Faceover for 2009!

Over the next few days, I will be giving my web log a new look. Every year I go for a new look; this time I've been working with some of the newer/custom templates. I've sworn at the computer a few times today just to get them to work!

While I'm trying to find something that is easy on the eyes for you, Dear Reader, I appreciate any input you might have. I'll be swapping test templates in and out during the next few days. By Friday night, I will have made up my mind.

In the meanwhile, have a safe and enjoyable new year's celebration. May this year present you with opportunities to succeed and grow!

Peace and all good,
Vito Martinez, Capuchin Postulant

Losing a Brother to the Streets

My apologies for not posting an update since Christmas Eve. I was without internet for most of the week at my mother's house. It was a good experience to be in an environment devoid of the internet when it is accessible from almost any other location.

Today I went back to work at St. Ben's. I admit I thought about things while I was gone: the people I was missing, the needs that had to be addressed, and perhaps my personal desire to "stay busy" rather than simply enjoy some time off. Being back at St. Ben's after the break was a good feeling; I was where I belonged. For a man pursuing his vocation, that sense of association at my ministry reminds me that I am on the right path.

Unfortunately after all the Christmas carols are sung, and all the happy-ending stories are finished, I was again face-to-face with the evils of this world.

I learned today that Don, a friend and a great volunteer to the program, fell off the wagon after 2 years. For most people, the experience is nothing new. "An addict is back in rehab? No big surprise!" That would be the standard sentiment. Maybe I would have said the same thing years ago.

Don was a great help, a great sense of inspiration for others, but most of all he was a good person to talk with. Having been sober for over 2 years, he was in an advanced program in Milwaukee. He was on his way to getting his own apartment, was doing a lot in the community to help others, and was always a great source for me to tap into when I needed to learn more about what was happening in the city. Because of this, he'll no longer be in that program and is most likely without a place to stay at this point.

This month he and I were going to have a real urban plunge event. I was to spend a weekend living homeless. He'd had experience living homeless, he knew the programs and the services available, and he knew where people gathered. It was to be an experience that would help me better understand exactly what it means to be homeless. For obvious reasons, that project has been put on hold.

I've not seen him since I left for Christmas vacation, and the word is that he's sleeping out on the streets. When I think about it, I realize how much it hurts. I don't even know his last name, yet his pain and addiction are keeping him from living a productive life. Just as if my family member where suffering, I wish I could do something to take that cross from Don's back.

As a grown man, I feel tears well up as I look back at the text and realize that I've been typing about him in the past tense. My heart goes out, and even if he makes the same mistake again and again, I'll never think of him as anything but my brother in Christ.

It's been intense experience for me, and it's given me one reflection: How heavy must the burden be for God to watch us treat each other in this way. To watch war, oppression, hunger, hate, and injustice...knowing full well that we're capable of making the best choice for all. Yet we as a society have continued to fall off the wagon over and over. How much it must hurt God to watch us fail over and over. What kind of pain it must be to carry the sins of Man, and then to continually forgive?

Most of all, I think I can better understand infinite depths of God's love as he continues to love us despite our transgressions. Some people wish they could be God. Personally, if I had to live with the pain and the sorrow of watching loved ones hurt themselves and others, I don't think I could handle that much pain.

(Don's name has been changed in this post for obvious reasons of privacy.)

Christmas Reflections

I wanted to post earlier, however my mom's apartment doesn't have internet access, so I had to wait until a connection "made itself available" for my temporary use. (interpret that however you wish)

It's been a wonderful time back in Grand Rapids these past few days. I have a chance to get away from the community, which I much admit was getting a little on my nerves as of lately. I delivered presents to the home-bound members of my parish, I did a little Christmas shopping, and I did another interview about my personal story with the local newspaper.

Thinking about my life and the story I tell to people, the Christmas season is personal to me. It's not the commercial, giddy way I used to like Christmas. It's more of a personal reflection that's neither jolly nor depressing; it's affirming to who I am.

1. Besides the miraculous virgin birth, the entire birth story, and the wonderful feeling of joy it brings, I focus on that self-emptying of Christ. I see in Jesus the Divine that is greater than anything we could possibly imagine-choosing to live as a mortal: a king born in a barn. That image of self-emptying is something I reflect on. And while my own life is far from that of Jesus, I see parallels in the way that giving of oneself can bring so much more.

2. This time of year, people are looking for good stories of humanity. Right now I hear my mom watching "It's A Wonderful Life" for the 298347398th time. We watch Scrooge, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, The Santa Clause....stories of conversion in the hearts of its characters. In a way, my story is the same.

But I'm not a Scrooge or a Grinch...I'm a normal guy like most of you reading this blog who's had that same conversion experience that you see about in the movies. Perhaps it has less to do with "believing in Santa" and more to do with "being called to serve the Lord," or maybe the former is simply a metaphor for the latter. Either way, my conversion is nothing fictional; it doesn't end after the Christmas season.

So as you settle down this Christmas eve, thinking about your children, your family, your loved ones. think about yourself and why you feel happy/sad/excited/tired/dissatisfied. God so loved the world that he chose to live among as one of us. Perhaps we should think more about what we could empty ourselves of to better recognize and receive that love that God has shown for us, as we get ready to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

Merry Christmas, and if anyone chooses to compare me to a Christmas movie character, I'd prefer you use "buddy's dad" from "Elf." James Caan looks like he could get stuff done.

My Formal Evaluation

Last night I had the opportunity to speak with my formators regarding my past 4 months living here in community with the Capuchin Franciscans. We spoke for about an hour, and one of the responses upon seeing this document from the formators was: "It looks like we're trying to get you canonized!" I've decided to share the document for others to see.

Thanks for your continued reading, and I hope you continue to follow my story.

Peace and all good, Vito

December 2008 Evaluation
The community perceives Vito in a very positive light. As one professed friar put it, "If I had come as a visitor, I would have thought you were already professed." This statement reflects the maturity and wholesomeness that Vito exhibits. He has made a life-changing transition: giving up a girlfriend and a promising career in car sales and testing out a life of voluntary poverty, chastity, and obedience.

One thing everybody notices is Vito's outgoing, almost exuberant personality. His laughter and spontaneity are infectious. Community members describe him as "a good communicator," having "excellent relational skills," "a natural leader," a self-starter." In the classroom he shows an eagerness to learn, makes intelligent contributions, asks good questions. The community appreciates his skills in cooking, his musical gifts and prayer leadership, and his willingness to keep our cars well maintained. His ministry supervisor at St. Benedict's gave him high marks for his caring presence with poor people. Sometimes those who are very gifted provoke envy or criticism from their peers, as if they are showing off or trying ot grab the spotlight. Nothing like this emerged in the evaluations, which indicates that Vito is simply being himself and not trying to impress anybody.

At the same time, Vito himself says he worries about being too competitive, wanting to be "the best postulant." Perhaps that self-awareness is what prevents him from acting out a competitive tendency. In addition, he is trying to develop a deeper spirituality, one that places God at the center rather than himself. It was refreshing to read his self-evaluation, wherein he states that he sees the down-and-out people he serves as no different, basically, than his former customers or himself. Rather than thinking of them as needing help, he says, they need our friendship, our humanity.

One area of concern was noted by a number of community members. Is Vito so driven, so engrossed in serving others that he is neglecting his own needs? They wonder if he works too hard, is too involved outside the house? He is sometimes absent or late for community prayers (going to bed late?), and he sometimes misses his turn at doing dishes. But at a deeper level, they do not want to see him get burned out.

We definitely want to affirm Vito for his positive presence among us and for his growing commitment towards Capuchin life. He is a truly gifted man with clear leadership abilities. He appears to be building his life on a solid spiritual foundation. He shows a good understanding of Catholic theology and history. We commend him for his determination to lose weight and to quit smoking. But we will press him on his lack of good balance, especially in getting adequate sleep and being too involved outside the community. We will also ask him how he envisions his future ministry possibilities and his plans to further his education. We truly hope he will persevere in a Capuchin vocation.

