Franciscan Ramadan: Beginning the Fasting

I know this is an interruption in the narrative I've been giving about my past, but I just felt the desire to talk about my fasting experience today.

Simply: I’m really hungry.

I wish I had better words to give, but any time I stop thinking about why I’m doing this Ramadan fast, my stomach just growls even louder.

In spite of my hunger pains, I really have nothing to complain about. I’m literally surrounded by food. Our cook is in the kitchen at the moment making dinner, an eating experience that will be a feast later on. There are chips, snacks, and soda in the community room. There’s a fridge nearby that has water, juice, and some zucchini bread that my aunt sent today. So to act like I’m actually at a loss for food is a mere illusion…I’m only continuing the willful decision to eat nothing during the day.

Simply removing the temptation isn’t an option during this time either. As I sit here on the community computer, I’m staring at a half-drunk Gatorade and a can of Diet Pepsi that someone didn’t finish. When I worked out in our gym, I heard 15 commercials for fast food on the radio within an hour. Even if I try to hide in my room it doesn’t help; I see all the empty cans and the water bottles that remind me how easy and accessible food and water are for me.

Each day since I've started, I chose to join the community as they prayed for the lunch meal. Standing in front of a counter with lunchmeat, left-overs, and cheese, I listened to the prayer like never before. “Bless us who are about to eat, and bless those who will go without.” I didn’t feel extra-holy or that I’d attained “Jesus points” because I chose not to eat. However I did recognize that when we blitz through the meal prayer just to get to the part where we shove food into our mouths, there are people who feel the same grumbling in their stomachs like me…they just don’t have the access like I do.

Many of these things I already knew. If anything, this feeling of hunger brings back memories of a child - when there were times we simply had rice or beans for dinner. Thinking back, I remember times where my mom chose not to eat so that I could. The experience of hunger is nothing new to me; my only issue is that it wasn’t the reason I chose to embark on this fast.

And perhaps I am where I am because I thought like most people…this was simply about eating before dawn and after sunset. And while I’ve focused a lot on the eating aspect, I realize there’s more to this experience that needs to be sought out. In a book by Seyyed Hossein Nasr, he writes about fasting for Ramadan:
"Both internal and external efforts are needed to fast properly. It is not an easy thing, for example, to control anger. In the month of fasting, this particular passion reaches almost beyond control because man becomes irritable.[sic] He must therefore keep watch constant watch over this and such other passions, so that not only are they properly controlled, but also they never gain the chance to control the individual. Otherwise our fasting will be soiled, and instead of acquiring benefits from external fasting we shall start committing sins."

I compared that words that I've tried to focus on during my meditation this past week:

"Why have we fasted and You do not see?
Why have we humbled ourselves and You do not notice?"
Behold, on the day of your fast you find your desire,
And drive hard all your workers. -Isaiah 58:3
I recognize that this season for me is more than just rescheduling my meals. Ramadan is a time of spiritual cleansing, and that is the point I am trying to reach as well. In the Old Testament, it was thought that fasting could bend the ear of God. I’m hoping that this experience bends my ears, making me better able to hear God and recognize him as I discern my life with the Capuchins as a friar.

In spite of my grumbling stomach, I recognize there is something wonderful that is capable from this experience. I simply hope I have the fortitude to continue before I give up and devour an entire bag of Cheetos!

Happy Ramadan!

Photo by creativesam

Footsteps: The End of the Whole Mess, Part II

The second part of how I broke up with my ex-girlfriend. I share this not because it's juicy drama, rather it is one of the hardest experiences of my life...yet the first of some many hard choices I would have to make in pursuit of a religious vocation.

It's extremely hard for me to look back at this time of my life. Just adding it here brings back feelings of hopelessness, anger, guilt, selfishness, and other thoughts that I'd rather push out of my head. When leaving everything to my ex-girlfriend, I thought I was being noble. In retrospect, I was trying to pay off my level of guilt. No matter how filled with joy I felt about pursuing a vocation, I'd built up large amounts of guilt about this experience. There are other aspects to this story that come into my head which were not written down; I think it better to keep those things from the Internet.

I'm not proud of the life I used to live, nor is this a means to glorify it. However I often get smiles and praises when I go out wearing my habit. I have people telling how wonderful I am for pursuing a vocation, and how I'll be wonderful. To read the stories of my past serves as a humble reminder that I did very little to get to this point...the credit belongs to a much higher power.

Beware the language. Photo by IDG. -V

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another;" -James Matthew Barrie

If you haven't read part one, I encourage you to do so now.

Part of me thought "She'll be OK with this." Maybe I still thought I was in a great relationship, or maybe I was just blind to what she might do...I honestly thought it wouldn't be a problem. She said she was a Christian woman (despite being an adulterer), so perhaps everything would turn out alright.

After I told my girlfriend about what I was feeling, the end result was distrust. Because of how we spent the previous year, she couldn't comprehend that someone as "horrible" as me could actually be called to a religious life. She simply assumed I was sleeping with another woman.

I was a home wrecker. I wanted out of the relationship. I was using religion as an excuse because I wasn't man enough to say what I truly meant. These are the things she told me. I was so confused, both from understanding my calling and trying to make sense of the argument, she convinced me that I was making up an excuse. I started to feel horrible. I felt like a little kid who just broke a window playing baseball. I stood in the living room and let myself be yelled at.

I acted like a man who got caught fooling around. And in essence, that's really what I was doing, living with a woman who'd chosen not to divorce her previous husband, in spite of being separated. I was in a horrible situation from all aspects, and I built up a lot of guilt and shame.

During the next few weeks, things were rocky and cold in the apartment. We never slept in the same bed, we rarely talked anymore. Later on, she would describe the setting as "two roommates instead of two people in love."

January 13th, was a Sunday like most others (sorry for the cliche); she was absorbed in her video game while I was surfing the net, reading, and watching football. The reality of what was happening finally hit me: I was an adulterer - plain and simple. I decided to write down my thoughts here (referring to my old blog an a myspace account.) I wanted to find some sort of balance in my life between what was happening and what I felt in my heart. I wanted everything to make sense.

