more about my own spirituality, I see God not just as an all-powerful being, or the "master controller" behind all that is. I see God as Love; pure and simple Love. It is God's love that keeps me moving in the right direction, and tells me not to worry about another $1000 in bills. It's God's love that has kept my family faithful when my grandmother passed away. It's God's love that I'm most thankful for, because I've learned that He loves us even when we're not ready to love Him back.

As I sat with that thought of God and love, I recalled an homily from a month ago about giving praise to God. I forget the Gospel reading for that day, but I remember Fr. Host talking about not just praying to God when we need something, but to thank Him everyday. While nothing might have happened during your day, your normal day may be a day that someone else wishes they could have.

After the homily, I remember the Music Director starting up a song; something a little out of place in the novus ordo of Mass. Yet when I heard the song, I recognized it right away, and realized it was not just the perfect song for that homily, but a song I would eventually add to this list.

My tea's gone cold, I'm wondering why
I Got out of bed at all
The morning rain clouds up my window
And I can't see at all
And even if I could it would all be grey
But your picture on my wall
It reminds me that it's not so bad, it's not so bad

I drank too much last night, got bills to pay
My head just fills in pain
I miss the bus and there'll be Hell today
I'm late for work again
And even if I'm there, they'll all imply
That I might not last the day
And then You call me, and it's not so bad, it's not so bad

I want to Thank You
For the best day of my life.
And oh, just to be with You
Is having the best day of my life

Push the door, I'm home at last
I'm soaking through and through
And then You handed me a towel
And all I see is You
And even if my house falls down now
I wouldn't have a clue
Because You're near me

And I want to Thank You
For the best day of my life.
And oh, just to be with You
Is having the best day of my life.


Happy Thanksgiving.

Discernment and Music: One Last Breath

Tonight I spent sleeping and fighting off regret.

The first week of being a pitboss was completely psychotic. I dealt with drunks, people who brought personal drama to the poker room, trying to fix paperwork that was out of sync...and the state inspector dropped by last weekend which made me even more nervous. When I wasn't working, I was trying to establish a new sleep pattern. I go to sleep around 4AM now, and wake up around noon.

Perhaps that's why I ended up having a seizure today.

When my body gets off schedule and my meds get messed up, I'm highly susceptible to a breakthrough seizure. On the way to work this morning, I could feel it coming on as I drove down the road. Whether by divine revelation or pure happenstance, I chose to take a side road to work instead of the freeway. The side road goes right by the car lot I used to work at. As a last-minute thought, I pulled into the dealership to relax on the couch, and get off the road. I remember shaking Elvis' hand, him asking "What's up?" and then waking up in the back of an ambulance.

No serious injury this time, thankfully. I do, however, have an added burden onto my discernment. My tally of debt was $5500ish. The ER visit and the ambulance ride will cost me close to $1000 in medical bills, bills that must be paid before August 1st.

I have this feeling of regret, as if I made the wrong decision in working at the poker room instead of staying at the dealership. This would not have happened had I stayed, my stress level is higher, and have to make more money to pay for my debt.

I could have died today. I could have ruined any chance of ever following a vocation. I could have lost my new job...so many things could have ruined my life today. It makes me wonder if I am on the right path.

I've had a song stuck in my head for the past few days, and it seems rather appropriate.

Eight months to go, Lord. Help me find the strength to keep going.

Please come now, I think I'm falling
I'm holding to all I think is safe
It seems I found the road to nowhere
And I'm trying to escape
I yelled back when I heard thunder
But I'm down to one last breath
And with it let me say,
Let me say

Hold me now
I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking
That maybe six feet
Ain't so far down

I'm looking down now that it's over
Reflecting on all of my mistakes
I thought I found the road to somewhere
Somewhere in His grace
I cried out "Heaven save me!"
But I'm down to one last breath

Hold me now
I'm six feet from the edge and I'm thinking
That maybe six feet
Ain't so far down

Sad eyes follow me
But I still believe there's something left for me
So please come stay with me
'Cause I still believe there's something left for You and me


My Last Day of Selling

For the past fives years, I've been "schlocking" out everything from golf packages, computers, cell phones, and eventually cars. I'm not quite sure how my life will be after today, but it's the start of a new beginning, and I'm really excited.