Evaluation Time

One of the reasons I've failed to write much is because this time of year, we do our evaluations. It's a way for the formators to see how we're doing and to reflect on our strengths and weaknesses.

Our evaluation is a four-step process:

1. We are given written evaluations by the other professed friars in the house as well as the supervisor from our ministries (in my case, Br. Dave from St. Ben's).

2. We must write an evaluation for each of the other postulants in the house.

3. After reading and reflecting on the evaluations written about us, we must in turn write a self-evaluation.

4. A final evaluation with the formators of the postulancy program.

Up to this point, I've finished 1-3. Parts of the process were pretty intense; some of it was personal and contained things I wasn't comfortable sharing online. While I've been evaluated many times before, especially coming from the sales business, this evaluation in particular is something I'm kind of dreading.

I will let you all know how things go. Tonight I go through part 4.

It's odd: I can deal with the harshest of conditions, I can keep my cool when someone offends me, but when it comes to this evaluation, I'm still nervous...even though I feel at peace here and that I'm doing the Lord's work.

Music and Spirituality: Folsom Prison Blues

I've been doing prison ministry here at St. Ben's for a few months now, and I must say it's one of the greatest experiences I've had since being here. Sure I was nervous and hesitant to do it at first. In fact, I was a little concerned about what would happen to me if I showed up. What if they decide not to let me leave and lock me in!?

Obviously fears are fears and I overcame them to take part in this unique and fulfilling ministry. I find it fulfilling because I realize I share more with these guys than I could ever have imagined. Many of them grew up without a father and without a male role model as I did. Many of them come from poor homes, have experience with crime in their family, drugs, and dealing with hunger and extreme poverty. To live that life you have to be tough, and you can only trust yourself. You gotta hustle to get whatever you can, and you definitely cannot show weakness or let someone punk you out.

Many aspects of our lives are intertwined, and even though I'm here in Milwaukee because of religious life and they may be here to serve 16 months, for the people I meet at Bible Study in the MSDF (Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility) we have a lot in common.

When I think of the greatest examples of prison outreach, I immediately think of The Man in Black: Johnny Cash. Now I'm comfortable admitting that I really can't stand country music, but I own the At Folsom Prison CD. I own it for a specific reason, it's one of the most well-known examples of prison ministry.

After a living a life of drugs, fame, and trying to find what made him happy, Johnny Cash got sober and pitched the idea of a live recording at Folsom Prison to Columbia Records. He wasn't exactly the perfect image of a "good Christian," however his life, he change, and this outreach to the imprisoned reflect a lot of what I see in what I do. I don't see the album as a simple marketing at, I see it as the embodiment of Matt. 25:36 "I was naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me."
Despite his rocky life, Johnny Cash found a way to live his life, find happiness, and express his faith in a way that touched millions of people. And while I've never been a fan of country music, I respect Johnny Cash and boldly proclaim myself a Cash fan.

I hear the train a comin'
It's rollin' 'round the bend,
And I ain't seen the sunshine,
Since, I don't know when,
I'm stuck in Folsom Prison,
And time keeps draggin' on,
But that train keeps a-rollin',
On down to San Antone.

When I was just a baby,
My Mama told me, "Son,
Always be a good boy,
Don't ever play with guns,"
But I shot a man in Reno,
Just to watch him die,
When I hear that whistle blowin',
I hang my head and cry.

I bet there's rich folks eatin',
In a fancy dining car,
They're probably drinkin' coffee,
And smokin' big cigars,
But I know I had it comin',
I know I can't be free,
But those people keep a-movin',
And that's what tortures me.

Well, if they freed me from this prison,
If that railroad train was mine,
I bet I'd move out over a little,
Farther down the line,
Far from Folsom Prison,
That's where I want to stay,
And I'd let that lonesome whistle,
Blow my Blues away.

Occasional Irregularity

For all those who have continued to check in while I took a hiatus from the blog thing, I thank you and apologize for not keeping up on my life. Between the interviews, the peer and self reviews, and the business of the holiday season I simply forgot about my continuing story here as people asked about things I'd experienced years ago in my discernment journey.

I recently did another interview with Dick Gordon on The Story. I feel embarrassed and sometimes wary of all the attention I get from numerous interviews and articles about my conversion, but I try to look at it from the aspect that people are genuinely interested in what I've experienced. Maybe they've begun a conversion of their own, maybe they're simply trying to understand why I would move from one end of the spectrum to the other.

Life is good, and I have a Volunteer Appreciation Dinner to set up tomorrow. Download and listen to the interview here. My interview in the show starts around minute 29.

Holy $#!& Moment

As we stood in at Liturgy this morning in our chapel, I had a moment of clarity. Perhaps it was because my cold was finally going away. Maybe it was because I was making a concerted effort to work on my habits and personal issues that keep me from God. Maybe God thought I just needed a pat on the back from the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it was all three, maybe it was neither. Either way, I felt my mind open as we stood in front of the alter, listening to one of the friars celebrating Mass.

In a moment, I realized where I truly was. I'd gone from being a salesman, a person who'd chased money and women like a sport, a person who'd barely cared about anyone but myself...to being here in a friary, happily celebrating Mass. Maybe for the first time I understood how "awkward" it was for people who knew who I "was" and tried to fit in who I "am." I couldn't help but smile at how amazing this past 3 months of my life has been.

Usually I hear people who have moments like this and realize they've made a huge mistake. Hell, my last huge revelation is where I realized I needed to make a change in my life. Yet this morning I felt affirmed about what I was doing. Maybe it was the fact that I enjoyed doing bible study in jail, or because I liked being involved with my faith. Perhaps it's because I feel I am being who I truly am, not just what I want others to think I am. Or perhaps it's something deeper than that. Perhaps I deflect a lot of the compliments I get because I feel I am "not worthy" of praise. Today...I feel good to be here, and I realize that the work I've been doing is worthy of praise, because it's not something I could have done completely me by myself. I had a lot of help.

Perhaps this seems like rambling, but I feel full of the Spirit this morning; it feels good. =)

Sick Dreams

After being ill for the past few days, I decided on the best course of action: buying a bottle of NyQuil and preparing to sleep for over 12 hours. It's an interesting way to cure yourself, and I actually feel better this morning than when I went to bed at 4PM yesterday afternoon. So I know the remedy still works.

This course of action has one huge side-effect...the really really weird dreams. When you're sick, you can start thinking about really bazaar things, (what if more than three Vito's, that is to say me in three different substances that are exactly alike, existed within this plane of existence?) Add my memories, my schooling, and some of my weird experiences and things get pretty crazy.

Here's a few outside factors to keep in mind:

1. My room is directly above the chapel, so when they start the Opening Hymn, I can hear it.
2. We live in the bad part of town, so every once in a while, a car with a lot of bass will come bumping by.
3. I have an odd sense of humor.

The first dream I remember was me at an outdoor revival. I had the feeling that this was actually a weekend retreat, but the feel of the place, the look of the large tent, mixed with the preconceived notions I had were telling me this was more of a Baptist Revival. As I walk into the tent, there's an announcement made: "And now, reading for the last time, Sean Connery!"

And as Sean Connery began to read, I started thinking: "This guy cannot proclaim." And maybe in a cross-memory, I imagined myself standing before the entire department at my college and reading my dissertation as I would read the letter to Titus.

After the reading came the Psalm, and everyone started dancing. Not Liturgical Dancing or anything interpretive, rather "we're on the Ellen show" type of dancing. I remember being confused because the Psalm was something slow, like "Shepherd Me, Oh God" or something.

After that, there was some confusion about who would read next. I volunteered (as I often do) but someone else did. My memory gets fuzzy after that, but I remember debating with Stephen Colbert (via satellite to his TV show) and being angry that every statement I made turned into a joke for him.

Later, after having woken up and coughed out 13 lbs. of phlegm, I remember dreaming about this little convenience store in the middle of a bad neighborhood. It was well lit up, with plenty of bullet-proof glass surrounding the joint. Inside, it was one of those tight stores where the aisles are really close and all you can see are candy, those really gross sandwiches, and the cigarette rack above the checkout person's head.

