Week 2 of Lent: Understanding the Internet and "Separation from God"

It feels like no matter what situation I try to put myself into, the simplicity and of the internet has made this week extremely hard. I feel there have been times when not using the internet would have separated me from God, an ironic twist for a Capuchin who's trying to understand "joyful simplicity" and "dependence on God" in a digital world.

First and foremost, I'm still awaiting a response from last week. I feel bad: my response came after an away auto-response from my email account. It's possible she won't try to contact me until after Easter...or maybe even later. All I can do is pray and not let this near-miss bring me down.
However there have been other issues. In preparation for Post-Novitiate (this fall), I found out I got accepted to St. Xavier University in Chicago. I'm still awaiting word from DePaul University as well. The thought of returning to college is exciting; I feel like I have the chance to make up for the time I wasted my time at college. I'm also excited because with the ever-growing digital world and it's effects on the world, my Order has encouraged my desire to work in either Interactive Media (web development,design) or Computer Science in conjunction with my schooling for Ordination. There are infinite possibilities for a priest who's also at the forefront of technology, and I'll talk about it more as Novitiate comes to an end in July. Needless to say, with that kind of focus, staying away from the internet has been tough.

Another "task" I picked up was making an homily blog for my provincial minister: Fr. John Celichowski. For the past few months, I've been getting his homilies in my email. John's an excellent preacher, and reading his homilies is great for my own reflection on the Sunday readings. Hoping to share his homilies with a broader audience, I set him up on blogger with John, Capuchin as his blog. Of course, one cannot set up a blog without internet, but I feel that it was for a good reason.

The biggest even this week was dealing with the death of a resident from my ministry. In the short time that I was here in Pittsburgh, I got to know her and her family quite well. When she died, we (the Novices) were asked to speak at the funeral. I was elected from the guys to speak at the eulogy, so I spent a lot of time thinking of what to write. However the day of the funeral, the Snowpocylpse returned in full-force, and our Novice Directed canceled all activities. Not able to deliver the eulogy, I decided to email a copy to the family, and one of them would read it. In spite of the weather, they were very grateful for the words.

From these experiences, I'm trying to discern a course of action with the internet. This morning, I listened to a Benedictian priest talk about how Facebook, Twitter, iPods, and technology can "block out" God, yet as I remove more and more of these things from my life, I see that, just maybe, God can be found in all this new technology. This week has been full of opportunities to see God in others - with the internet as a facilitator. Where does that leave me with regards to giving up the internet for Lent?

Perhaps the question isn't "Does technology block out God?" but "Do we use technology to block out God?" It's a reflection I sit with at meditation...wishing I had my iPod to hear something relaxing.

Until next week...

1st Sunday of Lent: The Right Time to give up the Internet?

So the first 5 days of giving up the internet haven't been that bad. The first thing I noticed is all the extra time! I've taken that time to do plenty of reading, some homework, and other fun things that don't involve me being in front of the computer by myself. Quite honestly, being here in Novitiate seems like the one time in my life when it is feasible to actually give up the internet.

Although I've learned through experience that there's never a "right time" to give something up. Whether it's smoking, dieting, or any other change one is making, it's easy to rationalize why it's not "the right time" to give something up. And even here, when I think nothing could be so important that I wouldn't need the internet, it's funny how life surprises you.

Those of you who've followed my story for a long time will remember me writing about my daughter. While not of my blood, I tried as best I could to treat her as my own. It can be hard for any child to allow someone new to be a parental figure at the age of 15, but she welcomed the opportunity to call someone "Dad" and to have a father figure in her life. Looking back, I am amazed at the amount of openness and love to be as forthcoming as she was.

After the break-up with my ex, I knew I'd have to "break up" with her daughter as well. Anyone's who's been in a relationship with a parent knows that they build a relationship to their child as well. It's a heavy guilt to bear, and it took a long time for me to deal with it.

My readers will also remember that last year, I sent her an email. She was no longer a teenager, rather a woman at 18. I wanted to tell her, as an adult, how moving and wonderful it was to experience life as a father...if only for a little while. And my heart broke again from never getting a response.

