Happy Halloween: Pictures from Novitiate

While there's not much a bunch of guys secluded from the rest of the world can do to celebrate Halloween, we're still having a good time here in Novitiate. (I jokingly asked the novice master about attending "The hugest Halloween party in Pittsburgh" tonight. I was told: "You can do whatever you want...just realize that every decision has consequences." After a little discernment, I decided I would not go out to the club.)

Mom made a card out of an old picture she found of me. I put it up for a bit of humility. I remember one of the guys asking: "Who's the littler girl in the picture?"

Halloween was a new experience for the Aussies as well. I try  not to treat them as tourists, however the experience of this holiday has too much to miss out on. Pictured above were Kieran, John, and Jude carving pumpkins. Not knowing what to do with the "pumpkin guts" and seeing me with a camera, this pic is of me ducking while they threw pumpkin innards at me.


Last but not least, two of the guys made a special Halloween cake - meticulously crafted and swiftly consumed by the community!

Probably more important than than the actual holiday is that we have 3 months completed of the Novitiate year (366 days). There is always the fear that days will become mundane, routine, and that we will lose that fire that got us here in the first place. For the many blessings that are fruits of this year of prayer and contemplation, the removal from the world is its own unique experience...a "dying to our old lives" for lack of a better metaphor.

Have a safe holiday, and remember to pray for vocations tomorrow for All Saint's Day!

Ask Father Marty

NOTICE: Fr. Marty is now accepting emails. If you have a question, don't hesitate to ask! -Br. Vito

I’m Father Marty Pable, a priest, psychologist, and friar with the Capuchin Franciscans. I’ve spent many years talking with people about their questions, concerns, and sometimes their personal troubles in life and on their faith journey. I enjoy answering questions about being a Catholic and what we believe as Catholic Christians.

I know there are many people, Catholic and otherwise, who have questions about what Catholics believe – and why. There are others who are “spiritual seekers,” meaning that they may not belong to any church, but they are searching for something to believe in – a way to make sense of life and its stresses. People have questions about the existence and nature of God, questions about the Bible, about prayer, about the connections between faith and science, about ethics and morality, and much more.

No matter where you are in your faith journey, I welcome your questions and concerns. I will not “preach to you” or try to convert you; I will respect your own process. I will only try to answer your questions the best I can, and leave you free to decide the next step. I am deeply convinced that God loves each of us and guides us all in our search for faith.

If you wish to connect with me, just fill out the form below. I may not be able to respond immediately, but I will do so as soon as possible. Be assured that our conversations will be kept confidential. Any questions or messages will not be posted on Br. Vito’s blog or any other chat room or message board.

Thank you, and may God bless you.

Fr. Marty Pable, OFM Cap.

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Father Martin Pable is a native of Wisconsin. He entered the Capuchin Order and was ordained to the priesthood in 1958. He received his doctorate in Counseling Psychology from the Catholic University of America in 1965.

He taught courses in Pastoral Counseling at St. Francis Seminary in Milwaukee and at Sacred Heart Seminary in Hales Corners, WI. He has done
extensive counseling with priests, religious and laity. He conducts retreats, workshops and continuing education programs around the country.

Presently he co-director of the Capuchin postulancy program in Milwaukee, WI, and teaches part-time in the diocesan lay ministry program. Besides retreat work and spiritual direction, he is available to conduct programs in parishes, especially on topics of spirituality and evangelization.

He has written two books on spirituality for men: A Man and his God and The Quest for the Male Soul and two books on evangelization: Catholics and Fundamentalists and Reclaim the Fire: A Parish Guide to Evangelization. His most recent books are Prayer: A Practical Guide, and Remaining Catholic: Six Good Reasons to Stay in an Imperfect Church. He has also published many articles in the area of psychology and religion.

Note: All communications, personal information, email addresses, etc. are confidential exist between Fr. Marty Pable and the writer solely; persons involved in the design, maintenance, or contribution to this site are excluded from receiving any messages. Should you wish to contact Fr. Marty regarding spiritual direction, parish workshops, retreats, or for further discussion, please contact the site manager.

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My First Tweet

After spending months and months telling people: "I will never tweet!" I have finally become part of the machine by opening a Twitter account.

With the integration of the new blog template and the desire to try some new things with my blog, I swallowed my pride, made sure no one else was in the computer room, signed up and made my first "tweet."

The rationale to finally sign up came from the joomba blog at compassdesigns.net. They shared a draft pic that perfectly articulated my desire to live my life without tweeting...and the reality that I will eventually succumb to the madness as well.