It was late at night, and while I feel more comfortable in these areas than most, I definitely was not comfortable here. I remember ducking behind a waist-high brick wall as I watched a car with a guy holding an M4-A1 rifle sticking out the side of the passenger window. As I walked to the store, I see a guy approach me out of the corner of my eye. I've never been robbed in real life, so I never know what the experience is gonna be like, and in the dream I was a little shaken.

Upon approaching me, he sees my face, my shirt (I happened to be wearing the Capuchin Soup Kitchen shirt) and my keys (I often wear a lanyard around my neck with all my keys when working at St. Ben's, as a symbol of being a Porter) and started talking and joking with me. Immediately my demeanor changed, and while I had no idea how this guy knew me or what he was even talking about, I could converse with him and joke...no longer feeling scared.

At some point, a really really loud car drove by, with the bass pounding. In my dream, I saw a '79 Monte Carlo SS (black) with huge 24" rims (which I think looks disgusting) roll by. After the car left my dream, I remember walking into the convenience store and seeing one of my old bosses doing the numbers as she was getting ready to close down. She looked rather stressed about working there, but she's always found happiness in paperwork and numbers, so she seemed somewhat at ease.

After a while, the owner comes in, who I recognize as Bruce Willis. He takes me outside and on top of the roof of the convenience store, and reaches for a light switch (one of those dial ones, not just a regular switch). As he slowly brings the lights on, these really bright spot lights that he has pointing onto the roof of his store (which makes no sense) he starts shouting "Wake up! Wake up, little ones!" in a patronizing tone. I hear groans and curses coming from people who were sleeping on top of his roof in little corners.

He ushers them past us and tells them not to sleep up here anymore. I was kinda mad, so I told him: "You know, you've kinda fallen off since that movie with Matthew Perry." I don't remember what happened next...I woke up.

The last dream stayed on topic (if that's actually possible) from when I woke up at 1AM until I woke up again at 8:30AM.

I dreamed I was working for Kramer Intl. again, a company where I would go to different college campuses to do music videos, have laser tag shows, virtual reality rides....stuff like that. I was riding with someone as we were going out to do this show. The guy I was riding with was someone who'd worked for me at Kramer, and was really really kind of weird. Like one time he told me he was training to kill someone. Yeah, that kind of weird.

Anyway, he and I were in the truck headed to somewhere in Wherever We Were Headed to do a laser tag show. When we arrived, we had these really nice rooms at this resort. This entire neighborhood was extremely nice. And I'm not talking Farmington Hills nice or Whitefish Bay nice, I'm talking REALLY nice. Overlooking our resort is this massive mansion on top of this great hill, which if i had to guess, was a 1/4 mile slope from where we were.

These people who came down from the mansion were happy beyond reason to see us. I'd think something like Laser Tag would be beneath these sort of people, yet they were extremely happy to see us. It was the two parents with their daughter and friend. Apparently their daughter's class was in the running for being the national champs in Laser Tag this year, and us coming would give them the opportunity to clinch their spot as the top of their division.

In reality, the Laser Tag game was just an inflated arena big enough to fit in a gymnasium. Inside the arena was some music, some black lights, and a fog machine to make everything look cool. The guns each had sensors to track how many people you killed. It was kind of cheesy, wasn't really structured, and it was something for the kids to do.

When we set up this time, it was like watching a first-person-shooter video game. Part of my dream was a flashback to when I played Counter-Strike, as these girls (their daughter was part of an all-girls Laser Tag Team) did flips, crazy jumps and shots...I think I even remember a slow-motion shot by one of them like in Max Payne.

After the win and celebration, we were invited to the mansion to celebrate with everyone. On the one hand, it was cool to celebrate, but it was then that I started to "notice" things.

Perhaps of my love of movies and conspiracies, I uncovered a plot by one of the girls who'd "enslaved" the daughter of the rich family so that she would have them killed, sell the house to my partner for absolutely nothing, then by continuing to "enslave" the minds of others, she could become this huge super villain and take over the world.

There was a car chase scene down one of the freeways, there was a tender moment where I tried to convince the daughter not to go against her parents. I saved the day, vanquished the evil conspirators...and after driving back by myself I realized I only got paid $45 for going there and I'd left my laptop somewhere at that resort.

So remember, if you have a bad cold, you have 24 hours where you can just sleep, and you're in need of a new blog topic, don't forget about the healing power of NyQuil. =)

Sick of Being Sick

For the past few days, I've been fighting something. Only today have I started having sneezes and a sore throat.

I have very little to add except that I feel like shit, I want to sleep but can't, and I get irritable when I don't feel good.

...I hate being sick!

The Ethics of Shopping

Sometimes living in community makes me have to take sides on topics that I never truly considered before. As a Capuchin, my actions speak not only for myself but for the community and the Order I belong to. Therefore there are times when some actions come into conflict with other members of the Capuchin Franciscans.

One of my chores for the friary is being "the buyer." As the buyer, It's my job to make sure that we have all the necessities, toiletries, and food needed. When a list is compiled I run to the store to purchase what is needed. Because I live in a house with 13-14 other men, buying small things at the local grocer aren't as affordable. It's far easier and economical to buy in bulk.

Unfortunately, others don't share the same point of view.

One particular friar in the house is feels a special need to support the local grocer. The store name is Lena's, and it's an African-American owned grocery store that's been in Milwaukee for 35 years. Before the postulants arrived into the house, he was the buyer and spent most of the money buying things at that store. Since we've moved in and the eating habits of the house are changed, he still thinks we should be shopping at the local grocer for our food needs.

Now I have an understanding of "Buyer Responsibility." I support free-trade/equal-exchange coffee, I don't buy anything from Wal-Mart or Sam's Club, and I will happily buy from a local grocer than a large location when the situation fits. As a Capuchin, I have to figure in factors such as cost to the house, are we living within our means, are all the nutritional needs of the people in the friary being met, and most importantly are we buying efficiently like a home chef would.

But now and again I will get into discussions with this one friar as he tries to make this issue of Lena's his primary focus. While I entertained his argument from the first few months, we got into a heated discussion over it today. He's spent a lot of time doing help in the African American community, both here and in Detroit, Gary, IN, and other places in the U.S. And that is where he's coming from. For me, I've lived in a single-parent household where my mom found it hard to find a place to insure her and me when I was a child. Our experiences are very different, and while I felt it unnecessary, we had to discuss the ethics of buying food for the friary.

If I've learned one thing, it's that we cannot be altruistic in our shopping habits. Some places are "greener" than others, some have better treatment of their employees, some have better prices from better sources, and some have loyalties to specific people in the local community. To try and appease all those aspects is futile; the best I can do is focus on what I feel is important and try and be respectful of other's interests.

So now that friar buys fruits, vegetables, and meat from the local Lena's while I buy the staples for meals, and all the extra things needed in a household. It's a good arrangement...until the next argument arises.

Raging Against the Machine

Today as we stood in the windy, rainy downtown of Milwaukee, we had our 3rd prayer vigil in front of the Homeland Security Building, which houses the Agency for Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as a detention location for people who have been rounded up to be sent back to Mexico or whatever country of origin.

While we continue to hope for immigration reform, the concern each time is with the inhumane treatment of people. Mothers and fathers who've been torn from families, families terrorized by raids that require no solid evidence, wholesale invasions of factories where they halt workers and deport them on site.

Had you told me over a year ago that I would have given up my great job at G.T Autos so I could stand with a sign in front of the Homeland Security building singing Ubi Caritas, I simply would have laughed. Here I am again, finding myself stretched beyond my earlier comfort zone, doing what I feel is right, and doing so in the name of God.

Each day I spend here with the Caps, I learn and do new things. Slowly I am becoming a different human being...a better human being. While I've not had to do a "display of public disobedience," there's always time to improve. =)

Reflections on Election Night

I realize that I am in a church that stands divided amongst itself. With the results of this term's elections less than a few hours away, I can look back and really see the polarization that exists, and the problems in dealing with that rift.

