Working With Habitat for Humanity

While the main purpose of our time in Kansas is to establish community within the Capuchin fraternity before beginning our Novitiate year, we were given a specific ministry for our time here. This ministry was something far different than what many of us experienced during Postulancy, and the actual purpose of the ministry was different as well.

We have spent our Mondays and Tuesdays working with Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County. However we've yet to actually start working outside on an actual house. Most of our time has been spent working on fund-raiser projects for Habitat to continue to build and offer houses to those who would otherwise go without.

Pictured here is me with my team of 6 other guys (another team consisted of the other 7 guys) as we (attempt) to build a playset-complete with swings, rope ladder, and a mini rock wall. The test of it all: only a few of us have carpentry skills.

The projects proved to be more intense than I'd planned. People were grating each other's nerves, I watched as leaders clashed with other leaders, and frustrations grew due to lack of tools, improper materials, too many people in the way, etc. What seemed like a simple project became a test of patience and a revealing of personalities.

I think the ability to live in community and examine our time gave us the ability to handle the stress of this ministry. Each week, three of us share our ministry experiences. This gives us an opportunity to praise each other, voice concerns, discuss challenges, and bring up recommendations about the site.

I have a few views about our "ministry," however I've decided not to write about them yet. I'd prefer to share them with my community before posting them. My views are not necessarily positive, as I see a huge difference between this and what I was doing in Milwaukee. I think the closest Scripture passage is where Jesus starts flipping tables of the money-changers to make a point. Stay tuned for that little bit of interest.

For the community here, I must admit that we have been greatly welcomed by Kansas. People have stopped to see us work in the mall in Hayes, Kansas (aptly named "The Mall") and have thanked us for our time. In spite of my views of this time, I must say that the people of Kansas have been most hospitable. We even made it into the local paper (front page!) here.

Next Monday we actually start working on the houses. Our first task will be to rip down the old siding and put in new siding on the house. Perhaps I will give my ministry reflection next week.

Reflections: My Sister's Keeper

Finding things to do in Nowhere, Kansas can be tough...especially if you're used to living in a metropolis such as Chicago, Philidelphia, or the Bronx. For most of us, the only entertainment for our Saturdays here is dinner and a movie. I've never been much of a movie buff, but it seems that "movie-going" is a common activity when you have limited funds and options.

Yesterday about 8 of us went to see the new movie My Sister's Keeper, a story about two sisters: Kate who is battling cancer and the other, Anna, who was genetically engineered to be a perfect donor to keep her sister alive. It is an extremely powerful movie; and I found two specific parts that gave me pause and gave me the opportunity to contemplate on my own thoughts and actions.

Warning: I'll never give a "complete spoiler," however I may discuss parts of the movie that are not in the previews. If you want to be completely compelled by the story, you may want to stop reading here. If you're okay with knowing a little more, I invite you to keep reading. -V

In contrast to the other movies we've watched since being here in Kansas, our drive home was done in silence. 8 guys sitting in complete silence in one vehicle might be unnerving, however I found it to be quite peaceful. As the van rolled down the freeway in a comfortable silence, my mind retraced the movie I'd seen. I was surprised at how much it had affected me, in spite of myself.

When we got back to the friary in Victoria, I decided to walk out into the field. I looked into the sky and all around me. Rather than seeing buildings, street lights, cars, or the things I've been used to seeing...I saw the beauty of being in a place like Kansas. I thought to a scene in the movie where Kate (Sofia Vassilieva) is taken to the beach to spend a day with her family. In the scene, you see Kate taking in the beauty of her surroundings, happy in the fact that she is with her family and spending time enjoying life instead of battling cancer.

As I walked under the big Kansas sky, I wondered why it was so hard for me to simply enjoy the beauty and peace that existed way out here. Does one need to be completely removed from all beauty in life before we value it? How am I able to better see the wonder of God in all around me?

The second part that truly got me thinking was the part played by Alec Baldwin. As Campbell Alexander, he has been hired by Anna (Abigail Breslin) to represent her in a suit against her parents for Medical Emancipation. Mr. Alexander is shown as an injury lawyer who's commercials appear frequently on TV. His representation of Anna pro bono is considered to be an act of gaining notoriety.

Later in the story, this movie shows something not often seen in modern media: Alec Baldwin has a grand mal seizure. And as people in the court watch with horror as he goes through an epileptic episode, Abigail speaks a truth that only someone in my (or the lawyer's position) could understand:

"[He] wanted to help me because he also knew what it was like not to be in control of your own body."