Hopefully I will find some way to use this in my ministry or in my life, other than just to tell people that I'm sitting in the TV room watching my football team lose. Yet I feel an underlying desire that wherever the people are (in body or via the internet), we as Capuchins should be there too.

I still don't know how this utility is useful. Perhaps I should tweet that thought.

Faces of Novitiate: Fr. Gerard O'Dempsey

As a way for me to share my Novitiate experience with people, I decided I'd start to talk about the many people I live with. Some are more willing to share than others (since "anything goes" here in this format). My hope is that by meeting some of the people I live with in my community (smart, holy, crazy, etc.),  you may better understand this aspect of living.

When I think about warm, heart-felt, and caring preachers, one of the first names that always comes to my mind is Fr. Gerard O'Dempsey. A loving friar with a "heart of gold," Fr. Gerard is one of the three friars on the Formation team here at Novitiate. After lovingly guiding two previous classes of Novices, Fr. Gerard is still that same cheery friar he's always been.

Fr. Gerard is from the Australian province, and brings his exotic flavor to the experience of being a novice. After asking to be on the Novitiate Formation Team, Fr. Gerard continues to remain a formator, saying: "What the hell else am I supposed to do?" The secret to his success as a formator is simple. In his own words: "Religious life draws a lot of crazy people, why would I miss out on all this fun!?"

Fr. Gerard's specialty is Liturgy. For us, that means we're able to understand specific aspects of the liturgies we celebrate, do them properly, and recognize the tradition(s) and theology behind each of them. He also is an excellent musician and a wonderful singer.

With these talents, Fr. Gerard enslaves molds the minds of eager and young novices as we discern our vocation to become Capuchin friars. First and foremost is his status as a formator. While we can be roudy, loud, and questioning of authority, Fr. Gerard uses his skills to instill fear, ridicule, pain (lovingly, of course) in order to form us to become good friars. Having Fr. Gerard at the dinner table always brings tears [of joy] to the eyes of us novices. I know that when he refers to us as babies, he's not just calling us immature, messy, and whiners...he means that our innocence and pure hearts belong to God.

But most importantly he is the musical director for the Novitiate. In keeping with the mandate that future religious learn music and it's role in Litugy, Fr. Gerard not only directs the schola, but also teaches voice lessons, piano, and other instruments. Since being here, I can actually carry a tune and sing most hymns. I also sing the psalm once a month...a task I'd never been able to accomplish without the tutorledge of Fr. Gerard. Even though he would throw things at me if I sang off-key (pencils, song books, insults, etc.), that negative reinforcement has turned me into the singer I am today!

In all seriousness, Fr. Gerard brings a much needed sense of absurdity to the formation of religious life. While the formators are obviously worried about us doing what is reverant, proper, and in accordance with the history and tradition of our Order, Fr. Gerard makes sure we don't take ourselves too seriously, or that we don't forget the virtues and the reasons behind what we do and how we live.

Today as he served a Mass in dedication to the local firefighters, he shared this little story with the congregation at St. Alexis:

"While reading about St. Florian, patron of figherfighters, I found this German prayer:
O heiliger St. Florian, verschon mein Haus, z√ľnd andre an.
"Literally this translates to: 'Oh holy St. Florian, save my home. Light up someone elses.' Keep that little gem in your mind on your drive home."

Fr. Gerard O'Dempsey: turning the Novitiate into his personal form of amusement since 2007.

Australian Novices Return to the States

An incident here at Noviciate has been the need for three Australian Novice to return home as they awaited the U.S. Immigration Department to process their religious worker visa. While the issue of getting their visas has gone on for well over 6 months, I (and others) thought it was best not to discuss the incident in any public forum...for reasons I can now talk about.

Jude, Kieran, and Jude are the three novices from the Australian Province of the Capuchin Franciscans (pictured here with Fr. Carmel Flora). They are great guys and add color to our community here. The only problem was their immigration status here in the U.S., a source for concern not just for them, but for the rest of us as we grew closer to them.

For reasons we can only guess at, this year has been especially difficult for people to attain a visa to be in the United States. Even their status as "R" (temporary religious worker) was being held up in their attempt to get their visa's for the combined formation year of Pre-Noviciate and Novitiate here in the States. It was an issue in the spring that we thought would be taken care of by the time we all got together in June.

For whatever reason, the Australians were not able to attend the 2 months in Kansas because of this. As time got closer to moving from Kansas to Pittsburgh, there was the wonder if they'd even make it at all.