I belong to a church who's leaders plead for it's followers to vote solely on the issues of abortion and same-sex marriage. This is the stance of many bishops, in spite of the fact that 12.5 million people are illiterate in this country, the fact that your child has a 40% chance of being offered drugs in the 9th grade of an average public school, and we spend billions on a senseless war that has already been cited: "Post war findings do not support the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) assessment that 'Iraq has biological weapons'" source

I belong to a church that teaches charity and justice to all people, yet when I look out into the see of faces during a Mass, they are always one color. Even at integrated parishes, each "group" attends their own Mass; a contradiction in the idea of being the unified Body of Christ.

I belong to a church that reaches out to the needs of the poor and needy, but those people refuse to accept our theology with regards to Christianity. Whether it be from not understanding our Catholic Tradition, being disgusted with the treatment of priests acting immorally with children, or feeling neglected for so long from the Church, many of the people we serve feel unwelcome or distanced.

I belong to a church that continues to change, both for the good and for the bad. There are people who are still stuck in the 60's, trying to radically change things to a more modern approach. We've gone from the "Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit" to "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier," all in the name of inclusive language.

I belong to a church that struggles between the legalistic and hierarchical structure that has kept things going for so long, and the inner conscience that drives their sense of right and wrong. Until the end of time, this battle will continue to wage between what is "canonically correct" and what is "of pure conscience and of the Holy Spirit."

I belong to a church of elitist white suburbanites, dirt-poor illegal aliens, old European immigrants, young people rediscovering Traditional Catholic roots, liberal post-modernists, social activists, gay/lesbians dealing with faith, social conservatives, and guys like me who try to find that one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic church in the midst of all these people.

As this election day comes to an end, I think about all these people who make up the Catholic Church. Perhaps the example we've seen play out for the past two years is something we need to look at with regards to our church. Are we willing to denounce those whom we call brothers and sisters in Christ because of our perspective on what is "right and proper?"

I like to think that the divisiveness that exists is the opportunity that God has given us to practice the Gospel as Jesus lived it. If, by some miracle of charity, we're able to set aside our differences and become one Church that is unified in spirit and not just in observance to the succession of St. Peter, perhaps that is when we'll no that we really "get it."

Vote for the candidate that most reflects your sense of self. May we be blessed with the opportunity to turn back from some of the earlier mistakes, and use that chance to become closer as a nation and as a church.

Test of Music

I don't usually get nervous, but this upcoming Sunday has me freaked out. Luckily I won't be by myself, but I'm still stressed about the event. Usually going to Mass isn't such a big deal; being on center stage can change a lot of that.

I've given several talks at parishes about homelessness, hunger, and poverty in the Milwaukee area, and those were rather easy. This Sunday I will be playing the music for Mass without the Music Director. This entails about 4 different hymns, the Mass Setting of Music, and the best part: it's all in Spanish. (no hablo espanol ><)

This entails knowing and making sure all equipment is set up before Mass, checking levels, attendance of the choir (missing a few sopranos makes things interesting), coordinating with everyone so they all know which hymns are being done, and of course the act of playing guitar and singing. My guitar playing is OK, but my singing is nothing to be proud of.

Luckily I won't have this task to myself. One of the other Postulants also plays guitar at this same Mass, and the Director has left it to us to lead the music for this Sunday's Mass. Now this is a Capuchin parish; the fact that we are there participating as Postulants is something the friars tell the parishioners each week. I know that even if we completely screw things up, no one will take offense or even say a mean thing about it. The standard response will be: "Oh, how wonderful it is that they're doing something so important!"

But for both the other Postulant and I, we see music as a huge part of our vocation. While scary and daunting, this is a chance for us to get actual experience about what it takes to perform the job of a Liturgical Music Director. Granted we're just a fill-in while the Director is away, but people get Master's degrees for this kind of work, and having the training already will be beneficial in the long run.

Also, I know deep in my heart that this will be one of those experiences where I will treasure forever...even if we completely mess up. To be able to talk about leading a Mass as a Postulant is a great story to tell when I'm old and crusty. So while I'm excited, I know I want to do everything I can to make this Sunday go without a hitch.

So say a prayer for me, God knows I can use em for this weekend!

Stay tuned, I plan on getting video of the event!

Handling the Past

While I'd hoped the previous entry would have helped heal some of my heartache, I found that even today I was still thinking about the time spent online. It is something I keep rather personal; I feel other people can't understand or maybe cannot see past the initial idea of a video game being a means to help someone begin to understand religious life.

The biggest reason I dwell on this as an issue is because it will not be the last time I have to deal with such feelings. What happens in 5-6 years when I miss going through the formation process with my classmates? What happens in 20 years when I miss a parish or ministry that I presided at? What happens when I'm old and can't get out of my wheelchair...trapped in the memories of the past that I cannot return to?

I spoke of this in generalities with my formation director. He was wonderful in not pressing details, and gave me a few things to think about as I continue to work through this rather unique time in my life.

Many of us remember things in our life that when they are gone, it is like losing someone we loved. The experiences, the memories, the change in our life which are the fruit of such things...all of those are linked with with grieving process. While his words made sense, even I found it hard to really try and grieve for a character made to exist in a fake world.

He continued to talk about healthy ways to express the good that is found in such things. He mentioned that because I liked to write, perhaps I could put such things down for me to read, and put them in the sense that they are not sad, but wonderful memories to be cherished.

He also talked about a symbolic death for whatever I was longing for. He explained that when I was ready to make peace and be able to let go of the past, that a symbolic death could be a way for me to kind of deal with the issue once and for all. It wouldn't be hard to just delete my character (which still exists in Sony's database). I don't know if I'm ready for that quite yet, even though I haven't seriously played the game in years.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about this issue, although I am still not proud to talk about it in public. I think what I will do is log in one last time to visit the many places I remembered during those past 4 years, grab a few screenshots along the way, and begin to put down stories that I remember from my time there. While it may not be of interest for many of my readers, perhaps it will be something that benefits me and my journey to become closer to God.

My formator also told me he heard a lot of symbolism in my discussion of this topic; he said he could hear my reverence for whatever I was describing. He offered (gently) for me to begin and share that with the community here in Milwaukee, since I considered it so important to who I was. I told him of my fear of vulnerability, and that my personal EQ experience was like a special flower I kept hidden from the rest of the world. It was something I protected, something I cherished but refused to let others see for fear they would not understand. To share this part of my life is scary.

But perhaps that's where my catharsis will lie: in the telling of my entire story with pride and joy. To deny any part of my journey on this long, winding road is simply to lie to myself. To not say that a video game impacted my life is to deny everything about me that I never liked before finding my vocation. What I've learned is that God works with our faults and our quirks, and uses them for whatever means he sees fit.

Maybe I'll keep the stories here, perhaps I'll create a new blog for the gaming community; a place where such stories and memories can be shared with others who hold their EQ memories close like I do. I don't know exactly what my plan of action is, but I know I will do something I haven't done in a long time: face my fears, admit my weaknesses, and find a way to put this important time in my life down for others to see.

Memories Of A Game Gone By

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I miss living in a false reality.

When people ask me what kind of person I was before being a Capuchin Postulant, I tell them all about my sales days, and my time spent at the poker rooms. They usually laugh or make a joke at this point in which I return with a funnier joke, and it's a wonderful story for them to tell others.

Sometimes I want them to ask me: "So what do you miss most about your old life?" For them it would be a surprise because it wouldn't be women, status, big paychecks, or anything tangible. What I miss the most was the chance to wage war with my guild, joke and laugh with a group of people whom I called friends (yet only saw a few of them in real life), moaned and complained with when we were frustrated, and shouted at and led when there was task to be done. What I would tell them is that I miss 4 years of my life spent "in community" with a group of 50-70 people from around the country (and in some cases around the world) as we got together to laugh, curse, conquer, argue, be inspired, share, and always with the intention of becoming better.

