Day 85: A Quick Change In Plans

Obviously I was leading up to something big with the last few posts. It seems that things have changed a little, so I had to re-evaluate my plans.

My original idea was to walk to Chicago. Partly as a pilgrimage, partly as a way to transition from one life to the next. 150 miles in 6 days; stopping at different churches along the way. In my mind, I'd already thought about the dangers, joys, and possibilities that might arise from such a quest.

For the past month, I've begun training for this walk. If you know me, you know I'm not the most physical guy in the world. Most wouldn't think I could walk 1 mile, most assuredly not 150. However since I've started walking, I do about 4-5 miles each walk. This week I walked home from work and walked back the next morning. Little by little, I'm becoming more active.

However this week a change came about, something we considered but nothing we thought would happen...

I am no longer going to Chicago for my Postulancy. This August the class of postulants have been moved. All 8 of us will now spend the year in Milwaukee, not Chicago.

The reason behind the move is pure logistics. With 8 postulants, 8 post-novices, and 7 professed brothers, 23 people is too big a number for the small friary in Chicago. Perhaps a bigger one needs to be built, perhaps they need to re-assess their setup. Regardless, the problem is still an amiable one: theres too many guy who want to join! (so much for the priest shortage)

Milwaukee actually offers more than Chicago in terms of ministry through the Capuchin Order. In Milwaukee there is the House of Peace, 2 Capuchin parishes, a soup kitchen, prison outreach, and a host of other ministries in the city. By being where the Capuchins are strongest, we have a greater opportunity to work with the other professed brothers and ensure that this is what we want to do with the rest of our lives.

So it's good...and bad.

In my mind, I had envisioned how the next year would go. I'd be living in Chicago, I was learning the area, it was closer to home, I even knew the friary inside and out. This was something new, something I was not accustomed to. It was weird at first; hard to actually digest. I was going somewhere new. I was going somewhere new the first time, but I'd come to terms with the was my second home.

In retrospect, the move is good for all. One thing I need to leave behind is this notion of what I am used to. The next year will bring many new experiences, some of which I will not be comfortable with. It is time to embrace that which is new and different, and although I have to rethink this idea of a walk, I am happy to serve wherever the Order sends me.

I will still wear my Red Wing's and Lion's jerseys with pride, even if I AM in big cheese country.

The Long Road to Priesthood, Part 2

Soon after Francis of Assisi received his command to rebuild the Church, he decided to take a pilgrimage to Rome. He walked the 120+ miles from Assisi to Rome in modest clothing. He took no luxuries, he did not ride a steed. He walked the entire way, secure in the knowledge that his pilgrimage was not extravagant.

When he finally arrived at Rome, he did not do the usual sight-seeing as any other tourist. He didn't stay in a hotel, he didn't enjoy a nice meal at a quaint restaurant. He joined the other beggars in Rome as if they were his brothers, and lived amongst the poor his entire time. He had learned to find Christ in the poorest of poor and the most decrepit of lepers; he would not find Christ among the upper class visitors or the rich clergy.

He begged for his meals, sometimes eating the leftovers of some family's dinner. All the alms that he was given he gave to the church; it wasn't that the church needed his small coins from his change purse, but he no longer had a desire for money.

What kind of conversion does it take to go from a life of luxury to one of extreme poverty. Even if one only gives up ownership of needless possessions and luxuries, how does one go from having the world at his fingertips to deciding what is important and what is within his meager budget?

Scholars assume that Francis knew what he wanted to do before he left for Rome, but maybe that journey convinced him of how he was supposed to live his life? Perhaps the 6-7 days it took to walk those 120 miles gave him enough of an insight into himself that by the time he reached Rome, he knew exactly what God was asking of him. Maybe he wasn't even exactly sure; but maybe he had a good idea.

According to the Catholic Church, a pilgrimage is taken for one of three reasons:

  1. to make a trip to a place of great religious importance
  2. to make a trip for the purposes of healing, either physical or emotional
  3. to fulfill an obligation, such as a commandment from God.
While I've go not great place to go, and not in need of healing, I often question what it is I'm being asked to do. Becoming a Capuchin is only the beginning; it is the means to accomplish whatever plan God has in store for me. The scary thing is that at this point in my life, I don't think he has just one thing, but a list of things he wants me to accomplish, either for my good or the good of someone else.

I have 90 days left here in the "free world," however I'm already training for this big change in my life. I think I have something great left to do before I am a Postulant, something that I will remember for the rest of my life. And each night I pray that I have the strength to go through with this journey...