Due to some quick thinking by the collaboration of different provinces, there was a quick solution that got them here in time at the end of July: the start of Novitiate. By going into Canada, and then coming into the U.S. on a 3 month visa waiver, they were able to participate in the Novitiate process with us - all the while the provinces continued to work on the visa situation. Without a resolution, we knew they would have to go back after the 90 days.

Days turned into weeks, and each day and night we prayed for some resolution. The uncertainty of the entire situation was worse than a definite "no." The whole mess became even more personal as they became more integrated into the community...an opportunity they missed out on when we were in Kansas for 2 months.

On the 6th of October the Aussies left home with the hopes of getting their final interview completed and receiving their visas. Each day we continued to pray, eagerly awaiting any news and noticing their absence and how it affected the entire community. Again...days passed without any news. It seemed like they were destined to stay in Australia.

Just recently we were informed that the Aussies would be returning this week. Apparently after someone in the Australian province decided to send emails to all of the U.S. consulates, (angry emails calling them incompetent, unorganized, and a few other choice adjectives), the paperwork that had been missing "had been found and was being processed with great urgency."

With a sense of relief and happiness, we eagerly await their return. They are due to arrive on the 23rd, but with the International Date Line, I don't know if they're arriving tomorrow, next week, or if by some freak of time they're arrived 6 hours ago and the world has to catch up! Either way it is glad to have them back.

And like most guys, when the worrying and the concern is gone, the teasing and joking immediately resumes:

Living Community Life as a Capuchin

One of the greatest differences between a religious and diocesan vocation is the community. I've mentioned before how many diocesans, due to shrinking numbers, spend time alone (or separated from other clergy) while religious priests have a commitment to an Order, physical or otherwise. Check out my columns on What is Religious Life? for more info. For me I've found this to be a great benefit as well as a great joy to experience.

...but every now and then, community life gets a little frustrating.

Francis wrote in his final Testament: "And the Lord gave me brothers, and I knew not what I ought do." This has become my mantra in times of frustration, knowing that Francis surely had the same issues. Sometimes I wonder how I'm supposed to live with these crazy guys for another 9 months!

Community is an aspect of religious life that can scare people away. Looking only at the surface, it's an extraordinary situation: you're agreeing to live in a Christian community with people you've never met before, who have different cultural  backgrounds, with different habits, quirks, compulsions, and ideas on how we should be living. I've met diocesan priests who've said they would never join a religious order when they were discerning their vocation, simply because of this  negative aspects of community.

To some extent those people have a point. Community life can be a strain for people. While there are many joys and benefits to living in a community (aside from living a model of community set forth by people like Francis of Assisi, Benedict, Dorothy Day, and others), it requires special gifts from God that not everyone has. Much like living with a spouse, it is a decision that should not be made flippantly or with the concept that one can "change another."

I've lived in community for well over a year now: 9 months in a smaller community in Milwaukee and over 5 months with the large group of guys here in Pittsburgh, PA. While different communities present different challenges, I've recognized three main things that a person needs if they really want to live fruitfully in a community. It should be noted that above all, fraternal love is needed. While I'm sure there are more tricks and tips, my experience has shown me these few gifts that are important to community life...especially if someone is discerning living in a community.

Patience- When I chose to live a Capuchin life, I chose to accept these guys as my brothers, not simply my co-workers or my classmates. Their level of productivity, their educational background, their ability to pay attention in class without making fart noises, etc. is not the yardstick I should use to measure my brothers by. By living the community model of Francis, my goal is: "that when they go out into the world they shall not be quarrelsome or contentious, nor judge others." -Rule of St. Francis

To be present to my brothers requires a certain kind of patience. Not a patience that is condescending or pretentious, rather a philial patience. Even if my brothers don't know how to cook, if they forget to put their empty glasses in the dishwasher, or they leave DVD's out and don't put them in the case... I can respond with love, assistance, and good intention rather than resentment or passive aggressive behavior. It is patience that recognizes our collective short-comings as human beings, and focuses on our strengths rather than our weaknesses.

Presence - Anyone who's lived in community will tell you that there are those who can live with a community, but can be cut off from the group. With different personalities, hobbies, and interests, it's easy for community memebers to slip into a clique mentality. Just like any other social group, people of similar backgrounds and interests tend to stick together. Left unchecked, we can belittle and tease each other.

The challenge of presence in community life is to go beyond the barriers of a clique mentality so we can interact with everyone in the community.  In doing this, we extend passed our Capuchin lives in an attempt to be universally present to all. Religious life is not a boys or girls club, a corporate ladder, or institution of learning. Religious life is a commitment to live together, even when we tend to fall back into traditional social roles.

