Week 1 Advent Reflection

This week's homily comes from Fr. Gerard O'Dempsey OFM Cap. who happily contributed his words for the week. Enjoy.

Advent 1st Sunday 2009 Year “C”

Scripture scholars have long discussed the content of today’s gospel passage in regard to the momentous event Jesus is speaking of. Is it the physical end of the world? Some of the language certainly sounds like the end-times language of the book of Revelation. But many scholars are agreed that these words depict the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. That event happened in AD 70 - some forty years after Christ’s death and resurrection, during the lifetime of many of those who were Christ’s original followers. The Jews rose up against their Roman occupiers but were mercilessly crushed. The Jewish people were scattered around the world – Jerusalem and the Temple were laid waste…and the repercussions of that event are still felt in today’s troubled Middle East.

Jesus describes this traumatic event in language that was meant to have a dramatic effect on his listeners and to lodge in their memories. But it isn’t just a warning about the destruction of the Temple. What is important for us today is that Jesus offers his followers a way to approach his second coming and the end times. Jesus warns his followers not to lapse or to be distracted from their prayers or from their confidence in him. Then, no matter happens: earthquake, flood, war, famine and so on, the followers of Jesus can be sure that they will have eternal salvation – this, far from being a dire prediction of disaster – is really a promise of liberation for all who follow Christ.

St. Paul gives similar advice to the people of Thessalonika in his letter, part of which we heard as our 2nd reading this morning. And Paul’s advice is as sound for us as it was for these early Christians. Our lives as Christians will not be well lived unless we keep continue to progress by striving to love one another more and to become more Christ-like each day. Using Christ’s language, we are called to “stay awake”…to be “attentive”.

Now, all this talk about desperate times may seem a bit odd at the beginning of Advent – when the rest of society is busily putting up decorations and telling us to spend on money on this, that and the other thing…shopping malls with eternal loops of Christmas Carols assaulting our ears…Why, when we are beginning our preparations for Christmas, has the Church decided to give us such a gloom laden gospel reading?

Well, the Advent season has always had a dual focus – we prepare for Christmas, the celebration of Christ’s first coming among us. But we also think about the 2nd coming of Christ, when God’s kingdom will finally be fulfilled and God’s plan of salvation for the whole of creation reaches its ultimate completion. So for the first two weeks of Advent the scripture readings and the Mass prayers point us toward this 2nd coming – we are to wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ. And I guess – waiting is not something we do very happily – in the queue at the checkout, to get onto an aeroplane, waiting for a friend to call us, waiting for the children to come home from a date…we don’t ‘wait’ all that well at the best of times – and yet NOW – we are to wait in joyful hope for this Saviour to come. And our waiting is to be coloured by prayer, attentiveness, and patience.

Today’s gospel reminds us how much we need a savior – someone who can turn the most desolate of situations into victory. Someone who can help us survive any worst-case scenario. Someone who can provide salvation when we most need it. Even the prophet Jeremiah speaking some 600 years before the birth of Jesus, recognized that this savior would come. So we commence Advent aware of this need for a savior and look forward to his coming in glory.

Advent card courtesy of Ben Bell.

Preparing for Advent

While preparing for the Advent season, a time of intense discernment and preparation, I reflect and contemplate on the words of Archbishop Oscar Romero:
We must not seek the child Jesus in the pretty figures of our Christmas cribs. We must seek him among the undernourished children who have gone to bed at night with nothing to eat, among the poor newsboys who will sleep covered with newspapers in doorways. Oscar Romero, December 24, 1979
How will you spend this Advent season?

(The four Sundays in Advent will feature homilies/reflections from different Capuchin friars who have kindly contributed their words to spread. They may offer ideas and challenges for all of us during this season.)

Franciscan Nuns Robbed in San Fernando

While surfing the net on my day off and running across A Nun's Life (a blog run by sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I came upon an interesting story this week.

In San Fernando, two elderly Franciscan nuns were robbed after buying groceries. The incident is caught on camera and a manhunt is now taking place for the suspect.

The interesting aspect of this article, in my opinion, is while the nuns seem to understand the grace of forgiveness others (something I'm still learning), the police and all other people involved appear quite vigilant in wanting to apprehend this individual, already assigning his "free trip to Hell."

The broadcast can be seen here.

Sister Julie writes more about it here.

Technocrati Stuff


Novitiate Update - 11/25

With Thanksgiving approaching, it's been six months since I left Chicago as a Postulant. While I wasn't invested as a Novice until the end of July, the guys here try to forget sometimes forget the two months of preparation spent in Victoria, Kansas.

For the most part I've settled into the routine. Our usual schedule looks like this:

6:30 - Morning Prayer & Meditation
7:20 - Eucharist
8:00 - Breakfast
9:30 - Class
11:30 - Midday Prayer
11:45 - Lunch
1:00-3:00 - Work Projects
4:00 - Rest/Exercise/Recreation
4:45 - Evening Prayer & Meditation
5:30 - Office of Readings
5:50 - Dinner
7:30 - Prayerful Silence
8:45 - Night Prayer
9:00 - Community Recreation
Even the occasional variations for ministry, Days of Recollection, birthdays, etc. don't phase me anymore. For better or worse, the weeks blend together - so much so that I can forget what day of the week it is. While I don't like it when time moves so fast, I realize that if the days were dragging it would be a sign that I hated it here.