So on Fat Tuesday, when I'm checking my email for the last time, I'm dumb-founded by what I see in my Inbox...the response.

It was wonderful to hear from her, and she apologized for taking so long to get back to me. Without saying too much, she wrote the words any estranged father dreams of hearing: "You are still and always will be my dad. Please email me soon. I love you, Daddy."

With this and with the emotions of everything, it was hard to think why I should stay away from the internet. Surely Jesus didn't expect his disciples to fast during a time of joy. So it has been a struggle to stick with staying away from the computer. Quite honestly, I want to check my email ever 15 minutes!

So I have to ask myself: "Is this the right time to give up the internet?" The timing appears to be horrible, but prayer and reflection is helping me find God at work in all of this. Even working with my spiritual director, perhaps there's a way to continue to be present to my fast while being present to my Capuchin charism of being loving and compassionate. Which is the greater pennance: giving up something, or opening my heart to a floodgate of emotions that scare me? Again...things I have to take to prayer.

So for now, I await her response. I won't go into the contents of what I wrote, but I told her it requires a lot of love to allow someone back into your life as easily as she has.

Until next week...

Giving Up The Internet for Lent

After spending time discerning what would be best for me to give up this Lent, I and a few brothers here in Novitiate have decided to give up the Internet for Lent. Not just Facebook, or YouTube, or checking email...the entire internet!

So what would move perfectly normal guys to give up the internet?

First, we as Capuchins are called to live a "Joyful Simplicity." While much of the world is now on the internet, at work, play, or even prayer, our charism is to strive to live a simple life. Secondly we are striving for a greater reliance on God. While God won't answer some questions as simply (or biasly) as Wikipedia might, the goal is for an overall submission to the Will of God - a mindset not often praised in an individualistic and too often greedy culture.

But we as Capuchins are also called to be a Gospel Witness, an example of Christ through the life and Rule of St. Francis of Assisi. While our lives of vows are one witness, our poverty and desire to disengage from social norms and excessive goods is who we are. Even in our Constitutions:

The Church recognizes voluntary poverty, especially in religious, as a sign of the following of Christ and proposes Saint Francis as a prophetic image of evangelical poverty. 59:3

With these focal points for our Lenten fast, I and two other Novices (including Matthew Janeczko, author of the blog New Sandals) have decided to give up the internet completely. This is how it will work:

1. The task is to go without the internet until Easter. That means no emails, no chat, no research, no Hulu.

2. Recognizing that we as Capuchins are a Gospel Witness and that our call is not only to a life of Penance but a life of Spreading the Gospel, I will continue to write one blog a week to chronicle this time. Matt has agreed to write as well, however he wishes not to blog; out of courtesy I will include his blogs here along with mine.

3. The task isn't just to not use the internet, rather to find more prayerful ways of spending the time that might ordinarily be spent here. There are plenty of books I need to finish, a few prayers that I haven't finished, and a Chaplet that I'm continuing my work with.

Quitting the internet did require a little planning.

For the first time, I used the Auto-Response feature on my email to let people know I wouldn't be answering until after Easter, along with information on where to mail or call me. I will also have moderation on for my comments here. Without any oversight, I wouldn't want anything "unseemly" posted without my knowledge.

I also realized that the internet is something I do unconsciously. I walk past the breakfast nook, grab some cereal, and think: "I should check my email." The guys here know of my intention to stay away from the internet; the use of force has been authorized should I try to break the fast!

Obviously there are times when I may have to log in. I'm waiting for a response from two colleges that I've applied to for the Fall. There are notices from my Province that need to be filled out, and just recently, I got an email that I never thought I'd ever get a response to. So I realize it will be hard to give up the internet, even with everything that's going on right now.

But we can't do it without your help!

We need your prayers. Not just us, but there are plenty of people in this world who have internet-related addictions: whether they are related to gambling, video games, pornography, or shopping. Along with these people, there are those who are victims of sexual exploitation, as well as those for whom the internet is a boundary (as opposed to a bridge) to God. I will be keeping these people in prayer. I hope that this fast will raise awareness towards these concerns.

