Big, Huge, Gigantorous News!!

I apologize for taking so long, once again. The hit-counter on my website is screaming with visits, so I know some of you have been patiently awaiting some information. Thank you all for visiting and caring.

As with all stories, one must start at the beginning:

For the past few months, sales at the dealership have been low. Michigan's economy is tanking, gas prices keep shooting's hard for the lower-income to afford to pay for a car. My dealership works with bad-credit/no-credit customers, charging higher costs and interest rates.

One of my struggles has been this line of work. On one hand, I'm helping poor customers who've fallen on hard times. On the other, I'm charging double the worth of the vehicle and a percentage rate that rivals biblical usury. It's hard to be a good Catholic and work in this type of environment.

Monday I came into work like any other Monday. I did my morning walk-through and stopped in my General Manager's office to say "Good Morning." The office was empty, and the desk was clean...a little too clean. There were no knick-knacks, pictures, or paperwork. Interesting, but I let it slip my mind.

I ran to Speedway to grab my morning coffee Monster Energy Drink. On the way back, I stopped at a dealership across the street from where I work. A poker buddy works in the back; I wanted to be neighborly and see how their weekend was.

We talked for a few minutes. During the discussion, my buddy surprised me:

"You know, Bossman is looking for you."
"Uh oh," I said jokingly. "What did I do?"
"He's looking for someone to do sales. He wants to be buying cars, not selling 'em. I told him you were a good guy, and I think he wants to ask you if you wanna run the show here."

For those not familiar with the car business, not every dealership looks like King of Cars on TV. Small dealerships usually have one guy (or gal) doing everything: sales, finance, title, and bookwork. My buddy's dealership had near 20 cars, mostly German and Asian imports, with a few techs in back to service the cars. Because of gas prices and popularity, the dealership gets a tremendous amount of floor traffic. Since the owner is the only salesman, he is not always there, and misses out on customers and possible sales.

The sound of Vito: General Manager sounded great. I knew the money would be excellent. But was I ready to make that huge of a commitment? Should I change jobs when I'm this close to paying off all my debt? Should I consider a job that loses me health insurance, retirement benefits, and 3 years of seniority (if seniority actually exists in the car business), but offers me much more money? Would I handle the extra responsibility? What about next August?

I happily considered the offer, then went back to my dealership.

Soon after I returned, the finance manager has a quick meeting with the sales staff: "The GM is no longer with the company. We've decided to move in a new direction. There's more changes coming as well. I'll keep you informed."

"Oh shit," I thought. "I know what more changes means. My customers have repossessions because their company wanted to make more changes." I considered the options, and the possibility that I may soon be out of a job. I've been on the receiving end of a "company restructuring" before. Should I stay and chance it? Should I jump on this opportunity? Again...what about my personal debt and August of 2008? Is this a roadblock, a fork in the road, or the path I'm meant to take?

As I tried to discern a decision in the midst of a business day, I thought about what my feelings were: I was at odds with my current job, despite the security it offered. Only weeks before, I was ecstatic about the poker place announcing plans to play seven days a week (check out that alliteration!). Was this opportunity any different? Did I want out of the car business altogether, or just the BHPH game? Is this an answer to my prayers of concern, or the devil's way of tempting me away from thoughts of priesthood? Oh, if I only had more time!!!

I took a few moments, saying: "God, give me strength. God, give me wisdom. God, give me courage." I knew a decision had to be made that day, and that any decision would wrench me from my comfort zone. I had a plan, now I had to make a new one.

I was working with a customer when my buddy from across the street walks into my dealership.
"Hey, whats up?" I asked, already knowing what he wanted.

Rather than saying "Hey, Bossman wants to see you," he tilted his head towards the other dealership across the street. I knew what he meant, and I knew it had to be done soon. I told him I'd be over as soon as possible.

Perhaps by dumb luck or divine intervention, I answered the phone soon after. On the other line, I hear a familiar message:

"This is collect call from (enter name here) calling from County Corrections Facility. If you would like to accept the charges..."

Normally, one would deny a collect call. However the person that called was the owner's son.

He was slightly frantic, and wanted to speak with his sister, the finance manager. I don't know what was said, but that day, his sister was gone for several hours...presumably to post bail. I looked online to see the arrest charge. The listing said "Public Intoxication."

It was the final piece of the puzzle. If they fired my current boss, this kid calling from jail will be my future boss. Do I want that? I won't judge another for being in jail, I know what it's like. But if he's responsible for my job and sales, I'm no longer confident about my position.

I walked across the street again, expecting to speak with Bossman. He is Bosnian, so his English is somewhat broken. He's a great guy, always has a smile, and seems to think I'm the perfect candidate for running the dealership.

"VEE-toe!" he says when I enter his office. "You are good guy! When do you want to start? I already sell four cars today!"

I was fishing for more information, but I could tell he was doing the same. My hands shook just a little because of the hectic day. It got his attention. We were examining each other, hoping get a better read on each other.

"I let you be Sales Manager," he tells me. "You run things how you feel is best. I prefer to buy cars. I can't be here to sell. Look at all the people. I can't keep cars on the lot!"

And he was right. His lot was busy. I looked across the street to my lot; I could almost see tumbleweeds blowing across.

"Let me talk to my Manager," I finally told him. "I want some time to think it over."
"Does something scare you?" he asked.

He'd already seen me shaking a little. I didn't want to tell him I was scared out of my mind, but he already knew. To save face, I told him about insurance coverage, and how important that was to me. He agreed that it was a serious concern, and something to think about. He said he could not offer insurance yet, but he hoped to within a year or so.

"Haha! We'll make all kinds of money! And I take care of my people. Ask any of them!"

My friend already told me: Bossman was generous with his money.

