My Birthday

Yes, today I turned another year older today. I actually celebrated my birthday on Thursday, as we celebrate all events on our community nights. I had plenty of cake (twice), was sung to by many different people, and even had a burly man with a mustache make a comment about birthday spankings. So despite being in religious life on my first birthday, it was pretty normal for me.

My mom and my Godmother called me, both to remind me of the story of when I was born and I was "so little then!"

Maybe I just have other things on my mind this year, but I'm not all that excited about my birthday. I don't fear or loathe aging at all, I just see it as passing time now...another birthday that will occur as I try to decide how to spend the rest of my life.

I appreciate all the well wishes and birthday cards I got this year. While the day wasn't as exciting, I realize that this year is the most time I've ever been wished a happy birthday.

It's almost ironic: I could have cared less about anyone myself only a few years ago. Today I carried on as if it were no more special to me, yet others continued to remind me that I was in their thoughts and prayers on this day.

Remembering Romero

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar A. Romero was shot and killed while holding up the Eucharist before the alter in a small shrine in El Salvador. The murder, thought to be a political assassination carried out by the death squads in El Salvador, rocked not only the country but the entire world.

His ecclesiastical appointments were met with concern at first. His conservative theology stood in direct contrast to the many liberation theologian priests all over Latin America. However during his term as bishop, his friend (a Jesuit priest) was shot and killed by the roaming death squads. Outraged by his friend's death and the inhumane treatment of the people of his country, he spoke out against the murder and oppression of political violence.

And for that voice, he was silenced.

The story of Romero is both tragic and inspiring. His choice to stand in opposition to the political leadership and to violence reminds me that there are times that I need to make a stand for what I believe in.

The death of Archbishop Romero, the birthday of Cesar Chavez, the movie Che starting this weekend, and the recent visit of Luis Gutierrez from Chicago have all served to remind me that my ancestry and my culture are important parts of my vocation. While I doubt I'll be as revolutionary or as profound as the men I've just mentioned, I hope to learn something from their struggles and do more as a Latino male to be present to my culture.

The Storm Novena Prayer

All text comes from "The Storm Novena," originally published in 1947 by two friars from my Order. Enjoy. -V

What is a Storm Novena?

A Storm Novena consists of nine visits to the Blessed Sacrament in one day, praying on one's knees, and with outstretched arms, to obtain a speedy and unfailing answer to prayer. The Franciscan sisters mentioned above, define it in these terms: "Storm" means a sudden, forceful assault in the shape of ardent prayers on heaven at the throne of our divine Lord, so that he(sic) will take immediate note and answer them readily. One, so to say, storms heaven with implicit confidence, in accordance with the Gospel story recorded in Saint Luke 11:5-13, which reads: "Let us suppose that one of you has a friend to whom he goes at the dead of night, and asks him, 'Lend me three loaves of bread, neighbor. A friend of mine has turned in to me after a journey, and I have nothing to offer him.' And suppose the other answers from within the doors, 'Do not put me to such trouble; the door is locked, my children and I are in bed; I cannot bestir myself to grant the request.' I tell you, even if he will not bestir himself to grant it out of friendship, shameless asking will make him rise and give his friend all that he needs. And I say the same to you; knock, and the door shall be opened for you. Everyone that asks, will receive; that seeks, will find; that knocks, will have the door opened to him. Among yourselves, if a father is asked by his son for bread will he give him a stone? Or for a fish, will he give him a snake instead of a fish? Why then, if you, evil as you are, know well enough how to give your children what is good for them, is not your Father much more ready to give, from heaven, his Holy Spirit to those who ask him?" Thus man has power over God.