I've written many times about finding all these things in an online game, and I think the paradox that many people find with this type of community, beneficial or otherwise, is that to spend so much time in this way is to remove oneself from what is happening in the "real world." To spend a weekend on the computer is to spend time away from family/friends, to not exercise or move much, to not eat balanced meals, and to spend an "unhealthy amount of time" in front of the computer. The same exists with any other MMORPG (World of Warcraft, Vangaurd, Lord of the Rings Online).

And perhaps there are reasons for people to be worried at times. If someone is not mentally stable, they may have a hard time differentiating from fantasy and reality. Young children should not play these types of games in an environment where the parents cannot monitor what is happening. Games like these can cause people to lose jobs, loss personal money/property, improper sleep and eating habits, unhealthy social habits, and can lead to addiction for those who are prone to such things.

Taking all these things into consideration, I still feel a loss at times for not having the community of people I knew when I played Everquest. While the game held promise and the goals in the game were long-term, the part that mattered most (and the reason I sometimes spend $15 bucks to log in and say hi) is because of the people. It's all fun and games until you start meeting people on a real level, and begin to hear their stories.

I remember a 20 year old woman who had just developed Epilepsy. Since I'd had the condition for over 15 years, we used to spend lots of time talking about her fears, sharing stories about trips to the doctor's, not being able to drive at times...the game was merely a means of a support group.

I remember watching as our guildleader told stories about his newborn baby, and how the women in the guild would share their experiences and advice.

I remember learning about proper leadership during raids (large group encounters that could have 72+ players in one huge group). I remember lifting people up who'd never performed a task in front of such a large group, who were worried about failing. I learned to handle people who were overbearing, not paying attention, or simply did not share my point of view.

I remember the sense of loss for a player who'd died in real life, yet never seen the guy until a picture was posted after his death. I wondered if it was possible to feel grief for someone you've only met in an online game, and ended up realizing that it made you wish you had the chance to know the person even more.

I think of all these things, not the amount of time spent in front of a computer sitting on my ass. I think of how much I miss the time spent, and not the time I wasted. I recollect the memories of these things that happen on a computer screen, but they're not different than a memory from a bar or the beach. As wrong and unhealthy as it sounds, I want to relive the past. And that's why, every now and then, I really think about logging back into EQ.

Like an older man fighting mid-life crisis, I find myself at times wishing for the way things were. But on those rare occasions when I do log back in, I realize that only a few people remain from my memories. Those large numbers of friends have moved on. Some are playing different games, some are raising children, some are fighting a terminal illness, some are living happily and maybe haven't thought about this game since they left.I still keep in contact with some of those people who have also moved on. There's something they say that always give me something to contemplate: "Your decision to become a friar actually doesn't surprise me; I could see it in you years ago." I find it very reassuring, but some would find it very contradictory: How could someone who wants to live the life of God choose to spend their evenings in front of a computer instead of working at a soup kitchen, or helping at a homeless shelter. Instead of spending Sunday recuperating from a late night raid, why didn't I spend that time at Church? If I enjoyed community so much, why was I not able to do it in real life?

I've yet to figure out how He decided to make this all work, but I'm going with the flow. And while I can't explain the complexity of an online interaction to someone who's never even heard of these games, I can only live my life by reflecting on all the things I've learned. I continue to use what I learned from a simple video game in my ministry, and unfortunately I still continue to hide this huge influence from others I meet.

But like that man in his mid-life crisis, I miss the people I knew (even though some of them I never knew their real first name), I miss the great deeds we did (even though they don't seem so great in context of the real world) and I miss the time I spent with them (even though I was sitting alone in front of my computer.) And as those thoughts sink in, my desire to play leaves me...for now.

Perhaps after I'm dead and gone, someone will remember my time in Everquest and remember what I did. And perhaps while I wasn't a saint, I could get my old character canonized as the patron saint for MMORPG players: "Saint Severaen of the Faydark"

I finish with my head swimming in memories, and my heart heavy for a time now gone by.

(rather poetically, I looked online in the guild forum and in my old email box for screenshots of my time in EQ. I could find only a few, and only one with me -Severaen- in it.)

Learning the "Sacred No"

I did something today that really made me proud of my growth: I said no.

I got an email about 3 this afternoon. It was a request to go to a speaking engagement at one of the local shelters and give a brief presentation about poverty in Milwaukee. It was a very very late notice for a speaking event, and he said I would be doing him a huge favor if it were possible.

Now I have a bad habit with my ministry: I like to say yes a lot. I figure I'm here to do the Lord's work, I might as do as much of it as I can. I used to live the life of a crazy, workaholic car salesman. What I'm doing now is just the same stress level. So why not keep accepting task after task?

What happens to me now, just like before, is that I can burn out. And when I burn out, I am done for about two weeks. Without rest, I become listless, bored, and resentful of my job. The last thing in the world I want is to become annoyed with my ministry here in Milwaukee. I gain too much from what I do, I don't want it to be a drain in my life.

So today I used the "Sacred No" as was told to my by my spiritual director. Sometimes you have to say no, just because it's what's best for you spiritually, mentally, and physically. I still feel guilty when I do it, but I'm still happy as well.

More About Me!

(I was recently interviewed for the St. Ben's Newsletter. I have one great story about this article to share: I'd just met the man in the picture with me. I was asked to stand together with him in a photo opportunity. Rather than be fake and try to put myself with someone, I simply told him: "Hey, I know I don't know you, but this man is gonna take a picture of us together so they can raise more money. So you're not the only one who feels awkward." We joked and talked...and the picture that was taken was thankfully not staged, but something real - something I've always tried to be.)

New Friar Finds Joy at St. Ben’s Meal
Former Used Car Salesman Seeks to Grow in Faith Filled Service

Growing up, Br. Vito Martinez remembers how his mother worked hard as a community organizer to better the lives of the poor. They themselves didn’t have much but rather than seek his fortune as an adult Br. Vito has spent several years seeking God’s plan.

Today Br. Vito is a postulant, someone who is in the initial discernment process of a call to be a Capuchin. As a part of that discernment he volunteers at St. Ben’s Community Meal.

“I am serving this year as a chaplain and volunteer coordinator. I help people get new ID’s, bus tickets and I refer them when needed to the Capuchin House of Peace and other agencies,” Br. Vito said. “I really see it as the classic 'Porter' of the old friaries. The brothers
would designate one person to answer the door and attend to the needs of the poor – that’s me!”

Vivian is one of the homeless Br. Vito has gotten to know. “She came one day feeling very depressed. She just wanted to tell someone her story of how as a poor woman she had become a prostitute.” Br. Vito added, “Even though I grew up poor myself I was very shaken by what Vivian shared.”

Listening compassionately to the poor at St. Ben’s helped confirm for him that he is on the right path. Br. Vito noted, “Many people burn out over time. To do this with love my entire life I seek strength in prayer. One of my favorite prayers from St. Francis of Assisi asks God to grant us “true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity…”.

Br. Vito continued, “I also have the support of Br. David Schwab as Ministry Director. Br. Dave empowers me to do as much as I can for the poor. And he has helped me to learn how to do this work daily based on his own life in ministry.” Br. Vito also credits his life as a Catholic with helping him to grow in ministry. “Daily prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist, and playing the guitar at Sunday Mass all help sustain me,” he said.

To learn more about Br. Vito and his journey you can read his blog at: http://vocationstory.blogspot.com.

Cafeteria Catholicism, Part II: Defending My Priest

Something happened this weekend, and it reminded me of this post I'd had sitting away. I kept from posting it because I didn't want to be divisive. But now, I think I'm ready to be a little angry again. (First written 7/12/2007)

I had lunch with my parish priest today, and it reminded me of this series that I wanted to continue to write about.

For the past 17 years I've had the same priest. While my attendance hasn't always been perfect, he has always been there: working within the community, helping the less fortunate, and building a bridge to the Spanish-speaking parishioners.

