Monday, August 27, 2007

Trying to Pray...

I was just too tired last night to try to figure out how to describe what I meant by being here and praying or at least trying to. Today, I'm more rested. The day wasn't as full, the place wasn't as new - and so I'm not as physically and mentally exhausted - that's the good news. But, the "trying to pray" thing is still there, so I'll share a little about it.

Don't get me wrong - community prayer at the chapel is beautiful. It's nice to be chanting morning prayer with the community. We've also been at community prayer with the Benedictines who's Archabbey host the seminary - and that is absolutely beautiful. And, the discipline to pray isn't the problem I'm running into. I get my rump to the chapel - I'm even following the appropriate dress code. The problem is tapping into, participating in, the communion and conversation with God.

With all the newness - and I suppose some of the aftershocks of leaving loved ones and a life that I'd become accustomed to behind - my mind keeps wandering during prayer. I'm worried about chanting the right tone, making sure I'm on the right page in our Breviary, and trying to keep the sweat wiped off my face so I don't drip all over the chapel. When I can get my mind off these things, I sometimes quickly find myself contemplating if I know where to go next, and what time to get there. What's happening back home? How are the twins? And on and on.

That's not exactly prayer.

... hrm... or is it?

Just as I sit writing this, I'm reminded of a conversation I had not more than an hour ago with one of the diocesan priests who's in residence here about the different kinds of prayer, and the Benedictine idea of "work as prayer". Don't get me wrong - wiping sweat and figuring out where the next class is isn't some divine and holy work. I know that. But it occurs to me, before I go lashing myself with 12,000 wet noodles that, at least for these "new" and "first" days, that IS my work.

Perhaps the "trick" (as if I could trick myself or God successfully at the heart of things, but I suppose that figure of speech works...) I suppose the trick is to be humble enough to accept that right now, for today, in this space, those are my jobs - and to find a way to offer them with the INTENTION of prayer. Perhaps for right now - or for times that may be like this in the future - I might find a way to offer the act of trying to pray as prayer, right along with all the other that's going on.

Anyway...that's what I meant yesterday when I said I was here and praying, or at least trying to. Pray for me, my friends... or at least try to.

Here, Alive, and Praying...or at least trying to...

Yep...I made it. Got the stuff all moved in. Well, most of it. I had packed one box of books that were ones I'd wanted to have close - books that I look at frequently, or reference often in my own journey. But, it just didn't seem like there was going to be enough room for them, so I sent them home. Maybe I'm learning to let go of material things - even those that are dear to me - a little better? I don't know. After all - I sent them home, I didn't donate them to the poor.

I'm so blessed that my family came with me to move in. It may be a little corny for a 34 year old to have his mommie and daddie and gammaw come with him to move into school. I gotta' tell ya' - I could care less how corny it was. It helped me emotionally move through that transition space. It helped my physically - before they left they'd done many practical things to help me get settled and feel comfortable. Gammaw - my grandmother, an amazing woman who I love absolutely - stripped the bed, got new mattress comfy things so I'd be all comfortable on there, and remade it. She and mom & dad (mom is mostly "mom" - though as a little tike she was Momma' Spankum' - no joke - that's what I called her; and dad is often dad or "pops") got pictures hung. I have pictures of the twins, pictures of my brothers and sister with their families, pictures of some places that are significant in my life so far. I have pictures of mom, me, and Grammaw - only Dad is missing, and I've hinted already about five times what a great Christmas gift that would make. (Um... Dad... HINT HINT!!!)

It really, REALLY helps the space feel like home. And I have two special photographs that were sent to me by a friend that were taken of an amazingly beautiful depiction of Christ carrying the cross to Calvary just above my desk. There is so much for me in those two shots - the story behind them - what they represent - how that, in a very small way, is the model with which I should approach this transition and time in seminary. I'm glad these are over my desk - they remind me what all the "work" that I'll do seated here is supposed to be about - discovering, willingly walking, the road I find before me...searching for my God, which in turn will lead me to a place and a way that I can give the best I've got - and what is needed of me - to all those I encounter. THAT'S what "being in the seminary" is supposed to bring me to, isn't it?

Yada, yada, yada... ever notice I get off on tangents and "talk way too much"? :-) What I'm really saying is that I'm here, moved in, the only thing left to unpack is the coffee maker, the printer, and the CDs - and I haven't run home with my tail between my legs. Yet. ;-)

More later about the prayer thing...I've got to get some sleep. It's midnight-thirty, and morning prayer is early. Thanks to all of you who have sent me emails, phoned to express your support, and who I know are praying with and for me. I'm so overwhelmed by your generousity of spirit - and it may take me a week or two to get back with you to thank you personally. I hope you find your way here to read my thanks...and that you'll know my not getting right back to you immediately in person is just a function of there being so many of you reaching out to me. Thank you, again, so much. I'm humbled. It helps more than you'll ever know.