It is performed on our knees to indicate our total helplessness and dependence on God; with extended arms - similar to Moses, who, as long as he prayed with extended arms, sustained his army in fighting successfully; then also to remind the heavenly Father of his divine Son on the cross - in virtue of which all our prayers have their power, whether they be expiation, reconciliation, adoration, or pleadings for help. Praying with extended arms was a favorite manner of prayer employed by Saint Francis of Assisi in memory of our crucified savior. When Saint Gertrude asked our Lord to teach her how to pray so as to commemorate his passion, our Lord answered. "When you pray, spread forth your hands so as to represent to God the Father the memory of my passion, in union with that love with which I stretched out my hands on the cross; and if you do this habitually, without fear of ridicule or reproach, you will pay me an honor as great as is shown to a king when he is solemnly enthroned."

"The prayer of him that humbleth himself shall pierce the clouds." (Eccl. 35:31)

In the seventeenth century, a certain John Flavel asserted that "Man's extremity is God's opportunity." Yes, indeed, Percy Maxman contends. "Invincible is the spirit of man that stands firm in reliance upon God."

Whatever perils may confront humanity, faith in a power above and beyond ourselves can assert itself and dispel fear and doubt from the mind. Dr. Alexis Carrel once said, "Our deepest source of power and perfection has been left miserably undeveloped."

How We Make Our Storm Novenas

The first visit is always introduced by an act of Perfect Contrition:
O my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee and I detest all my sins because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, Who art all good and deserving of all my love. I firmly resolve with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance and to amend my life. Amen.
To which are then added the following invocations at each visit:
1. O Sacred Heart of Jesus --
have mercy on us and grant us our request.

2. Our Lady of Perpetual Help --
pray for us and obtain our request.

3. The Memorare:
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, and sought thy intercession was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence I fly unto thee, O Virgin of Virgins, my Mother! To thee I come, before thee I stand sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

4. Saint Joseph, Friend of the Sacret Heart --
pray for us and obtain our request.

5. Saint Jude --
pray for us and obtain our request.

6. Saint Anthony --
pray for us and obtain our request.

7. Saint Conrad --
pray for us and obtain our request.

8. Saint Benedict [the Moor] --
pray for us and obtain our request.

9. Saint Roch --
pray for us and obtain our request.

10. Saint Dominic and Saint Francis --
pray for us and obtain our request.

11. Saint Theresa, Little Flower of Jesus --
pray for us and obtain our request.

12. Ye Blessed Martyrs of Uganda --
pray for us and obtain our request.

13. Saint Martin de Porres --
pray for us and obtain our request.

14. All Ye Holy Angels and Saints --
pray for us and obtain our request.
Our children are constantly reminded of the great power of prayer, by means of which God shares his creative power with man. Mere words created the universe. Mere words, at Mass, change bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ. Mere words create what we ask. The success of a good prayer does not depend on ourselves or even our good will, but entirely on the merits and satisfactions of Christ, and its efficacy is based on God's infinite willingness to hear every prayer. Bear in mind the life of Christ and "all that Christ earned is ours. The passion of Christ belongs to us as really as though we ourselves had suffered it. (Saint Thomas.) And we offer these inexhaustible treasures to God in exchange for his favors. Redemption was placed within our reach but not within our grasp. A child may want an apple from a tree. It cannot reach it. However, if his father lifts him up he can pluck it. Thus, prayer is the means placed at our disposal to receive God's gifts. No request is ever refused, so that, when once we enter the portals of heaven, we will find that not a single prayer sent up to heaven remained unanswered or unrewarded.

I will explain the various invocations in detail later, as some of the saints may not be recognizable to anyone who is neither in the African-American Catholic community or in the Franciscan/Capuchin community. -V

The Storm Novena

I apologize for taking so long to write this post. It's been about a week in the making, and required me to start over several times. What started off as a critique of this dated prayer has turned into an objective presentation...for reasons I will describe later on. -V

In a previous post, I made reference to a book called "The Storm Novena." The authors are credited as two friars from the St. Joseph Province of Capuchins: Edmund Kramer & Sylvester Brielmaier. This prayer has not been used here at St. Benedict's since probably the 1960's, and a quick glance through the booklet shows how dated it is (despite it's most recent printing in 2007.)