Bossman, who will now be referred to as Elvis, is happy for me, but understandably nervous about his future. He just took my order; he's buying lunch for everyone today because it's my last day. In truth, I know he's concerned about who will be the next person to sell cars. There's someone I've been training to replace me, but running a lot takes years of experience...he's sold cars for 2 weeks.

In thinking about this decision, I asked myself "What did you learn at this job that will help you in life?" Every opportunity has not only broadened my resume, but opened up some personal revelation about myself. At J.D. Byrider, the previous car lot I worked at, I first realized that chasing money doesn't equate to personal happiness. Working for Best Buy taught me how to "sell myself," not just to customers, but to use my gifts and experiences in a way that I can connect to those around me. Selling for T-Moblie taught me that even when you enter into a new field of work, it's always scary but usually for the best.

I finished up paperwork for a 2000 Volvo earlier; the final deal for a guy who used to feel like a conqueror - the guy who holds the record at a dealership for "Most Sales In One Day." Even yesterday I was giving tips to NewGuy about positive attitude, goal-setting for success, and how sales is no different from meeting women at the bar. On one hand, I'm teaching him the skills needed to excel at this business. On the other, I can't stand the B.S. any longer.

It's going to be an interesting day. Not one of sadness, even though Elvis will be the best boss I ever worked for. Nor will it be a day of regret, even though this was the highest paying job I'd ever gotten. It will be interesting because it's the first in a giant step down the road I want to travel. From here on out, my life has but one goal: debt relief by August 1, 2008.

I mentioned learning things at each job. I'm still not sure what I'll take most with me when I leave here. Will I tell people how I worked for a Muslim who congratulated me on my decision to pursue a religious life? Will I speak of how I reached the summit of a career, only to realize the mountain I climbed was a staging point for an even greater challenge. Or maybe I'll look back at this part of my life, and remember how I opened up about my discernment - an important step towards accepting His call.

Perhaps it's simpler than that. It could be just like Fr. Hugo said: "If you're that good at selling cars, think how great you'd be at selling The Gospel."

Catching Up, Part 2

We stood like soldiers in our black suits, protecting the casket of our departed grandmother. I had convinced the family to only allow the 3rd generation to move the casket, allowing my uncles to be with their families during the Mass and ceremony. As our aunts and uncles wept, we stood like statues in the sun.

Before we left the church, I'd made a deal with the Father to allow me to speak to the family before the lowering of the casket into the ground. I wasn't sure what I was going to say...but we'd been strong long enough. I'd been strong long enough. And I was ready to speak my peace before my family.

So as we stood huddled at the grave where my grandmother would be laid to rest, I did the best I could to say goodbye. (I spoke from the heart and don't remember the exact speech, but this was as close as I can remember):

"I know my mother has lost her mom, just like my other cousins. And we've done our best to be strong and support each of you in this time of grieving. We've heard hundreds of stories of your childhood...all of them wonderful.

"However we, the next generation have our own memories of Grandma. My eldest cousin is 51; my youngest is 16. I speak on behalf of your sons and daughters...each of us with our own wonderful memories of Grandma.

"We know she loved us because there was always food, and always a bed to sleep on.

"We know she worried about us, because she'd yell at us if we were climbing trees or near the grain silos."

"We know she thought of us, because she'd always buy us Christmas presents, even after we grew up."

"But what is important is that we, the third, fourth, and fifth generations here today, remember both our grandmother and grandfather. It's important to remember that we came from nothing, and that our family struggled to survive. Today we are successful teachers, nurses, bankers, and managers. But we can never forget that everything we are, we are because of the tireless work of Trina and Jesus Martinez...two migrant workers looking for a better life."

I made it through my monologue without losing it. And at the end of the day, after family members had thanked me for saying those kind words, I realized how important that charism of humility and ministry to the poor really was. Here I was....living the manufactured ideal of what success truly means: a good job, no worries of money, a nice car. Yet my grandparents, now both passed, lived good lives without half of the objects I currently own. How best to honor the lives of my ancestors? How best to give back the blessings that were given to me?

I learned two things, two important things, after finally returning to Grand Rapids. First I realized how attracted I was to the Franciscan sense of spirituality. Second, I learned if I could minister to my family, I could minister to anyone. I no longer felt inadequate, and I became excited at the thought of giving a homily, or just preaching wherever I can.

In the weeks after, I would deal with my workaholic tendencies, I'd struggle to continue my discernment, and I take a trip to Detroit.

