Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The flesh is weak

This morning before leaving for Mass I flipped on the television.

The movie Shakespeare in Love was on. I enjoyed the movie when it came out, but I knew there were problematic scenes of lovemaking and partial nudity.

Sure enough, one of those scenes came up. I guessed it was coming, thought I should turn it off, but didn't. I rationalized that I wanted to see if they would edit it, but, to be honest, I hoped they wouldn't.

I'm weak that way.

The scene came up. They may have edited it, but it was still enough. Too much.

I went off to say a rosary in the adoration chapel at church before Mass, but the scene kept popping into my head. I even found thoughts popping into my head like, "It wasn't that bad. It's natural. It's art. You're married."

But I know myself, and I know the way my mind works.

St. Francis struggled with such temptations. I don't know if I need to roll in thorn bushes or snow as I've heard he did, but I do need to be aware of my weakness in this area.

Perhaps others can view such scenes without harm, but I can't. I need to practice greater discipline of my eyes. Maybe I just nee to avoid any films or shows like that.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Formation Update (2): Accepting vs. "believing"

There was something else I talked about at the formation meeting: Believing not because I believe, but because I accept the authority of the Church.

I admitted that there were certain teachings of the Church that I had questioned for many years. I could not get my head around them. I convinced myself that they were not really necessary to the Christian faith.

Wandering down that path eventually led me out of the Church.

My exodus did not last long, fortunately. There was too much that the Church offered that I did believe to be true, that I knew I needed.

So I came back. And as for those beliefs I had a hard time believing, I said the Church teaches them, the Church has the Holy Spirit guiding it, and has had the Holy Spirit guiding it for 2,000 years, so as a son of the Church I humbly accept those beliefs.

I mentioned the story of Rochester's first Bishop, Bernard McQuaid. He took part in Vatican I. He argued against the doctrine of papal infallibility that the Council was considering. But when the Council declared it a doctrine of the Church, Bishop McQuaid stopped speaking against it. He simply said the Church teaches it, therefore I accept it.

I'm still at that point on some teachings. I read more about them. I study them. I pray about them. I try to grow. It's gotten better, but there are still some things I accept because the Church teaches them.

Pax et bonum

Formation update

I continued formation at last night's meeting. We talked about those I consider "lepers" (see my November 13 entry) and my halting quest for a spiritual director.

My formation director was not able to help direct me to a potential director. We both lamented the fact that there are no Franciscans about - it will be nice if they would return to the diocese at some point to set up a house.

He did say it was possible to have a director with who one chatted by phone - or even e-mail.

Now there's a thought. I read the blogs of a few Franciscan priests. One of them, perhaps? Or contacting someone like the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal?

I pointed out that I do need a director to help keep me from wandering off in to treacherous theological waters, as I have in the past (one of the reasons why I could not pursue the diaconate, in fact), and to keep me honest. I am too good at saying what people want to hear (my dad was a great insurance salesman!) I need a director who is knowledgeable, not easily fooled, and firm: One who is not afraid to give me a good, swift spiritual kick.

As for formation, by January I will have complete all the material in the Period of Inquiry. That means I might become an official Candidate in January or February. Alleluia!

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Coffee for Jesus

This morning we got our first coating of snow. Nothing really bad, but by the time I cleaned off the cars - my wife's back has been bothering her, so I didn't want her to do her own car - I realized I would be too late for the 6:25 morning Mass at a church on my way to work.

I decided instead to spend a few minutes at my own church's perpetual adoration chapel.

When I got to the church, the parking lot had not been plowed. I had to circle the long way to get in because I was afraid I might miss the driveway near the chapel and drive on the lawn.

The chapel was dark. Sadly, although it is open 24 hours, it is often empty of anyone offering prayers.

When I walked in, I spotted a man sprawled across the chairs, obviously sleeping. He immediately sat up and mumbled something about waiting for McDonald's to open (there's a McDonald's restaurant just down the road).

I figured he was a lost soul, maybe a homeless man, who had sought a warm place out of the snow. He continued to sit there.

I sat and said a few prayers. But I also kept thinking about him. He didn't seem dangerous, but you never know. Did he have a place to go? I thought McDonald's was already open to serve the morning commuters. Should I offer him a ride as I was going that way? Would that be a dangerous thing to do? Might he have a weapon?