Honesty - While it makes sense that a Christian community require honesty as a requirement, what I am referring to is much more than "not lying."

First of all, I live with an open sense of transparency in my community. Just as if I were living with a spouse, my life needs to be proportionally open to the other members of my community. To be unusually secretive (especially in areas where others have eagerly shared) can create distrust, suspicion, and even resentment.

Secondly, as a member of a community I have a responsibility to the community as well as to those things we hold in common. To misuse money, to wreck a car, to fail in my committments is to be dishonest in my intentions to live communaly. By agreeing to be a Capuchin, I am putting the needs of the community on par with my needs.

Thirdly, being part of a community means that there are different levels of communication and trust. Some discussions are considered external forum while others can be considered internal forum. If a brother Novice tells me about a troubling moment in his life, a story between the two of us, it is understood that his story remains between the two of us until he chooses otherwise. Wrecklessly divulging information about community members is the easiest way to create havoc while simultaneously destroying all levels of trust.

Lastly, and definately not least, is the ability to be honest about issues in need of discussion. If one of my brothers is doing something that is completely unnerving, it's my responsibility to talk to him and be honest about what I am feeling. If someone is doing something that has a negative effect on me, it is important that I bring that issue up in discussion. If I bottle it up inside, I become resentful, annoyed at everyone, and want to lash out in unhealthy and destructive ways: a state of mind that is no good for any kind of relationship.

Don't let me fool you: just because I've written these three things doesn't mean I've mastered the art of community life! (Not by a longshot!) There are days that I require my solitude, where one or more of my brothers gets on my nerves. It's not a sign of a failing vocation. Spouses that love each other have the same feelings, parents feel the same about their children at times (although they would tell you it's the other way around). The part where love becomes important is when you let those petty things get in the way of the greater joy that exists.

Thanks to my brothers for the visual aids for this blog!

Priest wins $100k for Parish Fund Against Poker Stars

From the Catholic News Agency:

Los Angeles, Calif., Oct 15, 2009 / 03:54 am (CNA).- A South Carolina priest bested an NBA basketball star and two professional poker players, including former world champion Daniel Negreanu, to win $100,000 in a poker tournament and qualify for a competition with a $1 million grand prize.

Fr. Andrew Trapp, associate pastor of St. Michael’s Church in Garden City, played in the PokerStars.net Million Dollar Challenge held in Los Angeles, California. Among his opponents were retired NBA star John Salley, Team PokerStars.Net pro Vanessa Rousso and Negreanu, a four-time World of Series of Poker bracelet winner.

View the entire article here.

Perhaps there's still hope for an old poker dealer like me to raise money for ministries. And I thought religious life would keep me from ever getting to play in the World Series of Poker!

Praying My Experiences: Looking Inward

In my journey to become a friar, I've been given plenty of tools to build my prayer life. One of those has been the Examen, a form of prayer from the Jesuit tradition. The main goal of the Examen of Conscience, at the risk of limiting the scope in a short synopsis, is to reflect on one's day and the moments at which God was present...allowing for a dialouge between one and God about the day.

In their own words, the Jesuits explain the process:
Designed to foster an awareness of God, neighbor, and self, the Examination of Conscience holds a special place in the daily prayers of Jesuit priests, brothers, and seminarians from every part of the world. Since Jesuit beginnings, founder St. Ignatius Loyola consistently spoke of the value of this spiritual exercise for all believers everywhere. -Handbook On The Examen from the New Orleans Province of Jesuits
While the Examen presents itself as a rather simple form of prayer, the rammifications of speaking to God about one's experience can be very powerful, even self-revelatory. By opening the deepest and most honest parts of ourselves to God, we run the risk of doing something that is inherently unnerving: discovering our true self.

We were given the task of writing down an experience of prayer based on this model and the model presented by Joseph Schmidt in his book Praying Our Experiences: An Invitation to Open Our Lives to God. Schmidt's book is an easy read for anyone looking to learn new forms of prayer. His thesis is clear: "Praying our experiences is the practice of reflecting on and entering honestly into our everyday experiences in order to become aware of God's Word in them and offer ourselves through them to God." (p. 35)

After reading the book and spending time with prayer, I wrote down my thoughts about an experience. I had no idea what would come out of the prayer experience, however I found that in the end I knew more about myself and who I was in front of God. The Examen and prayer of experiences is a form I'd (as well as others would) recommend for people seeking to find God in their lives. Perhaps my example will give you ideas on how to incorporate this type of prayer into your life:

Several times during my formation (be it here, Milwaukee, or Kansas) I've met people from my childhood. Having moved far away from Iowa at age 15, I never kept in contact with people from my youth. It was the magic of Facebook that allowed me to reconnect with people that I knew from as long ago as Kindergarten.

