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.