It's near the end of the day, and I'm frantic about what to do. I want to call my spiritual director, but I lost her number when my phone was stolen (Monday was also when I got my replacement! Very cool.) I called my Mom, letting her know my dilemma. She didn't really give me any advice but to really think about it. I called my best friend, hoping for some pragmatic insight.

My friend Jay is a very methodical thinker. He has a unique way of objectionably looking at any problem, regardless of the emotion involved. If I ever have a question that I need a logical answer to, he's my man.

I presented him with three options via game theory - which choice offered the greatest reward with the lowest amount of risk:

  1. (Drastic Move)I take the job and don't look back. I may lose a lot of benefits and this job may turn out to be a lot less money than where I'm at now, but I've secured a job regardless.
  2. (Conservative Move)I stay where I'm at, do my best, and hope that I'm not fired. The pay plan would change, some of my co-workers would change, and my current job may become something drastically different. Make $5000 as fast as possible before they fire me.
  3. (Open Move)I talk to the manager, let her know my concerns regarding more changes, and perhaps get some better information to help me decide on a course of action.

My buddy answers fast: "Number three. Most managers like when you're direct, they like knowing about personnel changes before it happens, and they're willing to work with you if you're straight-forward. Not to mention, you might be one of the people they intend to keep."

I take my friend's advice, and ask the finance manager for a brief meeting after work...

Wow, I've been typing for about an hour. I know I need a break. If you're eyes aren't bleeding and you're ready, continue on. Otherwise, enjoy with me this brief interlude: the latest remix of Chocolate Rain:

After work, I spoke candidly with the manager: "Okay, my boss just got the axe today. Obviously I'm interested in my future with the company."

"There's a lot of changes that need to happen," she told me. Thankfully, she tried to be as straight-forward as she could. "This is my lifetime job here. I have to look out for me and my dad. The current situation is not working. We're not making any money. Things have to be changed. Some people need to pick up their sales or we'll have to let them go."

When I asked where I stood, she said: "Your numbers are low. I don't want to get rid of anyone, but we can't have low sales anymore. I'd like to see everyone have the opportunity to prove what they can do." She was being sincere, which perhaps made my next statement so easy to say.

"Just to let you know where I stand, sometime in next year I intend to leave. I've considered a religious life for some time, and I'm strongly considering the Capuchins, an order of the Franciscan Friars. I also have another opportunity to run the shop across the street. My question is this: do you think I should stay, or do you think I should take advantage of this opportunity, since it's may not be available for too long?"

The statement rocked her for a moment. In one breath, I told her I wanted to be a priest, I'd quit in less than a year, I was being offered a better position, and I wanted her opinion.

I gave her a moment to sink in all the information, and let her respond. I'm not 100% exactly what she said, but what I heard was: "We may fire you. If you have an opportunity, jump on it before it's too late."

I thanked her for her candor, and immediately walked across the street. I walked into the office, saw Boss Man sitting at his desk with some others around, and said: "So when do you want me to start?"

"Yes! We are going to have great time making money!" he says.

We spoke for about an hour. We talked about payplans, floorplans, police books, and all sorts of other car business things. We talked about what he wanted out of me: someone to keep things in order, sell cars, and do follow up. He wanted to buy cars, expand, and sell more cars. He wanted someone he could trust, someone that came recommended, and someone that would be as laid back as he was. I told him I was his man, and that while I was still a little nervous, I'd do what was needed to sell some cars.

He said "We eat lunch tomorrow, talk about more things. Alright?" We shook hands and parted ways.

Last night I drove home wondering if I'd just followed God's plan or made a deal with the devil. Boss Man is a great guy. Has his family over a lot. I think he likes me because I came recommended. Otherwise I'm positive he'd hire another Bosnian to do the job. Perhaps he sees something in me that I still find hard to see: the ability to rise above my current level and do something great.

Perhaps he's not the devil, but someone helping me further down the path I'm intended.

Tomorrow: lunch, signing a Separation of Employment Form, and a possible high school reunion.

Stay tuned!

(Because of everything going on, I've put my Discernment and Music blog aside for this week. The next installment will continue this weekend, or when things slow down. Thanks -V"

Big, Huge, Gigantorous News!! (Foreword)

Unfortunately, I'm too busy to even write down the craziness of the past two days.

For you readers who follow my blog, I apologize for being so busy that I can't write. Things are happening so fast right now, the longer I wait the better the story gets!

I'm having lunch in a half hour with someone that may offer something wonderful to me, I can hardly wait!

Stay tuned...I promise you won't be disappointed.

(insert cliffhanger music here)

My Patron: St. Opus of Bloom County

Living in Iowa during the '80's, there were more exciting things than corn and pigs: Bloom County. Drawn by Berkeley Breathed out of Iowa City, Bloom County offered a unique perspective on America, politics, and social trends through the eyes of Small Town America. Talking animals, a kid with a real anxiety closet, a womanizing lawyer, a cat that says "Ack!" instead of "Meow," and the last basselope (a hybrid between a basset hound and an antelope) earned Breathed a Pulitzer and a host of loyal readers.

For most 9 year-olds, socio-political cartoons are glanced over for the more interesting strips: Garfield, Peanuts, or Hagar the Horrible. My childhood was somewhat different. I grew up watching the Democratic National Convention, hearing about local referendums, attending presidential events by John Glenn, Walter Mondale, and Paul Simon (the senator, not the musician), and seeing my mom on TV as she spoke out against Reaganomics. When the governor knows your mom on a first name basis, you tend to grow up knowing more about the world. When I got home from school, Bloom County was the first thing I looked for in the newspaper.

OK, so I was kinda a weird kid.