I pass the time with a lot of reading. Currently I'm trying to finish several books: Death of the Messiah by Raymond Brown, Thy Will Be Done by Michael Crosby, The Medallin Documents of 1968, Woman and the Word by Heather Hitchcock, Women and the Word by Sandra Schnieder, and a book of sudoku puzzles to keep my mind sharp. I realize that trying to read all these books at the same time is an exercise in futility, but I guess there are worse compulsions than hoarding books.

For the most part I'm doing well here in Novitiate. My recent evaluation was great, although there is concern of this blog taking up too much of my thoughts and prayer time. I find I'm sleepy a lot lately, but otherwise I'm taking full advantage of this Novitiate year.

Perhaps it will ease my mind that my mother has returned to work. There's still no guarantee that she'll keep her job with Michigan's economy the way it is, but her shoulder is healing and she says she's able to do her job. Thank you for all your prayers.

Have a great Thanksgiving. I will be taking some time away from the blog for the holiday. However several friars have agreed to contribute for the 4 Sundays of Advent. So if you're looking for reflections for this Advent season, stay tuned.


Br. Vito

3 Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: Perfect Charity

My apologies for not finishing this series sooner. Between a headache, a few house jobs, and my time in prayer here at Novitiate I've gotten behind with some of my blogging. While my first and foremost priority is being a Novice (as my formators will agree resoundingly) I will attempt to keep up with the blogs as is available. If I drop off the face of the earth, you can assume I'm either praying or doing something to get in trouble!

This last article finishes the talk given by Fr. Charlie Polifka about the "Three Gimme's" as stated in Francis' prayer: true faith, certain hope, and perfect charity. If you haven't read either of the two previous articles, you can find them here: true faith and certain hope.

Out of the three things Francis asks of God in his Prayer before the Crucifix, one of the ones that we can easily identify with is the concept of charity. Yet just the same as we did with faith and hope, we need to identify exactly what we mean when we use these terms.

A great view on charity comes from Pope Benedict XVI's letter: Caritas in Veritate. In his letter he describes charity: "Charity is love received and given."(3) As God shines his love onto us, it's our role as Christians to share God's love with others in a genuine fashion.

The challenge, as Pope Benedict goes on to discuss, is to recognize this expression of God's love in a rapidly globalizing world. While Francis' world was much smaller, our inter-dependent world puts us in contact with people we don't know and our actions affect people in other countries for which we may never meet. How does one love a group of people one has never met?

The understanding of perfect charity is at the heart of the Franciscan charism: the ability to see Christ in the poor. In a recent article, I talk about the Francis' love of the poor in his conversion...with specifics to the Encounter with the Leper. His drive was not just that he saw Christ in the leper (the lowest of low in his time and culture), but that he recognizes that he sees all of creation as his brothers and sisters in Christ.

For us as followers of Francis, the challenge before us is to learn how to love all of God's creation, and to share that love that has been shown to us. It is a lovely idea and Francis' life is filled with examples of how he is able to accomplish this (not least of all, how he learns to deal with a growing community of brothers!). But in our technological era and in an individualistic society, we are presented with different challenges in order to attain this perfect charity.

How then do we go about this? First and foremost, we have to let go of the things we cannot do. For goal-oriented people like me, there is a great desire to "save the world," "cure world hunger," or "end poverty." We are but human beings given gifts from God. Oscar Romero puts it best: We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

Too often our desire is to solve. But in doing that, we run the risk of doing charity for selfish reasons. I have friends who are homeless, yet I am not capable of solving the homeless problem myself. If the root of charity is God's love, than my main focus is living that love and not seeing people as a means to achieve a temporal goal. When the poor become statistics, their humanity is taken away.
Second, Francis give us a great example when he is presented with his own community who want to share in his lifestyle:
And when God gave me brothers, no one showed me what I should do, but the Most high revealed to me that I should live according to the form of the holy gospel. I had it written in few words and simply, and the lord pope confirmed it for me. And those who came to receive life gave all that they had to the poor and were content with one tunic patched inside and out, with a cord and trousers. And we did not wish to have more.
Our witness should be to this new way of living, this new kind of community where we focus on the needs of the poor and marginalized.

Third, and perhaps most important, is that we must not only educate ourselves of the poor and needy in this world, but as former OFM Provinial Fr. Joseph Chinnici writes: "We must enter into the experience of the poor." PCO6 Letter #16. It is there that we understand and begin to know the poor that we can truly spread God's love. It is the Sense and knowledge that follows Francis' request for perfect charity.

What then, is God's holy and true command? Again, it is that we "die on earth," and willingly choose to live the Kingdom of God here on Earth. It is a monumental challenge for each of us friars, yet it is the example that has been set before us by our founder Francis. And even he realized he needed help along the way.

This is the third and final article of the series. If you found these articles helpful, insightful, or informative, be sure to share them with someone you know. Peace. -V
<1> <2> <3>

Elf Yourself

Post Novice David Alan Hirt was nice enough to include me and the other Novices from the Mid-West province in a lovely video that is becoming big.


Be sure to grab some pics of your friends and share in the Office Max fun

Elf Yourself

Disqus Update to the Site

Out of a necessity to deal with continual ad spam, as well as making the blog easier to share, Disqus is being imported into the site.

All of the comments have been temporarily removed as Disqus converts them into its format and I can re-integrate them into the site.