Then I wondered what Francis would do. Was this Jesus sitting there?

After about 15 minutes I had to leave. I asked him what time McDonald's opened. He said 6. I told him it was already 6:45, and asked if he would like a ride.

He said yeah. We got in my car. He started telling me a story about his car being hit and towed by a company on the other side of town. I asked why he ended up in my neck of the woods then; he just continued his spiel. He said he lived in a town in the next county and hadn't been able to get in touch with any friends from there to come and pick him up.

Having volunteered in homeless shelters and done stories on street people, I waited for the other shoe to drop.

Sure enough, as soon as we got to the McDonald's he asked if I had any money to spare. I said I never gave money - I knew too often it went for drugs and alcohol - but I offered to go in and buy him a cup of coffee to warm up.

As we walked in, another fellow with the look of a street person greeted him familiarly. I was even more convinced that he was just scamming. I bought him some coffee and left.

As I drove away I thought that perhaps I should have gotten him something to eat, too. Francis would have. I felt guilty about judging him. Even if he was scamming me, he probably could have used some food.

I didn't turn around. I had a long way to go to get to work.

I have a long way to go when it comes to being a Franciscan as well.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, December 6, 2009

13th Day - four thumbs up!

The Good-Looking-One and I watched The 13th Day last night. It deserves all the praise it is receiving.

It is a well-crafted film, shot creatively and artistically. The use of black and white - and the selective use of color when Mary appears - the overlapping of images, the framing of shots all jumped out at us.

We both want to watch it again.

I'd love to stage a screening at our parish!

Pax et bonum

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Prayer life not up to snuff

In looking at my prayer life lately, there are some good things going on. But not enough.

I try to get to morning Mass most days. I sometimes miss - oversleeping one day this past week, for example. I can't go this morning because of a commitment at church. Okay.

But another time I took longer than expected working on a test for school - a test I could have finished the night before.

And when I do get to Mass, I am often distracted, thinking about school, or something I have to do later, or something I said or wrote or someone else said or wrote. I have to keep pulling myself back.

I say the rosary every day. Same mind wandering as at Mass, unfortunately. And some days I put it off until the end of the day, and while trying to say it in bed start falling asleep in the middle of it.

I do some spiritual reading. I read a bit of the Bible most days. But Bible reading should be a daily thing, and I need to do more spiritual reading. Much more.

I'm not being hard on myself. I'm being honest. I'm lazy about praying and my spiritual life. I cut back on blogging to give more time to it, but it's still not what it should be.

Isn't God worth the effort?

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Still Seeking a Spiritual Director

One of the recommendations in the packet I'm reading for formation is: Choose a personal spiritual director.

Finding a spiritual director is something that's been on my mind for a long time - long before I joined the Franciscans. I've asked a few priests. I met with one, but we did not click. The others did not feel they were qualified or in a position to be my spiritual director.

One of the priests kindly recommended a woman who is a spiritual director. I met with her, and she suggested that I read a particular book as a way to begin - and to see if she was a good fit for me. Alas, the book did not suit me. Nothing wrong with it or her, but at that point it did not meet my needs.

So I have no one. But I do feel the need for a director.

I am too undisciplined, too headstrong. I need someone to keep me in check, to point me in the right direction when I start to go off on my own. I need someone who is not afraid to give me a good swift kick when I need one! (Okay, maybe that wouldn't be the Franciscan way!)

I haven't sought a director since reading the requirement. I plan to ask the formation director for some recommendations. Maybe he knows someone who is in tune with the Franciscan path, and who is available. If he does not, then I will have to step up my search.

Pax et bonum

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Holiday Blues

Every year at the holidays, I get the blues.

I get the blues periodically anyway - something I have to be aware of, and cautious about - but I can always count on it this time of the year.

I'm not sure why. Unrealistic expectations? Too many memories? Too much going on? Too many people? The heightened emotions?

When the blues hit I get testy and defensive. My stomach knots or gets sour. I get tension headaches. I want to get away. I want to go into my shell.