The Long Road to Priesthood, Part 1

Once there was a young boy who dreamed of being a knight.

His father was a clothing merchant, and he was not of aristocratic blood, so he had very little chance of ever becoming a knight. Yet he saw the men in the shiny armor, he saw how proud they sat on their horses, with their shields held close and their swords hanging from their belt. He saw how people respected these men, how these knights had power, status, and money. He knew that he wanted to be a knight more than anything in the world. If could only do that, he'd make his family proud.

After many years, his father acquired the money to send his son to help reclaim the Holy Land. He spared no expense: his armor was custom built, the breastplate was inlaid with jewels, and his cloak was woven with strings of gold. Dressed in this glorious suit, the man who had once been a boy had achieved his dream, and he basked in the status and the glory he received, knowing one day he would be a prince.

But soon after he set out to join his comrades at arms, he had a dream. Sleeping heartily, fulfilled in life and sure that he was impressing others with his status and wealth, he had a dream that changed his life.

"Who can give you more? The master or the servant?" the voice in his dream asked of him.
"The master," he responded.
"Then why do you abandoning the master for the servant and the prince for the vassal?"

Realizing that he was having a conversation with God, he asked: "What do wish me to do, Lord?"

"Return home, and you will be told what you must do."

What went through the boy's head as he headed home, giving up his dream of status and power? Was he disappointed to be within grasp of glory, only to be commanded elsewhere? What he exuberant to be free of the desires for worldly possessions? What went through his mind as he returned?

Perhaps there was no great catharsis as he returned to his home, having failed to accomplish the goal that the others had found lofty. Perhaps in that time he spent, walking home after selling his armor (he couldn't come home with his armor pristine), he simply learned how to transition one life following a dream into another life of following his Calling. If this child's return tells us anything, it's that we can be called even when we're not ready...even when we've got our own plans. Sometimes it takes a huge change and some time in contemplation to really understand.

The young man would walk farther distances as he tried to understand where God was commanding him to work. But that's another story for another day.

Day 95: "The Story" with Dick Gordon

As I became more sure of my vocation, I found myself telling everyone I could. Only months before, I hid this part of my life like a dark secret, ashamed or maybe unworthy of the desire that stirred inside of me. These days, I'll tell almost anyone about my vocation story: strangers, customers, even talk radio shows.

For those unfamiliar with NPR, one of it's more endearing programs is called The Story. It's a candid look at regular people in America doing extraordinary things in their lives. I remember years ago hearing a story of an 80 year old man who decided to join the seminary after his wife of nearly 50 years passed. It's a show that brings stories of interest, wonder, hope, and even laughter.

Several weeks past I sent them an email about my life and what I was deciding. In short time I was contacted by the studio and scheduled for a phone interview. Today I went into the local NPR studio at Grand Valley State University and recorded my story with Dick Gordon. I'm not sure if there was an empty slot or if they found my story extremely interesting, but my story will air tomorrow on NPR.

For you readers, you will know most of the story that I talk about. If you wish to listen, check your local NPR station to see when the program airs in your area. If you miss it, it will be available from their site: I'll find a way to link the interview after it is posted.

The important thing for me is to tell my story. It's not about fame, or feeling important. It's part of the ministry. This is part of what I've been called to do. And while my voice wasn't always steady, and I was quite nervous during the whole ordeal, I enjoyed the opportunity for others to hear my story and hopefully find something good in even the most mundane of circumstances.

Day 96: Recovery From God's Wrath

Okay, so maybe I'm being over-dramatic. But trust me: once you spend a day not being able to keep food or drink down, you might find yourself on your knees, with your hands on the porcelain throne, praying either for repentance or that The Almighty might strike you down and end your suffering.

Friday morning I awoke groggily. I debated going on my walk; I chose to lay down again. I considered getting up 15 minutes later; I rolled over in my bed. At 8:10AM I shot out of bed with a wave of nausea, thinking only about getting to the bathroom before staining the carpet. I still tried to work Friday, but after 3 more "trips" to the restroom, I decided to suffer alone and in the comfort of my bed rather than the office.

I could go on, but I think you get the idea - the point isn't to gross everyone out. While the affliction lasted only half a day (which was plenty long enough), I spent the weekend recovering from the dehydration and mal-nutrition effects.

