Capuchin Vocation Update for February

Once again, I was a part of the Capuchin Vocations Update distributed by our province. The other guys tease me because my story and my ministry are so frequently written about, both by the order and by others. Realistically, I'm the "writer" of the group, so quite often my stories, which contain many aspects of this life here, are used by the Vocations Office to help show possible candidates what it is like to live in religious life.

This particular picture was taken inside of St. Ben's church. Both Br. Dave and I gave them a history of the church, the mission and outreach, and the continued ministries that exist at St. Ben's, including the community meal six days a week.

The other guys in the photo include candidates who plan on being postulants next year, Parker (directly behind me) who is a postulant in my class, and Fr. John Holly and Br. Jerry Johnson, the Vocation Directors for the Capuchin province.

As always, if you have more questions about the Capuchins and what we do, visit

Get Your Ashes?

Today began the next phase of our Liturgical calendar. While I didn't receive ashes until about 7 at night, my Lenten fast and penitential list started at midnight last night. Those that know me will tell you I'm not big on the rules, rather on the values behind those rules. However when it comes to Lent, I become the "liturgical policeman," trying to obey every single little, traditional, inexplicable rule that's been added to the season since the Patristic period. (I just learned that word yesterday, and I really wanted to use it!)

So on my door rests a list of things that I have given up and tasks that I have taken on during the course of Lent. It's far more extreme than most people are used to, but I won't pretend it's a regiment of bread, water, and 14 hours of prayer. The personal tradition of keeping Lent as an intense time of penance and alms-giving comes from my mother, who carried that tradition from my grandparents. During Lent, my mother lives so austere, she would make a Poor Clare question her own vow of poverty. It was only natural that after coming back to my faith, I observe Lent in much the same way.

That's not to say that I think Lent is simply about feeling guilty for the sins of the past year, nor is it a time to rehash New Year's resolutions. It is the observance of how Jesus, before beginning his public ministry, experienced this time of cleansing, for both body and spirit. This time wasn't just for him to feel bad about himself or go to fish fries at the local KoC hall. It was a time of preparation. In this same way, I try to look at Lent as a way to prepare and understand my call to live the Gospel.

And like the other disciples that Jesus called, I know I don't have the ability to do it on my own. So in hopes that the community can help me observe my Lenten obligations, I posted the list on my door, so that everyone would know what I'm trying to give up. That's not to say I want to be like of the hypocrites in today's reading, rather I know I need their help during this time, and the list contains the goals I want to reach with the help of my community.

I'd be interested in hearing what people have chosen to do for their observation of Lent this year. Worst case scenario, you can always look at my list for some ideas.

I am giving up for Lent:

2nd helpings at dinner
1/4 of my wardrobe
15 pounds
Oppression of Canadian Nationals
(this one was for the Canadian postulant)
Fast Food - Arby's, Taco Bell, etc. (fish sandwiches excluded)
Some other things that are none of your business!

I am taking on for Lent:

Playing more music during Liturgy
Reading a book a week on anything
Taking more time for personal prayer

An Open Letter to "President" Summers

Yesterday in my post about speaking for St. Ben's Community Meal, I used a picture that was taken from another website. People do take my pics all the time, I don't stress about it. Within hours of posting, I received this email:
Mr. Martinez,

FYI, you cannot simply go around the internet and take copyrighted pictures form anyone’s website and use them on your own. The image you use in this post was copied from my website, .

I own the reproduction rights to this image and the copyright by law. Please remove it from your website immediately.

(Signed) Jeffrey Summers, President
This is my response:

Mr. Summers:

Your email is filled with a great sense of irony, so much so that it seems almost prophetic. A marketing guru attempting to admonish a religious brother on the question of what is "right." I don't claim to be of a higher authority, but if you'd read my profile, you'd know that we have (had) similar career paths.

I have spent my own time equating success with wealth and money. I've read my share of Og Mandino, Zig Ziglar, Harvey MacKay, and Joe Verde to focus on car sales. I grew up in Grand Rapids, a city where half the population tries to sell the other on the Amway (Quixtar) program, so everyone can be "independently wealthy." I've met hundreds of gurus, writers, speakers, internet sites, and magazines all trying sell the same thing: "If you do exactly what I say and exactly how I tell you, you can be successful." It's the same solution every salesman offers.

Perhaps the "real world solution" that should be offered is the plain truth: "No amount of money will make you happy if you're not happy with your life." You won't sell as many audio CD's and it might cut down on the number of paid seminars you get invited to, but you'd be doing people a favor instead of teaching them to keep pursuing money in hopes of finding a false happiness.

In all seriousness, I do apologize for leeching your bandwidth in use of the previously stated picture on my blog. It would be better for me to have simply copied and uploaded it directly. For that I recognize and accept my error in judgment.

As for the use of the picture in my articulation of working at a soup kitchen, I have removed it because it has served it's purpose. Many times I talk about how people focus on themselves, without actually giving thought to the homeless and poor. Having renounced all sense of personal property as a Capuchin, I sometimes forget that people still think in individualistic terms. Your email has served as a greater image of what I do at St. Ben's Community Meal than any photo ever could....challenging people on what they think society and success should be.

Perhaps the greater irony is that we are both speakers of the same topic: feeding others. The difference is that you choose to focus on how to keep making money in a declining economy, and I talk about how to keep feeding hungry families in the same milieu.

In closing, I want to thank you for your email, even if your purpose was not to initiate such a huge response. You have given me a glimpse of a past life I happily gave up, and this has shown me how much my life has changed in the last 2.5 years. I'm sure you are a good man who loves his family and works hard for those he loves. My current work with the poor and marginalized has given me a glimpse of what is important in life, and I refuse to compare the taking of a picture to the other injustices I see every day. I pray you may see my point of view.