When we have people over for Thanksgiving or Christmas, I always seem to disappear into the kitchen to do the dishes. It's become such a given that the sink is referred to as my "post." Dad's at his post again.

Dad is hiding.

The fact that the term "Holiday Blues" even exists indicates that I'm not alone in getting these feelings. I'm sure there are all sorts of learned studies of the phenomenon. There are probably also lots of articles in magazines and newspapers, full of speculation, possible causes, doses of pop psychology, and, of course, remedies.

Get counseling.

Focus on the positive.

Take two happy pills and don't see us until after the holidays.

It occurs to me that I should offer it up when I get in these moods. Something so negative? Sure. It's a part of my life. It's a suffering I experience. By doing so, I can turn something negative into a positive.

Lord, I offer you my blues.

Pax et bonum

Monday, November 23, 2009

Eat your veggies

One of this morning's readings at Mass caught my attention - though not for the reasons one might suppose.

The first reading was from Daniel. The section that caught my ear is from 1, 8-16

But Daniel was resolved not to defile himself with the king's food or wine; so he begged the chief chamberlain to spare him this defilement.

Though God had given Daniel the favor and sympathy of the chief chamberlain, he nevertheless said to Daniel, "I am afraid of my lord the king; it is he who allotted your food and drink. If he sees that you look wretched by comparison with the other young men of your age, you will endanger my life with the king."

Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief chamberlain had put in charge of Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, "Please test your servants for ten days. Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then see how we look in comparison with the other young men who eat from the royal table, and treat your servants according to what you see."

He acceded to this request, and tested them for ten days; after ten days they looked healthier and better fed than any of the young men who ate from the royal table. So the steward continued to take away the food and wine they were to receive, and gave them vegetables.

A vegetarian diet, eh? (What would Chesterton say?!)

Now I'm sure Daniel and company would not have objected to a good leg of lamb, if it complied with their dietary rules. Still, their vegetable fare obviously served them well, just as they served their faith well.

I would not begrudge them - or others - some lamb. But I'll stick with vegetarian fare.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Be of great joy - and let others see it











It is not fitting, when one is in God's service, to have a gloomy face or a chilling look. - St. Francis

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Temptation

I still have my old blog open. I occasionally post a video or song there - something positive.

Earlier today I stumbled across an image of President Obama that was critical of his position on abortion. I posted it there, then thought better of it and removed it.

I disagree with the President on abortion. I have no problem arguing with his position. But the image was not arguing with his position: It was a somewhat sarcastic attack on him.

I struggle with my my tendencies to judge, to be critical, to be sarcastic. Yes, there is room for that sort of approach, but with my personality, I know that even doing something like that in a mild way will eventually lead me to greater - and worse - words, images and actions.

For now, I must refrain from some things. I need to strengthen myself to be more loving in my approach.

Pax et bonum

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Serendipity in the chapel

I had a wonderful moment in the Perpetual Adoration Chapel at St. Theodore's today.

I had dropped off my car at a garage for some work, and since the church was along my walk home I decided to stop by the chapel to pray.

I went in. There was a woman there already praying. We acknowledged each other, then focused on our prayers.

After a little while, a young couple came in. The young lady - she seemed so impossibly young - was cradling a baby in her arms.

They were trying to get in the church, which was locked (only the chapel remains open 24 hours). They had an appointment to meet with one of the staff for baptismal preparation. The two of us in the chapel said the staff member might only be delayed a few minutes as she was not likely to miss an appointment, and I made a joke that maybe she was on Franciscan time. We told them which door was the office door.

They left. We returned to our praying.

Shortly thereafter I started to say a Rosary - the Joyful Mysteries.

When I got to the Fourth Mystery - the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple - it hit me that that that's what that young couple was getting ready to do. A Mystery, and reality. I chuckled.

The lights later came on in the church. My guess was that the staff member had shown up, and the couple was getting ready to present their child to God and the community.

Alleluia. Watch over them, Lord.

Pax et bonum

No formation formation

I got a call before our Secular Franciscan meeting from our formation director.

Last night's meeting was to focus on election of the fraternity officers. He explained that that process would occupy the entire meeting, and there would be no formation. He said that I did not have to come if I did not want to as I would have no vote. I said I wanted to be there anyway.