First and foremost: no I was not drinking the night before. I have my share of This one time when we got really wasted stories; this is not one of them. I've come to four possible conclusions as to why I spent Friday in complete misery (seriously, I wasn't drinking!):

  1. Egg Salad Poisoning. It's a well-publicized urban legend that eating gas-station egg-salad sandwiches will give you worms. Thursday evening, in our rush to get out to the fishing hole before the day's light ran out, I threw caution to the wind and decided that egg salad couldn't be as bad as they say. I ate the first part and let the other half sit for an hour in the car before finishing it up. Yum.
  2. Malaria. I mentioned before how I had mosquito bites on top of my mosquito bites. Several nights spent fishing I was only wearing a short-sleeve shirt and shorts: a blood-sucker's free-for-all. Along with the stomach issues I had chills, a possible fever, and I couldn't focus my mind on anything. It seems that when you're sick, your mind fixates on the wildest thoughts.
  3. Hydrochlorothiozide. I was prescribed this medication months ago to help control my blood pressure. Because of my hatred for pills, I never took them. Yet when I refilled my seizure medication last week, I decided to "man up" and start taking these meds as well. The episode could have been a huge side-effect to the medication.
  4. The most probable answer - I incurred the Immediate and Omnipotent Wrath of the Almighty. Since hearing from the Capuchins that I had been accepted, my life hasn't changed much yet. In fact, I found myself slipping further back into my old ways-habits and activities that most would consider unproductive or un-Christian. I know He's given me nudges in a certain direction before; it's entirely possible a stronger nudge is used from time to time.
Regardless of why the episode happened, the real eye-opener for me was how my brothers from Chicago called and emailed me all Friday and Saturday, leaving messages of concern. Here I was, less than 100 days from starting a "new" path, and I'd almost found my way back down the spiral: I was smoking again, spending money without forethought, acting lazily and without thought to others, being selfish, slothful, lustful, envious...I'm not trying to be a person without sin, I'm trying to be a person who's aware of his sins.

I've spend the past week being "sales guy;" maybe deep inside, I'm still a little scared of what it means to be "religious guy."

Maybe I'll write a screenplay when this is all over, a big thick manuscript in perfect New Courier font, so that someday readers, family, friends, or just curious minds can see what it's like for someone to go from one extreme in life to the next.

If only there were some experience, something metaphoric, life-changing, and inspiring, that would prove to me, and just me, that this whole priest/friar/Franciscan thing is for real...

Day 100: Schedule Change

With the number of days until postulancy down to double digits, I'm still having a hard time switching my mindset from "sales guy" to "Franciscan guy." I've managed to stay out of the bars, avoid "complex" situations with the opposite sex, maintain a daily prayer life, and I'm far more giving as a salesman.

But while the priorities in my life haven't reverted back to money and status, it's hard to act like a postulant...I'm not sure how I'm supposed to act now.

As I sit in front of my notebook, furiously itching the numerous mosquito bites that riddle my body (long story), I realize that even though my goals throughout the day are different, my life will have much the same schedule.

This is my average day now:

6:30-7:00 Get up and take my morning walk.

8:00 Shower after my walk, or if I decided to sleep in, wake up and stumble into the shower.

9:00 Start work at the dealership. Look up emails from, return phone messages, prepare for any closings for that day.

10:00-4:00 Lots of busy work. The occasional customer comes in to buy a car, but much of this time is filled answering phone calls, updating the website, booking cars, paperwork, and dealing with previous customers. While this is considered dull to most people, it's an important part of maintaining a dealership.

5:00-6:30 Rush hour. The lot gets packed with "up's" driving through after work to look at cars. Appointments are often scheduled for this time, and many times I stay after we close at 6 PM.

7:00-9:00 Recreation time. Sometimes this means a few hours at the driving range, fishing with the guys at the river, or playing a game of FIFA 08 on the computer when I get home. This is where I wind down from the day in a constructive manner.

10:00-Midnight Housekeeping. I take the time to straighten up my room, play a little guitar, update my blog, chat with other Catholics, and all the other things I don't do during the day. I attempt to read 3 different books (one about St. Francis, one about spirituality, one about playing poker) and eventually I fall asleep.

As a postulant, here's how I project that my life will be:

6:00 Wake up. Get my blood moving then hop in the shower.

7:00-8:00 Meditation starts at ten after. We gather in silence to be in the presence of the Lord. At 7:15 is morning prayer in accordance with the Daily Roman Missal. At 7:30 is mass. Afterwards we gather for a quick breakfast before we start our day.

9:00-4:00 Depending on the day, this time is spent in class or out in Chicago at a specific ministry. Previous postulants have worked at places such as elderly homes for the poor, schools for inner city kids, hospitals for the mentally challenged, and even prison ministry. I will have the opportunity to chose which ministry to work in during the first month in Chicago. Most of the time is spent doing things most people wouldn't want to do, but this is an important part of the formation process.