As I think as to how I approach my faith, my ministry, and my future with the Capuchins, much of my plans and desires surround the concept of power. Giving power to those who don't have it, using power to bring about needed change, empowering others who have no voice. I wouldn't say I am "power-hungry," rather I am "power-conscious." I know who is in control, I seek to understand, to work with it, and if need be - to undermine and subvert it. This is not a unique spirituality, however it is something that has been in me for a long time. I never knew why I saw the world in such a way...until now.

The fact that I could have a seizure here, or while driving, or in my sleep, or doing any host of things is always a possibility in spite of the control that medicine provides. For all the control and power in the world, I cannot control my own body. It is disempowerment at it's most basic level. Viewing my world from that aspect, from a movie shown on a big screen, I found a way to make sense of why I am the way I am and why I look at the world as I do.

I never imagined that this movie would provide me with such an internal look at my own self, and for that I am grateful. For years I have found God in the unlikeliest of places. Songs, artwork, the ramblings of homeless person. There are several other scenes that I found inspiring and worthy of reflection. But if I keep talking about it, you may never get the same pleasure I got, Dear Reader.

Back Again!!!

First, a quick explanation of where I've been for my readers and people who have prayed for me:

During the transition between Postulancy and the Pre-Investiture Program (previously referred to as Pre-Novitiate) I've spent a lot of time reflecting on my image of God and his/her transcendence and/or eminence in the world around me. Having spent that year in Milwaukee, working in direct ministry with the poor reshaped some of my ideas that may have been unformed or perhaps under-examined. Rather than confuse everyone with a lot of weird thoughts that have gone through my head, I decided to take a break for a bit.

At this same time was my transition from Postulancy in Milwaukee to "a state of limbo" here in Victoria, KS. Between vacation, a week long retreat, and saying goodbyes and hellos to new people, not to mention adjusting to a brand new community...I simply didn't have the time (or sadly the inclination) to write much on the internet.

So here I am back again, and I thank those of you who continue to follow along on my journey. My time allotted to me on the internet is not what it used to be, so my posts may become shorter. Regardless, here's an insight into what has happened since being in Milwaukee.

  1. After leaving Milwaukee and returning to Michigan for two weeks, I had to face the reality that even though I'd left the safety and comforts I'd lived with as a Sales Manager, things were not the same. Many I knew were now unemployed, or barely making enough to pay for rent. Several times I heard: "You were smart in choosing to go to the Capuchins." Part of me wanted to be offended; I certainly hadn't joined the Caps as an "economical safety-net." In spite of that, I'd arrived back into Michigan with $400 of vacation money, a "corporate" credit card for gas and necessities, and a vehicle provided by the Order. I had to realize that part of my life was privledged as a friar, as much as I might hate to admit it.

  2. After returning from Grand Rapids, MI, I took a week long retreat at Monte Alverno Retreat Center in Appleton, Wisconsin. My concern was that I'd spent the last 9 months working hard, and now I would spend the next year in prayer and contemplation (which translates to "nothing" for a workoholic like me.) I took some time with a fellow friar Keith Clark, and was able to develop a better prayer life and understanding of myself in that time. I won't say it changed my life, but it gave me a framework in which to grow during this next year as a Novice.

  3. After a warm send-off, were were "cast out" to the heated plains of Victoria, KS. Having grown up in Iowa I am used to rural communities...however this town is EXTREMELY small. Not much lives out here except angus cows and wheat. There is very little to do on the weekends except see a movie and eat out at a restaurant. The schedule here is far more structured than Postulancy...but I will go into that later.

  4. The four of us from our province (and the extra guy from Canada who joined us last year) have found that we've integrated with the other guys from across America. Along with us five are 3 guys from the Pennsylvania province, 2 guys from the New York/New England province, 2 guys from the California province, 1 from Mid-America, and one from the Guam Vice-province. In spite of our many differences we've found that we get along rather well. This has only been the first month, however. We'll see how things progress during this next year.

  5. I'm spending a lot more time studying and working with Liturgical Music. I don't know if I sound better or if I just don't care if I sound bad when I sing, but I've become an "impromptu music director" for our group during this time. When we get to Allison Park, Pa. next month we will have someone to help us with those things. However as I've been involved here, I've found that it's something that I enjoy, and that maybe God still has music as a focus of my vocation. Only time can tell.
This is my mileu at the moment. This next stage of my formation will prove to be a test of my prayer-life, my ability to adapt in community, and my willingness to allow God to use me to whatever ends. I thank you for following my journey this far, and hope you will continue to do so as I progress.

Peace and all good,
Brother Vito Martinez, OFM Capuchin