She, on the other hand, wanted to validate her feelings. And as the day progressed she chose that night to release her fury.

First she tried to prove I was cheating via myspace. I found this funny and showed her that I'd set up a second account to write about my vocation. Then she tried to use my job, saying that working late hours and never being home proved I was a cheater. I laughed at her again, reminding her I'd worked 11 hour days since we met, and that I was too tired or poor to fool around with another woman. Perhaps I laughed because I was fed up, or because I knew she was grasping at straws. (Looking back, I see it was my ego...eager to prove her wrong.)

Finally, she said I was using this whole "wanna be a priest thing" as a cover to go talk with another woman. It was an argument she'd used before, but I stopped laughing.

"I could have kept this to myself," I told her. "Wouldn't THAT have been the cowardly thing to do? To live together and for me not to share an important part of my life...isn't THAT living a lie?"

"I don't believe you," she replied. "You've been lying this entire time. You're just like every other man. You got what you wanted, now you want out. You can't even tell me to my face, you have to make some excuse."

"This is NOT some excuse. I spend my time away from work thinking about this. I feel happy thinking about it. In fact, I feel happier than I have in a long time."

She began to rant about how men were assholes, about how she didn't need anyone's help, about how she could take care of anything. As she talked, I asked God for the strength to get through the ordeal. I didn't know where I would live. I didn't know how I would survive. I didn't know how I could live with the guilt of what I was feeling, or the shame I would endure if I left. What I did know was that this "relationship" was nothing more than a hollow shell of a family...and to continue another day together would be destructive to everyone involved.

"My God wouldn't do this!" she screamed at the top of her lungs. "I don't know what God you believe in, where you can hurt people and lie, but my God doesn't believe in that!"

"Does your God believe in letting married women screw around?" I thought. I'm not good with people who scream and yell, so I kept the thought to myself as she continued to yell.

As though she knew my thoughts, she found the way to piss me off:

"All those Catholic priests are f*cked up anyway!"

She could see the anger on my face, yet she knew that ever since we'd been together I'd never yelled at her. It wasn't in my nature. .

"Go ahead and say whatever you want! You won't leave. You don't have THE BALLS to leave me!"

She was absolutely right. In spite of the words she said to me, and the fact that this relationship was based on idealistic thoughts of love and passion rather than the reality of life, I still couldn't find enough courage to leave. Most men would brag how they'd never let their woman talk to them in this fashion. However I'd been the nice guy all my life - there was no place in my heart for the yelling and brute anger that she had towards me.

I tried to pray. I tried to ask for guidance. And in the end, I could only respond to the anger and screaming with serene words:

"If you don't need a man, if would rather think I'm a cheater, than good for you. If you don't need me, then I don't need to be here anymore."

She started to yell about how I was going to leave her with nothing. Most of the things in the house were mine, she'd be left without furniture, TV, computer, etc. In a calm voice, I responded: "You can have everything here. I'll take my clothes and an empty wallet."

As I collected my things, she remained quiet. I remember an old episode of CSI Miami playing on the TV. I remember feeling bad that her daughter had to be present during the exchange. I remember feeling again like a little kid who's in trouble. As I collected my things, she yelled at me "Don't walk around like your puppy just died!" but I didn't know what else to do. It was either that, or let my rage take over and rip her throat out with my bare hands.

After I'd finally gotten my things into the car, I left the key on the desk. In a calmer voice she still tried to sound firm: "That door only swings one way. If you walk through it, don't expect to come back."

They say that we have 5-6 truly life changing events in our lives. While we have events that affect us, there are only a few that really change who we are and how we perceive the world. I realized that I was standing at the crossroads of a great decision. One of them had the comfort of familiarity; I wasn't happy with my life, but I knew what would happen. I would be safe.

Down the other road lie the possibility of something wonderful happening, but I had no clue how I would survive. I'd just given up my apartment, all my things, and a year long commitment that I thought was the answer to my prayers. Life was so uncertain right now.

I grabbed my last bag, walked out of the apartment, and drove off in the snow.

"One Thing" by Finger Eleven played on the radio.

I smiled, as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Slowly, I drove to my mom's house.

That night I cried. I felt like a failure, and I had no clue what to do next. I slept on a sleeping bag that night instead of my lovely bed. I thanked God for having a roof over my head, for having a job to go to the next morning, and for having a family that would support me, even when I'd given up everything.

Little did I know that the relationship was not done. The next time I'd enter the apartment I'd be escorted by police. There was court, bill collectors, and the worst cleaning experience of my life.

Footsteps: The End of the Whole Mess, Part 1

It would not be until months after the breakup with my girlfriend that I felt comfortable writing down the events. Out of all the venues to discuss this important experience in my life, this is when I really felt the freedom and the passion of blogging my actual experiences.

These next three "flashbacks" give the entire story of my relationship from the beginning to the end. The language is graphic at times, so consider yourselves warned.

This first part is a look back after 5 months from the break-up. It's still hard to look back at these pages and think about the mistakes I made. However I can recognize how they shaped who I am now.

I could write pages upon pages about how important these next 3 blogs are to me, however my purpose in reprinting them is so that you as readers may understand me a little more; and in doing so, recognize that NO ONE is beyond redemption. If God chose to call a guy as bad as I was, don't trick yourself into thinking God can't use you as well.


"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you." - Maya Angelou

Out of respect, privacy, and perhaps shame, I've not chronicled this part of my life. This weekend will be the final page of that story, and I've found it much easier to write this story now that the tale is finished. And now that it's almost at the very end, I can look at the beginning and start to understand why I made the choices I did.

In May of 2005 I was extremely happy with my life, or so I thought. I had a great job selling cars, I was making plenty of money, I had a nice place with low rent...I had everything I could want. The previous year I was living at my mom's place, trying to recover from a "corporate restructuring" at my previous company.