There was a lot of anxiety surrounding email discussions and sharing my life with people from long ago. Growing up I was a quiet and awkward kid - I was the poor Mexican boy in a wealthy area of town. Much like my high school years, I spent a lot of time trying to keep up with the other kids: the clothes they wore, the things they had, the trips they took and places they went.

While there is a reality to those experiences, these were excuses I used to explain my anxieties of these reconnections. The manifested quite easily: the benefit of the internet is that one can always "upload" their best face. At these times I repeatly changed and updated my resume and personal info, found the best (slimmest/coolest/most active/etc) pictures, and the most interesting things about me I could think of. I wanted everything to look "perfect."

Noticing the repetition of my actions and the self-consciousness that they stirred inside of me, I decided to take the entire situation to prayer.

Initially I found the situation to be one of misguided feelings, causing me to feel even more guilty. Bringing it to prayer brought out that same feeling: "Why am I so worried about what other people think of me?" Rather than explore the depth of this thought I simply chastized myself for my pride and resolved to be less inwardly-focused. Unfortunately the "online reunions" continued to occur, and I realized that I was repeating the same actions over and over...with an even greater sense of guilt.

Most recently, I decided to take it to prayer and stay with the feelings of anxiety and self-consciousness to see where they would lead me. I closed my eyes, sat silently in my chair, and allowed the thoughts to occur. I thought about how I was talking to people who (I simply assumed) thought less of me. I thought of my desire to be viewed as successful, popular, important, or just as someone who was "making a difference." As that anxiety built, my mind wanted to switch to other thoughts. But I stuck with the pain fears to explore them.

I realized the situation made me feel powerless - even voiceless. I felt like I did as a kid: out of place, judged, and self-conscious. The antagonist and subversive nature of my current attitude was dwarfed by feelings of being meek, small, and scared. Those feelings sat in the pit of my stomach; I thought I was going to be sick.

Perhaps as a defense mechanism, I became angry. I became angry at people, at myself, and at the kid who I once was. Not having any outlet for my rage, yet not wanting to walk away from the mental experience I was having, I imagined myself yelling at a brick wall....allowing whatever thoughts and words to manifest in a sort of daydream.

 I was struck at what I felt myself saying:

"I'm better than any of you ever thought I could be!"
"Who's making fun of who now?"
"Looks like I won!"

The reality of those words, as awful and horrific as they seem out of the mind of a friar, allowed me to get to a place where I could be honest about myself before God. By stripping the different layers of self-defense, deflection, and self-deprecation away, I was able to catch a glimpse of how God saw me...beyond all the chaff of my personality.

I had a chance to look at my true self, the self that God sees in me, and the part of God that resides in me and each of us. In spite of my prideful and childish reactions to what was going on (both online and in my mind), that ability to look inside and offer my true self to God is what reminds me of who I truly am. It is that self, not the one I try to make look good on Facebook, that is the one that God sees in me.

Second was the real look to see God in others. While my thoughts were full of contempt and anger (through honest reflection) the contact I was receiving was positive, affirming, and even encouraging. "You've accomplished a lot in your life!" one person told me. Seeing the reality of what was happening was humbling.

There was no great catharsis - I don't think there was supposed to be one. The Examen isn't a substitute for self-help, it is a look at one's experiences to find God and communicate with the Divine. I don't know that this experience will change who I am right away (in fact I'm positive it won't!) but it is a reminder of who God sees me as, and an opportunity to enter into that experience whenever I feel anxious or self-conscious.

Novitiate Self-Evaluation

Part of any formation is the ability to look at oneself and discuss your journey to those given the task of "guiding" your formation process. Taking the time to look at personal growth, areas for improvement, excitement or challenges that you forsee in the future, and even how your personal health is - all of these things are important for you as well as your formators to know as you work your way through discerning a religious vocation.

This week we begin the task of writing our 1st Self Evaluation. I've written evaluations before during Postulancy, so I am familiar with the process. But being familiar is a lot different from being easy.

I started writing my evaluation Sunday afternoon, as I was juggling the soccer ball up in the grotto. Soccer (when I'm by myself) has become a way for me to collect my thoughts, be alone as I ponder questions and sometimes blog topics. Developing this "skill," I took the opportunity to read the recommended questions by the formation staff and reflect on how I would answer.