The history behind this prayer is still cloudy. I've heard some experiences from the older friars, but I've yet to speak about it with any of the alumni of St. Ben's, possibly pictured here, kneeling and raising their hands. However here are the things that I can say with a sense of positivity:

1. The prayer is not from the Capuchins or the Franciscan tradition, nor is it from any cultural background of anyone in the order. Many of the people in this area have German heritage, and none claim to have known anything like it before. While the book claims that two sisters from Vienna brought it to St. Ben's, it also claims it was used for people dying, "especially that of a dying, impenitent socialist." Realistically, my history tells me it came from one of the numerous groups of sisters that came to help teach at St. Ben's: Dominicans, Notre Dame Sisters, School Sisters of St. Francis, etc.

2. It's tough getting donors for a poor, black church, school, and hospital. The Miller family (Miller Brewing, Inc.) had always been gracious and supportive of St. Ben's, even when it was first built, however to maintain the ministries that existed in the 1940's required serious fundraising. I cannot say what exactly happened, but the friars I spoke with remember the children praying for the benefactors' needs, not simply their own.

3. The prayer is no longer used at St. Ben's, and will probably not be used again for some time. Like any other urban parish, the ministry of the church changes with the needs of the community. Many in this community are homeless, suffer from substance addictions, have mental or emotional issues, struggle to live above the poverty line, or reside in one of the surrounding three correctional facilities. Much of the work done at St. Benedict the Moor Church is focused on social justice.

I've had mixed feeling about talking about this prayer, simply because it is not who we are anymore. While the greatest ministry we offer grew out of the time when Vatican II was happening, this is the age of the "JP2 Generation." This book regarding the Storm Novena is extremely dated, referring to the "colored children" and "little Negroes" often, however it is part of the history of this church. While I'd like to just toss this book by the side, because of it's language or because I think it was used as a way to raise money for the schools, there is a part of history here and I've already experienced the fact that certain people are moved by that history.

So with that in mind, I've decided to do what would be the most "Capuchin" thing to do. Tomorrow I will reprint the storm novena for all to use. You may copy it, print it out, and use it however for whatever intention you have. I will include the instructions on how to pray it as well. I want to do this because I realize that while I, or even the current parish of St. Benedict the Moor, may no longer find spiritual value in this prayer, I know there are others who find this type of prayer to be very helpful. I also realize that for it to simply hide would be a disservice to others who look for spiritual meaning.

Therefore instead of paying the $5.95 for the book (which doesn't even go to the parish or the now-closed schools here in Milwaukee), I will post the entire prayer and instructions freely for all to use. If you find it beneficial to your prayer life, or if you find that God grants your request through this prayer, then may God bless you. The only thing we ask at St. Ben's is to keep us and the homeless, working poor, the imprisoned, the addicted, and the down-trodden in your prayers.

Another OFM Cap In the Blogosphere!

Br. Ernie Bedard OFM Cap., a post-novice from the New York province, has decided to stake his claim on the internet with his new blog Reflections of a Capuchin Friar. Ernie is several years ahead of me in his journey to become a professed Capuchin friar, currently studying theology in Boston instead of Chicago like my province.

I encourage you all to take a look and give him a warm welcome. From the looks of his first post, he's got a great insight on our sense of Franciscan spirituality that may be beneficial to some of you. Hopefully he'll prove to the rest of you that not all the OFM Caps are crazy like I am!

You can find his blog here.

Less Than Two Months!

This picture has absolutely nothing to do with today's blog entry. My postulant brother is a tool; I just wanted to share that with everyone on the internet. =)

The pic does reflect the sense of comfort we've gotten from being here in Milwaukee these past 7 months. It is only within the past few weeks that I've really started to reflect on how this time will soon come to an end.

Friday I spoke with two guests about how I'd soon be leaving for Pre-Novitiate and then Novitiate. They were clearly upset that I would be leaving soon after having only been there for half a year. While I didn't say it, part of me knows I will miss them as well.

In spite of the time winding down, I don't feel that I'm winding down at all in my ministry. I've already started planning events for 2010 when I'll be in another state. I've got people asking me to come speak at events they are holding later on in the year. And within the past week, I've bought about 5 new books for education and reflection.

