Day of Reflection: Three Things

Once a month we have "days of reflection" here at Novitiate. While the entire experience is actually a year-long span of reflection and discernment, these particular days are like mini-retreats when we're given specific topics to think about and incorporate into our faith journies as we become Capuchins. We have guest speakers come in; it's importance to the program is such that all other activities are put aside during these days.

I've experienced reflection days when I was a Postulant. During Advent and Lent, our friary in Milwaukee got together with the other formation house from Chicago. It was a great time, however the opportunity for the houses to get together sometimes  became excuses for us to catch up and have fun rather than just focusing on the reflection time.

This past Monday was our first Day of Reflection here. We had Fr. John Pavlik come and talk to us. John is the provincial minister for the St. Augustine (sometimes called the Pittsburgh) province. And while the spirit of the event was light, there was definitely plenty to think about.

One if his points was the ability to look back on our reasons for choosing to become Capuchins. Each of the us have our reasons for being here in Allison Park. And while the year of seclusion continues, and nerves start to grate on each one another and people learn the true meaning of "living in community," there is an importance to be true to our vocations.

The challenge he gave us was this: there are three main reasons why we chose to join the Capuchins versus another Order or the diocese. Our task was to find those reasons and to keep them in our prayers. He told us how his three reasons got him through tough times as a friar, and kept his focus on why he was a friar instead of letting other things tear him apart.

It was a great insight for me to reflect on. Usually I choose to stay busy, fill my day with lots of tasks, and set goals that I try to achieve (the remnants of my life as a salesman). But at times my work and my life have felt empty...leaving me to wonder why I'm even pursuing this vocation. Remembering that I am not doing this for me, but because I felt the task of doing something for others puts things in perspective.

So while the use of three things seems as simple-minded as Curly's one thing, there is wisdom in the simplicity of this reflection. Whether it be a vocation like mine, or a long-term relationship, a marriage, or a career, there are times when we get into "the rut." We get overwhelmed with the daily tasks of living our lives; sometimes we forget those monumental and earth-shattering moments that brought us to where we are. While I've never been married or had my own children, I know how easy it is to forget about the love that existed at the beginning of a relationship. I know what it feels like to wake up and wonder: "What am I doing here?" Like any other committment, a vocation must be renewed continuously; each day I must choose to be here-living my life as a friar.

Someone great (although she'd humbly tell you otherwise) once told me that these memories are like pebbles: pebbles that can be easily lost or forgotten. The key is to keep those pebbles in our pocket; to shine them and touch them and know every ridge and smooth surface. If we can keep those pebbles of our memories close to us, and readily available whenever we need them, not only can they remind us why we are on our journey, but we might even leave a trail as a guide for others.

Flickr photos from Ben and rph10uk

A Franciscan Devotion: Transitus

For almost every faith community of the Franciscan tradition, October 3 this week will not be just another day in Ordinarity time. The Transitus, or the crossing over of St. Francis, is the devotion of the death of Francis of Assisi on the eve of his Feast Day. For many communities the Transitus is a big deal, and something not often observed outside of the Franciscans.

The purpose of Transitus is commemorate the death of Francis of Assisi, the founder of the Order of Friars Minor. By entering into the event of Francis' death, and reciting (or reinacting) the death of our father, it is intended to help people remember Francis' commitment and reinforce our commitment to the Order and to Christ.

This year I am the one planning the Transitus liturgy. Along with another Novice, we are preparing the prayers, music, and readings that will be used Saturday night. In the planning of the celebration, I've found one unique thing: there's no real guideline or norm for this event.

That's not to say we have a complete "free hand" to do whatever we want. Dancing around in unitards with sparklers and streamers was explictly ruled out as an option. Reading everything in Latin while priests stand with their backs to us is not an acceptible practice for this liturgy either. In fact, trying to find a norm is based off of the experiences that others have regarding the celebration of Transitus.

As a way to help people understand exactly what this may look like, here are some of the very basics of the Transitus liturgy.
  • The narrative of Francis' death is read. Readings are usually chosen from either Celano or Bonaventure, as both have beautiful language and are very poetic.
  • The Gospel of John is read, starting at Chapter 13 and sometimes continuing through the Last Supper narrative. The reading of this particular Gospel is part of the narrative of Francis' death.
  • Psalm 142 is recited, sung, or chanted. Again, the specific psalm coinsides with the narrative of Francis' death.
After that, the field is wide open, so to speak. Some celebrations have processions, signifying the return of Francis to the Portiuncola. Some celebrations have people acting out the narrative, much the way one would see the Cruxifiction or the Nativity stories acted out. Prayers, singing, and readings are almost always included. Again, the purpose of the devotion is to recognize Francis' love of Christ and his poverty while inspiring us as his brothers and sisters to strive for that same love of Christ.

I have a good idea of how I want the celebration to look like, and I think it will be done rather well. I just hope the inflatable bouncing mat and the rock wall get here before Saturday!

(for everyone else that didn't catch the sarcasm, that was a joke.)

World Habitat Day

October 5, 2009 is World Habitat Day - a day of observance and awareness for the more than 100 million people in the world that are homeless. Designated by the United Nations, the purpose of World Habitat Day is to "reaffirm that adequate housing is a basic human right," as well as the responsibility of all of us to ensure adequate and affordable housing to all people.