We've recently had an issue with one of our provincial websites, and it was the tipping point for me to inact this change. Hopefully it will not be any impediment to either the reading or the ability to respond with what you read here.

Peace and take care.

Three Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: Certain Hope

Continuing with Fr. Charlie Polifka's talk on the three "Give Me's" of Francis of Assisi as seen through his prayer before the San Damiano crucifix, we move to Certain Hope. If you missed the first article on True Faith you can find it here.

For many of us, hope is often articulated in a temporal sense. We hope for ourselves and our families in this world. If someone young is struck down, we hear: "He/she had such high hopes." Even in my own life I have hopes for my future as a friar, I hope and pray for the well-being of my family, my fellow Novices, and for the people I meet each day.

While there is nothing wrong with these hopes (in fact I think we could use a little more hope in the world!), if they remain solely temporal then it is inevitable that our hopes will become dashed.

I'm reminded of a movie I recently watched called Sin Nombre. It's a movie about a girl and her family that leave Honduras in an attempt to come to the United States. In her attempt to go north, she crosses paths with El Casper, a gang member from Southern Mexico who is marked by his own clicke for breaking away. They cross paths and they accompany each other in hopes of reaching the US.

I won't spoil the movie for you (as I think it something everyone should see), but there is a lot of sadness in the movie. The realization of people hoping for a better life, and the discussion in the movie that: "Half of these people won't make it to to America," left me with a sense of hopelessness for those struggling in poverty.

If hope for things in this life are destined to be dashed, what then is certain hope? Is it completely futile to hope and desire for things in this life, be they as benevolent as safety, security, and good will towards your neighbor if these hopes are fleeting? I don't think that's what Fr. Charlie was getting at. Rather, he used a personal experience to describe his interpretation of certain hope. For this article, I borrowed a story from a fellow Novice. It's a story that may resonate with a personal experience of your own:

Years ago as a hospital chaplain, I remember visiting a very sick woman. She was being eaten alive by cancer, and it was expected that she'd live only a few more days. She had no family (at least none that ever visited) and she was in a great deal of pain.

When I first went into her room, I felt like I was the wrong guy for the job. "This woman needs a priest!" I thought, "not some schmuck with a Bible." But she greeted me, and I introduced myself, and we started talking.

We talked about her life, the church she'd gone to, her battle with cancer, the weather...I thought: "If I keep her talking, maybe she won't feel as bad about dying."

During our talk, a nurse came in with a needle. My experience as a hospital chaplain told me there was no medicine for what was ailing this woman; the nurse could only give her something for the pain. Not only did my time at the hospital tell me this, but I could read it on the expression of the nurse's face.

Very politely, the dying woman says to the nurse before she can even say a word: "Oh no, but thank you, dear. That stuff will put me to sleep. I'm dying, and I want to be awake when the Lord comes for me."

The nurse tried to reason with her, telling her that it would relieve the pain.

"The pain's not so bad," she responded. "And this nice young man and I are talking. Thank you dear, but I'll be all better soon enough."

I could see the nurse trembling slightly, doing her best not to burst into tears. She left the room as those tears formed in the corners of her eyes.

"Poor thing," the woman said to me as the nurse left. With a concern look she said: "Perhaps you should talk to her for a bit."

I was breathless. "Why would I need to see her?" I asked in response. "You're the one who's dying. My job is to be with you during this time."

She smiled at me and gave me a dismissive wave. "Dear, I already know where I'm headed. But that young lady," she said, referring to the nurse, "She needs some hope right now."

Certain hope is more than just our desires or our dreams. It is a reality we choose to accept and incorporate into our lives. As Pope Benedict writes in Spe Salvi: "Eternal, in fact, suggests to us the idea of something interminable, and this frightens us; life makes us think of the life that we know and love and do not want to lose, even though very often it brings more toil than satisfaction, so that while on the one hand we desire it, on the other hand we do not want it." (12)

Our challenge to live certain hope is to look at the eternal life and accept that as a reality for us as Catholic Christians. Even in the life of Francis, as he prepares to die in the Portiuncula, he recognizes that "Eternal life is." And the sooner we can come to this certain hope here on Earth, how much better followers of Christs could we be!

Certain hope is our preparation for the eternal life, a divesting of self as preparation for a new life with Christ. Again, it can be seen as a form of "death on Earth" as our path leads us to be followers of Christ.

This is the 2nd article in a three part series.
<1> <2> <3>

Three Gimme's of Franciscan Spirituality: True Faith

This week, we were lucky to have Fr. Charles Polifka, Capuchin come speak at Novitiate during our Day of Recollection this November. The theme of his talks was "The Three Gimme's of Francis." The note of his talk have been reprinted here with his permission. Please enjoy! -V

Most people don't associate the term "franciscan spirituality" and the words: "Give me..." We've developed a great sense of self-emptying and poverty, that many people who view us don't see us people who ask, but people who give. Yet in his prayer before the crucifix at San Damiano, Francis asked for three specific things:

Most High
Glorious God
Enlighten the darkness of my heart
and give me
True* Faith
Certain Hope
and Perfect Charity;
sense and knowledge
that I may carry out
Your holy and true command.

(*sometimes correct faith in some translations)

To start off, What is faith? Most often when people talk about their faith they speak in labels: I am Catholic, I'm Christian, I'm Muslim, etc. In actuality this is not our faith, rather they are a set of histories, traditions, and doctrines that help to guide us in our faith. We must look at faith as the destination, and the other traditions and doctrines as the roadmap to how we get there.