I knew that the initial formation would be tough to handle, especially with all the moving. However I already miss my ministry at St. Ben's, and I haven't even left yet. Part of me has already considered postponing studies in Divinity so I could return to St. Ben's sooner, even if I do so only as a professed lay brother.

These next few weeks will be tough. I pray for strength, guidance, and wisdom.

Music & Spirituality: Daughters

I've talked several times about my ex-girlfriend's daughter, and how that relationship has been one of the hardest for me to deal with in choosing this life. Some days are better than others, and lately I've learned to forget about the decision to leave her and her mother.

It's been over a month since I sent her an email, and I've still heard nothing. I think I've resigned to the fact that there are two (more) women in this world who want nothing to do with me. I'd really hoped to hear something. It would have made a great post to write about; it would have been something far more special to me than another post. However if this is how things will be, then she will be my greatest sacrifice in choosing religious life.

As usual, there are songs that stir my mind. John Mayer's song Daughters came out when we were all still a family, and the song made me feel good about trying to be a surrogate father. While looking for new songs to play on guitar, I crossed this song again today.

This time, it had a much different feeling and message for me.

I know a girl
She puts the color inside of my world.
But she's just like a maze
Where all of her walls are continually changed.

And I've done all I can
To stand on her steps with my heart in my hand.
Now I'm starting to see
Maybe it's got nothing to do with me.

Fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers that turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too.

Ooh? See that skin
It's the same she's been standing in
Since the day she saw him walking away
Now she's left - cleaning up the mess he made.

Fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too.

Boys you can break
You find out how much they can take
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone with warmth from
A woman's good, good heart.

On behalf of every man
Looking out for every girl
You are the guide and the weight of her world

So fathers be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers be good to your daughters too.

Community Meal Reflection

Today I held a reflection for the students of Messmer High School, an inner-city high school here in the city of Milwaukee. I've hosted reflection groups for schools, confirmation classes, and other groups from around the area. However this has been the greatest group of students I've yet had here at the meal.

For most groups looking to learn more about St. Ben's Community Meal, we offer reflection sessions for people. This consists of a history and talk about the history and change of St. Benedict the Moor from its creation in 1909. People are then invited to eat (not help) with the other guests at the meal. After waiting in line, getting a meal, and interacting with the other guests at the meal, a reflection is done about their experience that's directed by either me or Br. Dave. For many groups, this is a jarring and eye-opening experience; often times groups have never had any type of interaction with the homeless.

For whatever reason, be it sociological, cultural, or whatever, the students from Messmer thrived and openly engaged with the guests at the meal. While recognizing the plight of the guest's situations, they also recognized their own personal privileges and realized that they had much to learn from the people who were eating at the Community Meal. Rather than try and force kids to talk about an experience that they couldn't yet understand, they gratefully participated in the reflection, and wanted to continue and interact with people down in the meal hall after we were done.

I have another talk with students this weekend, a group that will be fasting for 36 hours for Lent. While I have no idea what kind of reaction I can expect from them, I have found the "goal" of my talks: that they may be as energized to be involved and to be present with the poor community as the class from Messmer I had today.

I Can Sing! (I Think)

Our house has been flooded with candidates who plan on becoming the next class of postulants to join the Capuchins. I was asked to do morning prayer for the house, and while planning, I had came up with an idea: give an example of what it means to "get out of your comfort zone."

So rather than just using something I already knew, or letting someone else sing for me, I sang a capella this morning. I didn't just sing, but I sang something that's exactly easy: O Healing River.

Since there are a lot of references to water during Lent, today being from Isaiah, O Healing River is a good song for Lent...especially when Ashes has been used up by the first week! Those that know me also know that I don't (can't) sing, so I usually just play accompaniment. However with the chance to demonstrate what it means to do something a little scary, I put myself out there.