They don't make the questions flippant or ambiguous...and for good reason. Here are a few of the questions I am encouraged to talk about in my Self Evaluation, even though there is no set form on how I am to write it:
  • Do you feel at home here in Novitiate now? What incident(s) occurred during your first few months here to make you feel that way?
  • How are you adapting to community life? Do you find the you spend plenty of time with community in prayer, work, and recreation? 
  • How is your prayer life? Do you feel that you have the tools and the time to make use of your time for prayer? What experiences make you feel this way?
  • How is your ministry affecting your time here? Are you fed by ministry or do you find it draining? 
  • Do you feel you are ready to live the vows of celibacy, obedience, and poverty? Which vow will be the easiest in your eyes, and which will be the hardest? What challenges do you forsee for yourself in these areas?
  • Do you feel you are being drawn towards a Capuchin lifestyle of community?
Like I mentioned before, I technically  have it all written out...in my head. I need to find the time to sit down in front of a computer and actually write out my thoughts, reflections, and evaluation of myself. Sometimes we can look at ourselves and think we've got it all figured out...even something as crazy as this. The true test of self-reflection is when you finish the product, hit the print button (or look back at what you wrote, for all the old-school journalers out there) and feel that you're being honest to yourself.

Because quite simply, if I can't be honest to myself, how should I expect to be honest to my formators, my vocation, and ultimately to my God?

Dia de la Raza: Learning Poverty Through History

Mother Goose & Grimm is Copyright of Mike Peters.
As a little kid, I remember my mom had a cartoon she cut out of the newspaper and put on the fridge. It was similar to this one by Mike Peters, except the bubble was much more direct:

"Here they come...illegal aliens."

Understanding Columbus Day was always hard for me as a kid. It was a holiday to celebrate the discovery of the "New World," a world that had plenty of history (a fact my mother made sure I knew.) As a Mexican-American and as a quiet kid, it was a topic of question but not something I challenged. If "Columbus Day" was a day which "patriotic people observed," a fact dutifully taught by my 4th grade teacher, why were my mom and other Mexican-Americans so set against Columbus? In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.  . That couldn't be too wrong...could it?

As I grew older I learned about Christopher Columbus, and Cortez, Pizarro, and the many others who sought to expand the glory of Spain. And while I recognize that many aspects of my heritage now come from those Spanairds who landed years ago, their model of imperialism, oppression, fuedalistic encomienda, and nationalistic robbery is a source of danger for us today...simply because its been forgotten.

The Franciscan Joseph Chinnici OFM describes phenomenon like this as structural amnesia, the ability of a nation and/or institution to forget about the evils and disparities surrounding it. Whether we look at the history of oppression in Latin America, the effects of slavery and post-civil war oppression, the displacement and slaughter of Native Americans, we as a nation can conveniently find ways to forget about the bad things in the past. Chinnici argues that in forgetting such things, we fail to meet our obligations to live poverty (as Franciscans) and be in solidarity with the marginalized and the destitute:

I have found in my experience as Provincial Minister that we do inherit institutions, emotional responses, and intellectual frameworks that in some way make poverty in all of its dimentions and the poor in all of their fellings invisible to us. We must learn to ask questions from the viewpoints of others...we must learn to see.  Only when our own history leads us outside of our inherited structures...can we unmask our structural amnesia.
           Poverty: An Image of the Franciscan Presence in the World

So today I will celebrate El Dia de la Raza, or The Day of the People. This is a national holiday in Mexico, although Mexicans and other Latinos & Latinas celebrate this holiday in the United States. It exists to commemorate "the Mexican Mestizo race," a unique blend of the Spaniards and Indigenous people of Mexico. For some it is a recognition of the rich heritage that we as Mexicans (and Mexican-Americans) have because of these different cultures coming to together. For others, it is an anti-holiday to Columbus Day: a day seen by many as the lifting up of an oppressive man as the premier discoverer of the frontier, the bringer of civility to natives, and the one who brought faith to the Americas.

The debate of Columbus Day is something for greater historians, theologians, and anthropologists than me. However I recognize that my American Experience sees a hypocrisy in the celebration Christopher Columbus. As a Capuchin trying to live my faith, I choose to remember the evils that came along with this "discovery" that is honored today. My hope is that by remembering the sins of the past, I can be aware of my actions to others, and be in solidarity with the marginalized and poor of today.