What then is faith? Faith is our desire to encounter the God that has been revealed to us. Faith is not built from the fear of death or the promise of rewards. It is the desire to enter into relationship with God, a relationship that penetrates all aspects of our being.

Perhaps the best example is to look at the story of the rich, young rule that encounters Jesus:

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”

“All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy.  -Luke 18:18-23
Often our view is focused on the lesson of the rich being hard-pressed to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet let's take a look at this man. He's lived the commandments of Jesus since he was a boy. Most likely, he continued to live that life at meeting Jesus. And at the time of his death, the command was fulfilled, since none of us can take our worldly belongings with us after we die. It is in his eventual death, as well as ours, that he is free from his worldly possessions to follow Jesus.

What Jesus asked of the rich, young ruler was "to die on this earth," to completely sever his old life and live entirely for Christ in all ways. It's a challenge that is continuously put before us as Capuchins and as Christians.

And much like the rich, young ruler...faith is a labor. As Catholic Christians, we must accept that our faith is a struggle. For if faith is akin to a relationship with the revealed God, our faith will struggle as all relationships are capable of hardship. And much like Francis' faith, our faith develops into different stages until we're able to come to a place where we can truly die in this life.

The stages of faith development look similar to this: (from the perspective of a Cradle Catholic)

1. Early Stage In the beginning of our faith when we're young, we can only learn and process so much. We learn words like Jesus, Heaven, God, and begin to associate those terms to something bigger than our parents.

2. Stories The use of stories to teach lessons is pervasive in the Gospels, and it is a teaching tool that is often used in our own catechesis. Stories of the Bible are used to explain lessons, doctrines, virtues, and many other important lessons that help us develop a relationship to God.

3. Expectations In our growth, we understand certain expectations put upon us to follow the road to faith. We attend church, we say our prayers, we engage in acts of charity. In essence we are doing what we have been told will lead us to faith.

Fr. Polifka talks about how too many Catholics today struggle in this stage. A good example he gave was how many people left the Catholic Church when the Tridentine Mass was changed to the Novus Ordo (from the Latin Mass to the English Mass in rudimentary terms). The issue comes not in way people experience God in the Old Mass, rather the belief that the Tridentine Mass is better because it is right. He warns that a faith based on legalistic terms such as correct/incorrect leads to a selfish understanding of faith: "If I do X, God gives me Y." If faith is about entering into a relationship with God, it must be more than just what I can get from God, rather what we're willing to give each other.

4. Self-Conflict The deeper we're willing to enter into our own faith journey, the more visible the struggle to connect with God becomes. We ask questions about the "Preferential Option of the Poor" and see the wealth of the Vatican and wonder...as one example. The struggle to find a faith within the context of an organized faith can be tough for a lot of people, yet the grace is to continue to seek that relationship with God in one's faith community. I touch on this a little in my discussion on Conversion, and how we as people striving for faith have to reorganize our world views to further encounter God.

5. Death in Life The best example of this can be seen in the meeting with Francis, his father, and the Bishop of Assisi. In a display of his true faith he undresses himself and places his needs and desires on the Father who art in Heaven, and not the man who gave him birth. The bishop welcomes Francis into his arms, and from that point after, Francis views the world in a much different way. His love, dependence, and total being are in relation to God...as was asked of the rich young ruler we looked at earlier.

In this is Francis' prayer for true faith answered, and the challenge for us continues as we live as Capuchins.

This is the first of a three-part series.

Byzantine Mass at Holy Ghost Church

Each Sunday a member from the Novitiate group chooses which parish we visit for Sunday Liturgy. This is done as a way to get out into the community and meet people who are attending Mass in the Pittsburgh area.

This week, Br. Kieran chose for us to go to Holy Ghost Church, a Byzantine church located in McKnees Rocks, PA. I was a little hesitatant about going; I've never been to a different Rite before, and when I hear the term "Eastern," it pretty much tells me I'll have the darkest skin color in the building!

Putting these thoughts aside, we attended Mass and received Eucharist after participating with a wonderful group of people. Entering the church was amazing; the artwork and the iconography were simply amazing! I wish I'd had brought my camera to take pictures of the inside of the church, if I thought I could get away with it.

After the Mass people were wonderful to see us and were willing to talk. There is something unique about a smaller faith community: the people seem to be closer-knit and more invested in the service taking place. Outside after the Mass, we talked with a number of people who wanted to know who we were and where we were from. I remember talking to a lady for whom I promised to pay for, as she is currently dealing with a brain tumor.

There were a few things that were new to me (the other way of signing the cross, the iconostatis, and the reception of the Eucharist) however I learned to adapt and enjoy the Mass...especially the singing. If you've never had the chance to attend a Byzantine mass, I'd highly encouragement.

If you're worried that you wouldn't know what to do at a Byzantine Mass, this guide might help the transition.

A Saint's Litany to Love

This week, we had friar Paul Dressler visit us and talk to us regarding Franciscan Spirituality. It was a wonderful seminar, as Paul is always full of energy and good for a laugh. But more importantly, he is someone who has great insights while willing to tell his story as an example of understanding a spirituality of Francis of Assisi.