When I was still in school, I served as the alterboy at his parish. In 1992 he drove my family to see my dying grandfather at 4 AM. And when I first felt the pull towards the priesthood, he was the first person I sat down and honestly talked with.

My priest's drive comes from helping those who cannot help themselves. For years, I've been energized by his homilies of how church doesn't stop after Sunday. We're called to aid those in need of help, listen to those in need of consolation, and mentor those in need of guidance. His message is the same after 17 years: take care of your fellow man as God has told us to.

If you haven't already guessed, my priest is quite liberal in his theology.

I've never seen him wear a Roman collar, either in public or during Mass. He considers it a status symbol, just like jewelry or expensive clothing. During mass, he reminds us that we are there to pray together as a family. There's handshaking before Mass begins, Father sits in the front pew during the readings, and he invites the children to come up to the alter and hold hands when saying the Pater Noster.

After Mass last week, I asked him, jokingly: "So when should I expect our first Tridentine Mass?" He chuckled, and in a low voice said, "It won't be me doing it." Later, he explained how a language barrier has already divided the parish, and adding another separate Mass would do more harm than good.

Unfortunately, some have given him the label of "Cafeteria Catholic."

Now that I am working on my vocation, actually looking out instead of in, I realize more and more that the term "Cafeteria Catholic" makes less and less sense. We are all called to the Lord in different ways. We have different gifts, different talents, different ways of connecting to The Divine. If I'm not as excited about Eucharistic Adoration as someone more traditional, it doesn't mean I'm picking and choosing; it means I've found different ways to communicate and feel close to Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit.

I help people who live in parks or in parking ramps. I do Bible Study with the guys in jail every Monday (it's beneficial to them as well as me), I help out at the meal program for the homeless, I give urban immersions to people who've never experienced poverty before, and I give speeches and presentations at parishes who want to do more to help the poor in Milwaukee. (this isn't to brag. I have a point, I promise)

I know full well that there are people uncomfortable with what I do, feel it it not the best use of their time, or think they should be doing something "more Catholic." Yet everything I do is what has been instructed to me, same as Jesus' disciples. Because they choose not to share in my ministry does not make such a person a Cafeteria Catholic either.

Much in the same, if a priest wishes to emphasize the community part of "communion" when celebrating the Mass, I don't believe people should get bent out of shape if they have to shake hands or if they take an extra few minutes for the Sign of Peace. I do believe that there are certain aspects of the Mass that need to remain solemn, and perhaps different things should be done at different times, but the act(s) can only benefit the parish at large, not detract from it.

Whichever way people try to define my parish priest , he was always the biggest influence in me following my vocation. He's not perfect, he's a little pudgy, and I even heard him swear a few times. But he is a good man and a great priest. When priests like him are given labels, it insults not only everything he's done in the name of God, but every life he's touched...including mine.

So for Fr. Dick, Fr. Rudy, Fr. Mike, Fr. Michael, and all the great priests out there who give up time, effort, and everything included in their vows to create a better world for the lowliest and most outcast members of society...continue to inspire us to become better than who we are, and never let someone use their idea of Catholicism to label you and your ministry.

Finally Back From Detroit

Look how tired I am from this long weekend!

Actually, this was a pic taken down at St. Clare Friary in Chicago. This is where I began my weekend ministry with the new candidates looking at joining the Capuchins. Every October, the Vocations Department plans an event to tour the different ministries in Detroit. Along with information and scenes, there's the opportunity to talk to friars, other candidates who are discerning, and of course current Postulants who can talk about their experience with the order. I was one of the first selected to help John and Jerry with their weekend this year.

The drive was extremely long. Traffic from Milwaukee to Chicago was horrible, the weather just sucked when driving the seven hours from CHI to DET, and there were 11 of us crammed into a fleet van. Since I have "more to love," it's quite obvious that I was rather uncomfortable.
The Director of the Capuchin Food Pantry explains how things work to the visiting candidates. Rich Reinhardt (in the middle with the tote bag)displays his suspicion with the now-patented "eyebrow look."

After some well-needed rest and a few beers to end the day, we got up early Saturday and began our tour of Detroit. We visited the various Soup Kitchens run by the Caps to give the candidates a sense of our presence in DET. One of the things many people are surprised by is not the existence of a "bad neighborhood," but how empty this metropolis actually is. Driving by abandoned lots, burned out houses, bombed-out factories, and abandoned homes with stuffed teddy bears nailed to the siding, the sadness in this city never ceases to amaze me.

They say haunted houses aren't real. I think this place is the exception to the rule, because it still creeps me out!

At the end of the day of visiting ministries, we took a drive up to Washington, MI...about 45 minutes north of Detroit. Here in Washington we have one of our three retreat houses. With 95 acres of property to roam and explore, a great spiritual direction staff, and a cool whippet who's always looking for attention, this place is always nice to visit. I told the candidates that before making a decision, I talked to the director about having a 3 day retreat to really clear my head and assess my next move in life. I ended up not taking that retreat, but I think I found the right answer, regardless.

After returning to CHI from Detroit, and then to MKE, I am glad to be back in my room, listening to my music, while typing on my laptop. But each time I travel to the different ministries of the Capuchins, I'm reminded of one very important thing: each friary is my home.

As a brother (well, still technically a Postulant) my home is wherever a friary exists. My stuff might be at one friary, my office may be at another, my mail might even go to a third; but in each of those places I am invited to participate in the community just like here. There are moments in my reflection where I realize how wonderful it is to live this religious life: knowing that no matter where I go, I have a place to go and family waiting to share a laugh.

Another Day, Another Arguement

I hate to disillusion anyone out there, but there is a bit of truth when it comes to religious life: not everyone gets along. I've seen nuns yell at nuns, priests go at each other like a boxing match, and brothers within community say some of the most hateful things to each other.

No wonder there's a reality show about living in religious life; sometimes my life is like Big Brother...just without the sex and no one gets kicked out if we don't win the challenge.

The reality here is that I live with 12 other personalities. While we are brought together under our common charism of living our lives as St. Francis did in imitation of Christ, sometimes we also find creative ways to piss each other off. It could be as stupid as whether or not pancake syrup should go in the cupboard or the fridge (like it even matters), or as big as finding each others hot buttons, and randomly pushing them to see what happens.

Sometimes I prefer hiding in my room, lost in my books and the occasional game of FIFA soccer on my computer. After experiencing much of my life on my own, there are some aspects of community life that just grate on my nerves. But rather than start an issue, I realize it is something I must deal with, and in those instances I choose to just blow off steam.

For others, it's harder to change their ways...and I am concerned for their future here. Living in community is a wonderful idea, especially when drawn to live the life of a Franciscan friar, but the reality is that you must do away with much of your old lifestyle. No more eating when you want, no more slacking off on your chores (or one main chore that you have for the house), there are differences of opinion, differences of politics, differences of theology...and all live with you. The joy is to find a way to make that work for you. The pain is finding out it doesn't work at all.

Most recently, I've seen some of my brothers get into it over simple kitchen things. Clashes of personality happen, and while some are quick to settle anything down, I rather prefer to let people have it out. Communication is the key in any relationship, and if the only way to communicate your needs is shouting at one another...well at least it's a start!

I may facilitate some kind of dialogue with the guys, some free area where we're allowed to voice our concerns, pet peeves, annoyances, and things that just make us furious.

Or maybe a cage match for us to go at it...I could always sell tickets and make extra money for the Order.

Lord, help me from throttling my fellow brothers!

Masculine Spirituality, Part 1

This evening, I attended a talk by the House Vicar and one of my favorite friars here at St. Conrad's Friary. He spoke at a parish outside of Milwaukee about something I'd never heard before: "Masculine Spirituality."

While the name sounds somewhat exclusive and possibly even a little off-putting to some, Fr. Martin Pable O.F.M. Cap. actually discusses the sense of spirituality for men as a direct reaction to many of the spiritual needs of guys today. Marty is always aware of the concerns some have about the patriarchal view that some have of the Catholic Church, so when he invited me to his talk, I knew it would be masculine, not chauvinistic.

