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. =)