The character I related to the most was Opus the Penguin. A naive and gullible creature, Opus represented the innocence that exists in all of us. Whether Opus was buying the new Ronco Salad Shooter or being assaulted by Hare Krishna's, Opus represents that wonderfully pure ignorance that we all have; an openness to any and everything. As we grow older, we become numb to things that happen around us. I like that no matter what, Opus kept his youthful optimism...a trait that often got him into trouble.

By the time Breathed stopped writing Bloom County, we had already moved to Michigan. Soon after, he would re-release Opus, Bill the Cat, and some of the forgotten friends in a new Sunday strip called Outland. A surreal landscape for those that did not fit in the real world, Outland continued for several years. While it still featured Opus, it was not the same. As Bloom County ended, it was also the end of my childhood. I was becoming an adult, and much of my optimism had be wiped away. I eventually developed my own prejudices, pessimism, and even apathy of what was going on.

As I continue to grow, I realize that there's a need for that childish sense of wonderment and naivete. There are times in our life when we must let down our defenses and trust without condition. Sometimes...we just need have a little fun.

I've learned to look at life with a healthy sense of optimism once again. I believe in the goodness of God, and I have hope for the goodness of mankind. I don't have to change the world to make a difference, just change a life. Most importantly, as long as I know Opus hasn't lost that soft side that's made him so lovable, I know I can let my guard down and not be hardened to what's happening in the world.

He called a child over, placed it in their midst,
and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children,
you will not enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matt 18:2-3)

Raising the Stakes

In poker, there is a term called "raising pre-flop." It means that you are raising the stakes after only seeing your two hole cards. Five more cards have yet to be shown, but you add more money right away. There's several reasons for doing this:
  • You have a strong starting hand (A-A, A-K, K-K, Q-Q, etc.)
  • To get people with weak hands to fold
  • A "feeler" bet to see how others react
  • To make others think you have a strong hand

Conservative players become intimidated by a pre-flop raise if they have nothing. Loose players will call whatever raise you make; they know that anything can happen after the flop. The trick of the pre-flop raise is to scare the weak hands out of the pot, but not to scare everyone away. It's an intricate skill learned by reading other people, knowing your odds, and being confident when you make your play.

Last night, my other boss threw a party for all the poker dealers. There was food, prizes, and games at the event. It was held at the poker room, so we sat amongst the sea of Texas Hold'em tables and chairs.

After being knocked out of a sit and go, I sat at a table with the owner and a few other dealers. Someone asked me about the car business, and how sales were going. I told them that business had been slow, and that there are times when my conscience struggles with the job. I told them I wanted out as soon as possible. When asked why, I said nonchalantly: "Well, I'm still considering the priesthood, and it's hard for me to continue working in that kind of environment."

I didn't even realize I'd said it until I saw everyone's eyes grow huge. I envisioned scaring everyone away from the table. As an afterthought, I said: "I don't know if Joe (the previous owner) told you guys that, but it's something I've thought about for almost 8 months."

Without thinking, I had dropped a huge wager on the table. I just told one of my bosses, a handful of co-workers, and several passers-by about my vocation...without knowing how any of them would react.

To my surprise, there were more "callers" than I expected. My boss and others eagerly asked about the experience: what was I going through, have I made a decision where I wanted to go, how was the celibacy going? There were some that left the table, either uninterested or uncomfortable with the topic at hand, but for the most part everyone was positive and supporting of what I told them.

In the end, it wasn't me that had the biggest play on the table. In speaking about my vocation, I told them how I wasn't trying to be holier than anyone, just trying to help those in need as is my calling. As if he were reading my mind, my boss replies: "You know, I wish more priests had more....experience. I would much prefer someone who's lived life than a priest that's been in the seminary since high school."

I felt great after hearing his words. Perhaps there is a place for me in The Church. Perhaps I can offer something unique, or have a perspective that will give insight to others. Perhaps I just might be good at being a priest. Perhaps by raising the stakes, I've actually taken another huge step on this weird journey of mine. The irony of this event happening at a poker table was beyond measure.

It all felt so perfect until today when someone stole my cell phone. Now I just want to stab someone in the neck with a spoon.


Keeping My Cool

I just got off the phone with Nextel Customer Service. About 20 minutes ago, someone stole my cell phone right from my cubicle. I know who the person was.

I want to break something. I want to scream at the top of my lungs.

For months I've wanted to upgrade my phone. Last year, the i870 came out for the ghastly price of $349. Each time I thought about buying it, I couldn't justify spending so much money on a phone. My i860 cost around $280, but that was long ago when I liked spending money.

On the phone, Nextel says they will replace my i860 with the i870...a phone that I've wanted for years. It will cost me $100 for the deductible. The only other cost...dealing with the aftermath of being robbed.

I've never been mugged, had my house invaded, or lost a significant amount of money to embezzlement. There's an empty, gut-wrenching, helpless feeling you get when someone has taken something from you. It makes you want to cry, scream, grab a shotgun, all at the same time.

It's hard to offer your rage to God, when all you can think about is grabbing a baseball bat and exacting my own form of justice.

I know how Bill Foster feels.

Br. Vito O.F.M Cap? (part 2)

As I lie in bed last night, reading God's Fool: The Life of Francis Assisi, I experienced that same feeling when I first felt called to the priesthood. It was overwhelming; I had to get out of bed, drink a glass of water, and walk around for 10 minutes. By the grace of God, I was given another moment of clarity.

Prior to my visit to Chicago, I knew very little about St. Francis. I knew he wanted to help the poor, but that was the extent of my knowledge. In fact, I learned very little about Francis while at the St. Clare Friary. I felt at peace amongst the Capuchins, yet I felt ignorant of Franciscan life.

But last night as I read the life of this saint, that clarity helped me spot the next true step of discernment.