Peace and all good to you and your family,

Br. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap Post.
St. Joseph Province of Capuchin Franciscans

Jeffrey Summers is the President of Restaurant Coaching Solutions, an online marketing expert for people looking to become more successful in the restaurant business. If you're interested in learning more, you can go to his website...or if you ask nice I'll give you his cell number~.

Featured Speaker: Capuchin Postulant

Being able to talk in front of a group of people is an acquired skill. Part of being a car salesman is the ability to start up a conversation with anyone, not be embarrassed by anything that might be said, and know that if the crowd loses interest or starts to turn on you, make them laugh...even if you have to make fun of yourself.
Since I started at St. Ben's Community Meal in Milwaukee, WI as Chaplain and Volunteer Coordinator, I've had many opportunities to give talks in front of groups. Whether they be 3 college kids, 15 high school students, 22 seminarians, a classroom at Marquette University, or a confirmation class of 200+ adolescents...I've been asked to give a number of talks since I've been here.

When I first started, it was a 10 minute talk about hunger in Milwaukee. I knew nothing of hunger in Milwaukee; I was still kicking dirt from Grand Rapids off my shoes! But as with all things I've learned here during postulancy, I read and learned. I listened to people who were in the know. I took time to study, dig up facts, and even pray about finding the words to best convey the message I want to send.

Here's a few of the topics I'm usually asked to talk about:
  1. Conversion - As a former car salesman and poker dealer, my life has drastically changed by no longer chasing money or climbing a ladder of status. By trying to live the Gospel and see all people as creations of God, I have come to a new understanding of life and a pursuit of a greater vocation.
  2. History - Starting as a store-front Catholic church by a black layman in 1908, St. Benedict the Moor has a long history in the city of Milwaukee as a mission to the African-American population, then later to the homeless and hungry.
  3. Social Justice - St. Ben's focuses not just on the immediate needs of the homeless and the impoverished. By working through agencies, advocates, and by teaching and sharing the stories of the poor and marginalized, we at St. Ben's try not just to stop the symptoms of injustice, but also work on the root problems.
  4. Vocation - By allowing students, adults, and professionals to see the life of the homeless, the programs in place to address those needs, and making them aware of the problem, we encourage people not only to just think about how to fix the problem, but to become involved as well. Often times I am asked about my particular vocation to the Capuchins.
  5. Personal Reflection - After participating in the meal as a guest, not as a server, there is the chance to reflect on the experience of having been at the Meal Program. This experience allows people to gain a better insight into what it's like to be dependent on such programs. Sometimes guests are asked to come to talks away from St. Ben's to talk about their lives living in Milwaukee.
In the short amount of time that I've been here at St. Ben's, I've been challenged to not only do a lot, but also to say a lot as well. In the beginning, I felt weird about all the talks. Part of me wanted to hide from the notoriety I'd gained. "Just let me be a simple and humble friar!" was my thought. As the process continued, I realized it wasn't all about me. There's a story to tell, a witness that needs to be given, and not everyone has the ability to stand in front of 25 people with no script and just a vague idea for a topic...and smile at the challenge of trying to make at least one person truly consider what is being said.

I'm sad to think that in less than 3 months I will be off doing something completely different. Then in the coming August, another poor soul will take my place, hoping to soon become a Capuchin, and will be asked to give a 30 minute presentation on a meal program they haven't fully understood yet. But I think that's part of the flavor of religious life. I know I will miss what I've learned here, as I start counting "days left" instead of "days here." But I know I will take what I've learned and continue to tell my story. Most of all, I know that someday I will find myself back at St. Ben's, perhaps then I will be in "full garb." And when I do return, I'll remember why I missed it in the first place.

If you live in the Milwaukee area and are looking for someone to talk to your group about the St. Ben's Community Meal, please call 414-271-0135. Ask for Br. Dave Schwab or Br. Vito Martinez. You can also see St. Ben's Website for a description of some of the programs we offer at the Community Meal.

Movin' On Up!

Well really I'm moving downstairs, however I did check my compass, and indeed I am moving to the east side of the friary. Rather dorky, I know, however I'm excited about the fact that I've moved out of my old room and into this new room where everyone else is!

Originally I lived on the 3rd floor of the friary. Our rooms were randomly picked out, since they differ in size, layout, and in some instances, amenities. I was lucky enough to get the nicest and largest room in the friary on the 3rd floor. Walk in closet, full size bed (instead of the singles), room for about everything, close to the bathroom and showers...this room was definitely a good place.

As the year progressed and postulants began to leave the 3rd floor (and the Order entirely) I was left by myself in my corner of the friary. It was rare that anyone ever knocked on my door. I knew I could go and hide in my room if I wasn't feeling good or in a mood, because no one would come up to see me. It became me refuge from community life, and eventually I felt it became a hindrance to my participation here in the friary.

After the most recent postulant left, I made a decision to move closer to where the other guys' rooms in the house. I felt that if I were closer, I wouldn't feel as removed from the happenings of the house as I do now. While I still have the door shut at times, I feel I am right in the middle of everything, and I won't be left out just because I'm so far away.

I find that little things like this make a difference when living in community. Some of the people who are friends now are friends simply because their rooms were closer, and they were the ones who talked to each other the most. In many ways, it is a reflection of our own lives. For those we choose to interact with more, talk to, and even include in our daily routine, those are the people we will learn to understand even better.

Road Trip

This weekend we have about 12 candidates, guys who are looking at joining the order, over at our house this weekend. Along with the extra cleaning, organizing, food, and a little craziness, we hosted the new crop of future Capuchins as the took a tour of the many ministries we have here in Milwaukee.