Stay tuned as I fill in the gaps from the middle of September to the present.

Catching Up, Part I

In less than a week, I will no longer be a salesman. On Tuesday I will give up the greatest career I've had in my life, and take a job with less hours to better reflect on the upcoming year.

Later this month, I will have interviews with the Vocation Director of the Capuchins, with their psychologists, their doctors, and a host of other people to decide if I am capable of applying to the order.

This is no new decision. It's something I've been pondering for months. Over the summer, several things have made me realize the path I should take. Unfortunately, much of that time was unchronicled because of my busy schedule.

Over the next few days, as I continue to deliver current news, I will share some stories of the past few months, and how they've helped me arrive at this point in my life.

The first and the hardest part: the death of my grandmother.

September of 2007 will be remembered as a pivotal role in my discernment, because of the death of my grandmother. A proud, hard-working, and faithful woman, my grandmother lived the life of a poor migrant worker. My family looked to me for guidance. They looked to me for strength. While my mother, aunts, and uncles battled the emotion of losing their mother, I as the eldest of the third generation of the Martinez family tried to be strong for everyone else.

I was asked about Heaven and Hell. I was asked about Extreme Unction. I was asked about Purgatory. While I didn't have all the answers, they felt comfortable hearing words. It set their mind at ease, if only because they had someone to listen to the tough questions. It was as if my family already thought I was a priest.

The Saturday before she died, I remember driving down to be with the family. We were at the hospital for a while, and my mom and aunts talked about heading to someones house to get some rest. I said I wanted to drive for a bit, and left in my own vehicle.

That night I drove around South Bend, completely lost in my own thoughts. I cruised around the town until 11:30PM, not knowing much of what to think or do. I was confused. I was sad. I was in pain.

After hours of thinking and rattling my brain, I realized what was bothering me. I'd told most of the family about my discernment, and how I was looking into the Capuchins. However I'd never told my grandmother. I kept it from her when she was healthy because I was unsure, and there's no way I could explain how complicated my decision was. Now, when time was almost too late, there's no way she'd even know.

At midnight I returned to the hospital, and the nurses let me into her room without question. For the first time, I was alone with my grandmother who was no longer responsive. I sat by her bed, and talked to her for the first time in a long time.

"Grandma. It's me. Soy Vito.

"Grandma, I know you can still hear me. There's something I've wanted to tell you for a long time. I think God's calling me to be a priest, Grandma, and I don't know what to do. I'm scared that I'm not good enough. I'm scared of changing my life.

"But I'm gonna try. I think I've found where God wants me to serve, and I think I know what he wants me to do. I think he just wants me to be happy. I don't know if I'm smart enough, or holy enough. But I'm really gonna try."

In tears, I sat with my Grandmother as I sit in front of this notebook, overwhelmed by the feelings of grief, feelings of complete humility, and the total honesty of what my feelings are. I'll never know exactly what road I should be on unless I make the next big step.

Even now, I'm still not sure.

...but I'm going to try.

Discernment and Music: My Sundown

I know I've still been spotty on my blog updates, but that will all soon change. Within the week, I'm sure I'll have more time than I know what to do with. Is that a hook to get you to see what will happen?

It just might be.

Until then, let me catch up by featuring another song whose lyrics, while unknown at the time, would provide a meaning far beyond any I would imagine. Unfortunately it's not a very uplifting song.

I've spent the past year figuring out what to do with my life, while existing in a world that could care less about spirituality, civil justice, or moral truths. As I fight to realize who I am, I surrounded myself with those who cared only for their version of success. And as I revealed my plans, I've heard my share of pretentious well-wishing's...people trying to make it sound as if I were giving up my career for Clown College.

While I thought I could find peace when surrounded by chaos, I have to get to a better place: in my work, in my social life, and in my spiritual life. Many times I've found myself lost on this long road to priesthood, simply by cluttering my life with worries and distractions.

In the next few weeks, I will be back on track and with a new goal....making it until August 1, 2008. I'll never be 100% sure if I should be a Capuchin, a Diocesan Priest, or just a Eucharistic Minister....but I'm going to find out. If I am to spend the rest of my life doing something that will make me happy, then I must streamline my life to be ready by August 1, 2008: the date Postulancy begins for the Capuchin Franciscans.