My life, while usually simple and meager, has focused around helping those that are poor: not just the impoverished, but those poor in spirit. I enjoy making people smile and laugh, I enjoy inspiring people, and I like to give comfort or companionship to those that feel lonely. St. Francis chose not just to help the poor, but lepers: people who were poor, dejected by society, and felt unworthy of love or sympathy. Where people saw uncleanliness, St. Francis saw God's beauty.
Rather than look for external signs, I looked inside to what I felt and examine the desired that God has given me. I want to help others. I want to make others feel loved, accepted, or even make them feel normal. As I struggled with my own trials and tribulations, I want to give aid and comfort to others. Most of all, I want to smile, laugh, and live in the company of others that share my faith and dedication to the people in need. I want that life so much, I can barely think of anything else.

The next postulant class for the Capuchins starts in August of 2008. By that time, I can have my debt paid off. I will have my name off the apartment lease. I will have money saved up.

I don't know if I'm 100% certain about becoming Brother Vito Martinez O.F.M. Cap., but I think I'm gonna give it a try next year.

I feel so much better having actually said it..."I think I've found my home."

Br. Vito O.F.M Cap? (part 1)

the following is a page of reflection I wrote while at St. Claire's Friary:

Today I saw the next step of my journey. I saw an opportunity open to a young man, clearly eager to serve the Lord, and I set aside my jealousy to support him.

Currently I sit in a dorm at the Chicago Friary of the Capuchins. They are much more laid back than the Dominicans, which is interesting since I always considered the Dom's to be pretty easy going. The brothers, the house, and the lifestyle are nothing like I'd thought. I am pleasantly surprised.

After arriving in Chicago and eating lunch, we were taken to St. Clare de Montefalco: a Capuchin parish in a heavily Latino community. Even though 90% of the parishioners spoke Spanish, there were no Latinos visible in the order.

A tall, young man with glasses greeted us as we arrived at St. Clare. He was a Capuchin candidate, starting his postulancy next month. He appeared out of place; a tall white kid surrounded by Chicanos/ Yet he greeted us as if we were guests in his home.

The young man was volunteering with this parish; living, working and worshiping at the parish with the Capuchin priests. I learned it was a candidate program that allows men to "test the waters" as an active minister. It gives the candidate an opportunity to really experience religious life.

The young man that rode to Chicago with me would be the next young acolyte.

It was positively amazing. Here was a chance for someone to really live a priest's life - active in Mass, helping with the youth group, meeting parishioners and developing bonds, and being totally immersed in Spanish - all the while, living as a Capuchin but without the solemn vows.

I felt bad about not being ready. I thought: "Man, if I could only pay off this $5000, I'd be set." I'd have to quit my jobs, although one would surely hire me back. I'd have to do something about insurance, something about my Spanish, something about transportation, ...

But unlike the OP's who encouraged me to do whatever God was calling, all those worries don't seem like roadblocks. My what? There's plenty of jobs to people willing to do the work. I don't need a great car, just something with 4 wheels and brakes. I have books on Spanish.

Will I still feel this gung-ho in a few weeks? What about six months from now, when my bills are almost paid up?

So far, this trip is a wonderful experience, and a guiding light to show me the right path.

I already miss the friars. More to come soon.

Chicago & The Capuchins

I'm leaving in an hour to spend the weekend with the Capuchins. We'll meet again on Monday!

Music and Discernment: What It's Like

Erik Schrody, otherwise known as Everlast, is an Irish-American who's on his own spiritual journey. While his path does not follow his Catholic roots, he's come back from a life of drugs and alcohol, cardiac arrest, and a roller-coaster music career.

Everlast's influences range from Eric B. & Rakim to Waylan Jennings. His acoustic/hip hop style, performed under alter ego called "Whitey Ford," accompanies lyrics to create a unique sound. His sophomore solo album Whitey Ford Sings the Blues hit triple platinum, putting him in league with other white hip-hop artists such as Eminem and Kid Rock.

Despite the company he keeps, his lyrics show more depth and spirituality than expected from a rap artist. Whitey Ford allowed Everlast to show his ability to tell stories of his life. In the album, one can even find allusions to his eventual conversion to Islam.

Does his faith in Allah change his ability to influence my life? When asked about his past versus his newly found Muslim faith, he says:

"I'm a professional sinner. I'm tryin' to get over it, tryin' to retire. I won't front and say I'm better than you. I just believe that I've been shown the truth and hopefully that will save me."

Sound like anyone you know?

His hit What It's Like exemplifies his connection between his previous life, a life of drugs and violence, to his new life of peace and understanding. The song involves 4 characters: a homeless man, Mary, Max, and of course Erik himself. While the language and description lead one to believe the song is nothing more than a glamorous snapshot of sins in action, the message is much deeper.

Like Erik, I've made my share of sins. And like him, we really don't need anyone to make us feel any worse about what we've already done. We're trying to live our lives one day at a time, and fix our transgressions one sin at a time. We should help each other through the rough times, not use sin as a dividing line. "At least I don't do drugs. At least I'd never consider an abortion." These are prideful thoughts, and cause more harm within the Church than good.

At the least we are all brothers and sisters under God. Each story in the song can be made better should one person decide to offer help. For me, the song is a strong reminder that no one should ever judge another human being by the sum of their sins.

(This song contains graphic lyrics. Consider yourself warned.)

We've all seen the man at the liquor store begging for your change.
The hair on his face is dirty, dreadlocked, and full maned.
He asks a man for what he can spare with shame in his eyes.
"Get a job, you fucking slob," is all he replies.
God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in his shoes.
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to sing the blues.

Then you really might know what it's like...

Mary got pregnant from a kid named Tom, said he was in love.
He said "Don't worry about a thing, baby doll. I'm the man you been dreamin' of."
But three months later he say he won't date her or return her call.
And she swears "God damn, if I find that man, I'm cuttin' off his balls."
And then she heads to the clinic and she gets some static walkin' through the door.
They call her a killer, and they call her a sinner, and they call her a whore.
But God forbid you ever had to walk a mile in her shoes.
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to have to choose.