While visiting us, he shared a prayer he'd written using primary images of love from the New Testament and from the saints.  We as Franciscans are often accused of living our faith through our hearts (as opposed to Dominicans who might live their faith through their heads/knowledge). Paul solidifies this belief by sharing this prayer entitled: A Saint's Litany to Love

The prayer is set up to be read as a choir, except for the last verse. Please give him credit if you choose to use it in a group setting. Thanks! -V

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury

Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopees all things, endures all things. Love never fails.

All of you, be of one mind, sympathetic, loving towards one another, compassionate, humble. Do not return evil for evil, or insult for insult; but, on the contrary, a blessing, because to this you were called, that you might inherit a blessing.

Above all, let your love for one another be intense, because love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining.

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear. We love because God first loved us. If anyone says, "I love God," but hates his brother or sister, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother or sister whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

We approach God not by walking but by loving. Love, and God will draw near; love, and God will dwell within you. The Lord is at hand; have no anxiety. Are you puzzled to know how it is that God will be with you if you love. God is love.

Love, indeed, is the source of all good things; they who walk in love can neither go astray nor be afraid. Love guides them, protects them, and leads them to their journey's end. Love is the stairway to heaven. 

Love is the reason why anything should be done or left undone, changed or left unchanged. The heart is happiest when it beats for others.

Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations. I proclaimed O Jesus my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is to love. Love alone counts.

Love is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to love. Love is a movement and advance of the heart toward the good. We cannot love our neighbor too much.

One who begins to love should be ready to suffer. Life without love has no flavor. Try always to advance in love; enlarge your heart with confidence for the Divine Gifts the Holy Spirit is anxious to pour into it.

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours; your are the eyes through which Christ's compassion looks out at the world.

Yours are the feet which He is to go about doing good, and yours are the hands with which is to bless this broken yet beautiful world.

As the Father loves me, so I also love you. Reamin in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.
Fr. Paul Dressler is currently the assistant for Post-Novitiate Formation and the Academic Advisor for the Capuchin Franciscans of the St. Augustine Province in Washington D.C. His passion is for youth ministry. His facebook profile can be found here.

St. Francis and Entering Into Conversion

By far, the most universal and popular saint in the Catholic tradition is Francis of Assisi. Due to the many stories about his life, he's been given many different titles: Francis the Peacemaker, Francis the Nature-lover, and of course Francis: a Model of Human Liberation. Yet as an ex-car salesman, it was Francis the Playboy that would draw me into his story. I was encouraged by Francis' conversion from his old self to the saint.

From 1 Celano:
Maliciously advancing beyond all of his peers in vanities, he proved himself a more excessive inciter of evil and a zealous imitator of foolishness. He was an object of admiration to all, and endeavored to surpass others in his flamboyant display of vain accomplishments: wit, curiosity, practical jokes and foolish talk, songs, and soft and flowing garments. Since he was very rich, he was not greedy but extravagant, not a hoarder of money but a squanderer of his property, a prudent dealer but a most unreliable steward. (1C:2)
 As a Capuchin friar who used to spend time hustling deals on the car lot, I can relate with a lot of the adjectives used to describe Francis' early life. This was the man I was trying to be several years ago. Yet here I am years later, a Capuchin Franciscan Novice...preparing to take the vows of obedience, celibacy, and poverty.
In studying the life of Francis in conjunction with my own faith journey, a model for conversion arises. For if conversion is "the renouncing of pervasive egoism and the turning to an altruistic love for objective truth, goodness, and beauty" as Thomas Dubay writes, (p22) than this is surely what Francis experienced. Reading these stories of his conversion - the "God moment" on the way to Apulia, the renunciation of his father, the kissing of the leper, and many others - provide us an avenue to view our own conversions through a modern lens.

I discovered the necessity for such a model of conversion not just in my life, but as I started working with other people in ministry. As Chaplain and Volunteer Coordinator at St. Ben's Community Meal in Milwaukee, we often had groups of high school/college students come in to experience a meal with the homeless of Milwaukee. The effects of these experiences on the visitors were real, but I had no way to help these people reflect on these experiences as a way to explore conversion in their lives.

In the book by William Hugo OFM Cap. "Studying the Life of Francis of Assisi" a psychological vision can be applied to those stories of Francis and allow for personal reflection. By using the tools of Dubay and Hugo, a 4-stage approach to conversion emerges. It is a tool I have used not only to understand my own experiences, but in talking with others as well.

 Old World View - We each have our "subjective selfish" ideals of how the world works. On occasion we have experiences that "offend" this world view - experiences that make us feel uncomfortable and uncertain. I am reminded of a girl on of these Immersion Experiences. She saw a man sleeping outside in the snow, yet she couldn't comprehend why he was there. Couldn't he go to a shelter? Weren't there agencies to help him?

Francis' experience was no different. The Kissing of the Leper is a prominent point for this stage. While his world has already started changing, he meets a leper on the side of the road. Lepers in the 13th century were considered to be "away from God," objects of terror and disease. Yet his experience tells him that God can be found in the poorest of the poor. Struggling between a personal message from the Divine and the social and cultural norms of his time, his world is fractured.

Introspection - Several times during his life, Francis disengages from the rest of the world. After his experience at the San Damiano church where the crucifix tells him: "Francis, rebuild my church," we find Francis pulling away from his old life as he tries to process these new conflicts. His desires for worldly things and vanity have left him. He gives away things that were once precious to him. His friends don't know him anymore, his father is unhappy with this change of attitude. Francis focuses on himself as he pulls away from the rest of the world.