World Habitat Day is a day when all people are encouraged to either educate, advocate, or join their community in the battle against homelessness. You can find links to events in your area here.

The event is spear-headed by Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization that works to bring affordable and adequate housing to people all around the world. By encouraging the involvement of the community to help build homes for their neighbors, as well as encouraging Habitat home owners to help in the building of new homes, this ecumenical organization has built over 300,000 homes across the world.

When I was asked to help promote World Habitat Day as a way for people to educate themselves about homelessness and poverty, I immediately agreed. In Kansas, we had the opportunity to work with Habitat not only in a fund-raising project, but also working on two homes in Hayes, KS. And while I might not be able to swing a hammer properly, the reality of Habitat's work for the homeless was undeniable.

One of my greatest reflections when working with Habitat was their tradition of writing Scripture on the baseboards of the house. As a way of connecting faith with the people that would eventually live in the homes, Habitat encourages people to scribe Biblical passages on support beams and frames. While they may be covered up by siding or dry-wall, the reality and power of the Word remains. I remember writing the words of the Magnificat, recognizing the significance of what we were doing as builders as well as future friars:

The Almighty has done great things for me,
And holy is His name.
His mercy is from age to age
on those who fear Him.

So I encourage all of you to visit the site for World Habitat Day and see what you can do to get involved. Sometimes the greatest act of charity is just to acknowledge the struggles of the poor in this world. I'd encourage everyone to at least look at the statistics, and then consider what can we can do as Gospel people to be present to the needs of the poor.

"Charity is love received and given." -Caritas in Veritate

Drugs and Ideas

I'm still recovering from having my wisdom teeth pulled. I'm a little woozy and kinda cloudy at the moment, in all honesty! While the Vicodin manages the pain, it puts me in a weird place that I don't like to be - one reminiscent of the days when I did drugs.

But rather than dwell on the effects of the pain killers, I wanted to let people know that my operation went off without a hitch, and that I'm only able to eat Jell-O, pudding, apple sauce, and similar substances for the next few days. Thanks for the many prayers and words of support before the operation.

On an unrelated note, I have a conference call scheduled on Monday with the PR director of our province as well as the the person who does the PR's web work. The goal is to look at what can be done to improve the functionality, aesthetics, publicity, and other components to my blog. I recognize that not every blogger is lucky to have a person on-hand to help with technical issues, but as my faith journey continue to moves from a vocation of "just the priesthood" and more into the realm of Franciscan spirituality, I recognize the need to change the face and make everything look just a bit more "professional."

One possible inclusion is a link to Fr. Marty Pable, OFM Cap. Fr. Marty is a priest-psychologist who's been a parish priest, a professor at St. Francis University in Milwaukee, a preacher for retreats and workshops, a spiritual director, and a published author. He is still active and lived at the Postulancy house with me last year.

Along with these ministries he's had a lesser-known internet ministry for several years. By making himself available to questions regarding faith, Church teaching, Biblical teaching, and all things concerning faith (regardless of someone's faith), he's been instrumental in helping people on their own spiritual journey while being respectful of the person as an individual. This specific ministry he does just by email. See Fr. Marty's old page here...his email still works.

I don't know if it's just the Vicodin, but I'm excited to see what the next few weeks brings in changes to the blog.

A Franciscan Ramadan: Celebrating Eid ul-Fitr

While tonight marks the end of the month of Ramadan, it was rather anti-climactic for me. Spending most of the day at the dentist having my wisdom teeth removed was not the way I'd planned to celebrate the break of fast. But with the requirement not eat or drink before the surgery, the last day of fasting was rather easy.

While I technically missed Eid ul-Fitr, I wanted to make sure I had sufficiently met the requirements of the zakat before learning another tradition. Cleaning the bathrooms for the guys was considered a very charitable act by everyone in the community, but I also wanted to do something for the poorer population. Only getting $50 bucks every two weeks limits the amount of donations I can give. However I decided that I would send money back to St. Ben's, my old ministry in Milwaukee, WI, for a fund that exists there to help cover the cost of prescription co-pays.

This being my first year of celebrating Ramadan and the traditions incorporated with the holiday, I'm kind of "winging" things as I go along. Understanding the Eid ul-Fitr, understanding the takbeer, getting the actual dates and times correct, and then finding a meaningful and relevant way for me to celebrate these events as a Capuchin Franciscan-I try to navigate between being true to my own faith while being respectful and true to the Islamic faith and tradition. While part of me continues to wish I'd had someone to join me in this endeavor...either as a guide to the holiday or someone to explain more of the spiritual aspects, I hope that I am not doing a disservice or a great offense by my simple interpretations.

With that said, I've made a plan for the Eid prayer tomorrow, in part from the writings at Wanting to be respectful of what is considered Mustahab (virtuous, recommended), my celebration will include the following:

1. In the morning I will venture out into our "back 40." Barefoot and in habit, we have a chair a chair I can put in the middle of the field. For my takbeer, I have chosen Psalms 135, 95, and 145 for reading and prayer. Tomorrow is also the memorial for Padre Pio, so I'll choose an acceptible reading...keeping with the theme of doing good and resisting evil.