As a 33 year old guy who used to live and breathe in the society of competition and expectations, much of what Marty spoke about really hit home. He talked about the drive the we have (either by our own thinking or the sociological definitions) to acquire things to fill our void. We discussed the ever present fallacy that "hard work leads to success," when in fact many men who work hard find themselves climbing the ladder to success with only an empty reward. And last but not least, the level of stress the we build for ourselves, leading to far more self-destructive behavior such as health problems, higher capacity for addictions, relationship problems with family or spouse, and removing God from the center of our focus.

It was interesting to talk with the group of 30-35 other men who showed up to listen to Marty speak; the admiration and the undivided attention he received was proof enough that Marty knew what he was talking about. We broke off into groups and shared different aspects of our life and how we've tried to find ways to include faith as a bigger factor in our daily lives. Whether they were fathers, real estate brokers, mechanics, or retired, it was a wonderful experience to watch these men bond and share similar stories in life.

In a few weeks, I'll attend a week-long seminar regarding the male spirituality. For those interested, I'll be sure to save my notes and share what I've learned. In the meantime, I'd highly suggest buying Marty's book: The Quest for the Male Soul. It's only $10 new, and I think it gives a wonderful insight into the topic of male spirituality and perhaps may even move you to rethink your relationship with God, family, work, and hopefully yourself.

Let us no longer judge one another, but rather resolve never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. Romans 14:13

Refilling My Cup

I finished the "plunge immersions" yesterday afternoon at 4, and I felt just horrible. It's something I'm still working on.

I've been talked to with regards to over-exerting myself, not making personal time, and simply doing too much. On the one hand, I'm proud to be known as the over-achiever. On the other, I have days like yesterday, where I was cranky, moody, listless, and simply drained from the intense week.

A few weeks ago, in a workshop on contemplative prayer, we talked about "refilling our cup." As Capuchins, we're called to give and give and give, but we have to find ways to nourish our spiritual life in order to have energy for the tasks we do. We learned different methods from mantras, Lexio Divina, the Jesuit Examen reflection, and some rather unorthodox methods as well.

Today I feel much better, having found a way to revive myself for the next week of work. I have a workshop this evening as well labeled, "An Evening for Men:" a reflection in masculine spirituality.

In the meantime, I will contemplate in a way that is therapeutic for me...cleaning my room.

Prayer for 29th Sunday in OT:
Almighty and ever-living God,
our source of power and inspiration,
give us strength and joy
in serving you as followers of Christ,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.

Busy Plunge Weekend

This week will be another that I'll remain busy. Sometimes I envy the guys who only have to go to their ministry a few hours a day during the week. Because of the nature of mine, I sometimes have engagements on the weekends, during holidays, and usually when the other guys have time off. Like tonight is our "basketball night," however I won't be able to go because I have my ministry. I'm learning about ministries and sacrifices.

A "plunge," or "Milwaukee Experience" as it's also known, is an opportunity for high school students, college students, or anyone to get a first-hand look at the life of the poor, hungry, and homeless of Milwaukee really live. Most event start off with a tour of St. Ben's Church along with a history lesson of the Capuchins and their work with African Americans and the homeless in MKE. Afterwards, they get into line with the other guests to not serve the meal, but to sit and eat along with the other guests.

The group gets to see other places of ministry such as some shelters, movies regarding social justice, and participate in a Service Project while they are here in MKE.

Tonight we have two groups: a group of guys from St. Lawrence Seminary and a group of girls from DSHA (Divine Savior, Holy Angels)...both high school. While the SLS guys will get rooms here at my friary, the girls will stay in some of the rooms above the church on their sleeping bags. It seems kind of wrong to have kids come and sleep on the floor, but this is an immersion experience...and I suppose if I wanted to be hardcore, they could sleep under the porch of the friary and really get a first-hand look!

For a deeper explanation on what the plunge is, you can check here on St. Ben's website.

Hopefully I don't mess anything up!

Daytime Responsory:
Clothe yourself with gentleness,
and be renewed in faith,
which is the flesh of the Lord,
and in love, which is the blood of Jesus Christ.
-Faith, indeed, is...

Meme: Top 5 Googles

Like any other blogger, I worked at growing my list of readers and increasing my chances of a google hit. It's an elegant dance: on the one hand you want everyone to read your weblog; on the other you don't want to sell out your story just so you can be the next Tila Tequila. I always kept my story first.

While looking at my blog tracker, I noticed odd search queries that brought my blogs up on the front page of google. For lack of any better topic, (current postulancy and lifetime commitment notwithstanding), I decided to create a new meme.

The following is a list of 5 different search queries that will bring up my blog on the first page of a google search. Feel free to test them out for yourselves!

1. "Capuchin vocations" - An easy one, since most of my blogs as of late have dealt with my acceptance as a postulant. Nothing new here.

2. "St. Vito" - Top hit on google, which makes me think I should do more about my patron saint.

3. "All time greatest 80's rock songs" - I still find it wild that even after writing that blog over a year ago, it's still one of my biggest visited posts. Hair bands will never die!

4. "Tobwin Dodge" - An erroneous spelling of Towbin Dodge, the famous dealership in Las Vegas from the show "King of Cars." Sometimes I miss the sales business.

5. " [title here] song meaning" Many of the visits I've seen on my tracker are people looking for lyrics and meanings to many of the songs I found spiritually important to me. "Life By the Drop," "One Thing," "Ramblin' Rover," and many other titles, some of them I've almost forgotten, compose many of my viewings.

While I'm not interested in just numbers anymore, I do find the blogging phenomenon still interesting. My purpose behind this has since changed, but I find that when spreading a message, one should use any method available to get someone's attention...even if people are just surfing through to look at some Bloom County images I have on one of my earlier posts. Whatever gets the message across...

It's late and I have class tomorrow. I need to stop rambling and sleep.

Callixtus, martyr and pope, pray for us.

Hitting the Books

Among many of my different tasks as a postulant is to do plenty of reading. The life of Francis of Assisi alone is an omnibus broken into three different books to study. These next two weeks we are focusing on the Catechism.

It's been a while for many of us, but during this year we will make our way through the entire Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC). For some of the guys, the list of rules and doctrines is rather boring and hard to grasp. Fortunately for me, much of this book is rather fun to read for me.

The USCCC presents the CCC in a way that's much easier, practical, and smoother to read and digest. Not only does it give a concise explanation of the different doctrines, but gives history, examples, and even questions that one may have in regards to any given catechism.

A few other books that I read along with the required readings are the Holy Quran, several books on spirituality including The Holy Longing by Ronald Rolheiser, the history of the Capuchin Franciscans, and the heavy Code of Canon Law.

Some people make fun of the fact that I'm eagerly reading about Canon Law. "Be careful reading that book," one of the friars told me. "They (the order) may want you to become a canon lawyer!" While much of canon law is related to marriage and annulments these days, I do see a ministry opportunity there as well. There are many people who are away from the Church because of marriages that didn't work out and were not able to get an annulment. While there are strict rules regarding these actions, there's a part of me that sees these people being marginalized from the Church. Sometimes I wonder if all those defections from the Catholic faith that I hear about stem from a person's inability to practice their faith because of a divorce.

I'm not a supporter of divorce or even having kids out of wedlock; hell I made it to age 33 without either of those events transpiring in my life. However as I live this life, I'm forced to look at things from a new perspective. I've stopped seeing just the "right and wrong," rather I try to look for ways to bring all people back to the faith.

These are big questions that require big discussions and a lot more reading. If there's only one absolute I can write this evening, it is that reading has got my mind going, and I'm excited to be learning once again.

Intercession: Christ our light, brighten your Church with your splendor, so that it may be for the nations the great sacrament of your love.

Running At Full Steam

Back in the day when I sold cars, I worked at two speeds: stop and full bore. When I am into something, I jump in and give everything I can to it...the figurative "110%." Not long after becoming a Postulant here in Milwaukee, I realized that things haven't changed much.