I had the chance to talk to a lot of the guys. Unfortunately, I suck at being a photographer. There were others that took good pictures, so I hope to have some photos up soon!

Saturday afternoon, to join the other candidates, we took a trip to our high school seminary in Mount Calvary, WI. It was quite the spiritual and/or enjoyable experience, with the climax being when we rolled down the window of the car and started admonishing a herd of reindeer in Yugoslavian accents.

...I guess you really had to be there to understand the significance of that.~

Either way, things are going good. I'm still sick, but it's not as bad as in the past. Perhaps I'm learning to handle illness better!

...And Then There Were Five

This post was originally planned for Monday/Tuesday. However due to unforeseen events that unfolded at that time, the issue of losing yet another postulant took a back seat, not only for my blog but in real life as well. -V

Saturday, another person decided to leave the Capuchin Postulancy. Unlike the last guy, this recent departure struck me as a loss to the Order, to the community, and to me. I've been processing this loss over the weekend. In many ways, dealing with it has been a grieving process.

The second guy from our province chose to leave about a week ago, during the road trip to New York. His choice was mostly ideological. Our province has always been the "liberal" province, even though I find little differences in my travels and experiences of other friars. Our house was also very "Democratic." I think he was the only one who was pulling for McCain during last year's election. He was also very ritualistic and legalistic, choosing to attend an Ukrainian Orthodox Mass on Sundays, rather than the several Capuchin parishes in Milwaukee.

In spite of these differences between he and I, he was a good guy, and a very close part of the community here. And there were times that I really felt that the fraternity would outweigh any political differences. However last week, during the ride home, he told us that he'd been questioning how he fit in with the province since he got here. And after truly trying to look beyond those differences, he felt he would do much better in a community more like him.

My first reaction was that of anger. Why would he choose to paint the entire province with this liberal label? Many of the guys have different views based on experience, ministry, upbringing, and their own values. I couldn't understand how one could assume "This province just isn't for me."

Upon his actual departure, I looked past my anger and told him the simple truth: that he would be missed, and that I still thought of him as my brother. I have a hard time with expression of feelings sometimes, and I think he understood that me saying something like that was huge. It was almost a teary-eyed affair, but like good, strong men we managed to hold back such things.

Since then, our community dynamic has changed noticeably. There is less conflict, less arguing, and less stress for a lot of us. I don't know if that means he needed to go. I don't know if that means we wanted him to go. I know that I wish he hadn't, as it has made all of us question our true intentions for being here in this program.

Dreams From the Heart

For the past few days, I haven't had much energy after getting home from ministry. This week has been pretty busy; I wish I had time to talk more about those things, but this recent development with the woman I used to call my daughter has greatly over-shadowed much of this week.

I find myself checking my email inbox over and over, being afraid when I actually see a new message, and then dying again when it's from or an ad from I don't know what to expect, I don't know if I should expect, but this feeling that I have is a sense of loss, a sense of failure, and a tiny hope that perhaps I can, in some way, reach out and try to mend a broken relationship with someone I still worry about.

Last night, I dreamed I was in a relationship again. The woman I was with resembled someone I work and interact with in ministry, something that was covered in a previous post about dreams. Anyway, we were in a relationship and she was pregnant (not showing), but the kicker was that I was public knowledge that it was not my child. In spite of that, I wanted to be with her and be a father to the child, regardless of the father.

We'd moved in with my uncle (at least when he used to live in he lives in California) to kind of prepare and save money for the baby. It's quite appropriate that I thought of him; when my mom had me and she was by herself, we stayed with him when I was young (3-4) and even a few of those old memories entered into that dream.

But while we were there, it became clear that my family had serious worries about what I was doing. Some of my aunts told me that it was not my child, and that I shouldn't make it my responsibility. Some of them thought she was using me because I was trying to be a nice guy to both her and her baby. Some thought I was even being stupid, and I needed to start my own family. Without revealing the actual identity of the person, I can say that we both come from vastly different cultural and racial backgrounds, and there was this sense that they wanted me to have a Latino child.

At some point, when I was running around and trying to get things ready (as if this were all happening tomorrow!) she ran out of the house, crying and upset. When I confronted her, she was hateful and resentful of me. She said she wanted to go her own way. She said she didn't need me. When I told her that I loved her and cared for her AND the baby, she said something so grossly offensive and hurtful, I don't think I can even put it down in print (knowing full well that in reality it came from my subconscious and not her lips). Upon waking up, I found myself crying.

I know I'm dealing with a loss; I don't know if others understand it. My community has been supportive because they have seen how much this has rocked me in the past few days. But my situation is one I can't talk about to celibate men who've never had kids, how can they relate to my loss of being a father?

There's a lot of anger and resentment and hurt inside of me, and the best I can do is offer it up to God. If this is my cross, then I will do my best to bear it. More importantly, if this is the sacrifice I made to be here, to follow the calling I was given, I'm going to have to learn to trust that God will heal all wounds.

I just don't know when I'll get to that point...

My Heart Aches

I never thought that living here would bring me the pain of a broken heart ever again. As much as I tried, I thought I put my old life behind me in exchange for this new one. Yet today I sat and did one of the most heart-wrenching and painful things in my life...

I wrote an email to the girl I once called my daughter.

When I was together with my ex-girlfriend, she had a daughter. Her daughter was full of life, energy, and love. Without reservation, she called me "Daddy" when we were together. And just reading that word again makes my stomach knot up at the heartache of losing that.

Recently she turned longer a girl, but a woman in her own right. Her mother asked that I never contact her again; I've kept to that agreement, no matter how painful it was at times. She was not my blood, and I respected the bond between mother and daughter.