At the meeting, as a non-voting member (and non-candidate) I was able to help with distributing, collecting and counting of the ballots. All the current officers were reelected to their posts, as expected. And as the formation director predicted, the voting took up the entire meeting.

But in thinking about it, even though I did not have a formal formation session, I really did have formation.

I learned a bit more about the Secular Franciscans by watching the voting process - a process full of prayer. In assisting with the election, I was serving the entire community, learning a bit more about service. And in having the formal formation session put off until next month, I received another lesson in patience, something I sorely need.

So I experienced formation, just not the formation experience I expected.

Isn't that the way the Lord often works?

Pax et bonum

Friday, November 13, 2009

Formation thoughts: Considering lepers

As part of my formation, I was asked to consider the question of who my lepers are.

At first, that was a tough one. People that other people might consider “lepers” are not really an issue with me. I have worked with people who have physical and mental disabilities. I have worked with juvenile offenders. I have visited prisons and assisted with Masses there on a regular basis, or interviewed inmates. I have volunteered in homeless shelters, had homeless people stay at my house, and served food on soup lines. I have hung out with panhandlers, alcoholics and drug addicts.

So I puzzled over this one. Then it dawned on me. For me, most people are lepers when they are in groups or when they demand my attention.

I don’t mean that I view them with repugnance. I just don’t like being around people, especially in social settings. When I was in seminary, I always tried to duck out during the after-Mass social hours. When I was in plays, or have taken part in protests, I often did not go or left as early as possible any social gatherings afterwards. Even with my fellow Secular Franciscans, I take part in events, then leave as soon as possible.

I tend to feel uncomfortable in groups of people. Self conscious, yes, but more.

When I look at it honestly, I have to admit I am more afraid of being put in situations where I feel obligated, where people will rely on me. I get uncomfortable when they want to confide in me and share things on an emotional level. When people cry, I just want to run away.

Why? What am I afraid of? Becoming close? Seeing Christ's face? Having to step outside my comfort zone? Overcoming my own selfishness?

Whatever the reason, it is not of Christ. It is something I have to confront.

Much more to consider.

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Offering Up Suffering (Thank you veterans)

Today we honor and remember those who suffered for our nation by serving in the military.

This day is especially poignant given the events last week at Fort Hood.

Thank you, veterans, living and dead. God bless you.

In thinking of veterans and what they have suffered and continue to suffer for our sake, I recall part of a prayer said during Mass on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows (September 15).

"As we honor the compassionate love of the Virgin Mary, may we make up in our own lives whatever is lacking in the sufferings of Christ."

My first thought when I heard those words was what could possibly be lacking in the sufferings of Christ that we could somehow make it up? Is this possible?

But then I thought: What a loving gift - allowing us to share in that ultimate act of love.

And think of the sufferings we can offer up.

Small disappointments, bumps and bruises, a toothache, embarrassments, frustrations, minor illnesses, hunger, delays in getting something we want, a favorite team losing, unkind comments, loss of a job, being mocked and bullied, a beloved pet's death, serious injuries, lingering illness, slander, divorce or broken relationships, betrayal by a trusted person, the death of a loved one, cancer, persecution, crippling disease, loss of limbs, death, and so much more.

Life is full of sorrows great and small, and we can offer them all up to help make up whatever is lacking in Christ's sufferings. Offering up suffering helps to unite us to Christ's sufferings, following the examples of so many saints like St. Francis when he experienced the Stigmata.

Our Lady of Sorrows, pray for us.

Pax et bonum

Foolish fellow

Last week I scurried to finish my assigned formation reading, then went to our Secular Franciscan meeting site.

There was no meeting.

I forgot that the meetings are not every two weeks, but the second and fourth Fridays of the month. I've done the same thing a couple of times.

Foolish me. And there I had rushed with my readings because I'd fallen behind. I did not give them the attention, the thought, they merited. I was reading to finish the readings, not to take in their meanings.

Perhaps St. Francis smiled to watch me.

Today, Veteran's Day, I am off from school, so I can do more reading. More slowly, More prayerfully.

And this Friday I will show up to find - a meeting.

I hope!