When I first started to experience the reality of poverty and homelessness in Milwaukee, I spent a lot of time gathering information. I looked not just at arbitrary numbers, but I looked at the things that had given me pleasure and how they were in contradiction to what I saw in the poor around me. I treasured the fact that I was away from my home in Michigan, as I lost interest in many of the old things that connected me to those friends. I struggled to deal with my privilege versus the plight of the homeless, the desire to enter into their experiences, and to find the ultimate drive for wanting to do something.

Integration - Many of the stories that we hear of Francis are just this: him integrating his new thoughts into his life. One of the pinnacle events is the renunciation of his father and all hereditary rights in front of Bishop Guido II. He chooses to live a life of voluntary poverty, relying only on God to provide for his needs. His decision to dismount his horse and kiss the leper is another key event in Francis' Integration. It is through these acts that he begins to re-insert himself into society as he attempts to reconcile the conflicts he felt in his old world view.

Upon entering Postulancy, I remember passing a homeless person in my vehicle and turning away. I was preparing to be a follower of Francis, yet I was unwilling to look for Christ in one of His poor. But I carried that experience with me, and sat with it at times during the year. As the year went on, I made different attempts to "make up" for that decision: spending Easter with several homeless, spending time outside in the cold with a couple living on the streets, listening to people talk about their lives, and just being present and viewing them as human beings.

New World View - After those experiences during my Postulancy, I returned home to Michigan, only to find that what used to bring me joy was no longer of importance. My outlook of the homeless had not only changed, my self was changed. My family and my close friends said they noticed a "difference" in me, but they couldn't understand it. They experienced me as a warmer, more-caring human being...someone who cared about their interests and took time to listen (a stark difference from my days of selling cars).

In his Testament, Francis writes:
When I was in sin, the sight of lepers was too bitter for me. And the Lord himself led me among them, and I pitied and helped them. And when I left them I discovered that what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness in my soul and body.
To compare the old Playboy Francis to Francis the Saint is comparing two different people. I doubt most of us will ever experience such radical conversion in our lives. The best we can hope for is to allow ourselves to be moved by specific incidents that challenge our world view; and rather than just avoid them or offer quick explanations like: "They need to go get a job," or "They should just go back where they came from," we stay with those experiences and allow them to change us.
My goal as a Capuchin friar is not to convert the world. After some profound experiences, I acknowledge that I cannot take someone through the proper stages needed for true conversion. I can only open people to experiences that might make them uncomfortable or challenge their current world view. However by tailoring their experiences around this model, and allowing people time for personal reflection, encouraging people to learn more and get involved, and showing that the ultimate motive for conversion is not simply to repair the self but as an act of love for the other, I feel that I am helping people enter into their own conversions.

Fix "Sharing is Sexy" Social Bookmarking Tool

If you've been using the social bookmarking tool known as Sharing is Sexy, you've probably had some issues with it. The link from imageshack.us is no longer good, and must be replaced. You can replace it with another link below, but I have also included a link to download the actual file for you to store to your own photo storage site.

Here is how to fix this code without having to rely on outside links: (Always download and save a copy of your template before making any changes.)

1. Go into the CSS of your blog and find this code:

.sexy-digg, .sexy-digg:hover, .sexy-reddit, .sexy-reddit:hover, .sexy-stumble, .sexy-stumble:hover, .sexy-delicious, .sexy-delicious:hover, .sexy-yahoo, .sexy-yahoo:hover, .sexy-blinklist, .sexy-blinklist:hover, .sexy-technorati, .sexy-technorati:hover, .sexy-facebook, .sexy-facebook:hover, .sexy-twitter, .sexy-twitter:hover, .sexy-myspace, .sexy-myspace:hover, .sexy-mixx, .sexy-mixx:hover, .sexy-script-style, .sexy-script-style:hover, .sexy-syndicate, .sexy-syndicate:hover, .sexy-email, .sexy-email:hover {
           background:url('http://img509.imageshack.us/img509/3131/sexysprite.png') no-repeat !important;
2. Replace the highlighted link with the one below:


3. Save your code, and you're sorted.

If your good with CSS and want a more permanent fix, you can download the actual .png file here at http://www.teradepot.com/i0hsb0m3gdnp/sharingtool.png.html. (Teradepot makes you wait for the download because of ads.) Upload it to your flickr.com or photobucket account, replace the link with your own, and you're sorted.

If you don't have this bookmarking tool and you want to add it to your blog, check it out here.

If you want to change the text of this tool from Sharing is Sexy to Sharing is Caring, check out this link here.

Happy blogging, everyone!

Br. Vito

Beware the Long Robes

I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on the Gospel reading for this Sunday. There's a unique connection to wearing the habit in public and hearing the words: ‘Beware of the scribes who like to walk about in long robes, to be greeted obsequiously in the market squares, to take the front seats in the synagogues and the places of honour at banquets; -Mark 12:38-39. While I avoid the temptation to become someone of honor when wearing the habit in public, I've learned that it's more of a challenge than I'd like.