So keep an eye out on Sunday, and may your Lent be a time of clensing as well as spiritual growth.

Peace and all good,

Bro. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap.
Capuchin Franciscans of the St. Joseph Province

Listening to Daughters by John Mayer as I have an important email to write on Sunday. Stay tuned!

The Web and Lent

I've decided that for Lent this year, I will give up the web. Not just Facebook, or Twitter, or YouTube, or the amount of time...my intent is not to use the internet during Lent.

Sound crazy? Let me tell you how I decided on giving up the web for my Lenten fast:

Being in Novitiate allows for a prayerful and a reclusive feel, allowing us to focus solely on our vocations without the influences of the outside world. Because we are a Franciscan order, we are defined by how we exist in that outside world, making Novitiate a balancing act between the external and the internal.

The internet provides that external interaction for me. But more importantly, the web provides a limitless field of possibilities for ministry, catachesis, parochial services, and so forth. Not to mention, I feel it's incumbant on us to develop a sense of ethics and morality based upon scripture, the Magisterium, and the Capuchin Constitutions.

With those things being said, I think it's fair to say that this idea kind of scares me. I am old enough to remember life without computers, car rides with no cellular phone or MapQuest directions, doing homework on a typewriter, and keeping contact either with a phone or a letter (that's snail mail for the younger readers.)

However I am young enough to see the many possibilities available to the Order and to the Church by taking advantage of today's technology. I see it in the many other Catholic blogs that I read, the information that is shared for everyone to use, the mobilization and organization that is capable by gathering people around an issue. My little corner of the web here in this blog opens into a vast sea of ideas and opportunities.

Recognizing the opportunities as well as the dangers involved with the Web and internet usage, I've decided to take my time this Lenten Season to reflect on my attachment to the Web by giving it up for Lent. My goal is to give it all up: email, wikipedia, blogs, music, news, etc. For a tech-savvy person as myself, it won't be easy. In fact, I don't think I'll be able to do this by myself...which is kind of the point for Lent.

What will happen is that on Ash Wednesday I will put up a blog for the season. Each Sunday I will add a reflection on how I'm doing, what struggles I'm facing, and what graces I've received in such a task. I recognize that the Web is as much a means of witness as it is a waste of time, and I wouldn't want to abandon a ministry completely for this. So I decided that while there is importance for me to give up the internet, it is just as important that I document and share the experience the best way I can...here.

So keep me in your prayers, and be sure to check out the last article I write for beginning of Lent on Wednesday. God knows I'll need em!

Bro. Vito Martinez, OFM Cap

In My Thoughts And In My Words...

With so much time spent in prayer, there's a danger of prayer becoming dull. Some days it feels like the words in the Breviary run together, or sometimes I can sit through the Office of Readings and not really "hear" anything said. There are times when I think I can recite the Benedictus in my sleep.

The danger I worry about is letting prayer become something other than communication towards God. If I don't actively take charge of my prayer life, prayer becomes a chore rather than a gift.

One of the prayers I've worked hard to keep is the Confiteor. With a Penitential Act each morning and Examination of Conscience each evening, there are plenty of opportunities to recite the Confiteor. For those of you unfamiliar with the Roman Catholic liturgy, it often goes like this:

I confess, to Almighty God
and you, my brothers and sisters*
that I have sinned through my own fault.
In my thoughts and in my words
in what I have done
and what I have failed to do.
And I ask the Blessed Mary ever Virgin
All the Angels and Saints
and you, my brothers and sisters
to pray for me to the Lord our God.

*(since we're a men's community, we only say "brothers.")

Living in such a small and intentional community as the Novitiate House here in Allison Park, I soon realized that there were few occassions of sin that didn't in some way involve one of the other guys I lived with. Whether it was getting upset, forgetting a commitment, etc., being here meant that we were the Recipient as well as the Donor of less-than-brotherly interaction (a nice way of saying what I really mean). Nevertheless, in the beginning or the end of the day, our plea to God to forgive our sins was said in unison with those whom we sinned against. It was a stark difference from being in a church, where I felt it was just me talking to God about my faults.