2. In order to reach out to people I haven't seen or talked to in a while, I've already started writing letters to people I haven't talked to in a while. Having taken this time to reflect and improve myself through the prayer and fasting, I want to take time to remember others instead of just focusing on myself.

3. My celebratory meal with the community will have to be put on hold...since after my trip to the dentist I can only eat pudding and apple sauce. My goal is to make dinner for the community as a way of sharing my skills while celebrating the end of the feast.

While this has not been the perfect model for a Catholic Christian to celebrate Ramadan as a time for personal prayer and growth, it has been of great benefit to me. It is an event I hope to continue learning about, so that I can be a better observant next year.

Once again, my apologies for any discrepencies or misunderstandings of the Islamic holidays. Hopefully next year I'll have someone who I can "buddy-up with" during the month of fasting!

Wisdom Teeth Extraction

Tomorrow there will be weeping and pulling of teeth as my long-awaited surgery has finally arrived. Last month I had a horrible weekend as I developed wisdom tooth pain for the first time. Never having dealt with the pain, and not having dental insurance for a long time in my life kept me from getting my wisdom teeth taken out at a younger age.

Keep me in your prayers as I recover from what will probably a very sore experience.

My Lady of Sorrows

This post was originally written on Sept. 15, the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows. My apologies   for takinga while to get this online, as I've beenpraying really really hard this week! -V

My mom has made a great many sacrifices for me during my life. She's turned down jobs to put my needs first, she stopped having relationships in order to focus on raising me, and there were times when she's put aside her wants so that I could have presents under the Christmas tree, or just have a nice dinner. When I was in fifth grade, my mother coached the flag football team because we wanted to play, but no one was available to coach. Large or small, my mother has done great things for me.

And maybe I'm no different than any other Catholic...seeing the works of my mom as a parallel to the Blessed Virgin Mary. And maybe every mother sees her son as young boy who will be capable of great things, as I'm sure Mary did. In spite of that, there is a unique aspect of coming from a single-parent family and being an only child makes the parallel to Mary and Jesus that much more significant to me.

There are many nuances involved with a single-parent/only-child family, but one of them has been more evident as of late. And while I wouldn't dare to assume equality with the divinity of Christ, I think if I ever got a chance to sit with Jesus and compare our respective mothers, we'd have a good laugh.

Two weeks ago my mom underwent surgery for her shoulder. She fell on ice last winter and injured her shoulder when she landed. She's had surgery planned since that time, but (as some mother are prone to do) she was stubborn and put off the operation until it really started to cause her pain.

My aunt called me when the surgery was done. While it was a success, the doctor said there was a lot of arthritis in her shoulder that may cause future problems. If the shoulder failed to heal properly, she would require an entire shoulder replacement.

The news was a gut-check to me. Here I am 500 miles away living towards a vocation where I hoped to work with the poor, when back home my mom was recovering. On top of that, there exists a real possibility that her shoulder might prevent her from working. Hunting for jobs in Michigan is not easy these days; the reality of having a mom who is just as poor as the people I work with is something I had to deal with.

Out of some "maternal 6th sense" my mom called the next day to let me know that she is doing well and not to worry about her. She didn't talk about the possible implications of long-term problems...rather she just focused on the physical therapy and hope for the future. She asked how I was doing, let me know people were thinking about me, and talked about how the rest of the family was doing. And without missing a beat, she began to worry about my operation to remove wisdom teeth on Tuesday. Even in a recent email, she said she was doing well (except that it was hard to type with one finger), but then wanted to make sure I had a ride to the appointment so I wouldn't have to drive back by myself - still under the influence of the anesthesia.

That's my mom!

In our lives, there is this odd conflict where we try to worry about each other...yet give each other the freedom to live their own life. My mom has always supported me, even when I've made the stupidest of mistakes. And even though I didn't get to go as many places or have as nice of things as the other kids, I respected the lessons my mother gave me, be they lessons about respect, remembering our culture, or helping others who cannot help themselves.

Out of this comes an almost tragic story between the two: one where the mother suffers all for the needs of her son, and a son who wishes his mother would stop having to sacrifice for his benefit. I can think of no words to further describe this bond: however I remember my mom singing Helen Reddy's You and Me Against the World. If Mary were a fan of 70's music, that would be the song she would sing.

So as I listened to the day's antiphon for the Canticle of Mary, I thought of this relationship:

When Jesus saw his morther standing beside the cross with the disciple whom he loved, he said to her: Woman, behold your son. Then he said to the disciple: Behold your mother.
It reminded me of the last line I wrote in my latest email to my mom:

Would you stop worrying about me for a minute so I could worry about you?

Photo of Statue from Marseilles from Pictoral Musings

A Franciscan Ramadan: Keeping the Faith

After 3 weeks of doing my best to observe the Ramadan fast, I've come to a saddening reality: I have more fast days to make up than actual days completed during the fast. While the rules allow for those missed days to be made up before the next season of Ramadan, there is a sense of failure on my part.

I took these thoughts to my spiritual director, who was eager to hear how this time was being spent and how the fast affected me bodily, spiritually, and in my prayer life. There is a sense of safety in talking with formators and spiritual directors once a week, as they keep me from getting too "off-balance." He offered a great idea: if I felt that the time of fasting and self-reflection was being nurturing and healthy to my spiritual growth, why not use those "missed" days of fasting as "opportunities" later in the year to help me with my prayer life? Be it during Advent, Lent, or maybe just a random time that I feel the need to fast again, these days are a chance to not limit my experience to one particular month.