Looking Back at the Dominicans

After seeing a video on Rhonda's blog at Chew Life with Your Mouth Closed of the Investiture of the Novice class, I was struck by the differences between their reception as Novices as opposed to ours. While at one time I was discerning a vocation with the friars of the St. Albert province, I look back and wonder how I would have ever made it as a Dominican. I am thoroughly not a theologian, I prefer to get my hands dirty than turn pages, and the commitment to poverty and community are two of the greatest reasons in choosing the Capuchins as a religious vocation.

This is not to say that I am trashing the Order of Preachers. My time spent with them was of great benefit; they're also a good group of guys. The visit to their "Come and See" Weekend a few years ago gave me a first-hand look at how community was lived. After that experience, I never considered a Diocesan life again. Yet while I was enamoured with their sense of fraternity, I recognized that strength and desires lead me more towards direct assistance and social assistance. While the Dominican friars are present to the needs of the poor and marginalized, I realized that a charism of fraternity spoke to me more than the Dominican charism of knowledge.

Great and small, there are many reasons why chose to be a Capuchin versus a Dominican (assuming they would've even accepted me!) But the connection to their community still remains. Being inspired to look at the website for the St. Albert province, I recognized one of their novices as being from Grand Rapids, a guy I remember meeting during my "flirtation period" with the O.P.'s. We rode in tandum to St. Louis to visit the post-novitiate friary, and kind of parted company after that. My hopes and prayers are with him and his classmates as they go through their Novitiate year.

I thank the Dominicans of the St. Albert province for their help in my discernment. However after seeing the intelligence and poise of their Order, and comparing it to the uniqueness of the Capuchins, I know I am in the right place.

2008-2009 Novitiate Class of the Order of Preachers, St. Albert's Province

2008-2009 Novitiate Class of Friars Minor Capuchin, North American & Pacific Capuchin Conference
w. Novice Director & Staff (Six novices not shown here)

If you happen to read this, Scott, I hope you've gotten better at waking up in the morning. Peace!

Calling All Angels

"I need a sign to let me know you're here,
All of these things keep falling from the atmosphere.
I need to know that things are gonna look up,
Cause I feel us drowning in a sea spilled from a cup."

Friday I had the pleasure of talking to an angel.

This past week has been rather hectic. With the preparation of Transitus, as well as the day-to-day "grind" of Novitiate, I found myself feeling rather empty. My prayer and meditations were clouded by darkness, mostly thoughts of jealousy or superiority with regards to my novice brothers. While I thought confession would be the answer, I found myself still distracted, so much so that I found it hard to find God either in the prayer or even in myself.

Friday morning, as the entire community sat in meditation , I knew of no other solution but to simply pray for some kind of help. "I can't do this alone," I prayed with my eyes closed and my head in my hand. "I need help to get through this...to know that you are still here in all of this." Somewhere between frustration and sadness I offered my prayer in the chapel, hoping only that my ministry trip that day would provide some sense of purpose.

We arrived at the assisted living home as usual. During the drive, I made the great effort to hide my feelings of darkness; I didn't want to share those feelings with the people at Villa de Merillac, nor did I want to burden them with my own problems. As we entered the door, I uttered a small prayer, hoping that being with others would be the grace I needed to get my soul into a better place.

As we visited the residents during the day, I made a stop at Rose's room. Rose is actually Presbyterian, even though the facility is decidedly Catholic. Rose is about 90, but is still aware of her surroundings, and she remembers our names when we visit each Friday.

While talking with Rose, she asked me about the timeframe of becoming a priest. I described the schooling needed, the time at seminary, as well as the year of being a deacon. "I've got about 9 years to go," I told her, feeling the weight of my pain in that comment.

Either sensing my distress or through intuition, she pointed a finger at me and started to lift up my spirit:

"Don't let the time bring you down, Br. Vito. I'm sure it's a long and rough process, but you stick with it! Life is hard; trust me, I know. But there are times you have to put faith in God that when things get rough, you're gonna be alright. Even when you don't want to keep going, you gotta remember that what you're doing is something great, and He'll help you along the way."

Struck by her statement, the fact that her words were what I needed to hear, and the realization that she was the answer to my prayer that morning, all I could do was smile and say "Amen!"

We talked for a little while longer then I continued the rest of my day. Since then, I've not let things bother me as they used to. I feel that I am in a better place, my thoughts are less distracted, and once again I feel great to belong to a community so wonderful as the Capuchins. But most of all, I felt blessed to have celebrated the Feast of Guardian Angels by getting the chance to hear from one of them.