Recognizing this, I didn't want the Confiteor to be lip service. If I wanted to honestly confess to my brothers that I had sinned, I realized I'd have to do a lot more than just recite the prayer. I found it almost hypocritical to stand across the chapel and see someone whom I was having issues with, asking for their prayers.

Not wanting to think my prayers as hypocritical, I did something the next night that changed my entire prayer experience of the Examination of Conscience...

...I looked the other guys in the eyes as I talked about my faults.

Ordinarily one wouldn't think that reciting a prayer while looking at another would be a huge issue. In prayers of thanksgiving, petition, and blessing, we often look at the focus of our prayer - whether it's the meal we're about to eat, the person in the hospital bead, or the couple that's been married for 50+ years. Looking and praying isn't beyond our capabilities.

But I looked at my brothers as I told them how I had sinned by my own fault. I realize that God is the one who forgives, yet there is a humbling sense to admit fault and wrongdoing to another person. And when the prayer had finished, I wondered why I felt more embarassed to express my shortcomings to my brothers than to my Creator..."whom I should love above all things."

Understanding how I present my sins to God soon became a topic for contemplative meditation. Recognizing God's over-abundant love and grace, I wanted to understand how I could better open myself, in a sense of humility and love, to that love and grace. I realized that this question arose out of a desire 1. to connect at a deeper level with my prayer and 2. to build a better relationship with my brothers, even when I wanted to put bleach in their laundry! (just kidding guys...I know you read this too!)

With those thoughts, I continued this practice of looking at the other friars during the Confiteor -acknowledging my failings and asking for their prayers for me. It was (and still is) a humbling experience, but I soon realized I wasn't alone in this slightly unnerving practice. As I exchanged glances with the other friars, they would look away, look down, or close their eyes - probably experiencing some of those same anxieties as I was.

Yet as time has progressed, I can see that others have picked up on what I'm doing, and are mindful to look back at me. I see it as a testimony of how willfully entering into the experience of prayer can effect others. I don't know that it's cause me less occassions to sin, but I realize that I'm willing to be open and honest to my brothers and to my God about what errors I've made - an important task in a Religious Order that looks so much for transparency.

Thanks to the other guys for posing for me!

Please Scholastica...Make it Stop!

From today's 2nd Reading in the Office of Readings for the Memorial of St. Scholastica, virgin and sister of St. Benedict, according to the Dialogues by St. Gregory the Great:

Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”

When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.”

I don't know who's praying for all this snow, but please...make it stop!

Franciscan Prayer: The Word Made Flesh

This is the 5th installment of Fr. William Hugo OFM Cap.'s articles about Franciscan Prayer. To view all the articles, you can start here.

In the last Update on Franciscan prayer, I examined Francis and Clare’s gaze at the self-emptying life of God visible in the enormous act of creation. We saw the four steps of prayer outlined by Clare (gaze, consider or meditate, contemplate, and imitate) as they are visible in the actions and prayers of Francis.

Francis and Clare also gazed a lot at Jesus. A lot! Perhaps the important word to consider in understanding this focus is Incarnation. This is the theological word we use to refer to the Word of God (the 2nd person in the Trinity) becoming human. Many people mistakenly think Incarnation refers specifically to Jesus’ birth, i.e., Christmas.

Incarnation includes Jesus’ birth, but properly refers to Jesus’ entire human and historical existence, in other words, from conception (Annunciation) to death. No one moment is more important than another, though some moments are more dramatic for Francis, powerfully disclosing what God is like. How does this fit into Franciscan prayer?

The Incarnation as a whole and in each of its moments becomes the event at which Francis and Clare most commonly gaze. When they move from gazing to considering, again they experience a selfless God. To be precise, they are overcome by considering that a God they imagine to be powerful, great, glorious, and able to do everything and anything in the superlative, actually takes on our human nature that seems so utterly constrained by littleness and limits.