People here have noticed a difference in my demeanor, but I know I have found a growing sense of prayer awareness, consideration for others, and balance in thoughts and feelings through the observance of Ramadan. In spite of what others my have thought my faith has actually grown.

I wonder if I could have used any holiday or occasion for this desire to deepen my spiritual life. The fact that I'm a Catholic observing an Islamic holiday seems less controversial when, in reality, I'm a Catholic looking to find a deeper connection with God. Whether that occurs during Lent, the Easter Season, or outside the realm of the Liturgical Calender.

Less than a week to go. My thoughts are with those who have been able to keep up their fast this entire month, those who do not have the ready access to food and water that I have here in Allison Park, and those who have given up on finding God.

The Subversive Mysteries of the Rosary

Last week, I submitted an article to, a favorite site of mine as someone who's interests lie with the social teachings of the Catholic Church. While I thought the article was simply a personal reflection on my own prayer life and it's growth as a Capuchin friar, it's starting to turn into more.

Through discussion, insight (from prayer, formators, and fellow friars with plenty of knowledge and wisdom), and after spending 4 hours a day in prayer here at the friary, I found a way to meditate on aspects of Jesus' life as the Poor and Humble Christ that Francis speaks of. While Francis would consider Jesus' entire life, from the birth in a barn to death on a cross, to be an example of His humility, I wanted to focus on aspects of his life that exemplified this subversive lifestyle He lived. (subversive meaning: one who changes from below)

That specific article can be found here.

Later I chose to share more about my personal reflections and how I'd come to these specific events...even how they affected me in prayer.

That follow-up article can be found here.

While this, again, has all been out of a personal devotion and means to feed my spirituality, some have taken offense to my use of this traditional prayer form and the introduction of additional mysteries. I choose not to engage in theological debates via the internet, but I just wish people would stop referring to me as a monk. (I belong to the Order of Friars Minor!)

Enjoy them or denounce them. As always I encourage people do whatever leads them closer to God.

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

(Please forgive my passive-aggressive outburst. -V)

It's Time for A Facelift

With the dramatic increase in readers that I have on my blog, I've decided to try and make this site more functional, eye-pleasing, and navigable. I have no idea how to do any of those things, but like this entire faith journey, I'm gonna try and figure it out along the way.

Most importantly will be a name change in the blog. When I first started to record my thoughts in this format, I entitled the work: "The Road to Faith." It was an appropriate title at the time, but as I discerned longer, I changed the name to "The Long Road to Priesthood" as I started to explore different vocations in the Church.

That was almost 2 years ago.

But like my faith spirituality, this blog has grown into more than just a focus on becoming a priest. As a novice of the Capuchin Franciscans I am concerned with much more than just being ordained. My thoughts are about community life, how to live obedience, poverty, and (Lord, help me!) celibacy. The events that have brought me to this point are the topics of meditation, the stories I use in faith-sharing, and a bridge I use to build relationships that I'd never have made were I anything but a Capuchin friar.

Last but not least, I've started to find God in the most unlikely of places. On the radio, when driving on the freeway, while sitting at a hockey game, or just when I'm sitting alone. My desire to find a God beyond the church doors has given me an insight into living the Gospel, while sometimes worrying my more conservative friends and brothers.

So with all those thoughts in mind, I'm attempting to revamp the blog to reflect my specific experiences as a Capuchin friar in formation - a task a salesman would find easy (one would think). So over the next few weeks, changes in the format and the style of my blog. I apologize for any trouble in advance.

The only thing I don't intend to change: the content of my thoughts and posts.

As always, thank you for your prayers.

Peace and all good,

A Theology of College Football

For we their praises sing
For the glory and fame they've bro't us
Loud let the bells them ring
For here they come with banners flying
Far we their praises tell
For the glory and fame they've bro't us
Loud let the bells them ring
For here they come with banners flying
Here they come, Hurrah!
-University of Michigan Fight Song

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth;
break into song; sing praise.
Sing praise to the LORD with the harp,
with the harp and melodious song.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
shout with joy to the King, the LORD.
Let the sea and what fills it resound,
the world and those who dwell there.
Let the rivers clap their hands,
the mountains shout with them for joy,
Before the LORD who comes, who comes to govern the earth,
To govern the world with justice and the peoples with fairness.
-Psalm 98

I am a huge fan of college football, especially the Michigan Wolverines. I've loved football since I was old enough to run around with a ball, and even when I lived in Iowa I cheered for the Wolverines. Even though my family is from the South Bend, IN area, I am a vehement fan of Michigan, and proudly display my support...especially at the beginning of the season when Michigan plays Notre Dame.

I'm sure most Catholics wonder why a Capuchin friar would even root for a team over Notre Dame. (I often joke that the reason I didn't join the Dominicans was because they weren't comfortable with me not being in league with ND football.) I happen to feel that if Divine Preference is involved, then God probably loves Michigan football more than Notre Dame's program. I have no real evidence, but it feels good to me.