And then you really might know what it's like...

I seen a rich man beg,
I seen a good man sin,
I seen a tough man cry.
I seen a loser win,
And a sad man grin,
I heard an honest man lie.

I seen the good side of bad,
And the down side of up,
And everything between.
I've licked the silver spoon,
Drank from the golden cup,
And smoked the finest green.
I stroked the baddest dimes at least a couple of times before I broke their heart.
You know where it ends? Yo, it usually depends on where you start.

I knew this kid named Max he used to get fat stacks out on the corner with drugs,
He liked to hang out late, he liked to get shitfaced, and keep in pace with thugs.
Until late one night, there was a big gunfight, and Max lost his head.
He pulled out his chrome .45, talked some shit, and wound up dead.
And now his wife and his kids are caught in the midst of all of his pain.
"You know it crumbles that way, at least that's what they say, when you play the game."
But God forbid you ever have to wake up and hear the news,
'Cause then you really might know what it's like to have to lose.

And then you really might know what it's like.

A Brief Introduction

Hi there. My name is Vito Martinez. Mom chose to name me after a Catholic saint, as is the Mexican custom. Mom has always fought for the poor, the underprivileged, and the needy. It's no surprise that many of her traits have passed on to me.

Since October of 2006, I've recognized a calling towards a religious life. I don't know exactly where that calling will lead, but I've done my best to follow it. In that time, I've worked to combine the "me" that is the average guy - plays video games, eats out every night, likes to see a woman in a skirt, talks smack with his friends - with the "me" that has grown in the past year - wakes up early to go to church, says his prayers in the morning and the evening, works to help those in need, willing to give up everything to follow God's plan.

Sometimes the two sides don't get along.

I find talking about my discernment hard for others to comprehend. Some don't understand why someone would give up sex, money, and success to live a "poor and lonely" life. Others feel put off, not knowing how to address me anymore. "Can I still swear around you?" is a common question i hear. It's hard to explain that calling to someone. "Maybe you just need to go to church more. Why do you need to be a priest?" is another one I've heard.

My journey started out as a free fall into an abyss. I was living with a woman who was married to another man. We didn't save money; we lived as hedonists. We told each other we were Christians, but neither of us went to church.

Somewhere along the way, I realized that there were more important things in life. Instead of just arguing about mundane things on the internet, I started reading Aquinas and Origen. While I learned the arguments for Christianity and Catholicism; I learned what it truly meant to be Catholic. At some point, I felt what some describe as the Holy Spirit entering the body. It was this beautiful moment of clarity. I was this explosion in my soul that simply said: "This is not where you should be." I saw a site about the seminary, and it all just made perfect sense.

My girlfriend and I broke up soon after; she refused to believe that someone like me could ever be a priest. It's funny...on some level I want to make up for that mistake and show her that yes, I could be a priest. Even after I gave her all my stuff and paid for all the bills and back rent, I doubt it will ever be enough.

I work two jobs: a car salesman and a poker dealer. In a way, they're the perfect jobs for a prospective priest. I spend all my time with people. I handle conflicts, differences of opinions, and listen to people's problems. I sell cars to people with bad or no credit, and I deal poker for a charitable gaming company. In a way, each job is based in the idea of helping people, and both sides of "me" are fulfilled.

I've spoke with the Dominicans, Capuchins, Benedictines, and my local Diocese. All have asked me to pay off all personal debt and require two years of celibacy before they will consider me for candidacy. That's still a year and a half away, but I can understand the need for those guidelines.

Until then, I'm hoping to find my way on this crazy journey. Struggles, fears, joys, and surprises lie ahead; this blog is my chronicle of that journey.

Paying For Mistakes

After turning 30, I set a personal goal to pay off all my debt, with the hope that I might have a decent credit score one day. I realized that after a few stupid decisions in my twenties, it was time to grow up and really take care of business.

When I started, I was looking at $14,000 in debt. I've had a few judgements, a car repossession, some credit card bills, and numerous hospital bills that were left unpaid. Like most people, I was overwhelmed at the start.

Where do I start? Do I pay the big bills first or last? Should I consolidate? Should I attempt to settle my debts?

Three years later, I sit here at my desk, looking at $5200 left of that massive balance. Things have been tight, and occasional bills got added to that list, however I only owe 35% of what I originally did.

It feels good to get creditors off my back.

Most credit experts will tell you that paying off debt is not enough to repair a damaged score. Having credit cards and installment loans goes a long way to raising your credit score, according to CNN Money. In light of that fact, I have not tried to get another credit card or loan through my bank, and with good reason...

By scheduling the repayment of my debts, I've created an impromptu timeline for my discernment. I know, I know. We work in God's time, not ours. I shouldn't set timelines or limitations.

However paying off past debt is a requirement before acceptance by a seminary or religious order. While my desire started years before the desire for priesthood, the end result has not become debt-free. I've had offers for credit cards and financing for a vehicle. Why not shoot for a 700+ FICO score?

My biggest excuse for not "running full speed" is that I am not ready financially. The idea of postulancy or a novitiate year sound wonderful, however I still have too many expenses to take that long of a sabbatical. Perhaps when I finally have my debt paid off, I'll be ready to quit this job and take the next big step.

(Different orders have different rules regarding past debt. Some will waive scholastic debt, up to a given dollar amount. Consult your vocations director for further information.)

My Patron: St. Felicia of Myspace

Long before I started this blog, I networked the way most people in the world do: via I knew I had a story to tell. I knew there were others who could relate to what I was feeling. But in a arena where people post quizzes like "What Flavor Lip Gloss Are You?" how does one find support for such an important journey?