For me, the wearing of the brown habit of our Order is a testimony or witness to my vocation. In my discussion about A Theology of the Habit,  the wearing of my garb in public is more about my personal decision to live the vows, identify the group I belong to, and be open to questions and criticisms about my lifestyle. Sometimes I simply get weird looks - looks that say: "Why is that man wearing an ugly dress?" Yet when attending Mass or religious functions, there is this desire to put me up on pedestal for the choice I've made to live this life.

In listening to this Gospel, and reflecting on the life of minority that I am planning to join, I see how easy it is to allow the praise and enthusiasm to get to my head. We've had people try to buy things for us (mostly food...I think people want us all to be fat and jolly!), offers of prayers, and words of great encouragement. And while I am always grateful for the interest and love we receive, I feel torn by the desire to be simple and humble.

My fear is that the guys in long robes that Jesus describes could easily be me if left unchecked. Having lived a life focused on power and recognition, I become wary when people ask for speaking engagements, extend offers for dinner, invite us to events, and invite us to become part of a liturgical service. Perhaps I'm just being overly-conscious or worrying too much...but would the same love and generosity be shown to me if I were a begger or a homeless man? Would people bring me food and tell me: "I pray for you every time I do the Rosary," if I was just a nobody...the nobody that Francis of Assisi tried to be?

Again, I don't wish to sound ungrateful for the love and generosity that is shown to us by the many people who we interact with. And I realize that those actions help us as men and women discerning religious life, knowing that others are thinking and praying for us. However this Sunday's Gospel reminds me that there is the ever-present danger to allow the love and kind words build up my pride instead of my love for others.

Of all the love and acts of graciousness that have been shown to me, the one I remember most is when John and Laura, a homeless couple living in Milwaukee, called me their angel. They could offer no stage for me to speak from, no food...only their appreciation and love for me as a chaplain and a human being. That was their "two small coins worth only a few cents," but I've learned to value them more than any other gift I've received.

Choosing Poverty: Poor Boy Living Poor

For the past two months I have been conserned about my mother. Last year she fell on the ice, injuring her shoulder. It has bothered her for most of the year. She recently had surgery last September to fix the issue, however my mom's arthritis may impair the healing and not give her shoulder full motion ever again.

It is a cause for worry because the job market in Michigan has become horrible ever since the economic crash. While my mother's position at work would be secure because of her seniority, she realizes that even is she does heal, she could be out of a job - as the city looks to make cutbacks. Initially these fears were unfounded; then my aunt (her sister) was let go by the City of Kalamazoo after 20 years of employment.

Unfortunately, my family is no stranger to insecurity.

When my mother was pregnant and the father ('Our Father, who art in heaven,' not 'My father, Pietro of Bernadone.' 2C 12b) moved to California, my mother became kind of an outcast because of her decision not to marry him (I say 'kind of' since I never saw this attitude from my family, nor did I feel like the 'bastard son.')

Not having finished college and with no financial support from home (my grandparents were migrant workers) we bounced around a lot in my early years...until settling in Iowa. Despite her desire to provide a better life, there's only so much one can do when they have a young child at home. Even now, my mom's position at the County Courthouse requires no advanced education. Like many low-income families in this country, my mother is only a paycheck or two away from destitution.

Yet my mother is a survivor. In a recent phone conversation, I listened as my mother told me: "Don't worry about me. I'll be OK. I always land on my feet." Whether it's cultural or just the cencerns of an only son, it hurts to hear about my mother's situation.

As I contemplate on my current Capuchin life, there is a despairity that offends my current world view: I prepare to live a life of poverty when my mother has lived a life of poverty since she was born. Here in Novitiate we talk about living poor and entering the experience of the poor. All the while, my life as a Novice is much improved than my lifestyle growing up. I prepare for poverty, yet I enjoy the privilege of belonging to a community with financial security.

The question that keeps me up at night: Why did I go away to live poverty?

By defining poverty in the context of my experience, I sometimes feel separated from the Novitiate community. Who will help out my mom if she can't work? How will she care for herself as she gets older? Shouldn't I make sure she's stable before 'running off to be a Capuchin?'

Sometimes I sit silently with God, trying to make sense of this perceived contradiction.

Living in communal and evangelical poverty (according to the Gospel) is still a challenge for me: not because I'm new to poverty, but because I struggle to see my current life in conjuction with the poverty of my family. I realize there's very little I could do if I chose to leave. Michigan has no use for used car salesmen these days. Nor would my mother allow her poverty to come between me and a calling from God.

Perhaps the solution lies in my intentions. While others have told me "You got out of the car business at the right time!" I fail to see my life as a friar as a parachute. Since becoming a Capuchin I've been streched to do new and scary things I never knew I could.

Yet while I upload this article from Novitiate, I recognize that my mother no longer has internet because of the cost.

I don't know what's in store for my mother, my aunt, my previous bosses, or the many people who worry about the insecurity of their lives. I only know that if I am meant to be a Capuchin friar, I must stay engaged with the plight of the poor - even if it makes me feel guilty for abandoning the needs of those I love most. For when my heart stops aching, when my voice has become cowed, and my prayer is self-centered...that is when I have stopped caring about the poor.