Perhaps my experience is a revelation of a greater truth. Let's use Saturday night (a great night of football for me!) as an example:

On Saturday Michigan beat Notre Dame (Yay!) after a poor showing last year. On top of that, USC beat Ohio State (anytime Ohio State loses is a de facto win for Michigan). Both games were intense and close. As I watched "my team" triumph, I was invigorated with energy. I talked with other people while only partially paying attention; I'd run from the dinner table to check the score every 10 minutes; since I had to cook Saturday night, I got a radio for the kitchen so I could listen to the play-by-play. I went so far as to tell guys in the community: "The most important thing I have to do today, after attending Mass, is to watch Michigan play Notre Dame!"

As I watched, I saw many of the things I'd seen so many times: cheering and elated fans for the winning team while the losing team had people crying and holding each other from the loss. I watched fans with their hands together, looking up at the sky, as the final seconds determined who would win. I watched kickers point to the sky after making a field goal and look to the ground when they missed. And I listened to Matt Barkley, freshman QB for USC, give an interview after the game in which he first praised God for the joy and the thrill of the victory that night.

What I'm talking about is nothing new in the realm of sports. We've watched baseball players do the sign of the cross as the come up to bat, we've seen keepers kiss and "bless" the posts before soccer [football] games...the use of prayer and religion on the field is nothing new. I tend to be understanding of this: if they are praying for strength to overcome adversity. While a sport often has an opponent, the drive most athletes have is to perform at their best, be mentally and physically prepared, and to block all things from their mind except the task at hand. I pray for many of those things each day, except I don't go play 60 minutes of professional soccer or football afterwards.

What I question is the intentions of fans, myself included. Watching football can be a means for disconnection within the family, or a way to spend a day in front of the TV instead of doing something productive or active. In this country, the popularized view of a football fan is an overweight middle-aged man who looks too out-of-shape to ever play the game again.

Whether I cover myself in paint, tail-gate to every game, or am able recite my team's offensive statistics for the past 4 seasons, I don't really know "my" team. They are just big guys in pads-when the game is done, I go back to my life. And perhaps that is my biggest concern with the energy put into the game.

Looking at how I and others watch our beloved teams, there seem to be 4 key elements:

1. A personal investment, emotional or otherwise, in the success or failure of the team.
2. A display of commitment to the team, personal or public...especially in times of great success or continuous loss.
3. Public witness or defense of the team; (Last year I watched Michigan vs. Notre Dame at a bar full of Fighting Irish alumni.)
4. Support of the team can be a focal point for energy. In spite of other issues going on, team support can override everything else, especially if one has a lot of personal investment.

A person who fulfills these guidelines with regards to sports is often considered a "die-hard fan." In spite of the eccentricity, their "sometimes crazy" devotion is accepted.

A person who fulfills these guidelines with regards to the poor, marginalized, and underclass is often considered a "hippie" or maybe a "Communist." Those especially eccentric are often written off as idealists. Before I get too political or preachy, the overarching problem I saw was the sense of solidarity for a fleeting game (evident even within myself) versus those issues that exist within our community.

And maybe I am reaching to make a parallel. Comparing my undying devotion to the Michigan football team is a different matter than my relatively low concern with sex-trafficking and child labor around the world. Watching the Michigan vs. Ohio State game is on my calendar, but I have no idea what needs exist for the local homeless/hungry contingent in Pittsburgh. One set of events is not on par with the other...are they?

I offer, if only as a self-reflection, that the investment I have in any event can be seen by how I feel. I've want to cry when I see "my team" lose...just as I've wanted to cry when I watched a friend "fall off the wagon." I felt a disconnected kinship with the players as they embarked on their season, just as I've felt that same kinship with guests of the Community Meal or inmates at the jail. But most of all, I've felt the exhilaration of listening and being involved with the victories...just as I watched this past Saturday.

So perhaps that's part of my call: to be a fan for the poor, the marginalized, the hungry, and those that have been cast aside by society. And perhaps my jersey is simply a brown robe with a hood, and outdated but significant sign of who I support in this life. Or perhaps...I'm stretching just a little.

Hail to the victors, whomever they may be.

All logos are property of The University of Michigan and Ohio State University.

Touching Base from Novitiate

I haven't been able to write and post much as of late. The schedule here in Allison Park is starting to ramp up, making computer time and and blogging harder to do on a consistent basis. As always, I'll try to keep people informed about what is going on here in Pennsylvania at the Novitiate house.

Yesterday was Thursday - our day off. Rather than go out and eat, a group of us bought 4 huge bags of chicken wings, plenty of Tabasco sauce, and a few other goodies to make buffalo wings. They turned out to be a success, however I think our cook was annoyed by our monopoly of the kitchen, especially when she was supposed to start making dinner while we were finishing making lunch!

I've also been worrying about my mother. She fell last winter and injured her shoulder. Last week she had surgery to fix the pain she was having; the rehab will keep her at home for 3 months and then put her on restrictions when she returns to work. She says she's healing well (even though she hates taking the Vicodin because it makes her "woozy"), however living in Michigan can redefine your sense of job security. My prayers are that she heals and is able to return back to work without any issues.

I've spent 15 minutes of my allotted 90 internet minutes already. May you enjoy a wonderful weekend. And on this day, may we remember that Christ has already given us His peace - it's up to us to share that peace with everyone else.