This song is my goodbye. Not my goodbye to you, Dear Readers. This song is my goodbye to the world, and to the life of money and success that I used to be so proud of. The saddest thing of it all is that this old materialistic world cares not for someone who gives up the chase to help the poor. Perhaps this is why the song fits so perfect.

We've heard from Everlast. We've heard from Led Zeppelin. We've even heard from George Michael. This one comes from Jimmy Eats World.

I see it around me, I see it in everything
I can be so much more than this

I said my goodbye's, this is my sundown
I'm gonna be so much more than this
With one hand high
You'll show them your progress
You'll take your time
But no one cares
No one cares

I need you to show me the way from crazy
I wanna be so much more than this
With one hand high
You'll show them your progress
You'll take your time
But no one cares

Good goodbye
Lovely time
Good goodbye
Tinsel shine
Good good bye
I'll be fine
Good goodbye
Good goodbye


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1. My views, reflections, statements, rants, and exhortations are mine alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Capuchin Franciscans as a whole or the Province of St. Joseph. This blog is run by me, with the occassional input of other friars.

2. I am in the formation process to become a friar and then to be a priest (God willing). I appreciate concerns and advice regarding my formation, but please leave that to my Novice Master.

3. My experiences, my history, and my family have shaped my faith. You may find topics and discussions to be contrary to your understanding of faith. Please try to be friendly to people when you disagree.

4. This site is my diary, my meditation, and my sounding board. There are times when posts are raw, uncensored, and extremely real. This is a vocational blog in that I chronicle the joy, pain, love, hate, struggle, sadness, confusion, learning, and impatience of discerning a religious vocation. I apologize if you are offended by language; what I write is what is in my heart at the time.

5. If you have a prayer request, feel free to email me at vmartinez1337@gmail.com. All intentions will be added to our petitions during morning and evening prayer.
This week I got a promotion.

When Bossman originally hired me a few months ago, the plan was for me to be the Sales Manager of the dealership. Now, it's hard to be a manager when there's no other sales guys but yourself. I did financing, F&I, clerk work, and I sold the cars.

Yesterday we hired our first sales guy. He's a quiet guy that knows very little about selling anything. However he has two things going for him that always makes a sales manager optimistic: he's driven to work hard, and he speaks Spanish as well as English.

Bossman and a few others joked about the competition that would arise between me and my new sales guy. We're still a small car lot, even though we've grown since I started, both Newguy and myself will be working the lot to get deals done. Oddly enough, I'm not feeling jealous or greedy. In fact, I'm quite adamant about giving him most of the up's so he can learn the sales process.

While I still consider myself a workaholic, my determination has little to do with money. If Newguy starts to sell a bunch of cars, I'm happy for him. He has a family that lives below the poverty line, and I have first-hand experience on how a job like this can drastically change one's tax status. In fact, I want him to do so well that I don't feel obligated to stay...should God call me to a more religious life.

The boss of the Poker Room is offering me a top spot as well. I've dealt cards for him so long, I've learned most of the operation. Instead of actually dealing cards, I spend more time enforcing the rules, chatting with the charities, and managing paperwork. I suppose the title of pitboss is an appropriate job title, and hopefully something I can share with others later in life.

As I spend 18 hours a day working to pay off debt, I feel more like I'm using my debt as an excuse to bury my personal time with activities. Perhaps if I keep working, I won't have to make a decision. Maybe if I keep working, I won't have time to sit and reflect on how my grandmother's death really impacted my life. If I stay busy, I keep my mind focused on work and not on how hard it truly is to understand where God is supposedly leading me.

So for now I will work my two jobs, come home tired at 2AM, get up for work at 7:30, and do what I can to pay off my past debts...or at least that's what I tell myself. I've had weeks where I've made 1500, yet I have no idea where all the money went. I've not played poker in over a month (my new position restricts me from playing) no have I spent any real money on material things. As I mentioned before, my "success" is reminiscent of years past, where I'd make my money then simply spend without any thought of savings. This is a personal discipline I've tried to hold myself towards.

The oddest thing of all is that while Michigan's had the highest unemployment rate in the country (source) , I've been bombarded with job offers. Even when I tell people that I may not be in the workforce after next fall, they still topple over each other, trying to give me a job in some managerial spot. What's most ironic: even when I mention my vocational calling, people still try and tempt me with more money to go work for them.

Until later....