Despite this financial success, I still felt incomplete. I worked hard and I played hard, but I could still feel a sense of emptiness inside. I'd also spent so much time trying to build my life back up, I'd gave up looking for relationships. I didn't feel "lonely" per se, yet I knew there was still something missing from my life. To compound the matter, the other two salesmen were getting married that year. I decided that I was missing out on personal intimacy, and began searching to fill that void.

Unfortunately, my history with women hasn't always been good. I've met a lot of women that had, for lack of a better term, baggage. They were still dealing with ex-boyfriends, they had self-esteem issues, they'd just gotten out of abusive relationships, they're electricity was about to be cut off...I've had a lot of women cry on my shoulder about many different things. And in most instances, I would cheer them up, make them feel better about themselves, make them smile or laugh...only to watch them go back to the same situation again and again. I tried to show that I was the one who actually cared, yet it seemed as if the women I was attracted to thrived off of being abused. I thought I was cursed, but in retrospect I should have recognized it as a blessing.

That September, I met a woman. Again, she had some "baggage," however I convinced myself that I was being too judgemental and I shouldn't expect anyone to be perfect. Things developed as they usually do, and in November, she moved in with me.

Life was good. I felt more like a ...well, more like a man. The whole "hunter/provider" instinct just bloomed, and I enjoyed living with my girlfriend. We got along great. The sex was fantastic. Most of all, I was happy that I didn't have to compromise myself to find someone. I could still be the "nice guy."

I didn't mind that she had a daughter and I was taking on a lot of responsibility. I didn't mind that she'd been kicked out of her last house and her utilities had been cut off. I didn't mind that she suffered from depression, and was very insecure with herself. I didn't even mind that she was still married; separated from her husband for many years, yet still married.

I think part of me wanted to "save" someone. I wanted to have someone love me and also feel protected. I wanted to be the knight in shining armor. Even if the damsel in distress was wrong for me in every way possible, I felt complete when I was able to fill that role.

And I was happy, for a while.

Eventually, we moved to a bigger apartment. We said we were in love, but in reality we were simply Hedonists. Both of us truly wanted someone to love us, I know that for sure. But in reality, we were just fulfilling each other's wants. I provided the money, the security, and the knowledge...and in return she did everything she could to make me happy: be it in the kitchen or the bedroom. Even now, after everything that's happened, I struggle with my celibacy because I remember the time we spent together.

It wasn't until about a year ago that I really noticed the nature of our relationship. We'd been living together for about 7 months, and the "thrill" was leaving the relationship. Sales had dropped also, and I was no longer bringing home the big paychecks. Credit card bills were piling up, utility companies were calling demanding payment, and the luxuries we had at the beginning were pushed to the side. She began to stay up late playing video games online, often times playing all night. The apartment was no longer kept clean, we fought more, and I was tested to truly provide for everyone. In spite of this I assumed we were simply "going through a rough spot," something all people deal with during a relationship.

During this same time, I did something inexplicable.

Most of us are used to arguing on forums/chatrooms on the internet. One can argue about anything from politics to the color of Paris Hilton's handbag on the internet. I'd gotten used to arguing current events on several different message boards. At some point, perhaps after a random discussion about religion, I made the conscious decision to start arguing for Catholicism. I'd read stuff by Celsus and St. Aquinas, but I'd been away from my faith for some time. The switch not only allowed me to argue about something that mattered, but it helped me know more about what I "believed."

Sometime in October, I landed on a diocesan website. For whatever reason, I started reading about priestly vocations. I still can't explain what happened when I really started thinking about vocations, but you know the story from there. I went to see the vocations director, I started this journal, and I began to re-evaluate my priorities.

One thing the vocations director told me was I would HAVE to tell my girlfriend about this. He said it would probably not end well, there would be a lot of trust issues afterwards, and it might get really ugly.

Boy, was he ever right.

Tomorrow - Telling my girlfriend, the fallout, the accusations, the yelling, and someone gets kicked out.

A Franciscan Ramadan

“Let us therefore have charity and humility and give alms because it washed the stains of sins from our souls. We must also fast and abstain from vices and sins…” –St. Francis of Assisi

“There are many whose fast is nothing beyond being hungry and thirsty.” – The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)

With the beginning of Ramadan and the month of sawm, I thought about my commitment and my life here as a Novice with the Capuchin Franciscans. Looking at our schedule of prayer, the commitment to charity, the denial of temporal things that separate us from God… I felt excited because, in a way, this life that seemed so separate from the American norm would now be shared by over 7 million people world-wide!

I also read an insightful article by Brian McLaren talking about how he as a Christian was choosing to share the experience of Ramadan with his Muslim neighbors. In the article he outlines the plan to observe the fast and the principles of the season in a Christian context, yet being respectful and hospitable to those of another faith. You can read the entire article here.

I was immediately intrigued by this idea. While his motives appear more focused on inter-faith dialogue, I looked at how he planned to use the time for spiritual and prayerful reflection. I’d never really fasted before; unless you count the times I ate a Filet-O-Fish instead of a Big Mac. Yet I was aware of many people, from Biblical times to Cesar Chavez, who fasted as a way to spiritually cleanse the body, be in solidarity with those who were hungry, deepen their prayer life, and affirm their dependence (submission) to God.

After praying and meditating on the idea, and then presenting the concept to my spiritual director, I decided that I too would also observe the fast for Ramadan. I don't happen to have a "Muslim friend" in which to "buddy-up" during this time (as McLaren suggests), however I feel this will be a way to deepen my prayer life as well as immerse myself into this Novitiate experience. I’ve think I've come up with a way to observe the fast as I continue to discern my vocation as a Capuchin friar.

For some pretty obvious reasons, I had to tailor a unique way in which to participate. First off, my prayers and testimony of faith (shahadah) will slightly differ from the common prayers of the Qu'ran. I do observe the requirement not to eat from before dawn throughout the day. However the evening meal at Novitiate is a community function, therefore my fast ends at 6:00 PM when we eat. I recognize it isn’t the full time that is prescribed, however the evening meal is an important aspect of community life. Also, since ministry is built in to the Novitiate program, I will look for new ways to fulfill the zakat. Most people don’t have the benefit of living in a community that is built around daily prayer and devotion to God like me…I want to look for ways to reach beyond the current work we do.