Franciscan Ramadan: The Half-way Point

In spite of what others thought or expected, I’m still fasting in observance of the month of Ramadan. As a Capuchin Novice, questions were asked and approval was needed from my Novice Master as well as my Spiritual Director to begin. Even I’ve had questions of continuing, understanding the motives, and wondering why I couldn’t use a traditional (a.k.a. Catholic Christian) model for fast and prayer.

My community has been very supportive in my decision. There were a few raised eyebrows when I first mentioned the idea, yet they see I haven’t started bringing a sajada to Morning Prayer, nor haven’t replaced my side rosary with tespih beads. Recognizing that I was using the time to deepen my prayer life and novitiate experience, not to start a religious conversion, people started to feel relaxed with what I was doing.

The act of fasting is still a struggle at times...mostly because I cannot (nor should I) fast according to the actual schedule. While my life makes religious observance easy in Novitiate, to eat alone and be absent from community events in order to maintain a fast would be contradictory to my overall purpose. My fast days are Monday-Wednesday and Saturday. Thursday is our “day off” here in Novitiate, and community outings are usually scheduled. Friday we are graciously fed by our ministry, and Sunday is a community day where, again, outings and invitations are accepted to brunch.

The task of losing weight has also taken a sideline to this month’s fast. Long periods of fasting followed by eating slow down my metabolism. In the first week, my weight fluctuated back and forth. During the days, I try to run, lift weights, or play soccer to keep my metabolism going. I recognize that fasting is NOT the way for me to lose weight; I’m just trying to keep from gaining a ton of weight after this is done.

What has surprised me is the increase of my thoughts and meditations during my prayer. Just this morning, I cried while meditating on the mysteries of the Rosary. Other days this month, I’ve felt a true connection between the psalms and the feelings I was having. I do more spiritual reading in my spare time now. I’ve gone through books on fasting, a book about praying the psalms by Thomas Merton, a few books about the Virgen de Guadalupe, and even a book on Islamic Spirituality. I don’t think that fasting has magically made me “holy.” Rather I associate the feeling of hunger as a reminder of what this time is supposed to mean. So instead of taking a nap or playing guitar, I try to do something spiritually nourishing whenever I can.

The hardest part was not the fasting, much to my surprise. Rather I found the presence of angry and cynical thoughts running around in my head to be of concern for me. At different times I will find myself angry with someone, or irritated by someone’s mannerisms. “Why does this person come late to prayer every time?” “Why does that person pretend to be holier than me?” “Why can’t everyone see my point of view!?”

Keeping the mind clear of evil thoughts can be tough; it’s really tough when you live in a closed community, see the same people every day, and are working on the virtues of obedience, poverty, and celibacy. The combination of all these things can lead to outbursts, compulsions, and unhealthy thoughts. Being aware of these thoughts and learning to keep them under control will continue to be a task throughout my Novitiate. It was in the emptying of my self that I was better able to see these tendencies.

I am glad I chose to experience Ramadan this year, even if I never get a chance again. I hope to continue the fast until the end. I gratefully appreciate the support I’ve received from people in doing this – both from Christians and Muslims. I realize that this is something I have done for myself, however I also recognize that people are moved by the decision: some are intrigued while others feel I am turning my back on my own Catholic Christian faith. While I am not trying to make a statement by this fast, I see how others can draw different viewpoints from it.

In spite of that, I feel that I have been blessed with a gift for sharing and expressing my faith in ways that others might fear. Faith is a precious part of our lives that must be shared, not kept to ourselves. Being able to find God in all things and share that love is something I’ve been blessed with. I hope never to lose that gift.

Ministry Reflection: 1 Month at Villa

Last Friday was the 4th time I was at my ministry: Villa de Marillac. I admit I still feel a little wary about going each time, however getting to know the residents and staff has made the ministry visits easier.

It does require a bit of patience each time I go. Often I have to re-introduce myself and re-tell my personal story as residents will tend to forget, or even confuse me with another friar. I address myself and the other guys as “brother,” yet I can never count the times I was called “Father” during the day. Part of me wants to correct them each time, but I realize it probably won’t make much of a difference in the long run. I haven't been asked to hear a confession - so I figure "No harm, no foul."

Getting to know the residents has been a thrill. Most of the time there are activities going on when we visit. One week there was an outdoor picnic, another day there was bingo. I remember a resident rubbing the knots on my cord for good luck, then winning the next game. The theology of the moment was horrendous, but my memories of being a pit-boss brought a sense of humor to the situation.

Getting to know the nurses and staff at the residency has helped as well. Many of the nurses are friendly and eager to talk. There are others who don’t say much. I’d bet there’s a few who are bothered by our presence there. In some ways, I can understand. We are there only one day a week; we're involved in only those activities which bring smiles or laughs to the residents. We don’t have to feed the residents, help them use the restroom, attend to their every need, build relationships then be present when they die, orexperience many of the other aspects of their job. But I am willing to recognize the feelings of those people, and then tell myself that this ministry, while often with the residents, isn’t exclusive. The ability to build relationships and understand different points of view are tasks I’m trying to live; I feel that being open to staff, nurses, as well as the residents, will give me a better experience of this ministry.

While my ministry can be a test of my charism, it can also be a test of my self-discipline as well.