However now that she has become an adult, I took the chance to write one email, as if it were the only words left I could say, in hopes that she might understand exactly what she meant to me. As a religious, I realize that she will be the only daughter I will ever know, and I fucked up the one chance of being a good role model, a positive male figure, and a stable person in her life. I grew up an only child, and I know what it's like to have people come in and out of your life. I pray I did more good than harm.

Perhaps more importantly, she represents a sacrifice I made when choosing to pursue religious life. In choosing to follow a vocation, I chose not to continue a relationship, but with my ex and her daughter. I've managed to hide from that realization, but now I feel the guilt from that decision.

The email wasn't long. I thanked her for allowing to be a part of her life. I told her I was proud of the woman she had become, and that I wished only good things for her and her mother. Lastly, and with a heavy heart, I told her that I would respect whatever decision she made about the email, including if she chose never to speak to me again.

I have tried to be a good guy all my life, however I realize that there are people in this world that I have hurt. I would love to heal all wounds I created and offer apologizes to everyone. However I've learned that some people have deeper wounds than can be healed by words. And I've learned to accept that sometimes, you lose people forever.

I don't know what to expect in a response. She may not even respond at all. I thought the hard part would be writing the actual message. In reality, it was hitting the send button, knowing that I would be scared to check my email for the next two weeks...and that feeling of pain when I saw no response.

I also try to be a tough guy, but today I as thought about what to do, I looked back on an earlier post, and I couldn't help but cry.

Psalm, Part 1

Last week our assignment was to write a psalm about something we experienced in life. It could be about a sad moment, something that helped us feel serene, a time when we completely felt God's presence...the choice was ours. The only thing that mattered was that we wrote our psalm as they'd been written in the past: the psalm should express our feelings to God, rather than just stating "what happened."

There were a lot of moments I could have used to write about. I looked through the Book of Psalms to get an idea. The first psalm I happened to open up to was psalm 18: a song of praise with rather war-like imagery. For the time they were written, and also for the context, it made sense to write and converse with God in relation to war...something a little more confusing today. So rather than write something sappy, or completely praise-worthy, I saw this psalm and wondered what I could tap into in order to write a psalm such as this.

So looking into my past, I wrote and shared this with the others in my class. No one was able to figure out what I was exactly describing, however they said they could see the emotions that were shared in the psalm. When we known the original meaning and/or context of a psalm, it takes on an entirely different interpretation.

In the sense of fun and sharing, I thought I'd post my psalm here. What I won't post, at least not yet, is the actual event or part of my life that this comes from. I will leave that for you, Dear Reader, to investigate yourself. The question is this: does this seem like someone's genuine feelings? Do you see a time when this psalm could be used during a prayer? What does this psalm mean to you?

After a few days, I'll describe the story behind my psalm, an odd change from the Book of Psalms. But I think the important part is to realize that a psalm was a way for people to share their emotions with God; if you can see or relate to these emotions , I see that as more important than just my meaning.


"Hail Almighty!" I exclaim with all my breath,
You have gifted me with strength and wisdom,
Your mighty arm has extended across the universe to guide me as I train;
You have fashioned me into your righteous soldier.
I strive to be your reflection.

As I stand ready before my enemies, I invoke your holy name,
Your spirit echoes in my voice as I shout across the battlefield.
Your eyes see and your ears hear, your lips whisper into my ear.
You choose us to be your flaming sword of justice.

While war raged all around me, I could not tell friend from foe,
You gave me sight so that my aim might be true.
You gave me speed that my legs prevent my enemies' escape.
I need only say your name, and you reveal my foes to me.
My Lord keeps me from falling to the ground.

Your blade is just and far-reaching; we wield your power with precision,
Like a symphony of minstrels or choir of hosts.
What foe can stand against the power of the Lord?
What test cannot be overcome with you on our side?
By your mighty arm, we stand victorious in battle.

"Hail, Almighty!" I exclaim, and you make me a king of people.
I am both a master of slaves and an elder of brothers.
I offer tribute that I remain in your favor.
Grant that I should not fail my people; and they will know
no other god is Lord but you.


I have left your comfort, Lord.
Everything is black in front of me.
I feel only dirt under my feet, stillness in the wake of triumph.
Your once-great warrior is gone.

Why did you tease me with glory and victory, Lord?
Help me to always know that you are my God,
Show me that your greatness exists beyond the gates of discord.
And keep me always as one of your own.

Enjoy, and feel free to add any comments you wish to. I'll talk about the meaning later. =)

...And Then There Were Six

In August of 2008, I started my postulancy with six other men. Five of those guys represented the mid-west province while sixth comes from Canada in an agreement for a collaborative postulancy program. Before leaving for New York, one of the five from our province was asked to leave the program. The feeling that was hardest to understand was why I felt good about it.

Community is still a new way of living for me, and there are things that make me adjust my thinking every day. There are times when I feel annoyed with everyone; sometimes it's because of the way they chew their food or talk on their phone. Living with 6 (now 5) other men requires a special kind of personality: one that is willing to change and adapt to a new environment.

The person who was asked to leave had a problem with least that's how I viewed it. As we grow older, we become used to a certain way of life. This guy was 46, and pretty set in his ways. Unfortunately, a community requires a person to be flexible, understanding, and have the ability to "let things slide" every now and then. If you lack these abilities, living in community not only becomes hard, it becomes destructive to others around you.

While a person leaving a tight community can cause serious feelings, I felt very little when he left. In a way, I'd already seen him as separate from the other Postulants living at St. Conrad. In some way, I saw him simply as a guest who'd overstayed his welcome...a nuisance that had not realized he didn't belong. Along with this disconnection, much of my anger in community became directed at him. Any little thing he did wrong was a glaring example of how he did not belong with the rest of us.

At the end I was up until 4AM, writing an email to my formator about how far apart he had grown from the rest of the group. The next day, it was clear that he was going to be asked to leave.