One final note - to my beloved family. You are truly a blessing without which I could not have comprehended the idea of sitting where I sit this minute. My love for you - all of you - is beyond measure. I don't know where this crazy road I'm on will lead, but I know I couldn't have taken any of the first steps without you. You are now, and will be forever, in my heart. Thank you - Gammaw, Mom & Dad - for everything.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Ever Notice How...

...things sometimes just don't seem to work out "the right way"? I have a friend who often encourages me in times like this: 'Sometimes its a matter of our will vs. God's will; one of them is perfect, the other...not so much.' Well, the last part of that is a paraphrase, but you get the drift.

All of the arrangements are in place, I thought. All the "things left doing" were doable, I thought. I'm smiling even as I write this. Things don't always work on our schedule, according to our plans. And - particularly given my entrance into the seminary in just two days - perhaps its a good lesson to have right in front of my eyes. I sense there's a lot more "surrender" to come in seminary formation. I trust I can find the balance to "surrender" without "giving up" - because they are two very different things. With one, we stop fighting against the wind. With the other, we stop doing anything.

Father... help me to surrender to Your will. Help me trust that, when situations don't proceed as smoothly as I'd thought they would, they will and are proceeding...in Your time and in Your way. Help me to remain open to Your leading, depending on You, and listening for lessons and opportunities for growth, rather than becoming defensive and scared. And when the chips are down, help me to put one step in front of the other, do the next right thing, and trust the outcomes to Your Divine Providence. Amen.

We hardly ever know what's going to be around the corner we're planning to turn... sometimes, we're even surprised before we get there.

Peace be with you...

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Wow...

...sometimes when I try to figure out what to share with others about something, I'm speechless. Which, for me, is a RARE occurance. But, in trying to figure out how to 'put together' what I experienced on the road trip around the diocese...well, "Wow" is about as far as I can seem to get.

The people are amazing. And I'm including a lot of folks in that. The families who welcomed us into their homes. The parish communities who came out to visit with us, and share a meal with us. So much encouragement. So much laughter. So many smiles.

And then there's the people that our mountain parishes serve outside the "Catholic communities" there. We didn't meet many of them directly. We saw some from a distance. Others we met only briefly. There are many challenges and struggles in the Appalachain regions of eastern Kentucky. Poverty. Education. Addiction. Homelessness. And I'm impressed that serving their needs is a priority among those I met ministering in this area...regardless of whether or not they 'become Catholic'.

Lexington is - was created to be - and hopefully will continue to be true to its identity as - a mission diocese. This comforts me - and it challenges me. It comforts me to know that the Church in this area has a specific identity as reaching out to the poor. It comforts me to know that the Church in this area is committed to its ministry even though Catholics are in a distinct minority. It challenges me at the same time. Do I have what it takes to labor in this field? To remember that ministry is...often times required beyond the walls of the church...often times requires no words. Do I have what it takes to be a man of action, of service, of physical labor when its required...not just a man of prayer, and leadership, and meetings. I want to be the kind of man - the kind of priest - who can and happily will do both.

Wow...I've got a lot of learning to do. A lot of re-shaping. (Physically... emotionally perhaps... spiritually for sure...) I suppose that's why the time in seminary isn't referred to as "study", but as "formation".

And - my brother seminarians - WOW about them, too. We're as diverse a group of guys as I can imagine. Different ages. Different backgrounds. From different countries and cultures. Some (like me) a bit 'liberal'. Some a bit 'conservative'. But, as I reflect on the differences, I'm struck by the fact that the differences are dwarfed by some powerful similarities. We all want to serve others. We all think we're called to a Holy Priesthood, and are willing to follow a path designed to help us hear better if that call is there. We all love one another. Isn't that amazing?!?! I mean, I really could see and feel it tangibly. Love. Care. Prayer for one another. Support and encouragement for one another.

Heck... I'm a guy that could easily get on anyone's nerves quickly enough. And yet - I was treated with compassion, comraderie, care, encouragement, and welcome. And, I noticed I genuinely wanted to treat the other guys the same way.

What sets us apart from one another is truly eclipsed by what draws us together. And that's cool.

See...I've already written too much, and I've not said much of anything. That's why "Wow" is about as close as I can get. I'm just intensely grateful for this trip, the timing of it in my journey - though it in many ways created as many challenges for my next steps on the path as it did energize me.

If I keep writing, I'll not say anything else more clearly, and still not convey adequately the depth of the experience, so I'll stop for now.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Road Tripping...

Well, I'm off! (Some of you already knew that about me, though, didn't you?) What I mean THIS time is I'm off on the "Rock the Collar" tour of the Lexington diocese with my brother seminarians. I'll probably be away from a computer for the next week or so while I'm travelling with the group - though if I find a kind pastor with Internet access, I'd love to give you "live updates from the road".

What is "Rock the Collar"? It's a holy trip with some great purposes. 9 of us who are entering for the first time (like me) or returning to seminary from our diocese are piling in a Dodge Durango and visiting parishes throughout our diocese. Each evening we'll arrive at a new parish and spend the night with host families from that parish. The next morning we'll meet up with the pastor and spend the day with him however he chooses. (Goal #1 - Get to know the priests in our diocese - one day, Lord willing, we'll be serving right along with them.)