Near the end of June, I received a message from someone named Felicia. Ordinarily, such random messages come from young ladies eagerly inviting me to "visit their 'other' site.'" I was tempted to just delete the message without even reading it, yet something told me something might be different.

From this woman of God came perfect words to a troubled man trying to find his calling:

Continue calmly and rest upon the divine Heart without the slightest fear, because there you are well sheltered from the storms and not even God’s justice can reach you.

No travelling soul can worthily love its God, but when this soul does everything it possibly can, and trusts in divine mercy, why should Jesus reject it? Didn't he command us to love God in accordance with our strength? When you have given and consecrated everything to God, why do you fear?
-St. Pio 1916

Since that message, Felicia continues to send prayers of support and guidance. Her faith and adoration is that of a child who puts all trust in God. Her support is a charitable act beyond measure; there are times I want to tell her to pray for someone more deserving than me. I'm just some guy living my life, but she has faith that God is leading me in the right direction.

When I feel like I'm doing the wrong thing, or I start to doubt everything about my life, I remember that someone out there is praying for me, and that even in the anonymous world of the Internet, one soul can actually touch another.

For praying and believing in me, even when I don't believe in myself....

Thank you for your prayers, Felicia. You truly are a saint.

Felicia's Myspace Site

Discernment and Music: Hymn #648

First item of notice is the title change for this series. I will continue to list songs that are important to my journey, just like always. I've gotten some wonderful responses to the songs I've listed, and I don't plan on changing the format at all. As a weekly segment, I've got enough music to keep writing for quite some time. I changed the name because I felt people might not understand why music and discernment are so intertwined.

While reading a liturgical music meme from the Dirty Catholic, I realized that people's taste in church music are no different than their taste in contemporary music: if they can't feel it then it's just noise. This segment isn't just an extended meme of the songs that move my soul. The songs are like roadsigns on this extraordinary journey. From a distance they're hard to understand, but when your vision clears, you can see the message. Sometimes they tell you you're going the right way. Sometimes they remind you of someone you met before your journey started. If my pursuit of a vocation truly is a journey, then music is my GPS unit.

As an example, I've always loved "Solsbury Hill" by Peter Gabriel. It doesn't fit into any true music genre, yet the song always evokes this nostalgic-like fuzzy feeling (sorry, I really tried to think of better adjectives) from within me. It wasn't until after returning from the Dominican Priory that I really listened to the song. After all these years, I realized that the song was about a religious calling. Every single word of that song was in tune with my life. I felt like Peter wrote that song for me, only he wrote it years before I'd ever dream of being a priest.

Yeah. Wow.

I believe God uses our gifts to inspire others. Be it a poem, a short story, a sketch on a piece of scratch paper, or a even a song...these artistic expressions affect people far beyond what anyone has the ability to comprehend. If divine inspiration is a plausible concept, then there's no reason to believe He stopped doing it after the Bible was written. If my journey happens to end with me being ordained and someone asks "Who inspired you to become a priest," I will happily name Peter Gabriel, Richie Havens, Carlos Santana, or any of the other artists that I may list here in this blog.

This isn't just a list of my favorite songs. This isn't a plea to swap out current religious music (although I could make a few suggestions on that topic as well). These are the signs that remind me what I'm living for. Until can show me a quicker way to understand God's will, I'm gonna keep listening.

This week's song actually comes from the Catholic Hymnal. I heard it for the first time a few weeks ago, and as the church sung the words, I had to bite my lip as I felt the Voice of God reaching into my soul, saying "Hey you! Listen up!"

I list it as Hymnal #648 for two reasons:

First, I've seen this song listed under two names. In our hymnal, the song is called "Come and Follow." However after scouring the Internet, I've found the lyrics listed as "The Summons." I'm not exactly which title is accurate, so for the sake of neutrality I'm sticking with "Hymn #648."

The second reason is why I'm adding it to my list of discernment music.

I came to church early, and noticed that #648 was listed twice on the hymnal board. I didn't think anything of it. I assumed the music director would change it before the start of mass. I quickly dismissed the observation. The organ started. I stood, taking in breath to sing the opening hymn.

Like a shot right into my heart, I heard the words leave my lips: "Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?" For those of you that know this hymn, it's not just another song: it's a gut-wrenching challenge to be Christ-like. For me, a single guy entertaining the idea of priesthood, it was one of the most beautiful/terrifying/intense experiences of my life.

I stood alone in the pew, pretending I was singing as tears started to run down my face. It was as if God had grabbed me by the shirt, yanked me off my feet, and was yelling at me: "Why haven't you committed yourself to my service yet!?" It was as if God knew I was slacking, and this was His slap in the face to remind me. And just to drive his point home, we sang it again for the closing hymn. It was not listed twice on accident.

Here's the kicker:

The music director at my church is also my spiritual director. She is a Dominican layperson and has training in spiritual direction as well as liturgical music. We'd had our monthly meeting only a few days before this Mass. She has a good sense of humor, and has been known for a practical joke here and there.

So after the service, I thought: "I know she put that song twice because of me!" I walked to the Rec. Center with a smirk on my face, expecting to see her pop out and say: "So are you feeling any closer towards making a decision yet?" Haha. Good joke.

But I didn't see her there. I ate donuts and talked with the other parishioners, but I did not see my spiritual director. In the weeks that have passed since that Mass, she's made no mention of it. Who decided that hymn was so important it needed to be sung twice?

I may never know, but I know that every time I read these words, I'm being challenged to make a decision. Someday I'll have the will to say "yes."

Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?

Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?

Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen?
And admit to what I mean in you and you in me?

Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around
Through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?

Lord your summons echoes true when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you and never be the same.
In Your company I'll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I'll move and live and grow in you and you in me.

Jesus Christ Meme

Liberally borrowed from The Ironic Catholic, here's a great meme. This will also my first meme; I'll try not to let you down, Dear Readers.