I've received a lot of positive feedback about the Vocation Update that I wrote for the province (check here). Many of the responses I've gotten echo the same sentiment: "Man, you need to slow down a little bit!"

There are times that I wonder if I choose to work this way because it is truly my personality or maybe I'm trying to prove something to others. Do I work hard because I feel there is a genuine need, or am I hoping to impress people with my piety and devotion to the Order? Is my work a way to escape or perhaps cover-up something about myself that I don't like?

I sit with these questions at times, trying to offer them to God for some kind of resolution. I hear only the call to work for those who can't help themselves, to be a voice for those that cannot speak up...to be an example for others to continue the work I've started.

This week I have another full schedule: tomorrow I go to MSDF (Milwaukee Secure Detention Facility) for jail ministry, I have a full week at St. Ben's, Friday I have a Plunge Event that will carry over until Saturday morning, I need to ship a return package, submit my budget for the month, music practice tomorrow at 7:00 PM, and have Chapters 9 & 10 of the CCC read by Tuesday.

With so much to do, how can one not run at 110%?

Ant: You have left everything to follow me; you will have it all returned a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.

Beginning Again

Almost four months ago, I stopped writing my journal. Here I am again, putting my thoughts into text - mostly as a way for me to construct my thoughts, think prayerfully, and have something to reflect on later in my life. While I can't guarantee much for the reader, I can guarantee that these are my true feelings, expressions, works, and thoughts as I work through this year of my life.

For those of you unfamiliar with my story up to this point, I highly suggest (if at all interested) listening to the interview I did with Dick Gordon on NPR. While that life seems long ago, it's an important reason of why I am here, and the first opportunity I had to really be a witness for what I believe.

I will try to journal as often as possible, but as you will soon read my schedule is quite hectic. However I've learned that keeping a journal is an important part to discernment, to one's prayer life, even to the spiritual well-being of a Postulant. So I continue again, hoping not to let my God-given talent go to waste.

The following link is an article I wrote for Vocation Update, a newsletter about vocations in our province. While I wrote the article at 2AM, I think it gives an accurate account of what MY experience has been here in Milwaukee as a Capuchin Franciscan. CLICK HERE

Ant. Protect us, Lord, as we stay awake; watch over us as we sleep.

Guide to Buying Used Car Part 1: Knowing the Process

My first round in the sales business was at the store everybody knows. I wore the blue shirt and khakis, I told people how I wasn't on commission, and while I was never paid extra I worked my butt off to sell those Extended Service Plans. Fun Fact: If you ever get into one of those high-pressure situations and the sales guy tells you he's not on commission, tell him: "Lucky for you then, huh?" and walk away without saying another thing.

One of the first things "Big Blue" taught me, as with any other large business, is how to actually sell something. The process is as old as the first caveman traded a spear for a woman, but the fundamentals never change:

Greeting: "Hi, welcome to G.T Autos. My name is Vito, and you are...?" Make a good first impression on the customer, make them feel welcome. Try to get them to smile, even laugh. Find common ground.

Gathering Information: Your customer is at your store for a specific reason. If they are looking for a computer, find out what kind? Desktop or notebook? Who's going to use it? What are you using it for? As you ask, you learn more about what the customer's needs are.

Recommend - Isolate: After listening to the needs and wants of your customer, show them the item that best fits their description. Should the customer object, reiterate their wants and needs and explain how this item is better than the others around.

Close: After showing the customer the item that best suits their needs, get a commitment to buy from the customer. Your product knowledge as well as your gathered information will help you overcome customer objections.

In any sport or competition, if you know what your opponent is doing, you'll have the edge. While we're not engaging in physical acts of strength and agility to buy a used car, there is a level of competition that can't be ignored. Because of our egos, we don't like to be tricked into buying something. We like to earn a deal, we don't like to be given one. We'd rather buy from someone we know, even if they're clueless about the product, then buy from an informed stranger.

Sales people know this, and these are tools that they use to "push" you in the direction they want you to go. The best can gently push you so far off your target, you end up buying something completely different than what you planned. There is a way to avoid this, and I'll get further in detail later. For now, let's agree that if it benefits the seller to know the buyer's actions, the same must be true in reverse.

Here's another example: Studies and market samples show that car buying habits are broken down into 4 major decisions. Depending on the buyer, those decisions can take as short as a day and as long as 8 months. Whether it be a widget, a service, or personal property, all purchases must go through this 4-step decision before a customer buys:

Exposure (Average time - Instantaneous): You see a commercial for the new BMW M5. You're buddy tells you about the new pair of Nike's he bought. You see your neighbor's new deck and think you might want one yourself. Something sparks your interest in a particular item. In most cases, a need for a new or second vehicle (gas prices, child leaving for college, growing family) is the initial exposure to buying a car.

Gather Information (Average time - 2 weeks to 6 months): You've accepted that you need a new vehicle, but which one should you get? Do you want to buy/lease a new vehicle, or just a used car? How much can you spend? Should I buy a domestic or an import? Since the decision to buy a vehicle involves so many choices and considerations, the gathering of information should take the longest part of the entire process.

Decision to Buy (Average time - 3 days to 2 weeks): After examining all the options, making a list of the pro's and con's, and maybe even settling on the specific make and model of vehicle you want, so begins the process of buying the car. You are still gathering information, but this process is more of a personal decision to spend the money and make the purchase. Will it cost more than you have? Where will you get the best bang for your buck? Do you truly need a car, or do you just want one?

Act of Buying/Delivery (Instantaneous - 30 minutes): This is the awkward climax that some of us love and others hate. This is the reason you bring friends along and why you feel nervous about the vehicle. This is why companies like CARFAX, Edmund's, and Consumer Reports make money hand over fist. This is why we tell friends we bought something and lie to make it sound like we got a better deal. This is the knowledge that you will buy this item, and you need only give them the funds to end the transaction.

The big question you probably want answered: "What do these things have to do with my car buying experience?"

These last four steps are key to any salesperson's approach. If you walk on the lot and I know you're still at step two, I tailor my approach to match. A guy walks onto the lot and tells me: "My buddy got a Honda last week, says it's great on gas. What can you tell me about that Civic over there?" Obviously he's just been exposed to the Honda brand; closing a deal on this guy would be considered offensive. My method of attack: become a walking Mexican of Knowledge, give him product knowledge, acclaims and benefits of the vehicle, show him the history of the car, and perhaps even let him test drive the vehicle. I may ask a few "closing questions," but I know that aggressive sales will backfire.

One day I met a woman who was looking at our Honda's in the pouring rain. As we stood outside in the storm, she told me how during the closing at another dealership, the owner changed the price at the last moment, hoping she'd be fed up and pay anyway. She left angry, depressed, and with $6500 in her hip pocket. She was on Step 4 already and suffered from the same problem many of us face: we don't want to do the whole thing again. Within an hour she left with a 1995 Honda Accord with good mileage and warranty for under $5500. By knowing which part of the sales process she was at, I adjusted accordingly.

In much the same way, you can use the sales process to your advantage.

Answer to the Greeting: If you're absolutely sure you don't want information, there's ways out. Keep in mind, if you want questions asked about a car later, you may be labeled as a "tire kicker" and have to come back another time:

  • Start a fight with your boy/girl friend. Nothing's more awkward than trying to talk about cars with a couple who are obviously having a tiff. If you're with your significant other to browse for cars, plan to act mad at each other. If you don't drive off the sales guy, he'll definitely back off.
  • If you have your iPaq or Blackberry stand at the front of the cars and walk with it in one hand and your stylus in the other. If you're approached, just wave, smile non-nonchalantly and tell them: "I'm just grabbing VIN numbers." If you've ever worked in the car business, you'll know why this trick works.
  • Look like a salesman. Walk fast, talk fast, and have that "I want to sell you something" grin on your face. Dealerships are bombarded daily with people who are trying to sell them something. If they think you are a solicitor, or you're just stopping for your lunch hour, you'll be left alone.
Answer to Probing Questions: This part actually is beneficial to you. Information is what you are after, and if the person you're talking to is truly benefiting your shopping experience.