I am accustomed to describing this insight as God jumping off the tallest pedestal to live on the floor with his creatures. However, if one stays with the gazing and considering of Francis and Clare, one sees God in Jesus
leaping off time after time after time, until one realizes that the eternal God is eternally leaping to the floor. Then, perhaps the best metaphor for God is someone standing on the floor next to the pedestal that we humans put there, but which God never climbs. He’s too busy emptying himself on the floor.

The baby Jesus and the crucified Christ are but moments on this continuum of salvation. However, for Franciscans, these two moments most dramatically disclose God’s selfless vulnerability, littleness, humility, poverty, and minority. This is why we see so many works of art depicting Francis with the crucified or the baby Jesus.

Well, I’ve run out of space to discuss how this gaze-consideration-contemplation led Francis and Clare to the desire of imitation. Remember, Franciscan prayer by Clare’s definition changes our lives. That’s for the
next installment.

My Testament of the Snowpocalypse

Friday afternoon was the preparing for the storm. People left work early. Notices on the television continued to run about future closings. Weather announcers exchanged predictions about exactly how much snow would fall.

While the exact amount is still being debated, one account says that Pittsburgh only got 5 inches of snow. But as you can see from the pictures, it was a lot more than that.

So rather than write a long, boring post about how much snow actually fell, I just took pictures as a way of getting out of shoveling snow. Enjoy.

Here, brothers Matthew Anselmi, Nathaniel Santos, Brian Stacy, and Ken Cole stop and pose for a group shot. I tried to get more of the novices in the picture, but they were inside being lazy fulfilling other roles this morning!

Anthony stops from his effort to get through the 12" of snow on the driveway to get to the road.

Matthew Janescko, author of the blog New Sandals, poses after losing a snow fight and ending up face first in a snow bank.

Not to be thought of as a "slouch," I got evidence of me actually working before going off and taking everyone's picture.

Capuchin Habit Rosary Information

Edit: I've created a separate blog to display my habit rosaries. The address is: http://habitrosary.wordpress.com/

This is my display page for my habit rosaries. These rosaries are not for sale (at least not until the Provincial tells me otherwise), rather they are for friars of my order: the Capuchin Franciscans. Instead of sending out a huge email everytime someone needs one, this page is so that friars can look and choose what they want for their own habit rosary.

In the Franciscan tradition, these rosaries aren't made with precious beads and/or metals. As friars, we need a habit rosary to be durable, simple, comfortable, and functional. I use wood for the beads and the crosses and a tough Rhodium plated chain to prevent rusting or easy breakage. These rosaries hang from the cord to about the knee, allowing the friar to pray while standing or walking.

 (By clicking on each picture, you can view a larger image and see the rosaries better.)

Here we have the "Franciscan Crown" or "Seraphic Rosary." This is a seven-decade rosary which is used to pray the Seven Joys of Mary. It uses a San Damiano Crucifix instead of the normal beveled cross. It can also be used to pray the traditional Mysteries of the Rosary. Many thanks to Br. Anthony for modeling this rosary!

The traditional 5-decade rosary can come in two types. The first is to use cord, such as this rosary Br. Nathaniel has. While rope does appear more "rustic," these rosaries are usually smaller and cannot be fixed if they break. Walking around with our rosaries on our hips can cause accidents - any religious will tell you of an experience of getting their side rosary stuck on a chair, on a pew, etc. I make a "break-away" to ensure that the rosaries don't snap, however accidents and wear & tear still happen.

This rosary that Br. Quan is wearing is the standard rosary I make. The crucifix (which Br. Nathaniel is inspecting) is special and was sent to me by a women's religious community in Peru. The actual cross is a 5" medium cherry stained & beveled cross. The dark reddish color is what most friars prefer, and like this rosary, I try to use beads of that color exclusively.