I doubt I'm ready for a solo career as a singer, but one of the things I'm self-conscious about is my singing. I think the chance to do little things like that, and do them to show the new guys that it's OK to be a little scared, helps everyone.

Day of Recollection: Lent

For the second time we joined the Chicago community (post-novices) in a day of recollection that's done away from our friaries. The purpose of these days is to take time to really look back on our lives and prepare for the current season. It's also an opportunity for the two communities, both dealing with men in Capuchin formation, to get together and have a good time.

The day is spent mostly in personal reflection, with a speaker who gives us things for us to think about during this time. Some choose to walk outdoors, some read scripture or a book on spirituality. I actually spent most of the time in my room...sitting in the chair and staring at the wall as I was completely lost in contemplation.

We were blessed to have Shelly Roder, director of our Cap Corps program, give the talk in the morning. Shelly has completed a number of accomplishments in her lifetime. She served as the director of the Gubbio Project in San Francisco in the tenderloin district and the St. Boniface homeless shelter. On top of all that, she is a great friend to many of us in the order. She was such a fixture of the community that the Chronicle did an article about her departure.

It was parts of her life that Shelly used for our day of recollection. "Stories" was the theme as she described the power, conviction, and reflection that is contained in each of our life stories. By looking at our lives we understand why we are where we are today. We remind ourselves of what is important when things get confusing. But most of all, our stories are how we show the power of God in our lives.

Shelly used two stories from her life. One was from her time in the Dominican Republic where she served as a volunteer during college. She described the time in a way only a skilled storyteller could. She also talked about her time in San Francisco, about how her family reacted to her changing life, and how she uses those times in her life to help her "stay on track."

It was a wonderful time listening to her speak (even though she and her daughter were over for dinner the day before) and it gave us plenty to think about as we separated for our recollection. Mostly I thought about my life and the things I've written here in my corner of the internet, excerpts from a life trying to figure out exactly what I've been called to do.

There are times when I think I'm writing my memoirs early, so I don't have to do all this when I'm old. Or I think that someone maybe will see what I write and be inspired to live a life or experience a change in who they are because of something inspiring or marvelous I've written.

But the reality of why I do this is that it is therapy for me. It is a way that I can journal all of my feelings, emotions, actions, and questions about who I've become. I do this so at times, I can go back and look at who I was, what I used to think, and how that's changed. I can see the process of conversion.

One last thing that Shelly said really rang true with me. She said that telling our stories is scary. It's scary because what happens if you tell your story, the story that has brought all of the world into perspective for you, and no one cares? What if someone tells you you're wrong?

So the question to you, Dear Readers, is this: what is your story? What part of your life has been important in your formation? More importantly, would you be willing to tell that story?

Shelly Roder is the director of Cap Corps Mid-West, a post-graduate program for those wanting to participate in full-time volunteer work, either in the U.S. or internationally. For more info on Shelly or the Cap Corps program, go to

You Don't Know Me

I just got back from ministry at St. Ben's and I am mad.

Seriously, I am f'ing pissed.

Twice this day people tried to use my status to make me feel guilty, and that is something I cannot stand. Just because I am a Catholic, a Christian, a Latino, a friar, a man, or whatever is used to define me does not give anyone the right to either make assumptions about who I am or the right to tell me what I should be doing. That is a strict rule of mine. I will gladly explain how I live my life, and how I make the choices and decisions that I do. I'll even tell you the benefits and consequences that you face if you are in a similar situation. However your life is your own to live, and whatever choices you make are your own, and whatever choices I've made belong to me.

Before this turns into a long ramble of me venting my own frustrations, let me explain the happenings of today that caused me to get so riled up.

Today while doing paperwork in the office, I got a call from a gentleman calling from California.

"Is this the St. Benedict the Moor Mission?" he asked me. No one calls us St. Benedict the Moor unless it's official (church) business or it is in regards to money.

After I ask how I can help him, he asks me: "So this is the home of the Storm Novena?"