Fighting the urge to sensationalize this event or to create some hagiographical account, I learned 3 important things from last Friday:
  • Sometimes our image of what an angel is can be skewed. Reflecting on my life as a Capuchin, the greatest messengers for my vocation have been from people not often listened to: the homeless, the elderly, or people of other faiths.
  • It's ok to recognize it: faith and community life can be a struggle. If this life were easy, it wouldn't take 7 years until someone makes vows. To acknowledge the work involved in discerning a vocation is to be honest with myself and God. Just like any relationship, to make it work requires me to be invested, and to not only be present in the good times, but to work through the hard times as well.
  • While theologians and scripture scholars differ on the concept of what a Guardian Angel actually is or whether we each have one, perhaps the reality is that we are supposed to look out for each other. That when we sense that another is in need, we respond with kindness, love, and solidarity. It's a wonderful insight to think that each one of us has a special guardian who is looking out for our well-being; I think it's a greater insight to think that we learn from those protectors and become angels ourselves.

Facts about "Rose" have been altered to protect her privacy.
Photos from Kh2rac and thomashawk

Feast of St. Francis at Novitiate

Today is the celebration of Francis of Assisi, a feast for many religious communities whose patron was this Umbrian who started a great movement. The celebrations, as with our understandings of Francis, differ from each community. However the importance of the observance, as well as the Transitus which was celebrated the evening before, is a form of personal renewal of our commitment to the Order.

After much planning, worrying, and plenty of voice exercises, the Transitus liturgy that was planned with two other novices went off without a hitch. We started in our classroom at the base of the hill with a reading from the Life of Francis by Thomas Celano. The purpose of the procession was the joyous return of Francis to the Portciuncola...that he may die amoungst his brothers. While his body was in pain and deteriorating, the occasion is recorded as a joyous time. With several novices playing instruments, one holding an icon of Francis, and four others carrying a sheet with a habit lying on it. In a nervous voice, I lead a litany version of The Canticle of the Creatures as we walked.

Upon reaching the chapel, the novices laid the sheet in the midst of the chapel for the ceremony. The time was filled with readings of his final moments with the brothers, a chant of Psalm 142, a reading from the Gospel of John, Chapter 13, and finally with a reading from Brother Elias to the brothers. The entire ceremony was celebratory, stoic, reflective, and finally encouraging...as the final moments Francis spent with his brothers he told them not to be scared or to cry, for he was receiving his reward in Heaven.

This morning was a morning prayer and mass filled with more solemnity. There was plenty of singing, chanting, and eventually eating. I found one of the guys recorded us singing Panis Angelicus as the Motet for Eucharist. I realized you can't listen to it with the same ear one listens to trained choirs; you have to listen to it the way you listen to a violin recital by a 6 year-old - with plenty of smiling and a little wincing: (Blogger isn't allowing me to uplaod video now, so I'll have to wait until I get it onto youtube before sharing that bit of sillyness. -V)

The event of Transitus and the Feast Day are always important to me. Just like with any community, the celebration of the founder, along with the recognition of his/her deeds and sacrifices brings into perspective many of the questions I think about as I continue to be a member of this Capuchin lifestyle. The profound poverty, the love for his brothers and all people, and the way he loved Jesus are all examples that I find important to my discernment and development in my vocation. For if there is not love, how can any charity or justice prevail?

Happy Feast Day, everyone. Be sure to take your alpaca, pot-bellied pig, or 20-foot python to Mass for the Blessing of the Pets today.


Preparing for the Feast of Francis

My apologies, Dear Readers, for not being more active this past week. I mentioned the upcoming Transitus and then the feast day on Sunday, as well as planning the Liturgy for Saturday night (it actually starts in 3.5 hours). Between planning, finding hymns, making doors work, and the many other things I've been worried about since taking on this responsibility, my days have been a little hectic.

Along with all the planning, I've been working on my singing. Most of the people who knew me in the sales business will tell you that I am not a singer, despite my guitar playing skills. Most of the time, I have great ideas for songs or for music to use during Liturgies; the only problem is that I can't sing the music.

Being here in Novitiate, with a Liturgist and Music Director on-staff, has made the task of singing a little easier. I still make him cringe when trying to sing a high C, but even after two months I can see hear an actual improvement.
For the celebration of Transitus, we are starting with a procession, involving an adapted version of the Canticle of the Creatures. Looking for a different version than "All Creatures of Our God and King" or "Canticle of the Sun,"  I took a litany-type melody and adapted Francis' song to fit the music. The words and the music are easy...I just hope that I can sing it!

I have to run, as the celebration starts in a few hours and I still haven't finished all the necessary things for the celebration. However after this is done, I will have a great deal of knowledge about processions, and may be able to share some insight, especially for people who are thinking about doing them in their pairsh or faith community.