I mentioned that I am doing this for personal reasons; however I am excited to learn more about Islam and to understand the spirituality. As a Franciscan I cannot overlook the meeting of Francis and Maik Al-Kamil, the Sultan during the 5th Crusade. The example shown of this story is that two people can be respectful of each other while still discussing their own faith. While this time is meant for my personal relationship with God, I’d like to build that sense of inter-faith dialogue into my life as well.

Don’t be fooled – I haven’t got this all figured out and I can only pray that I have the fortitude to actually do the fast. My ultimate goal is to achieve a clearer mind and a better prayer life during this discernment period of Novitiate. My hope is that the observance of Ramadan will be a vessel which will help my spiritual development. I will post updates as well as reflections about this month, and how it affects me throughout my time here. Keep me in your prayers!

Peace and all good,
Br. Vito Martinez OFM Cap.

Breaking News: Hundreds Slain As Tension Grows

PITTSBURGH (Reuters) – Early Tuesday morning, officials arrived at a small friary in Allison Park, PA to find hundreds of bees lying dead. Very little information is being released at this time; however the use of chemical weapons has been confirmed. The chemical agent is as yet unknown; the area has been sealed off until investigators are able to determine the exact WMD agent that was used.

This latest incident follows in the wake of several “bee-on-human violence” events in the area. Parker Tiffany O.F.M Cap was the victim of TWO unprovoked attacks this past week, once while alone and the other when accompanying an Australian immigrant. The causes for those non-lethal attacks are still under investigation. In a statement earlier this week, the Press Secretary for the Northeastern Alliance of Honey Producers publicly denounced those attacks, stating neither the Alliance nor any individual queen was responsible.

Yet in a gross display of power, a community of bees has been eradicated in what people are already calling an “act of retaliation.” No group or individual has taken credit for today’s act of terrorism, yet many are pointing the finger at the Capuchin Franciscan community, currently engaged in territory negotiations with the local NAHP chapter as well as the WASP contingency. Sources show this community which was attacked had a binding and amicable residency contract with the Franciscans. No comment has yet come from the Franciscans, however sources claim that the acts of terrorism against P. Tiffany have put strains on the negotiations.

“We will defend ourselves to the death!” exclaimed the NAHP Press Secretary in a brief statement released this morning. The death count is not finished, as bees continue to fly around drunkenly in the area.

A prayer vigil for the dead is expected later this week.

Footsteps: Discernment Prayer

As I continue to re-issue posts from my first blog, an attempt before creating my current blog at (Pardon the gross self-promotion), I want to share an old prayer of discernment I'd written.

I was rather shocked at how much this spontaneous prayer sounded like the famous
prayer of Thomas Merton. I had no clue who Thomas was or about his journey; I would have started reading his works immediately if I knew how much of his life pertained to my current way of thinking.

The post also provides a brief understanding of the importance of prayer. Sometimes we feel it’s hard to talk to God. How do we find the words to say what we truly mean?

There’s many different ways of praying...the hardest part is often making the time and the commitment. Even before knowing about the Divine Office, Lexio Divina, or the other numerous forms of prayer, I was able to use prayer as a reminder of my vocation – in hopes that I would keep this journey at the forefront of my mind.

Peace and all good, -V


I am searching. I have heard your call; let me understand your plan for me so I can follow your way. I am so confused at this point, dear Lord. Help me have the patience to wait for your plan to become clear to me. Give me the strength to live in your footsteps, and grant me the courage to act when you plan is finally revealed to me...regardless of wherever it is.


Something I’ve started since discerning is the ritual of prayer. It’s been a looong time since I’ve taken the time to talk to God, yet I’ve restarted the practice – in the morning and evening. I was late for work today, but even in my rush to get to work I took time to stop and pray...simply asking for God to reveal His plan for me and for the strength I so need in this hard time of my life.

The nature of prayer is honestly still a mystery to me. Sometimes prayer feels fulfilling, even inspiring. Other times I wonder if I’m praying to some Divine Answering Machine (begin your intentions after the beep).I don’t know if there’s a way I’m supposed to talk to God, or if depends on the situation.

In spite of the confusion, I still feel it is beneficial. I might only have started just recently, but it gives me a sense of peace and reminds me of my ultimate goal each day. I’m sure there are prayer books and structured methods to pray, however I’m not familiar with any of them, nor do I have any of those books. If all else fails, I still have my rosary.

I just hope I wake up with enough time tomorrow!

News: Novice Is Victim of Hate Crime

Erik Lenhart Caperone Staff
Allison Park, PA (Associated Press)

Violence erupted Monday afternoon August 10th in the usually placid Pittsburgh suburb of Allison Park. Br. Parker Kenneth Tiffany, OFM Cap. was making a routine pass through the heavily apian-occupied back lawn of St. Conrad’s Friary, when he reported being attacked by a swarm of bees.

They were hiding in the ground as I was mowing.” Said Tiffany. “Next thing I knew I was encompassed about by bees.

Tiffany threw off his bee-covered shirt and ran to the friary seeking refuge and medical treatment. He was denied both by Fr. Gerard O’Dempsey. Instead of administering the antidote to the gasping novice, the priest merely dangled the medication above the pocket-sized novice’s head, while making buzzing sounds.

“That was probably the worst part.” Reports Tiffany. “I was panicking and in a great deal of pain at that point, and Fr. O’Dempsey just kept dancing around refusing to give me the anti-venom. But looking back, I guess it was pretty funny.” (Note: Due to the swelling in his face, Tiffany is only able to communicate through Morse code and semaphore.)

Only one witness was willing to break his silence. Br. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap. Heard a girlish scream and ran to his window. Instead of a beautiful damsel in distress, Br. Martinez saw a scene that he could only describe as, “A black and yellow swarm like the Pittsburgh Steelers defence converging on a lone Detroit Lions running back... It wasn’t pretty.”
Tiffany is convalescing comfortably in the friary, where he can see the site of the attack from his room.