I look back and see that I may sound like a heartless bastard. A man gave up his career and put his life on hold in order to follow a call he felt to the Capuchins. Shouldn't I be more respectful of his input? Shouldn't I feel a greater sense of loss?

In reality, the lack of feelings for this move scared me for some time. Perhaps my selfishness was shining through, and his leaving to leave didn't affect my life. Maybe I could have feelings for the people I worked with, but history shows that my empathy rarely ever makes it back to where I'm living. If I am brother to all creatures on the earth, how could I turn a blind eye to someones pain?

While I've only lived in community for 5 months, I've developed a keen understanding of how this life can bring a person up or weigh them down. A community can be fulfilling and detrimental; the difference lies in how it's members treat each other. Each of the other Postulants saw problems with him, articulating similar experiences and sharing thoughts. So while I feel bad that he was unable to complete the program, the community has gotten better because of it.

We were told it is a very different experience when someone is asked to leave as opposed to someone who chooses to do so. We've had the former. Tomorrow, we lose another postulant who chose to leave.

His decision has been less easy to digest.

Vocation Project

In January, a video was made by our development office as a way to help promote vocations in our province. The concept of the video wasn't simply aimed at getting people interested in the Capuchins, rather getting people simply to ask the question: "Have you ever thought about religious life?"

This 5 minute video is part of a new push called The Vocation Project, a new way to reach out and continue to seek vocations to the Capuchin order.

One of the first things people might notice: I'm not in any of the videos. Well, you might not notice that; everything isn't always about me! The day that the camera crew came in to shoot the footage, I was in my room blogging about how sick I felt. Unfortunately I wasn't part of the footage.

Regardless of my presence, the video is wonderfully done. Enjoy.

P.S. Yes, we have an XBox 360 in the house. It was a Christmas gift to the community.

The Trouble With Women, Part IV: Get Out of My Head!

Perhaps the sex workshop or recent events have stirred something in my unconscious. After spending so much time discussing sexuality, relationships with women, and how the boundaries of single life change when you choose celibate life, I'm really not surprised that I had a really weird and intense dream about everything. Luckily when I woke up, I grabbed a pad and pen and started writing out what I remembered, knowing full well that someone out there might get a kick out o the irony!

The setting for this dream was a large cocktail party with lots of people milling about. I could tell from my interaction that these were people that either new me or the Capuchins, and it felt like a friary or a function that we (as an order) had put on. I don't recall any specific place, just that it felt like something we would do.

At one point in the evening, I see an "ex-interest" of mine, sitting on a couch and sipping a drink. Our eyes meet, but rather than acknowledging her, I slightly nod and continue to be social to everyone at the party. Her placement in this dream and at a Capuchin function is slightly absurd; her sense of spirituality in real life is both relativistic and completely devoid of any apparent dogma - not a match for a "good Catholic boy" like me .

But before you think you understand this dream, it gets better.

As the party continues, I begin talking to a woman that I recognize from my ministry work. Unfortunately I cannot remember her face. She doesn't stick out as any one female, rather many of the women I work with could fill the role in my dream - perhaps that's part of what she represents. I kept trying to put my finger on one person, but nothing seems to make sense.

Either way, we talk and it's apparent that we are connecting. I have feelings of excitement; I feel alive. It wasn't a feeling of: " I am sooo going to get laid tonight!" rather it was more: "I am so into this chick, and I can tell she's into me!" It was the feeling I get when I feel I've met someone I can seriously bond with, the kind of feeling that goes beyond "puppy love" but is deeper and more meaningful than lust.

Nothing became of the conversation, because the next incident I remember is going back to the kitchen after the party was over. Jon Cel, our Provincial Minister, was in the kitchen washing dishes after the party. Wearing a t-shirt and blue jeans, his usual attire, he looks up from the dishes and says: "Hey Vito. How was the party?"

In a sort-of "father to son" kind of moment, we talk with him working and me leaning against the doorway.

"Well I have good news and bad news. The good news is I had a really good time tonight. The bad news is that I think I'm falling in love." While I didn't feel anything bad about what had happened, the presence of my Provincial brought my vocation and presence to the forefront.

Jon laughs, as if remembering something of his past, and says: "Welcome to Capuchin life."

As I thought about this part of my dream, I tried to understand the meaning of celibate life even further, and really explore what I was giving up and what I was accepting. Perhaps poverty isn't just about money and things. Maybe poverty includes the ability to recognize when something great is happening between you and another human being, and being able to enjoy that connection but limiting yourself to the boundaries of your vows. It's the poverty of working with a woman that I connect to emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually, but understanding that our relationship can only go so far in spite of what she or I may feel.

While this seemed to be an interesting revelation, the dream continued to another part.

Jon replies: "Well, I do have some other bad news. It looks like Amanda (named changed for obvious reasons) has been spreading some vicious stories about the Order. I'm not sure what her issue is, but she's obviously not happy with us."

This was a real twist in my thinking. Why would someone say bad things about us, we who spend so much time working with the poor, the homeless, and those other outcasts of society? Almost immediately I caught up with her in the parking lot and starting firing questions at her.

"Do you know what we do?"
"Do you even understand the charism that we try to live here?"
"Do you realize that we're not doing this for fame or profit?"

It was as if each question I asked was answered with an air of skepticism and even a hint of jealousy from her mouth.

"Well what do you guys do with all the money you get?"
"How do I know you all are trying to live celibacy? Why would anyone do that?"
"Who are you trying to impress by doing all this?"

It was if each question out of her mouth was a doubt, concern, or criticism I've heard so many times already. Many of those thoughts are not arguable; all they do is inflame emotions. I had no response except anger.