Five Reasons Why I Love Jesus Christ:

  1. Because he wasn't scared to touch a leper, defend an outcast, or speak out against authority.
  2. Because people lied, spat on him, tortured him, and crucified him...and he forgave them all before dying.
  3. Because he still calls me to a vocation, even when I feel most unworthy.
  4. Because he accepts me with my gifts and my faults.
  5. Because sometimes you have to yell and flip some tables to get your point across.

I love Jesus because he set an example for us to follow. Sometimes we just need a little encouragement to follow in his footsteps.

If you read this, consider yourself tagged.


Being Stupid and Big-Headed

I received a call from Fr. Bill Hugo, director of the Capuchins Vocation office this afternoon. We spoke briefly, making plans for the upcoming BBQ and possibly taking some time to visit the Capuchin parishes in Chicago.

Similar to my trip to St. Louis, I was asked to help transport another possible candidate to the event. I've never had a problem with fact I find it enjoyable to speak "off the record" with other discerning guys. A part of me feels a sense of camaraderie; through our experiences we share a bond. However there's another part of me that I keep at bay: the part with the metaphorical ruler and scale.

Meeting others working towards the priesthood has been a blessing and proverbial curse. Because of my insecurities as a Catholic, I often size myself against other prospects, trying to compare the competition. Are they competition? Not really, but having roots in the sales business, it's hard to befriend colleagues without wondering "Is this guy better than me?"

When Fr. Hugo told me about my trip-guest, I immediately went on guard. He was a few years younger than me; young enough to still be in college. He'd been talking with the OFM Caps for some time, and was interested in one of the Spanish parishes. To top it all off, Father let it slip that my guest will be ready for the postulancy.

Slow down, slow down. I'm visiting for the first time, and I have to size up to a kid who's ready to dive right in? The trip's two weeks away, and already I can feel the impending pressure to dive in along side him...or try to jump in first, just so I can beat him to it. Can I let this kid become a priest before me? What qualifies him over me? What makes him a better Catholic than me?

Maybe we'll arm-wrestle, and the loser has to apply to Opus Dei.

My approach might sound pretentious or even self-righteous, but I assure you this pendulum of emotion swings both ways. While I might portray competition, I'm really covering my jealousy. I've met Catholics who've never strayed, men who've dreamed of joining the priesthood their entire lives. I've spoken with guys who've never made a wrong step, college kids who know more theology than I'll ever know, and guys who are fluent in Spanish, where I can't even speak it as a Mexican.

I've been a bouncer, a DJ, a computer tech, a salesman, and many other things in my life. While I dabbled in each field, I met people who specialized in each of these vocations. These people excelled at what they did, and never thought about doing anything else. I looked up to such individuals for having the drive, perseverance, and aptitude to excel at their chosen profession. Now that I'm seriously pursuing my vocation, I see the same situation. How does someone like me compete with "more qualified" candidates?

Sometimes I think the need for priests is the only reason vocation directors are willing to let me visit.

There's two weeks until the trip to Chicago...two weeks to reconcile my insecurities about my faith, about myself, and about my calling. It's just so damn hard to see things as equal, and not "better or worse."


Music and Spirituality: Freedom

On August 15, 1969, a folk guitarist from Greenwich Village played the opening set to what is still the most memorable concert in American history. Richie Havens, who has a unique way of playing and tuning his instrument, played for three hours, receiving ovation after ovation.

Running out of songs to play and exhausted from the heat, Richie continued playing. For the finale he played a version of the Negro spiritual: "Sometimes I Feel," and his astounding performance gained him international praise.

The original spiritual was written by Harry T. Burleigh (1866-1949): an accomplished musician and composer. An aficionado of folk songs and spirituals, Burleigh wrote:

"Success in singing these Folk Songs is primarily dependent upon deep spiritual feeling. The voice is not nearly so important as the spirit; and then rhythm, for the Negro's soul is linked with rhythm,and is an essential characteristic of most all Folk Songs." (source)

Each time I listen to this, my heart aches with despair for an unjust world. With each violent strike of the guitar, I can feel his disgust, his despair, and his outrage for an oppressed people. I feel like throwing this notebook at the wall, and crying as I listen to to his voice cry for freedom.

Yet woven into this emotional expression, there still remains that all-important ingredient: hope. The entire piece becomes a psalm of spiritual redemption. In front of 500,000 people, Richie delivered the same message we hear at mass: offer your pain up to God.

I find that pretty groovy, if you can dig on that.

If Burleigh was still alive, I'm sure he'd be just as moved.

(Simply writing the lyrics doesn't convey the entirety of this piece, so I've included the best video link I could dig up. Footage is from the motion picture "Woodstock.")

Grillin' With the OFM Caps

This month, the Capuchins of Chicago will host their Capuchin Candidates' BBQ at the St. Claire of Assini Friary. The event will be on Sunday, July 22nd. It's a great chance to mingle with other discerning men, eat some food, and talk with the brothers of the Capuchin Order.

Months ago, I spoke with Fr. John of the Capuchin Vocations Office. While I haven't focused on religious life these past few months, I must admit there are aspects of community life that interest me:
  • the comeradere of living and praying with other men
  • always having "someone there"
  • the pride of being a part of a unique order
  • "hands on" approach to people in dire need of Church services
  • habit > roman collar
When Fr. John and I spoke those months ago, I was still on the "high" from my Dominican retreat. I would be lying if I said I wasn't comparing the OFM Caps to the OP's. I intend on going to the BBQ with a more open mind, however I still have an overwhelming sense of trepidation...much like when I realized I would never make the requirements for being a Dominican priest.

But that's a blog for another day.

If you're curious about the Franciscan lifestyle or learning more about the Capuchins, I encourage you to join me and the other confused men as we get our grub on and try to decide where exactly our lives are headed.