Some have speculated that the WASPS, known to harbor anti-Catholic sentiments, may have attackted the Tiffany in retaliation for the Capuchin’s exclusive use of 100% beeswax sanctuary candles.

“I’m trying to move on, but [the attack] has changed my life in many ways.” Tiffany said. “For one, my face is so swollen my caperone no longer fits over my head. But that’s not the worst part. I can never again enjoy the simple pleasure of Honey Comb cereal without getting sick to my stomach.”

A spokesbee for the hive queen in a press conference expressed disgust for the friars’ preference for beeswax sanctuary candles, but added that the attackers were acting as individuals and represent neither the queen nor the hive.

Although the bees have no legal claim to the property owned by St. Conrad’s Friary, they invoke a long unspoken territorial precedent with the Friars.

While Canadian Ex-pat, Br. Kenneth Cole’s offer to mediate has been met with fierce resistance by both Tiffany and Bee camps, a cease fire has been reached, temporarily cooling the turf-war. The terms of the cease fire stipulate that no friar be allowed to mow the Western Quarter of the lawn, but the friar have held firm to their embargo on all exported honey.

While no friar has ventured into the Western Quarter, several pilgrims have created an impromptu vigil to commemorate Tiffany’s struggle and his pock-marked T-shirt, which has become revered as a holy relic.

Br. Erik Lenhart is a Novice with the Capuchin Franciscans, residing in Allison Park, PA.

Footsteps: Revealing My Vocation to My (ex)Girlfriend

What follows is my first discussion to my girlfriend about my vocation. This argument, except for my first visit with a vocation director, is the first move forward I made in my vocational journey.

In recollection, the step forward feels like a step backwards. It is clear from the writings at the time, and through a lot of discernment, that part of me was looking for a way out of the relationship. It’s a hard fact to face when you realize you are as much of an ass as you were told you were.

Rather than create a theology of “God gave me a way out,” the greater question I ask, sitting in prayer or quietly in my room, is: “If this was my way out, does that mean I should still be here? Is this all a continuous lie?” My life as a Novice with the Capuchins does not feel like a lie, nor does my being here attempt to validate an excuse I gave 2.5 years ago. These past few years have been some of the greatest (yet confusing) years of my life. While I am willing to recognize my immaturities (both as a man and as a spiritual being), I can stand where I am now, turn around, and be thankful for how I’ve grown.

Thoughts of inadequacy to my vocation still crop up. Reading these lines still make me feel unworthy, crediting these past years of life not to myself, but to the guiding power of the Holy Spirit.

Sorry for the huge preface. Peace to you. -V

Currently I face two hard questions regarding my future with a religious vocation: my girlfriend and her daughter - both of whom currently live with me. For some pretty obvious reasons the Church takes issue with this kind of “living arrangement,” especially for those who are thinking about becoming a priest.

I first told Girlfriend about my “calling” almost 2 months after first having this feeling. I’d kept it under wraps for a while, protecting my “little secret” as if I were having an affair. One morning her daughter missed the bus and I drove her to school. She was headed out to the car when I remembered about the vocation pamphlets sitting on the passenger seat. She would be confused…then ask her mother about it! I ran outside to “warm up the car,” feeling guilty as I hid the papers under one of the seats.

I didn’t even know what I was supposed to be doing, and I was already hiding this fact about who I was. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be a priest…maybe I’m just supposed do more with the church. Either way I knew I couldn’t continue to live by hiding this important event in my life. Don’t I have a right to figure out this vocation? Don’t I owe God some kind of response?

After dropping of her daughter at school, I came home and simply blurted out what was going on: “Honey, God’s called me to do something. I don’t know what it is, but I think he may be calling me to be a priest. And I don’t know what to do, because becoming a priest means I would have to give you and Stepdaughter up.”

My masculinity doesn’t usually admit to emotional release, however I cried – and honest cry from the heart. I’d put myself at her mercy, ready to accept whatever rage or distraught she displayed from this revelation of mine.

Oddly enough, she told me how wonderful it was to have something like this revealed to me. She told me it was great, and I should explore where God was calling me.

“It can’t be this easy!” I thought to myself as I drove to work. Where was all the ugliness, anger, and mistrust that was supposed to come from a conversation like this? The vocation director told me that this would be a painful experience for her and I, but it was a conversation that had to occur. Yet nothing like that even happened?

I had a great day at work, completely forgetting about the discussion that morning. Perhaps by Divine Providence, Stepdaughter was spending the night at a friend’s house and wouldn’t be home until tomorrow morning…making time and space for what was about to happen.

When I returned home, the situation had completely changed from when I left. The conversational feuding soon ensued…just as I had been foretold. I was called a liar, a user of women, a self-centered man, and few other choice words that would be improper to print here. All of my personal faults and flaws were pointed out, as if she had started making a list the second I left for work. My flaws as a man, my shortcomings as a boyfriend and lover, and a provider were brought up, and I was frequently reminded how I had promised to make a life with her and her daughter. (Note: While we were never engaged, certain expectations arise when you live with someone for over a year. This is not to make me look better; rather it is to give understanding to this particular moment in my life. -V)

Out of all the attacks and expletives I heard that night, the toughest words I had to digest were: “If the Catholic Church would take someone like YOU to be a priest, then they are really ****’ed!” I may be a great negotiator and a good arguer, but when people start shouting in anger, I really have to watch my words. I know when I get angry; I can say things I don’t mean. In spite of the venom of her words, I sat silent and accepted what I had started.

So in the heat of the tirade, I knew what I had to ask, and I knew that I had to be willing to follow up with whatever answer she gave. I told her that if she wanted me to leave, with only the clothes on my back and an empty wallet…then so be it.

And yes, she told me to leave.

Yet in doing so, it was a rhetorical statement. She said that it proved her point that I wanted a way out of the relationship…that this whole “priest thing” was a concoction to hide the fact that I was too scared to break it off. I stood up, not knowing whether I should stay or go…not knowing if she really wanted me to stay or go.