5:00 Community time. No, we don't get in a big circle and share our feelings while singing happy songs (although there's no rule that says we CAN'T do that). Brothers return for the day, and time is spent in the common room discussing the day, current events, who's the greatest Halo 3 player, et cetera.

6:00 Evening prayer. We gather again to give thanks for the day, in accordance with the Daily Roman Missal. One or two brothers my be absent from evening prayer as they are preparing the evening meal.

7:00-9:00 Dinnertime. While some eat then return to their rooms, most spend the time to continue talking, joking, etc. A few brothers are scheduled to clean up the table (remember there's 15+ brothers) while the rest either continue talking in the common room or head to their rooms for various activities (watch a movie, play guitar, write their blog, personal prayer.)

10:00-Midnight The day ends, and people wind down in their own ways. I still try to read 3 different books at the same time, and fall asleep to prepare for another day.

Perhaps the change isn't in the activities or even the times, but in the realization that instead of waking up to make money, I will be waking up to make a difference. There is no monthly goal to meet, no cars that need to be pushed, customers to call and verify, prices to negotiate, or gross profit to calculate. And while I can't wait to experience the live that lies ahead, I know I am scared to leave the "successful" way of life behind.

For a deeper understanding of what it's like to live as a postulant, I encourage you to read David's daily blog, found in my list of other blogs.

Day 103: The Final Chapter

I've considered ending this blog after being accepted. By no means is my journey over; there's another 6 or 7 years before taking any permanent vows. In life, our times are divided into different chapters. These chapters are the building blocks of our lives as we travel from one life-changing event to the next. When we turn the last page on one part of our lives, we begin a new story.

By receiving the call last Friday and being accepted as a Postulant, a significant part of my mind has been put at ease: the part that quietly told me how I wasn't good enough. This vocation, this journey, is no longer a dream; it has become real. Because of this I see myself changing, I can even feel it, in everything I say or do. I think the days of "Vito the salesman" are coming to a close, and with it I will end this tale.

But before this story is over, there's 103 days left. And I promise, there's plenty of interesting things left to come. I spoke several weeks back of some big news (other than the obvious decision from the Admissions Board of the Capuchins), and I am still debating if I am going through with this "extra" plan. Part of me feels it would merely be an overt display of my faith and serves no real cause. The other part of me feels that I have the opportunity to do something amazing that I will remember for the rest of my life; something that will exemplify this long road.

Right Here Waiting

I'm a big fan of Staind. Not only do I like the music, it seems like every song fits into the soundtrack of my discernment. I've written before about the song "It's Been Awhile" and how I felt about my return to my faith.

It seems that stories of redemption, awakening, or enlightenment aren't just confined to stories of vocations. Average people like me, superstars like Staind; everyone has a story about their sense of self. As a Capuchin, I want to keep exploring these stories as well as tell mine to everyone I can.

So here we are...the day of reckoning.

I've willed myself to stop worrying. God's will is God's will. One of the hardest things I've had to learn in going from "sales guy" to "religious guy" is that I am NOT completely in control of my destiny. God has a plan, and regardless of what I want...God's plans and mine might not always go in sync. I still struggle with this concept, but I can accept whatever answer the Admissions Board renders.

I have little else to say until after I get the phonecall. I leave you with fitting lyrics from a favorite song:

I know I've been mistaken
But just give me a break and see the changes that I've made
I've got some imperfections
But how can you collect them all and throw them in my face

But you always find way to keep me right here waiting
You always find the words to keep me right here waiting
And if you chose to walk away I'd still be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep you right here waiting

I hope you're not intending
To be so condescending it's as much as I can take
And you're so independent
You just refuse to bend so I keep bending til I break

But you always find a way to keep my right here waiting
You always find the words to keep me right here waiting
And if you chose to walk away I'd still be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep you right here waiting

I've made a commitment
I'm willing to bleed for you
I need fulfillment
I found what I need in you

Why can't you just forgive me
I don't want to relive all the mistakes that I made along the way

But I always find a way to keep you right here waiting
And I always find the words to say to keep you right here waiting

But you always find a way to keep me right here waiting
You always find the words to say to keep me right here waiting
And if I chose to walk away you would be right here waiting
Searching for the things to say to keep me right here waiting

(15 minutes after this post, I was called by the Capuchin Franciscans and accepted as a Postulant for the Order)