If you have more questions, or you want to RSVP and save a plate, call Father Bill Hugo from the Capuchin Vocations Office: 313.595.2182.
Be there, or be L7.

Ex-Marine Owns a Would Be Pickpocket

Last weekend Bill Barnes, a regular at the poker tables where I work, unleashed the beast on a petty thief trying to pick his pocket. I found it funny because he's usually a smiling, talkative guy at the poker table.

On an unrelated note, Bruce Willis just signed a contract to star in 10 more Die Hard movies.

Morality For Sale - No Money Down!

People assume the car business is a lot like they see on A & E. You find a customer looking for a car, you show them an expensive car, agree on a price, and after you shake hands, your customer hits the gong after buying an '04 Charger.

Unfortunately, this business is more than dream cars and slick talk.The reality is that no everyone has perfect credit like on "King of Cars." People with bad or no credit are exempt from this wonderland of car buying and must fend for themselves against a swarming pack of sub-prime lenders, eager to put the customer into anything with four wheels.

My three years in the car business have always been in sub-prime lending. I take pleasure from helping people who wouldn't normally be able to finance a vehicle. Many of my customers come to me depressed, dejected, and cynical. They've been "pre-approved" five times before sitting down at my desk. They're just waiting to hear those familiar lines:

  • "I can get you approved if you have a co-signer."
  • "Do you have $2000 for a down payment?"
  • "You're approved for $3000, but we don't have any cars that cheap."

In those years, I've created an equilibrium between morality and salesmanship. I'm still good at what I do, yet I'm honest enough to sleep well at night. I've rationalized charging 21% interest on a car loan, I'm not surprised to see an '03 Ford Taurus with 120,000 miles, and when a customer objects to their vehicle choices, I kindly remind them of their credit situation.

Most times, I don't feel like The Chopper. I feel like Kurt Russel,
wearing a checkered jacket and luring people to the lot with a dollar bill at the end of a fishing pole.

I've never sold a Hummer,a Cadillac Escalade, or one of those fully loaded Dodge Chargers you see at Tobwin Dodge. My cream puffs are Pontiac Grand Am's, Oldsmobile Alero's, and the occasional Ford Explorer. A few years ago, we were elated to have a '99 Dodge Durango hit the lot. I took a deposit on it before it was even ready to sell.

I've never had a customer with a 700+ credit rating. As a result, I've never sold a vehicle at or near Blue Book value. I've never given "$1000 for your trade, no matter what you owe!!" And only once in my life have I ever done a deal with zero money down. I stand at the edge of a cliff each day; one wrong step and I could lose all my scruples.

I swim with the sharks, compete to sell the most cars. For years, I fooled the others into thinking I was one of them, ready to strike any helpless prey. But after years of pretending, my disguise is wearing thin. Co-workers see how I struggle to "bend truths" or "overcome objections." I wince at training rhetoric such as: "Do what you have to do to put those people in a car," or "Buyers are liars. Put your selling shoes on!"

My drive, other than being debt-free before entering a seminary, is knowing that even in this polluted shark-tank, God exists. God exists because I try to be truthful to my customers, and I tell them how expensive it will cost to finance a car. God exists because people at my desk don't see me as another salesperson, they see me as someone who is trying to help. God exists because I've had customers hug me and cry on my shoulder, overwhelmed to be given a chance when normal banks tell them they aren't good enough. God exists because each time I sell a customer, I'm reminded of my own second chance.

So for those who feel a prospective priest has no business selling cars, please take your guilt elsewhere. We're all full up here.

Music and Spirituality: What A Wonderful World

Most people know the song first performed by Louis Armstrong. It's been performed by countless artists, and used as an accompaniment to numerous shows, movies, and charitable events. After its original release in 1967, the song has been converted into punk, techno, country & western, and a really bad rap version performed by Kirk Jones. The Hawaiian version done by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole is definitely my favorite.

When I think of this song, I'm reminded of an old commercial using the song with beautiful images of landscape. Near the end of the commercial, they pulled back to show this amazing picture of Earth. Do you remember?

I clearly recall staring at the "blue marble" image on our TV. As Louis' gravelly voice sang of optimism in the background, I was awestruck and comforted at the same time. It made me feel The Cold War would end peacefully. It gave me hope that Mom might get a job and we'd stop being poor. Together with the photo, the singing gave me hope: a wonderful yet scary emotion.

And immediately after this magnificent prospect of hope I'd created, the music stopped and hands started to crush this picture of Earth. The wadded-up paper ball was thrown in a garbage basket, and the commercial ended with an ominous message:

"If you litter, you're throwing it all away." (It might have been a recycling ad as well. If you remember, please tell me. I'll lose sleep otherwise...seriously.)

While the commercial may have gotten lost in the clutter of my memory, that Utopian sense of happiness still remains. Optimism is a rare commodity these days; it's just so easy to type up rants and ravings about governmental decisions or not getting skim milk with your coffee.

What I find inspiring about this song is the reminder to step back and really admire God's work. We work too hard, we scribble in our date books, we squabble about waiting at a red light. But none of that really means a thing. We're here for a purpose far greater than any middle-management supervisor could ever bestow upon you. Sometimes, we just need a reminder.

It really is a wonderful world. Look for yourself. No surprises...I promise.

I see trees of green
Red roses too
I see them bloom for
Me and you

And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

I see skies of blues
And clouds of white
The bright, blessed day
The dark, sacred night

And I think to myself
What a wonderful world

The colors of the rainbow
So pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces
of people going by

I see friends shaking hands
Saying "how do you do?"
They're really saying
"I love you."

I hear babies crying
I watch them grow
They'll learn much more
Then I'll ever know

And I think to myself
What a wonderful world.