In the end, I told her that I wasn’t sure where God wanted me to go, or what he wanted me to do. Things would become complicated in a break-up, emotionally and logistically, so I told her that I don’t know what God has in store for me, but I’d like to know where it leads me, and I’d like her to be with me for as long as she wished.

This all happened the weekend of Christmas.

From that argument until now, we’ve only slept in the same bed once. There’s a distance between us that is clearly visible, but there’s nothing to say about it that hasn’t already been said. If she wants me to go, then that’s what I will do. If I have to leave behind all of the material things I’ve bought: TV, X-Box, PC, furniture – then that is what I will do to search this call. At this point, I’ve already grown indifferent to a lot of the things that used to bring me pleasure. If I can eat, clothe, and bathe myself, then all my concerns are met at this point.

During all of this, I have often wondered why God would give, only then to take away. For years, I was successful at my job, yet felt I was missing something. When I met Girlfriend and her daughter, I was convinced that they were the missing piece of my happiness. Yet even after six months into the relationship, I knew something was not there. But why would God take the blessings He’s bestowed on me, and then ask me to give them all up to serve?
I realize I’m the last person to question His plan at the moment, and I need to be more as Job was, not complaining about what God has given or taken from me. I only pray that though all of this, I can find some place or some reason for all of this to happen, and not destroy the lives of two good people in the process.

Contemplations on The Economics of Religious Life

“From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” -Karl Marx

“Let us preserve a common life and willingly share among ourselves whatever we receive as individuals.” –The Constitutions of the Capuchins Friars Minor

I start with these quotes because they describe an aspect of my current life. I doubt the Capuchins used Das Kapital in the formation of the Constitutions - any more than I think Marx used the 4th chapter of Acts in constructing his economic theory. Yet the uses of these two quotes provide two great axioms as how we as friars look at money, goods, and the sharing of our funds.

My present dilemma surrounds a ColdGear™ mock t-neck made by Under-Armor®. To prepare for the winter months, I want/need to buy something to wear under my habit. Sweaters are too bulky, shirts don’t always get the jobs done, nor do I own a single brown shirt. (I often can be seen wearing a yellow or blue shirt under my habit.) Under-Armour® provides a great solution for that problem…at the cost of $49.99.

Disclaimer: Product currently displayed may not reflect how it looks on you. "Washboard stomachs" are not a feature.

Before entering the Order, the process of buying this shirt would be simple: I want, I can afford, I buy. Even families who live on a budget have a sense of freedom with purchases, with needs and wants partially determined by what is left over after the bills are paid.

As I ponder over the purchase of this shirt, many questions have to be answered in my mind before I feel comfortable purchasing the shirt…as well as determining which funds to use:

1. Functionality – Will I wear this shirt enough to validate its cost, or will it sit in the closet? Am I going to use it strictly for an undershirt while wearing the habit, or will I wear it when working out as well? Will it last longer than 6 months? Does this shirt suit the purpose I need it for?

2. Aesthetics – Am I purchasing this because it looks nice? If so, how much of that fits into the decision? Would I be just as happy if it had an Adidas® or Nike® emblem on it? Should I even be concerned by those things? Is it made of a material that I can wear, or will it feel awkward?

3. Buying Ethics – By paying $50 for the shirt, do I feel confident that I will not have to replace the shirt within the year? Do I feel that Under-Armour® is diligent in its buying ethics from third party distributors?

Obviously not all my spending has this same dilemma. My dentist appointment and following wisdom teeth extraction requires little discernment. I have tooth pain, they need to be removed. Very little room for discussion.

However with the Under-Armour® shirt, I try to quantify my need versus my want, and compare that to what the intention of the donor had in mind for my use of the money. Perhaps other guys would have less concern buying a shirt like this. For some, they would see it as a necessity and the question would be finished. Others would see it as an affront to poverty, and choose either to save up for it or find a cheaper way to solve the problem.

After living a life in poverty and then achieving a sense of wealth, questions like these present interesting moments of thought. Knowing what it’s like to live without many “necessities” that others had (car, color TV, cable, dishwasher, laundry facilities, etc.) my definition of need is somewhat skewed. Even sitting here, in a Novitiate setting where we are to live a life without much distraction from the outside world, I type on a computer and prepare to load it onto my blog via the internet. Is that truly a necessity, or does need refer to the 4 staples: food, clothing, shelter, and love (human contact)?

Again, the purpose of this post is not to challenge current standards nor preach about poverty, fiscal responsibility, or how we should all be willing to share our goods to help others. I put forth only the new way I live life and how I make my purchases…a stark contrast from the days of selling cars or dealing poker.

This stuff is giving me a headache. I need a Monster®

(Under Armor and Monster are trademarked items. Their use here is not an endorsement by the me, the Capuchin Franciscans, or the Youth for International Socialism.)

Footsteps: My First Blog

In hopes that I can continue to provide blogs while having limited access on the internet, I've decided to re-issue some of my first-ever blogs. These were written 2 and a half years ago - soon after having my "God moment" where I first felt called to a vocation. They show the confusion, the joy, and the fear I felt about how my life was about to change.

Looking back at these remind me of how I felt at first. At times, that innocence and confusion is lost in all the prayer, liturgy, theology, and ministry. It is snapshots like these that help remind me of the long journey I've taken to get this far, and how I still have so far to go. -V

I had hoped that by keeping busy and avoiding the topic, I would simply forget about the possibilities and the questions that my future now held in store for me. I wanted someone to tell me it was just a mid-life crisis, or even an exotic hobby – like skydiving.

Today I woke up with the thought of serving God at the forefront of my mind. In the last two months I’ve tried to forget this “call” that I’ve received. In fact, I really haven’t done much to respond. There’s a part of me that’s scared of what I may learn about myself…scared about how I will have to change and what I may become. Maybe I’m not ready to commit 100%. Or maybe I’m just not ready to give up control.

But last night, when I was in bed and Girlfriend was still on the computer, I thought about the lie I was living. She’s convinced this is all an elaborate scheme to get rid of her and her daughter; she refuses to believe otherwise…in spite of what I’ve tried to tell her about this unique experience I’ve had.