If you know what the Storm Novena is, then great! If not, don't feel bad. I didn't either. I'll take time later to explain the history of it and its relationship to the St. Ben's Church. For the sake of this discussion, I will tell you that it is a novena that was prayed by the kids here at St. Ben's. It was a prayer with open arms done 9 times during the day in front of the Blessed Sacrament. It was written in the 1940's, and hasn't been used in quite a long time. When I give talks about St. Ben's, the Storm Novena is not something I mention, nor is it something that comes up.

As I tell this guy that I am unaware of this novena he's talking about, he proceeds to talk to me like it's my first day there at the parish. I've busted my ass talking, helping, working, and trying to understand the social aspect of trying to be the caring person I've been called to be, and some ass calls the church for the first time because of a prayer that's from 70 years ago and feels he has the right to tell me that I need to know the history of the church!

I could have said all of that to him. I could have told him that he has no clue what St. Ben's is, why it is a mission and not just a church, and that if I wanna pray, I go to the prison and pray. However part of me doesn't want to spoil his dream. He feels so inspired by this prayer that he chose to call from California.

Damn me for caring about other people!

About an hour later, I had a gentleman call asking about the bus ticket program. Giving out bus tickets is serious business; we're the only place in town that gives them out on a regular basis. Since a bus ticket is the new commodity of the poor, there are certain restrictions and stop-gaps in place to make sure it doesn't get disorderly, misused, abused, or confused. Still, some people try to get around the system.

This person calls and wants to talk to the person who handles the distribution. I tell him that he's not in yet, and asked if he'd like to leave a message on his voice mail. He then starts to give me a story and tells me he needs bus tickets. Being an ex-salesman, I know the difference between a story and "a story." As a salesman, I'm not the only one who's good at lying. Many of my buyers had no qualms lying to my face about things, a unique skill that's carried over from my previous life.

I tell him he needs to be here and in line to get tickets, and if he's not here, then he needs to talk to the man in charge during the Community Meal. He starts to get loud with me, and wants to know my name. I tell him I am Br. Vito. He tells me that if I were a God-fearing man...

And that's the last of what I remember him saying.

And then I went off.

When my life is finally over, and I have to stand before God and attest for what I've done in my life, I know that I will have to explain for my personal transgressions. What I will not allow is for other people to tell me or manipulate me through the use of my faith, my role as a friar, or through my sense of duty.


Coming back to read this post hours later, I don't feel the anger I did earlier. However I do recognize that "hot button" that is within me. If there's one thing I've learned from today is that not everyday do you feel appreciated by your work. Sometimes you feel used or misunderstood. In a way it's quite ironic: coming from a work experience where I was never taken at face value, you'd think I'd deal with these issues better than others.

(As promised, I will talk about the Storm Novena later.)

Liturgical Music 101

One of the greatest things about being here as a friar is finding my love of music again. When people find out I play guitar I'm often asked to "play something" at a mass or prayer service. It feels good using a skill that I love for the benefit of worship. And it's a skill I continue to work at.

When we got here to Milwaukee in August, we were told that we could go to whatever parish we wanted for Sunday Liturgy. They preferred that we go to a Capuchin parish, but it was not required. The focus was for us to get out and establish relationships within the city. After going to a few different masses at the start, I attended the 10:30 mass at St. Francis...a Spanish mass.

I've mentioned before that even though I'm Mexican, my Spanish is horrible. So I thought it was just a fluke that I would happen to go to a Spanish mass. However when the mass started, I saw one person playing guitar, leading the choir, singing, cantoring, and planning the music. I remember my parish back in Grand Rapids and how wonderful it was to have so many talented people participating.

At the end , I introduced myself and asked if he needed any help. Since then, I've been playing guitar for that mass. About a month later, one of the other postulants joined with his guitar.

A few times the director has been sick or had commitments that keep him from getting to that mass. In those times he's asked us to take over his job: pick out the songs, make sure they choir knows them, get the equipment set up, and play for the mass.