In my frustration I walked away from her and got into my car (no clue who's car it really was) and got ready to drive away. As I started the vehicle, I saw two men approach the vehicle (early 20's, white guys - in any violent dream, I'm always fighting white guys.), one of them had a pipe in his hand.

Rather than try to drive away, I grabbed a bottle from inside the car and opened up the door. It seemed to surprise the men, and it halted their approach to the car. I held the bottle by the neck, and tried to will myself to smash the bottle into the side of this man's head. Each time I tried, the bottle would stop at the man's cheek, as if my arm would not allow me to commit such a violent act. Through will and anger, I managed to get the strength in my arm to shatter the bottle against the man's head, and he dropped to the ground.

This is where I woke up.

There are a lot of aspects to this dream, and it's kept me thinking all day. Perhaps my subconscious is dealing with celibacy in a new way. Perhaps my presence here has begun to turn me into a new man, one with new values and a better relationship with women. Perhaps my changes, while good in my view, are seen by others as different, incomprehensible, and therefore worthy of suspicion.

Most of all, whenever I have dreams of fighting, it's often hard for me to actually hit or do damage to another person. I don't know if that's my self-esteem, my sense of humanity and non-violence, or my desire to control rage before it gets out of hand. Either way, this is not the first dream where I've been able to finally hit and wound another person in my dreams. Since coming to Milwaukee, a part of me has woken up that I have kept hidden. Some of these things are good, and some of them are bad. And in dealing with people and talking to my spiritual director, I'm trying to get to the root of some of these issues.

For now, I'm not having any secret liaisons with co-workers, nor am I violently beating on people. It's just interesting to look at dreams, remembering not only what happened, but how it made me feel.

(Not Really) In The News

When I returned to Milwaukee on Saturday, I found a message in my mailbox: Call Melissa at InTheNews about your article. Call her right away. I've been in the media for my vocation story, this blog, and a few other things related to my choice to be here. Specifically, she was talking about this story that was printed the week after Christmas. And like many other inquiries, I assumed she was following up my story for another one.

What I didn't realize is that InTheNews, Inc. is actually a company that mounts and displays newspaper articles for business, restaurants, and people who want to immortalize their newspaper fame for all to see. This call was not about my vocation or about Capuchin life; this was a sales call.

After being on hold for a minute and listening to their nice background music, I quickly understood what was going on. Melissa told me how wonderful my article was, and how she worked with other people in the Grand Rapids area. She told me how I could get my article framed and into a plague for only $199. They would even do the work first, and if I didn't like it, I could return it and not pay anything. What a deal!

As nicely as I could, I told her she mustn't have read the article, otherwise she would have seen the key words poverty and humility. I said that neither I nor the Order had $199 to spend on a plaque, and that I have no need to show off my story (I didn't tell her I had my own blog for that!).

I have a talk at Marquette University next week, and Dick Gordon's The Story has asked for another interview before I leave for Novitiate in May. Part of my media attention comes from being a salesman, and knowing who I need to talk to in order to get a message across. But as I've told many people before, the highlight of my interviews and talks is not really about me. I've come to realize that people are genuinely inspired by what I am doing, and by the spirit that has moved me to change my life. By approaching media attention from this angle, I feel more like a witness than I do a celebrity.

Then again, by the time I finish this entire process, I'll have enough material for a complete screenplay about my life and conversion. If you're reading my blog, Martin Scorcese, I got something you need to read!

What is Religious Life, Part 5

Religious life is often lived in a community while diocesan life, especially today, is more a solitary life. This doesn't mean diocesan priests are more/less lonely than religious, rather this is how the different vocations are lived. The dynamic of that community is an aspect not often considered by many, and by not recognizing the focus of community is to misunderstand religious life altogether.

The concept of living in community is so alien to most, I often have to use metaphors to describe different aspects of my life. At times, I feel like I am part of a fraternity. It's fun, we find ways to help each other out, we waste time together, we take the same classes and share notes on homework; there's a college feel to everything. At times, community feels more like Socialism: we pool our money, we share duties, we collectively work for all friars in the province, and we live off of a stipend.

Other times community can feel like a dysfunctional family. By not being able to choose who is part of your community, you may live with people you don't like, people who are annoying, or people who have a way of saying/doing things that grind on your nerves. Your only way to survive in this community is to either address these issues in a polite and respectful manner or to quietly suffer. Perhaps community could be that younger sibling, always tagging along and wanting to be around, while you try harder and harder to assert your independence.

People often wonder why someone would choose to pick this lifestyle. Why choose to share homes, cars, money, and other assets with others? Why give up a future with a wife and kids to live with other celibate men? Why would anyone choose to give up part of their individuality to become part of a greater community?

Why? Sometimes even I have to take a minute and remember.

By living in community, I am choosing to live an apostolic life amongst others. Part of that apostolic life is to bring people together of all backgrounds, lifestyles, and cultures. By living this sense of brotherhood, it is easier for me to spread it to others in the community.

Understanding and living community is not easy, nor is it for everyone. Our backgrounds, our families, and our own experiences form our minds and how we relate to others. As I will talk about tomorrow, there have been guys I've lived with who are not able to live in community. One decided to leave on his own, the other was asked to leave by the formation director. They are both examples of how community isn't always what God has planned.

So for those of you who are considering a vocation with a religious order, the first and foremost question you must ask yourself, before deciding which order fits you, is asking yourself: "Can I live in a community with other people and their own nuances?"

I'll show you examples of some people who couldn't do that.

Images of the Past 3 Weeks

I admit I've been remiss to keep everyone updated as to how my past month has gone. Not only has that been an issue of events, but I can't always have access to internet or a camera as often as I'd like. In fact, there are times when I don't even think about writing on this blog (God forbid!) But now that I'm back in Milwaukee and my schedule is back to normal (in a way), here are a few pictures of me "and the fam" as we tooled around America.