In a way, she’s right. Have I really changed my life since I’ve started “discerning” this Great Plan that I feel I’ve discovered? Have I sought reconciliation for my sins against others? Have I made more time for church? What do I even know about my faith? I’ve only opened the Bible a few times in the 2 months since this feeling started. How could someone as horrible as me actually have a calling to ANY religious vocation…much less the priesthood? Of course she thinks I’m lying!

And so today I must ask myself: If I truly want to serve God in whatever fashion He’s decided to call me, if I truly am going to open my heart and be open to whatever this journey may I willing to do it to appease others, to prove to Girlfriend that I’m not a lair, or am I willing to walk this path simply because I’ve had a unique and awe-inspiring moment with God? I’ve spent a lifetime trying to live up to other’s expectations; am I willing to do this for God and myself alone?

My only connection to my faith these past few years has been Lent. A few years ago I gave up smoking. I figured if Jesus could do 40 days in the desert, I could do 40 days without a Marlboro. Last year I gave up Monster Energy Drinks. Today I’ve made a commitment for a month to give up computer games. I know I could give up bigger things, however the time I waste could be better used for research, prayer, or concerning myself with the future…one that is no longer clear.

Tonight when I get home, I will talk to Girlfriend about what I am doing. I’m sure she’ll be surprised. She’ll ask why. And I’m going to have to explain that this is not a joke, nor is it a plan to get out of the relationship. I realize us living together is far from the “ideal Christian living situation,” but I just want to be sure. Can I be sure? Will I ever be sure? Perhaps not. But before dropping everything in my life and pursuing some wild idea of becoming a priest, I have to know more.

Whoever said “Let go, and let God” never had as big a handful as I do right now.

Reflections on Today's Reading

Jesus said to his disciples:
“If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone." Get the rest here.

"Where two or three friars are gathered, there is bound to be conflict."

Community living holds a significant difference from the corporate world. If you've ever been to a corporate meeting or a "team building" event at your work site, you realize that the theme is: "Let's do this together...but let's do it my way." One must prove themselves worthy, beneficial, or important for their opinion to be heard by management. Because of this mindset, we often work at jobs where " boss is a complete idiot!"

Oh, how we wish for the days when our opinions were heard and things could truly be done the right way!

As a friar living in community, I sometimes miss being told what to do. "But isn't that what obedience is...doing what you're told?" you may ask. Yes, however the Order soon realized that living obedience is easier when you follow someone's directions...and much more complicated when forced to come to a group consensus. But treating each other equally as brothers-in-Christ, we (try) to achieve solutions that benefit everyone.

For example: In the car business, I was not simply told to sell cars. I was told how to sell cars, what habits and tasks would improve my chances of selling cars, I was chastised for not selling the proper amount of cars, and if I challenged what was being taught...the sales manager has many years of success at the car business, and it's hard to tell a successful person they are wrong.

In a religious community, the emphasis is on being obedient to the community. Discussions of house jobs, liturgy, politics, where to park the cars, how to use the dishwasher, how to live poverty, and the ever-violent question of: "Is this what Francis would have wanted?" have existed since the beginning of the Order. Perhaps that was Francis' ultimate challenge: we're not called to live obedience - we're called to live together as brothers in this community.

Yet perhaps the most confusing (and possibly the hardest to live ) part of this Gospel passage is that when everything else fails, you should treat your brother as if he were a Gentile or tax-collector. Knowing that Jesus broke bread with such people and called such people his brethren, what message does that give me when everything I try fails? Perhaps the reality of today's world would rewrite the passage as: "Treat them as you would a telemarketer or one of those drivers that waits until the last second to merge in construction areas (those people give me an angry face!)."

So day to day we try to live as Gospel people and as brothers to each other. There are times when I fall short of that ideal, but my decision to live in community provides me the example and the strength to work with others in ministry. At the best of times we exemplify the Christian community as written within the Bible. Our task is to make everyday a task in living in community.

Parts of this blog post may have been stolen from a homily given by my Novice Master. While I forgot to get permission to use his words for my reflection, I feel this blog post is proof that I in fact DO pay attention. -V

First Day of Ministry

(I realize this post was meant for Friday, however my lack of internet access requires me to delay my posts a bit. My apologies for being a day late!)

Today was my first day at our ministry: Villa de Merillac. I’ve never been a fan of retirement homes; I’ve watched two grandparents die in assisted living spaces. However I recognize that ministry opportunities during formation are a chance to “grow and stretch oneself,” so I decided to try something that would make me feel a little uncomfortable.

Our ministry is one day a week, much different than my experience in Milwaukee at St. Ben’s. Every Friday we drive about a half hour to get to the retirement community in Pittsburgh and we are present with the community until 3PMish. Again…not feeling comfortable in those places, I drove this morning with a sense of anxiety about what I might experience upon arrival.

Most of the day was spent in orientation: understanding the schedule at the home, discussing safety procedures and patient’s rights, and also getting a thorough tour. We met the visiting pastor, originally from Tanzania, who comes every Friday to celebrate Mass for the residents.

We learned that much of our time at the home will be spent helping with different liturgical rites. Currently the rosary is recited along to a pre-recorded CD that the residents follow (I imagined it to be Martin Sheen’s voice…not sure why.) We will take over the leading of the rosary, as well as helping in different roles during the Mass. The director asked if anyone sang and/or played guitar – everyone turned their head towards me. So part of my time each Friday will be directing music and playing…something I have learned to love.

Along with these acts, they’ve started having devotionals on Fridays. There will be a Holy Hour (without the Benediction…even though I volunteered) one day, a litany to the Blessed Virgin, and a few other things. We’ve been asked for input on what we think should be included… a sign that told me that we were being incorporated into their program.

Along with these things, there was the visiting with the guests. This was the part of the ministry that might cause me to freak out. Even as we wheeled guests down to the recreation room for the singer (I’ll talk about the singer in a minute), I was grappling for something to say to people. Usually I can talk to anyone about anything…the first round of visits reminded me I wasn’t as talkative as I liked to think!