A few of us were asked to go out for drinks last Friday by some of the nurses. I'm sure they were merely teasing, trying to make the “celibate boys a little uncomfortable.” I doubt anything would have happened if we had accepted, and it would have been nice to interact with women again (or anyone outside of the house for that matter.)

Obviously we declined (although part of me really wanted to say "Yes"), and for many good reasons. However I think it’s important for people to recognize that we as friars are not removed from society, nor are we without a sense of fun. The ever-present danger is knowing where that line exists for me.

So I continue to visit Villa de Marillac and take away a sense of happiness afterwards. Sometimes I don’t feel like I did much, yet the residents always tell me it’s wonderful when we visit. And in spite of the misgivings I have about nursing homes and assisted living communities, I’ve gotten to be comfortable with my ministry.

I could not end this without another good story:

Two weeks ago I was talking with a woman at Villa. She wasn’t completely aware of where she was or the conversations that were going on. I remember her saying something to me I couldn’t understand, to which I simply said “yes.” The woman then went on a tirade about how I was “one of those Modernist priests,” and how I’d rather have people go out to the park than go to Mass!

This past week we talked again and had a completely different conversation. She had obviously not remembered anything from the past week, so I decided not to hold it against her. I’m still not sure what I agreed to in order to be labeled as a Modernist, but I’ll make sure not to just agree when I don’t understand now!

Footsteps: The End of the Whole Mess, Part III

After the struggle of making the decision to break up with my girlfriend, issues would continue for several months afterwards. Looking back on the story, while helpful, is hard at times.

What follows seems more like a story of redemption or even justice. And perhaps at the time of its writing, my mind was filled with the anger and frustration of the situation. It's hard to tell yourself you've been called to a religious life with an itinerant order while you force someone out of your own house.

If there is only one other great reflection that I have from rehashing these events, it is the constant presence of music in my life. Like with any significant time in our lives, we have songs that remind us - bringing back feelings of joy or pain. They remind us of good times, bad times, or maybe times when that can only be described as "becoming free."

I would recommend that anyone, either going through good times or bad, to find the music that speaks to you and your experience. Sometimes it is the best way to celebrate, mourn, or cope.

 "Everything you own in a box to the left." -Beyonce

Sunday was a wonderful day. Bright and sunny, with a nice breeze. I had a meeting with the vocations director of the diocese, and then a 100 mile drive to visit my grandmother for Mother's Day. But before the meeting, I stood on my balcony, looking out at the grassy field and enjoying the cool breeze on the sunny day.

It was almost perfect...except for the overwhelming stench of dog feces that came from inside the apartment.

Yesterday was the first day I'd returned to my old apartment since January. The place smelled like a zoo. Words cannot express how horrendous this apartment looked and smelled. Everything had been cleared out, save a few boxes of my old junk, some hangers, and a half-eaten bag of lettuce in the refrigerator. Everywhere you could see piles of dog poop, and the once beige carpet was a disgusting mix of yellows, reds, browns, and orange.

Don't worry, I won't share the pictures.

In the bedroom were even more piles of trash/dogshit, mixed with torn pictures and broken items that had once belonged to me. Here lie a broken picture frame that held an autograph picture of me with the guys from Blessed Union of Souls. Over there lie a box I was given at age 8. I was on the phone with a friend as I walked through the apartment, yet the total destruction of the place left me speechless.

But even as I stared down at a torn picture of me at my first communion (a picture of me when I was 8), I knew that everything was finally over. Despite the TV, bedroom set, XBox, and all the other things of mine she either took or threw away...

The whole ordeal was finally at it's end.

When I initially left the apartment in January, I was still feeling some of that guilt and shame. I agreed to give her some money to either catch up on bills or make arrangements to move closer to her family (either in Iowa or Tennessee.) My friends and coworkers were adamant that she was simply using me for my money, and she would use me as long as possible. Despite their arguments, guilt is a powerful motivator, and I had arranged to give her a lot of money.

In the first few days, my ex-girlfriend decided to use her daughter as the "mediator," and every call I got was in regards to money. "Mom wants money." "Mom wants to know when you'll bring the money." "Can you pay the money in cash?" "Can you drop it off instead of sending the money?"

The first time I gave any money was a week after leaving. I had a kitten that was given to me by a friend before my ex moved in, and she wanted me to get rid of the kitten. She also wanted "her money." While never being married or fathered a child, I was accused by my friends of paying alimony for my guilt.

Whether it be dumb luck or divine intervention, her daughter called me before going over to the apartment, asking if I was still going to show. I said I would and I had her money on a prepaid credit card. She asked that I get $275 in cash; her mom was buying a toy poodle.

That's when my guilt finally broke.

I realized that regardless of what happened, we were two adults that made a really bad decision, and this was the result. But because I felt so much guilt, I would have paid her rent/bills/food for as long as I could be strung me along. And even though I'd started dealing cards as a way to help pay for her bills AND help my mom at home, I was paying for her to by a toy poodle from a breeder.

When I went over to the apartment in January, I took two police officers with me. I was done being yelled at like a child. I was done taking sole responsibility for a common mistake. I was done being used. I decided I was going to make a stand.