Our first stop was to the Chiara Center: a retreat house owned by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis. This wonderful place is where we stayed for a week as we learned about SEX.

Along with the retreat house, the complex also housed a retirement hospital for aging friars and sisters. Unfortunately I didn't know about that part, as I went to sleep soon after getting to Springfield. This is a pic of the hospital side before I got scared that someone would realize I didn't belong in that part of the building.

Along with the Capuchins of the Mid-west Province, we broke bread with the Observants from the midwest area. Pictured here at the table is Br. Dennis, Postulant Director from Joliet, Don Miller in the center, the retreat director and O.F.M. from Ohio, and Dan MacDonald (former) postulant with us (that's another story I have to tell). The O.F.M.'s were a good group and it was fun getting to know them. They acted a little differently than we did, and they may have smelled a little weird, but we loved them as brothers just the same~.

At the end of the retreat on Friday, we drove to Chicago to spend Tet with the community at St. Clare Friary. Several of the friars in our province are Vietnamese, so as part of the culture we had a celebration for the new year. With good food, drink, and even a little money to go around, the party was a great way to finish the end of a weird week.

Fr. John Holly and Peter Kootch (seated) represent the elders in this traditional part of the Tet celebration. The elders are thanked for their wisdom and are presented with a gift on behalf of the youth. Tom Nguyen (in the traditional garb) represents the youth. Right afterwards, the elders grant health and prosperity to the younger generation, then begin to pass out gifts. We each got an envelope with $10 in it. It was a good time.

After Chicago and a quick trip to Pittsburgh, we drove through to New York to visit the St. Mary's Province of Capuchins. We'd met them about 4 months ago at a previous event, so it was a chance to catch up, make fun of each other's accents, and have some fun. One day we went "into the city" to have some fun.

As part of our visit, we went on half-price ticket day and got to see a show on Broadway. I'd wanted to see the Will Farrell show before it hit HBO, but it had already closed. So instead, Quan and I decided to see Shrek the Musical. The show was awesome. I'm not usually big on musicals or stage plays, but this was an amazing show. And besides, now I can tell people I've seen a show on Broadway.

And it wouldn't be a trip to Manhattan without the random, inexplicable picture of a random person. While walking back to 42nd from the theatre on 54th, we saw this guy with quite an interesting message. He had a bullhorn with him as well, but I never heard him once say anything. He also had a small camera crew with him...small time, not a television or movie crew. I don't think he was trying to make a political point: he looked more like Bruce Willis in Die Hard: With a Vengeance than a political activist.

Even with all the excitement, it's good to be home. Perhaps I'm getting old and need some normalcy in my life, perhaps I've spent too many years on the road, and a month of traveling isn't as exciting as it used to be. Or maybe I'm still learning to re-establish my concept of "home." Whatever the answer may be, it's good to be back in Milwaukee.

Although now that I'm home, I have to deal with a realization: during this trip we managed to go from 7 postulants down to 5. That is something else I will have to deal with now.

Home Again, Home Again

After trying to catch up on some of the blogs, and starting 3 posts that I have yet to finish, I will leave again tomorrow evening. After a long 3 weeks of not being home, we leave tomorrow for Milwaukee, with a brief stop in at our Provincialate in Detroit.

While I am glad to finally be getting back to a normal bed and not living out of my suitcase, it most likely means that I won't be blogging anytime least not until Sunday. My return home will mean a continued stream of blog posts once again, however there is one more weekend where I will have to let things build up, only to try and catch up later.

I mentioned before that I am not a good blogger, and instances like these prove that fact. My hope is to get you something juicy and thought-provoking by Sunday morning. Until then, enjoy the weekend and God Bless.

Masculine Spirituality Part 3 or Dealing With Urges

I didn't get a chance to talk much about my sexuality workshop in January, which is unfortunate because there were some good things I learned from Don Miller when I was in Springfield, IL. While we spent time talking a lot about theory rather than the practicality of being a celibate religious male, we did talk about how we maintain celibate relationships with women while still maintaining the sexuality that we have as males.

So if you've ever wondered how a normal guy attempts to live celibacy, grab something to eat and drink, and consider this your warning.

In spite of what most people believe, the vow of celibacy (or discipline, for those who become diocesan priests) is much more than just giving up sex. This misconceived notion that a celibate life is solely about the act of sex comes from society, media, friends, family, etc. In fact, men who join religious life simply to give up sex and relationships with women are the wrong candidates for this type of lifestyle. For example:
  • people who have a bad or undeveloped relationship with the opposite gender
  • people who have a bad or undeveloped relationship with sex
  • people confused with their own sexuality
  • people who want to get away from the opposite sex completely
  • people who don't want the responsibility of a family
The first part of understanding celibacy is understanding exactly what you are giving up, and what you are also accepting.

By living this life, I am choosing to give up:
  1. Looking for a female companion to love intimately
  2. Committing solely to one woman
  3. Creating a family and raising a child or children
  4. Engaging in "genital activity" (i.e. sex and everything else)
While the list is direct and to the point, no one should assume that a. it's an easy task for any man to do b. that the struggle ends after a person has taken vows, or c. that the Church feels we should avoid contact with all women. I belong to a mendicant order, meaning that after my formation process, I will be working in the community with others. It is short-sighted to assume that I will only be working with men, or that I will simply turn off my "manhood." This is the second misconception about celibacy.

God created man and woman to love each other, and he gave them desire for that same reason. We are, by nature, social and intimate beings. We have a fire within each of us that drives us to find something more than ourselves, something that fuels the love and desire that we have for another human being. These are not bad thoughts or impure urges, they are part of how we were created by God; and he gave us those things for a reason.

