After the Cheering

I've watched the movie Rudy more times than I can count, but I always cry at the end of the movie...without fail. And in all honesty, who wouldn't? Rudy's lifted up on the shoulders of his fellow players after years of hard work, struggle, negative feedback, roadblocks, nay-sayers, and even a father who wasn't willing to appreciate his son's all comes together at the end of the movie.

It's a moment of achievement for everyone. We should all be inspired.

I find it easy to parallel this image of awe-inspiring inspiration with Jesus as he's helped onto the colt's back...preparing to enter into Jerusalem as a king. The multitudes are singing; cloaks cover the road. The words of the Pharisees are drowned out by the elation of the disciples.

It's a great day to be one of the faithful, but it lasts only for a few days.

For many who are searching to connect with God, or those doing their best to follow a religious vocation like me, our faith can be just as elating. There are moments in life when we know we have spoken with the Divine, we know why we are here, and we are positive on how we will live the rest of our lives. The grace of God allows that, and anyone who's had a "God moment" will tell you how the immensity of such an encounter can barely be put into words.

Yet our lives are not full of these moments. The "Rudy Moments" are rare (at least in my experience), and they are the strongholds that provide us refuge in times of great desolation. Yet in these moments of desolation, the times when we call out for God and we wonder if anyone is really listening...these are the times when we learn to grow our faith the most.

In reading and reflecting on the Gospel for Palm Sunday, I thought about the challenges I face as a novice and what the Scripture is saying to me. And one of those challenges is to be able to perservere even when I feel that I'm not as close to God as I should be, or I'm not being good enough to wear the habit and cord. I still remember the moment I felt called to a religious vocation, but it resides in my mind with numerous concerns for schooling, dealing with celibacy, living in community, and even living with my own doubts.

My challenge is to be one of the multitude that continues to praise my faith, even after the cheers, crowds, and other festivies have gone. When Jesus was crucified, only a few of his disciples were there. And when sky darkened...those disciples came back - beating their breasts in guilt. Even when it's hard to be a Catholic, a man, a friar, or even a Mexican-American...the challenge is to keep the faith and remember the presence of God.

Picture from 1SkyWalker

4th Sunday of Lent: The Prodigal Friar

For a guy like me with an interesting conversion story, it's hard not to see myself in the eyes of a wasteful kid, telling his father: "I am not worthy to be called your son." But there are times when I remember what it was like to waste money on things like the newest clothes, the best phone, a $30 pre-flop bet with 9♦10♦, or just wasting time and energy on needless things.

...and in spite of my conversion, I sometimes miss those spending sprees.

Perhaps that doesn't make me as saintly as some of the other friars here in Novitiate. Not that I need anyone else to tell me where I stand, but I sometimes feel like the odd friar out. There are smart guys here, holy guys, and guys who will one day go on and become Provincials of their provinces. And while I trust the plans of whatever God wishes for me, there are times I just want to ask: "What am I doing here?"

Dealing with college this week has brought out a lot of feelings of waste. As I talked with a Student Advisor at St. Xavier's University in Chicago, I realized how much grant money and time I threw away the first time at college. One is able to see such things in the passage of time, and all the staff at St. Xavier's were quite familiar with returning students regretting ill-used time. Yet as we talked about fulfilling requirements that most students my age have accomplished, I still felt guilty about my previous college experience.

In my provincial's weekly homily, he writes how he wishes we could see the 2nd part of that story - how the Prodigal Son works hard, provides for the family, and counts himself as equal to "the good son."

The problem with that ending is that the Son, or me (as I'm obviously reading into the story), gets to a place where they feel worthy. Will I ever be worthy of this vocation, regardless of how I live? Do I want to be at a place where I feel worthy, or will I just be self-righteous at that point?

For a competitive guy like me, the story of the Prodigal Son (or the Prodigal Father, depending on your interpretation of the parable) presents a challenge to be happy with my imperfections and my history. My background is vastly different from the other Novices here...does that make me any better or worse? Often these ideas of being "better than the others" is self-induced - a carry-over from the days of selling cars.

Perhaps the Epilogue to the Parable of the Prodigal Son is his ability to accept who he is, and know that his father loves him.

Third Sunday of Lent: Rejection, Worries, and Cultivation

Week three into my Internet fast, and I'm still struggling to stay away from being online. Like I mentioned last week, there are many needs that are met through email and research online. Yet it seems that staying away altogether would be a better option than trying accessing the internet and actively trying to stay off Facebook or Twitter.
And, of course, this seems to be the time when I need to be online the most.

This week I got my first ever college rejection letter. Even in high school, I was accepted to each school I applied to (granted I only applied to schools I knew I'd get into last time). It shouldn't be surprising: I was a huge slacker in college, and I'm amazed I they didn't laugh at my transcripts! But when I got the letter last week, my ego still took a hit as I read the words: "we regret to say that your application has been declined."

My future isn't completely bleak: I was accepted to St. Xavier University in Chicago before receiving the rejection letter from another college. And because I goofed off/dropped so many classes my first time around, I will have to complete core classes all over again: creative writing, math, history, etc. Part of my problem when I was 18 is that I thought those classes, classes I'd taken in high school, were a waste of my time. Now as I look at my future and entering college again, I'm thankful to take classes I will already have knowledge it will make my transition a lot easier.

I've also worried about how this blog is doing. While I try not to worry about blog hits, links, bounce rates, and the other statistics that Google Analytics tracks, I've noticed a decline in readership that troubles me. I know there are more important things than what my rank is or how many people I'm reaching, but as a task-oriented person, anything that shows "decline" can feel the same as "failure."

On the plus side of all of this, I recognize that I have a lot more time for other things. I've been asked to make another side rosary for a friar, I finished a prayer project I've been working on, I'm trying to write a book (as if writing this blog isn't enough!), and since the weather's getting nice again, I've ready to get the soccer ball out again. I'm playing my guitar a lot more, and realize that I'm actually getting good at it!

Perhaps that is one of God's gifts that I've received from all of this: while I'd love to be connected and working online a lot more, the ability to disconnect and tap into my other gifts and desires is a treasure worth enjoying...especially here in Novitiate.

So many that's what Lent is about. Rather than just giving up something for 40 days that we will continue doing right after Easter, but (like today's Gospel) an opportunity to cultivate and nurture ourselves that will allow us to share our gifts and bear fruit for others long after these forty days are done.

I'll blog again next Saturday; next Sunday we leave for our silent retreat in Wheeling, WV.

As for my rejection letter from college, I decided to save it. Thanks to an idea from my Novice Master, I decided to save it for a later project: my Wall of Humility. In the future, whenever I get too full of myself, I'll have a few things on my Wall of Humility to bring me back down to earth.