These are some of the things I use in the rosaries I make. I hand make the Break-Away  as well as the front Cord-Over (soft yet tough wire that secures the rosary without digging into your stomach). I include a small medal to represent the specific province of the friar (for example, I am from the St. Joseph Province), as well as offering an optional St. Benedict Medal that is worn near the belt. Many of the old habit rosaries were kept on the cord/belt by hoops similar to a keychain. Belt key holders are cheap and provide and make the task of putting on/taking off a habit rosary very simple. And in the tradition of momento mori, I include a Skull of Adam on to the rosary...a tradition that one can find on old habit rosaries.

If a friar has need of a new or replacement rosary, contact me at St. Conrad Friary in Allison Park, Pa with your preferences and I will get started on it right away.

I'll add more pictures as I take them.

-Vito Martinez, Capuchin

My Greatest Reading: My Last Visit to Fr. Christopher Rengers

This weekend I was asked to do the reading at the funeral of Fr. Christopher Rengers, OFM Cap. In preparing for it, a reflection of my experience of him formed in my mind. I decided to write it down, in hopes that it may be a witness of how great a man Fr. Christopher was.

"I like how you read."

The voice was barely audible over the oxygen maching running behind his wheelchair. Apologetically I asked him to repeat himself. With some strain he repeated himself: "I LIKE HOW YOU READ." He never showed the effort involved in speaking louder, but I could see it in his actions. I felt warm from the compliment, but guilty for causing this frail man pain.

It was the feast day of St. Basil, and I remember entering into the nursing home with a little reservation on seeing the retired friars. I watched my grandparents pass away in a nursing home, and there's a cultural aspect of "sending away the elderly" that I grapple with. And so there are times when I just don't feel up to the visitations. It sounds selfish; it sounds un-Franciscan. Yet it is an honest thought.

These are the times when I have to pray for strength and perseverance. Usually a quick prayer and a brief reflection on why I'm visiting retired friars in the nursing home renews my spirit. I realize that it is for the benefit of the "old guys" just as much as it's a benefit for us "young guys." (I've given up trying to argue that I'm not a "young guy" at 35 years!)

And so with a positive and open attitude we went to see Fr. Christopher that day. We'd been told that he wasn't feeling well and that he was resting a lot, yet when we entered his room, he was still eagerly working on some project or answering mail. For as much as Fr. Christopher worked, he always seemed to set it aside when we came to visit. It is as if he knew what was most important; a balance that even I still struggle with.

And so that day we prayed the Office of Readings in his room. The other Novice and I alternated between the Psalms, and then I read the readings. As I read, Fr. Christopher's eyes were closed. You could tell he was allowing the readings to sink in, the way a child may bask in the light of sun on a warm summer day. At different passages, he would nod his head.

"I like how you read," he told me when I finished. "You're very clear and you take your time. Sometimes I enjoy it more to listen to others read than just reading to myself."

He continued talking a little longer, but even in my strain to listen, I could only pick out a few words here and there. I'd like to think he told me I would be a great preacher someday, or that our arrival made his day better. Or perhaps he imparted some great Capuchin wisdom that was meant only for us two Novices that visited that day. Yet we couldn't hear him, and neither of us were comfortable with making him talk any louder than he could at the time.

All these things I sit with now, as I am surrounded by Capuchins here in Our Lady of Angels (formerly St. Augustine's) Church in Pittsburgh. As I prepare to read to Fr. Christopher for the last time, I look and see the old faces of Capuchins mixed with the new faces of guys preparing to join. I see love, not sadness. Even in the short time I had to know Fr. Christopher Rengers, I find it hard to feel sad at his passing. For it is people like Fr. Christopher, those who devote their entire being in the love and understanding of God and God's followers, that truly have earned their eternal reward. Guys like me, still learning the difference between selling a car and Hermaneutics look to friars like Fr. Christopher as a model for how we can be better Capuchins.

Remembering those words: "I like how you read," I prepare to take the ambo as Fr. John Pavlik finishes the Opening Prayer. While I stand before hundreds of people in this church to honor the passing of such a man, my goal is simple: to remember Fr. Christopher's face that day in the nursing home, that serene look of someone basking in the light of the Lord's Word.