Pax et bonum

Friday, November 6, 2009

Penance

One of the things I realized this week is that part of the attraction the Franciscan way holds for me is its emphasis on penitence.

The members of the Secular Franciscans are "those who do penance," as St. Francis himself described them.

We are called to "perform worthy fruits of penance." We must confess our sins. We must turn from vices, sins and excess or food and drink (how I fail when it comes to the latter!). We must seek pure hearts and minds. We must show charity, patience, humility, purity, simplicity and mercy - the fruits of penance - in our daily lives, in our work, in our interactions with others.

I recognize in myself my sinful nature. I am so strongly attracted to impurity and excess, to anger and judgement. I need need to keep repenting my sins.

So amidst all the beauty and joy of the Franciscan way, one thing that might have also attracted me is the awareness of the penitential side of it - and of my need for true repentance.

Pax et bonum

Sunday, November 1, 2009

All Saints

Today is the Feast of All Saints.

I think today not just of the ones officially recognized by the Church, but of ALL Saints.

I have been lucking enough to have known some people I consider saints. They inspired me, just as some of the recognized saints inspired me.

St. Francis is naturally one of the official saints. So is St. Clare. I hope some day Father Solanus Casey, Dorothy Day and G.K Chesterton (among others) will be similarly recognized. But even if they are not, they have all affected my life in some way through their writings and stories.

I think of Bishop Dennis Hickey, Sylvia Kostin, and Theresa Sanders, all of fond memory, and Father Tony Mugavero as among the saints I have actually met. I think of so many people I have met through the Secular Franciscans, and at church (such as some of the daily Mass crew), who also seem saintly. I'm sure I have encountered many more who are also saints, but whom I simply did not recognize.

Thank you Lord for sending so many good examples my way.

Pax et bonum

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Canticle of Brother Slug

The title of this blog is a working title. I'm not sure if I will keep it, or try something else.

One title I've considered is The Canticle of Brother Slug.

It's reference to the joking title I had for my autobiography, A Slug Among Weeds (a play off Father Thomas Green's Weeds Among the Wheat). I'd even considered that as a title for this blog.

"Canticle" is an obvious homage to Father Francis's "Canticle of Brother Sun."

"Brother" - well he did refer to many things as his Brothers or Sisters. He referred to his own body as Brother Ass.

And "Slug"? A slug is of course the slimy critter, which is the way I feel about myself at times. It also has slang meanings, including "A self-indulgent person who spends time avoiding work or other useful activity."

In other words, a lazy soul like me who wastes his time doing less important things. Like blogging!

Pax et bonum

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Falling short

I was told of a 6:25 daily Mass at a nearby parish. The parish is on my way to work, which made it convenient and easy.

Well, not so easy.

I went almost daily for a while, but lately I've found myself not getting ready in time to make it.

One of the issues is the internet.

I was blogging, commenting, and reading so much in the morning that I would run late. I began to wonder if I was putting blogging above the chance to worship and pray.

So I stopped my main blog for now. (That was one of the reasons, anyway).

Yet I still keep on missing.

Some mornings it's okay. Monday, I simply overslept. My body must have needed sleep.

Yesterday, I was working on a worksheet for school. Okay.

But too many mornings it's because I'm reading blogs, writing comments, wasting time still.

I'm not required to go to daily Mass, but it's good for my soul.

As for today ... I will post this, eat, and get in the shower. I WILL make it to Mass.

Pax et bonum

Monday, October 26, 2009

Formation thoughts

Last night (October 23) was not a formation night. I was back with the main group talking about some writings of St. Francis.

We also heard some sharing about formation - and the length of the process for some people. Six or seven years. I remember thinking that if that's how long it will take for me, then maybe God wants me to learn patience.

But at the end of the meeting, the formation director said that he was hoping to move me along quickly - perhaps two years.

I will do whatever I'm asked to do.

I was also asked about ending my View from the Choir blog.

Publicly I have for now. But I hope to keep writing posts that are more reflective, more spiritual in nature. More of an online spiritual diary. I might publish these posts some day. Or I might start another private blog - such as this one. I may simply keep the posts here. I don't know yet.

But I do know I want to move away from the public issue debates - along with their temptations to argue and to get angry.

Pax et bonum