We are sexual beings, and that sexuality that is inside of me is something I must incorporate into my vocation as a Capuchin Friar. That doesn't mean I'll be able to act and do the same things I did before I was a Capuchin, but it does mean that I recognize my need for interaction, communication, and intimacy with women...but with specific non-negotiable boundaries.

Here is a perfect example of celibacy and how I deal (or struggle) with it, depending on the point of view:

Yesterday when visiting a soup kitchen in Brooklyn, I was introduced to some of the staff and took some time to talk with them. Some of the staff were younger women, and some of those women fit the type that I am into. I spoke with a wonderful young woman for about 20 minutes, exchanging information about each other, learning our different backgrounds, and sharing the occasional joke. For obvious reasons, we had a lot of things in common.

Any man or woman knows that depending on the circumstance, inflection, body language, vibes, and how each participant in this conversation feels, the outcome of a conversation like this can lead to numerous places. Therefore when I interact with women now, I have to consider a number of things:
  • What is my overall intention? Am I sharing information because our jobs are similar? Are we just talking politely? Am I attracted to her?
  • What kind of message am I sending? Is the topic strictly professional, or are we getting too personal? Is my body language appropriate to the conversation? Am I sending out any vibe I shouldn't be?
  • What kind of message am I getting? Are we still talking business, or is she flirting with me? Do I think she is sending me signals? If she is, what am I doing about it?
  • What are the boundaries? What can and can't I say as a Postulant? What about as a guy? Is it right to ask her for her email or facebook address? What would I do with it if she gave it to me?
All of these questions, and about a hundred more, run through my head when I talk to women. In reality, it's not unusual. Realistically, most guys are asking the exact same type of questions when they're out on a date, in school, or doing any other activity where they're interacting with the opposite sex. The big difference between those guys and me is that they are looking for a different result than I am. While they may be looking for a future companion, I am making sure I am not looking for that type of intimacy, or that I don't appear to be interested.

While I'm sure the attractive young lady I spoke with has a wonderful boyfriend who loves her very much, the interaction I described is the way that I deal with celibacy from a "giving up" standpoint. Regardless of what could have happened, I'm working on becoming a professional religious, which means a celibate life for me. While I may have ideas that come into my head, it's up to me to recognize the choice I'm making and to be loyal to that decision.

This brings me to the third and most misunderstood concept of celibacy: Celibacy is only about giving up. In fact, it is through celibacy that we gain the world. In three simple words, we choose celibacy "for the Kingdom." And that, boys and girls, is a topic worthy of it's own separate post. A good discussion for another time.

Later that night when I got home, the guys joked at how I was hitting on a woman from one of the ministries. The guys I live with understand that same "dance" I do with regards to dealing with women. As for what was really going through my mind at the time...well that's just none of your business. :p

Neighbors Together

Today I visited Neighbors Together in Brooklyn near Brownsville. It is a Community Cafe that serves lunch and dinner five days a week. I tagged along with one of the New York Postulants to the Cafe, obviously wanting to compare their soup kitchen to mine in Milwaukee.

Being in Brooklyn, the location was in a much smaller area than I was used to. Rather than having the spacious meal hall, numerous offices, and easy access I am used to in Milwaukee, this site attempted to provide the same services I was used to, but in a cramped setting. I was told that the previous location was even smaller yet, a reality of New York I still can't understand.

While providing a hot meal from 1-3P.M., I also met a few of the case workers on staff, offering aid to guests who are in need of housing, assistance, and whatever else they can. Much like home, all the staff I met were wonderful, energized, and wanted to do some good in the world. I always find it inspiring to see people like me: trying to save the world one person at a time.

While outreach centers and soup kitchens change from city to city, the faces of poverty and addiction stay the same. It's so easy to allow the anonymity of the needy to overshadow the purpose of this ministry; there is an imperative in me to be personal, friendly, and empathetic in this setting, if only to remind myself that no matter how great the number, I am always dealing with human beings.

I felt at home here just as if I were at St. Ben's in Milwaukee or God's Kitchen in Grand Rapids. Perhaps that seems weird for a guy who used to spend his evenings playing cards for big money. It's kind of interesting to look back on the past and see how I've really changed over the years. At one point, I preferred to be around people who only showed respect to those with a bigger bankroll or better skills at "the game." These days, I prefer to be around those people who want to make a difference in this world, great or small.

I can't wait to get back to Milwaukee and see the guests I know so well. However I feel glad to have visited Neighbors Together and interacting with others who share the same vision as me. It's good to know I'm not the only one desperately trying to be a hero in this world.

Return from Mid-Town

We just got back from midtown-Manhattan, on a trip to visit a parish on 31st run by the Capuchins of the St. Mary Province. Since we've been here in New York, we've only had a limited chance to go around and see some of the sights. Today was a chance to take the train from Brooklyn into the city and visit with some of the friars of New York.

In spite of being a mid-west boy who's not used to the big city, I felt quite at home. Having experienced Chicago and Milwaukee, Brooklyn has been a great change of scenery. Taking the train "into the city" felt normal in a way. It's hard to explain: after spending time in a city like Grand Rapids, and thinking I needed to find peace and quiet in my life, I feel strangely calm in the bustling life of a metropolitan area.

Perhaps this is what makes Franciscans different than the other monastic orders. Rather than try to hide or completely silence all the distractions in life, I've found a way to be at peace in the world. Whether someone is playing congas on the J train for extra cash, a couple is arguing with each other in front of Madison Square Garden, or graffiti covers the window I sat near on the way back to Brooklyn, there is something harmonious in all of it. It is as if I can see the hand of God present in all things.

Tomorrow I will go with one of the New York postulants to their ministry. They also work with the homeless. It will be interesting to compare notes.