Reflections on Celibate Chastity and Religious Life

The topic of celibate chastity is usually addressed from only one angle: giving up sex. In living the life of a Capuchin friar, I've thought about different ways to introduce the topic to share with other people. My fellow novice Matt Janeczko (pronounced: juh-NES-co) wrote an article about celibate chastity in the religious life for a friend of his just recently. He writes:

Now, I know immediately what you’re probably thinking, if, at least, you’re anything like me. Celibacy equals no sex. How can that be any fun at all? Isn’t everyone supposed to get married, have kids, and grow old watching their grandkids play with the dog on the front lawn? Well, I’m writing to tell you that isn’t all there is to life. There are some people who are called by God to live celibate – unmarried – lives as a part of their ministry in the church. Before you think that this sounds boring, I want to introduce to you three different people and tell you a bit of their stories. Two of them have lived long, happy lives doing amazing things for the church. The third story is of a guy who is just starting out on his celibate journey.
You can read his entire article at his blog here. Be sure to let him know if you enjoy or have questions about the article. As a NY Mets fan, I'm sure he can handle any criticism you send his way!

November 3: Memorial of Martin de Porres

November 3 is the memorial for St. Martin de Porres. Martin was born in Lima, Peru of Spanish and African descent in 1579. He died in 1639.

"Martin the charitable"
From a homily at the Canonization of Saint Martin de Porres by Pop John XXIII
taken from the Office of Readings from the Roman Breviary

This example of Martin's life is ample evidence that we can strive for holiness and slavation as Christ Jesus has shown us: first by loving God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind; and second, by loving your neighbor as yourself.

When Martin had come to realize that Christ Jesus suffered for us and that he carried our sins on his body to the cross, he would meditate with remarkable ardor and affection about Christ on the cross. Whenever he would contemplate Christ's terrible torture he would be reduced to tears. He had an exceptional love for the great sacrament of the eucharist and often spent long hours in prayer before the blessed sacrament. His desire was to receive the sacrament in communion as often as he could.

Saint Martin, always obedient and inspired by his divine teacher, dealt with his brothers with that profound love which comes from pure faith and humility of spirit. He loved men (sic) because  he honestly looked on them as God's children and as his own brothers and sisters. Such was his humility that he loved them even more than himself and considered them to be better and more righteous than he was.

He did not blame others for their shortcomings. Certain that he deserved more severe punishment for his sins than others did, he would overlook their worst offenses. He was tireless in his efforts to reform the criminal, and he would sit up with the sick to bring them comfort. For the poor he would provide food, clothing, and medicine. He did all he could to care for the poor farmhands, blacks and mulattoes who were looked down upon as slaves., the dregs of society in their time. Common people responded by callin him "Martin the charitable."

The virtuous examle and even the conversation of this saintly man exerted a powerful influence in drawing men to religion. It is remarkable how even today his influence can still move us toward the things of heaven. Sad to say, not all of us understand these spiritual values as well as we should, nor do we give them a proper place in our lives. Many of us, in fact, strongly attracted by sin, may look upon these values as of little moment, even something of a nuisance, or we ignore them altogether. It is deeply rewarding for men striving for salvation to follow in Christ's footsteps and to obey God's commandments. If only everyone could learn this lesson from the example that Martin gave us.

Icon painted by Robert Lentz, OFM. His work can be found at www.trinitystores.com.

Choosing Poverty: Setting the Stage

Talking about my life as a Capuchin would be incomplete without a serious look at the vow of poverty. Moreso than most other orders, the life of poverty is closely identified with the founder: Francis of Assisi. It is not only our way of life, it is an expectation others have of us as friars.

Yet for almost 800 years people have struggled with this life, trying to concretly define Francis' intentions while making them applicable to the modern day. Even here in Novitiate we sometimes disagree on what it is to live poverty - whether it's about buying things (like my Under Armor shirt, which was an excellent investment by the way), the use of funds and things we have access to, or the caretaking of current holdings (applicances, vehicles, musical instruments).

The understanding of poverty is an integral part of my Novitiate year. I highly doubt I'll have figured out poverty by next July, yet I realize there are several goals that should be achieved by then (along with the other vows):
  • To learn the history of poverty as defined by Francis' Rule and our Constitutions and to understand how it has changed since the 13th Century.
  • To develop a personal understanding of a life of poverty.
  • To live poverty as a way to "enter the experience of the poor." 
  • To synthesize all this and seriously ask myself if I am able to live this life.
Thankfully I'm not left to my own devices here. The novitiate formators have already started encouraging dialogue, assigned readings, and had us present material in these areas. 

Throughout the rest of this Novitiate year, I will have a series entitled: Choosing Poverty. These will be reflections on how we learn to live a life of poverty as Capuchin friars, in the context of Christology formed by Francis, passed down to his brothers, and lived through the history of the Friars Minor.

My hope is to cover such topics as:

Through Francis' Eyes-A look at the poor and humble Christ through the lens of St. Francis and how it shaped his Rule and our Capuchin Constitutions.

Worlds Collide-A reflection on my first day of Postulancy, my meeting of a homeless person on the side of the highway, and how it shaped my understanding of poverty, much like Francis' experience with the leper.

The Order Struggles-Looking at the history of the Frairs Minor and the divisions caused by defining poverty...eventually leading to several splits.

Poor By Living Poverty-Coming from a poor, single-parent family receiving government aid, I have a unique look at how poverty is lived as a Capuchin, and how it sometimes separates me from others in the community.

Walk With Me-Reflections on working with the homeless in Milwaukee. I talk about entering their experience, overcoming fear, and developing a "preferential love for the poor."

I hope, Dear Readers, you will be encouraged to follow my journey.