Unfortunately, it took a while to build up that courage. By the end of January, I'd given my ex around $1400, on top of her own money. Despite all the money, the electricity to the apartment was cut off, the rent was not paid in February, and her internet bill was still coming out of my bank account. Even with this happening, it was still hard to see the reality of the situation through all the guilt.

Finally, in a phone call from the daughter, I was asked to come over to the apartment yet again. When I mentioned that I'd already given her some money, I was told that her mom "wanted to talk." I said I was here and on the phone..."Let's talk." I think she was surprised at my answer because the line was dead for about a minute.

Whether it be out of hate, ignorance, or lack of experience, I didn't recognize that this call was a form of reconciliation. The following conversation went as such (to the best of my ability to remember):

her: "I want you come over after work so we can talk."

me: "I'm here and don't have any customers...what do you want to talk about?"

her (sounding frustrated): "I think there are some things we should talk about face-to-face."

me: "There's no reason for me to go over there."

There was a slight pause, and then she asked for more money...just as I'd expected.

(Note: Looking back, I can see the difference in personalities, especially in relationshihps. I don't like it when people yell, nor do I like it when a person makes hateful or hurtful statements when angry. Perhaps she was thinking I would forgive forgive her for the comments and she'd said to me. Having never experienced that until our relationship, I was unwilling to forgive, nor did I ever recognize her statements as a reaction or defense mechanism. -V)

Despite the money, I found out she wanted help with paying the bills. She wanted me to help her find another apartment or help her move out of state. She said she no longer wanted to live there, and therefore I should move her out.
In an uncontrollable rage I yelled back for the first time. I told her how she was a lazy bitch. I told her she's lousy with money. I told her if she wanted to buy a specialty-breed dog and spend hundreds of dollars at Blockbuster (debit card statements of her use we still coming to me via eBilling), then she can do it with her own money. I told her that if she really "Doesn't need a man" than she no longer needed my money. I told her all of that with a hefty amount of F-Bombs and shouting.

And when I was done, I realized she'd hung up on me.

After that, my ex became an annoying itch in my life. When I was thinking about other things or out with other people, I'd get a call that something wasn't paid, or a message from her asking if I could please send some money. When I went to St. Louis, she called me. When I was talking with the Pastor that bought a car...she called me.

Finally in April, I got another notice from the apartment complex: the rent had not been paid. Previously I'd covered for her. My name was still on the lease, and because I could not get it removed, her eviction would hurt both of us. But this time around, I refused to pay it. I called the apartment, and no one answered. No one called me for money anymore.

Near the end of the month, I got a call from my ex's sister. She said she was coming to get her at the end of May, and help her move out. I said "Great, but the rent hasn't been paid, and she might get evicted before that. I told her about the situation, I told her if she takes her name off the lease and leaves, everything will be OK for her."

Still no action from the apartment, and eventually I had my day in court.

The judge sympathized with me, however he affirmed that I could not be separated or removed from the current lease. If there is an eviction, it will affect her as well as me. A judgement was rendered, and if the total amount is not paid by the 18th, there would be an eviction.

On one hand, I did not want to pay for her to live, but on the other I did not want an eviction on my credit report. Torn on what to do, and struggling to find a way to do it, I took a stab in the dark and did what all great poker players do:

I bluffed.

Yes, I lied my ass off. And interestingly enough, it was all done through the magic of

First, I paid the $900ish dollars to the company so there would be no eviction.

Second, I sent a message to her sister via myspace, saying that the judge was evicting her, and if she wasn't out of the apartment by Monday (today) that the sheriff's dept. would come and through them out.

Third, I made sure there would be some I sent a similar message to my ex's daughter's myspace account as well.

And as I sit here in my epty and dirty house, preparing to spend the week installing new locks, cleaning, and painting, I wonder what role God played in this whole situation. Part of me thinks that God wanted me to realize what it was like to live in sin, so I might be able to tell this story to someone else in a similar situation. Part of me thinks that I needed a devastating event in order to let go of a lot of things in my life, thereby removing "noise" for God's plan to simply reveal itself. Part of me still thinks that God saw fit to tap me on the shoulder and say "Hey, just a reminder that you're not following the rules." (Note: This story is one I've discussed in prison ministry. It's not an attempt to bash women, rather I use it as an example of how wrong life can go when we focus on the wrong things or get into relationships for the wrong reasons. -V)
Even now, my spiritual director asks if I'm pursuing a vocation because I want to serve or because it was a way for me to get out of that relationship. And that's why this entire event has been such a huge part of my discernment. Was my ex-girlfriend right? Was this whole "I wanna be a priest thing" just an elaborate way for me to get out of the relationship?

Even at this very moment, I'm not 100% sure. And while that scares me, the fact that I can be honest with myself is an improvement on how I used to be. But now that the whole ordeal is over, I think I'll be better prepared to answer that question.

And despite everything, I still can't find room to hate. She and her daughter are no different than many of the people I hope to work with. Instead I feel disappointment that I confused love for charity, thereby basing a year long relationship on the ideals that if I simply give them a better life, I will be loved without condition.
I ask any and all people who read to keep these two people in your prayers, as well as other families like them. I don't feel proud for the events that have transpired, and I hold plenty of guilt for the repercussions that have occurred as I try to follow this new journey I am on. However if I am to ever have peace and make an honest decision about the course of my life, at some point I have to find God's purpose in all of this.