The true ice-breaker for me was the signer that came in for entertainment. We sat with the residents and watched a guy belt out tunes by Tony Bennett, Colt Porter, Dean Martin, etc. And just to round things out, he made sure to include the “Beer Barrel Polka” and the “Too Fat Polka.” The absurdity of the event was too much to stay quiet about. As we took the residents back, I joked at how I was going to sing, but we ran out of time!

By the end of the day, I felt more comfortable about being there. Parts of the ministry still will shake me up, however I felt more love than anything else having been there, and the support of my brothers (some of whom have experience in this type of ministry) kept me from crying or screaming. However I remember my reservation at working with the homeless, and how those fears were soon dissipated. I’m sure as I continue to grow in this ministry I’ll experience the same.

The only other great revelation I have for today: if I am ever required to reside in an assisted living space, please don’t take me to see someone doing covers of Rick Ross, Jodeci, or even Lady Gaga. Just buy me an iPod with plenty of music…I promise, that will be plenty to keep me entertained!

Why Novitiate Is Like Grade School

I’ve been here in Allison Park for a week now…still getting into the routine of being a Novice. I tried to think of different ways that I could explain the experience to all the readers. Oddly enough, the best metaphor I can think of is how much this is like being back in elementary school!

I don’t want to imply that we are treated as children, nor do I want to give the impression that this program is either juvenile or unchallenging. However there are aspects to being a Novice that remind me of the days spent in grade school…just without the shyness, being picked on, or that strange awkwardness when talking to girls (OK…maybe I’m still a little awkward!)

1. The Uniform – Since being invested last Sunday, we often wear our habits to prayer, classes, ministry, and to meals. Like kids wearing new clothes for school, we’ve spent the last week playing with the habits, twirling the cords around, making and remaking the knots, accessorizing different side rosaries, and taking pictures en habitus in unconventional poses. We’ve already been admonished by the Novice Master for “inappropriately wearing the habit,” i.e. hiking up the habit to increase air-flow to the legs when it gets hot. (…As if I’m supposed to know that’s not appropriate. It’s not like I’ve spent a lot of time in a dress!)

2. Hot Lunch – Since most of our lives are surrounded by prayer and contemplation this year, we have a cook that comes in to prepare our meals. We each take turns assisting the cook and summarily doing the dishes, however our meals are prepared for us…a change from my experience as a Postulant. On the weekends we are forced to cook for ourselves. I plan on making macaroni & cheese with hotdogs this Saturday for everyone…I’m not ready for another turkey dinner.

3. Sit Down & Be Quiet! – Along with praying the hours of the Divine Office, we as Capuchins strive to spend an hour a day in contemplative prayer. In the morning and evening we spend time in the chapel to meditate as a community. If you are fidgety or have a short attention span…contemplation can be a struggle. If you didn’t get enough sleep the night before, 35 minutes of meditation at 6:30 AM can be an exercise in fighting sleep. I often spend that time in contemplation, praying the rosary, or doing spiritual/liturgical reading. (I am reading A Violence of Love by Oscar Ramero and the USCCB document on Music in Liturgy…not exactly grade-school material.)

4. Nap Time – At different times during the day, we are given personal time. One of the things that’s encouraged here is the use of rest during the day. We spend about 3 hours in communal prayer a day, not counting personal/private prayer. A lot of time that is spent out of prayer and classes is used in exercise. Therefore it has become essential, especially for me, to lie down at some point during the day and take a nap. Sometimes I only need 15 minutes of rest, sometimes I’ll take 3 hours of sleep if I have the time available. I’ve found naps to be greatly beneficial to me, so much so that I feel they should be continued past Kindergarten.

5. Schedules – Our lives here are greatly structured. If you want to know where I’ll be next month on the 5th at 7:00 AM, I could tell you with a great deal of certainty. The structure allows us to focus on ourselves…the biggest part of this novitiate year. I thought it might be tough for me, being confined to a rigid schedule of prayer, work, classes, meals, and even scheduled fun we call: “fraternal recreation.” However I’ve found the experience quite liberating, not having to schedule my own projects or tasks.

This is my first-week experience of being here at novitiate. I recognize that I’m still in the “honeymoon” phase, and that by this time in January I could be writing a blog entitled: Why Novitiate is Like a Freakish Nightmare from Which I Cannot Awake!

Meme: 10 Rules of Novitiate

In light of the high structure and prayerful stature that we undertake here in Allison Park, PA, there’s always new and creative ways in which to wreck havoc within a religious community. Whether by plain ignorance or a skewed sense of humor, we seem to find new ways to give the formators that "head in palm" moment.

In light of these issues, here are 10 rules which we have been given…either because of something we’ve already done or because of some Novice in the past:

1. One shall not begin a prayer with the preface: “Dear Lord Baby Jesus”

2. One shall not pretend to perform jedi mind tricks while IN PUBLIC.

3. One shall not attend prayer with a cup of coffee, can of soda, a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, or anything written by Karl Marx.

4. One shall not wear the habit with only underwear underneath (or less.)

5. One shall not play basketball, soccer, or any other contact sport while wearing the habit. Moreover, one shall not do the aforesaid activities and then sit in chapel for 40 minutes surrounded by other friars without having bathed or changed clothes.

6. One shall not ask for intercession from the “Little White Guest” around people that don’t understand.

7. One shall not add beads, tassels, patches with band names, color the knots of one’s cord for a rainbow effect, or add anything that could be defined as “flair.”

8. One shall not use songs like: "Gather Us In" or "All are Welcome" as closing hymns.

9. One shall not construct a sign that implies a sense of oppression and/or inequality of the living conditions at the Novitiate, nor shall they erect signs in front of their house, labeling it: “The Ghetto,” “The Barrio,” or “Thug’s Mansion.”

10. The intercom system is not a toy, nor is it a sports ticker, a means to perform a “price check,” a platform where one should read excerpts from their personal manifesto, a means to imitate the booming voice of God, or the reproduction of noises commonly referred to as "Beat-boxing."