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.