Liturgical Music is not just about playing songs that people know...something I learned the hard way. There are many nuances and thoughts behind the music that is chosen, the words that are used, and the tempo and feeling of the piece. Each must tie into the season, the readings, any special events or feast days, etc. And the important part isn't about sounding good. In fact, I'd say when it comes to liturgical music planning, "sounding good" comes in a distant third. The relevance to the mass is probably the second most important focus. The first: getting the church to participate in the singing of the songs during mass.

There are far more things to learn about Liturgical Music in the Catholic Church, but I know that my understanding as well as my musical abilities have both grown in these past months. While I still plan on being a priest, part of me wants to spend time working in the field of music. It's so hard to find and keep musicians in parishes these days, I feel that it would be improper for me to just waste my talent.

I bring up this topic because I was at St. Francis late this evening. We have a new person who helps out at the Spanish mass, and he's eager to learn the songs we use. The director won't be at mass Sunday, so I got together with the new guy and picked out songs for the 2nd Sunday of Lent.

In that process he stated how impressed he was with my knowledge of music and that it was very helpful to have me walk through the songs, pick out ones that were commonly used in this church, and to coordinate different aspects of the music during the liturgy. I felt rather proud of the compliment, and I realized how comfortable I'd become with not just playing in front of a crowd, but of taking control and directing what needed to be done in a respectful and encouraging manner.

So the next time you go to mass, and you enjoy the music, tell the music director you appreciate it. And if you can play any instrument, ask if you can help out in some way. Both of those things will not only brighten their day, but it will remind them that it's not just "playing music," but it is a way that serves the community during the mass.

After Postulancy

It's hard to believe I've been here in Milwaukee over months now, and that at May 9, my postulancy will be over. It feels that I got here only weeks ago, learning how to fit into a life of community, service, and prayer.

With the end of the term so close, I'm surprised I haven't thought more about the coming year of being a Novice. It is an entirely different experience from being a postulant; with limited internet access I don't even know if I'll be able to blog from Novitiate! There's a lot of questions I haven't asked yet about the next year.

In the second week of May, we are finished here in Milwaukee. There is a two week vacation where we can go home, go somewhere for vacation (probably not Vegas), or just relax. After that, we are due back here in Milwaukee. We depart from here as a group to Victoria, Kansas to rendezvous with the postulants from all the other English-speaking provinces in the U.S. and Australia. For three months we live in Victoria as we get acclimated and prepare to jointly become novices. This 3-month period is known as Pre-Novitiate.

After Pre-Novitiate, there is a ceremony of Investiture. In almost every order, getting your habit is not like picking up BDU's in the army. You are "dressed" into your habit by your other brothers. It is to signify not only the fraternity of the community, but symbolizes a transformation of taking on the responsibility of a greater role in the Order and in living the Gospel. It also marks the change from being a Postulant to being a Novice.

Along with all the other new novices, we (and all other orders) are bound to live as a novice for at least one year...per Canon Law. During that time we are not held to any vows, nor is our committment any greater to the Order than in the postulancy year. And under the direction of the Novice Master that year is spent learning if we have the spiritual call and desire to truly live a Capuchin life.

While postulancy has been more about me working and being busy, novitiate will be a LOT less work and a LOT more prayer and introspection. We are cut off from the rest of the world during this one year. We are not allowed to leave (except for 5 hours a week for Ministry), we are not allowed to receive guests (except from our respective provinces), and our phone and internet times are strictly regulated. The idea is to remove all distraction from our lives during this one year so we can better listen to what God is telling us to do.

There is schooling much like there is here. In fact, I've been told to keep my notes about certain classes since some of the same teachers go out to Novitiate and teach the guys from all the other provinces. There is the division of tasks, and of course there is the challenge of living in a newer and bigger community. But the overall focus for the year is to take plenty of time in personal prayer and meditation to really try and listen to what God is calling. It is a time of self-discipline, a time of reflection, but also a time to seriously contemplate the desicion to live this life in this way for the rest of one's days.

As the time gets closer to move, I'll talk more and more about pre novitiate and novitiate. This is an exciting time! I just got over the excitement of being a postulant, and now my status will soon change again!