Sometime during the day we'll celebrate mass together, and spend a hour in Eucharistic Adoration. We're also going to be praying Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer together. (Goal #2 - Pray together. Goal #3 - Have some time "apart" for prayer and reflection before school starts.)

As the afternoon draws on, we'll gather with the whole parish community to share a meal, introduce ourselves, and share our vocation stories. (Goal #4 - Get to know the parish communities our diocese serves, and let them get to know us. Goal #5 - Promote vocations by sharing what God has - and is - doing in our lives.)

This has "reality show" written all over it. I tried to convince the vocations office to wire up the Durango with cameras. If they did "God or the Girl" - they could make "Holy Roadtrip, Batman" or something. I KNOW it would be a hit.

Anyway - keep my fellow seminarians and myself in your prayers this next week. The toxic smell from the back seat on any roadtrip could wipe anyone out... Just kidding. We appreciate your prayers for safe travel, for bonding together, and for carrying a message throughout our diocese.

See you in a week or so!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Tagged Again...8 Things About Me

I've been tagged again by Vito at "The Long Road to the Priesthood". This time, the challenge is to share 8 facts or habits about myself. Here are the rules:

"The rules are simple…Each player lists 8 facts/habits about themselves. The rules of the game are posted at the beginning before those facts/habits are listed. At the end of the post, the player then tags 8 people and posts their names, then goes to their blogs and leaves them a comment, letting them know that they have been tagged and asking them to read your blog."

So, here goes:

1. I'm a smoker.
About a pack a day. (I know...I know. It's times like this I LOVE that Jesus said, "Let him who has no sin cast the first stone." LOL) My guess is that, with my move to seminary - which doesn't allow smoking inside - and with a much reduced income and smokes $3+ per pack, this will be reduced. OK - enough rationalizing. The rules should have said, "And no excuses or rationalizing".

2. I'm actively involved in a 12-step program.
The one I'm involved in is for family & friends of those who struggle with addiction called NarAnon, very similar to AlAnon. Anonymity is important - suffice it to say the person's who's struggles with addiction first brought me to this group aren't my parents or my grandmother. The real point is, it wasn't their addiction that led to my struggle - it was my reaction to it. So who brought me there is not relevant. I'm forever grateful for the 12 steps, what its taught me about life and walking with the God of my understanding. Without the spiritual awakening that took place in my life as a result of the program, I don't know that I'd be where I am today.

3. I designed (heh..past tense...more lasts) web-based software for a living.
I conceptualized them, worked with our clients to conceive of the application's requirements, interfaces, and underlying data structures. I also managed the development & implementation projects, and handled ongoing troubleshooting & development. I loved my job, I'm good at it - and I'll miss it.

4. I LOVE music.
I've posted about it before here and here. Music connects me with deeper feelings, reminds me of great experiences, transports me, lifts me. I can't remember ever a time of being far away from music - and can't imagine it. I can't sing all that good, but that doesn't keep me from letting it belt out while I'm driving down the road.

5. I'm (sorta') an only child.
My mother and father were apart from the time I was born until I was 10 or so. They re-united, and I have three half-brothers and a half-sister. In very many ways I'm an only child. But, with that, I have some of the "good stuff" of having siblings - mom & dad have grandchildren even though I'm entering seminary and may enter the clerical state. I need to, and want to, work on my relationship with my brothers & sister in the coming years.

6. I cry.
Yep - guys do cry. And I'm one of them. Sometimes during movies, even. LOL. I am often moved to tears during what are for me intense spiritual "encounters". Sometimes during prayer. Often - very often - during mass. I've come to be pleased that I can cry when I want to - its much better than playing "macho" and trying to bottle it all up.

7. I'm still very close to 2 High School friends.
Up 'til my move later this month, its been common for me to see and or talk to one or both of them several times each week. I'm going to miss them nearly as much as my family when I move.

8. I LOVE to cook.
Try new recipes. Experiment without a recipe. Cooking for myself or for others. I suppose I could have said, "I love food" instead, but that would betray too much about my rotund figure - heh - but it comes from that same place. Food is just neat to work with - and so is serving something interesting...either to myself or to others.

OK...there's my list. Now I'm supposed to tag 8 other people who blog. I wish I could tag some folks who don't blog but who read mine... maybe I'll do that sometime. But for now, I'll try to stick to the rules. I tag:

1. Ryan at A Jesuit's Journey
2. Gashwin at Maior autem his est caritas
3. Keith at Just a Guy From Jersey
4. Fr. Noel at Beneath the Same Sheltering Sky
5. Fr. Martin at Bonfire of the Vanities
6. All the guys at Cincinnati Seminarian's Blog
7. Jeff at Life is a Prayer.com
8. Patrick at Veritas nunquam perit

OK guys... you're tagged - the rest is up to you!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Moments of Complete Surrender...

...in an airplane charging the runway to take off...
...at the apex of the rollercoaster's first hill...
...liftoff of a space shuttle when you're an astronaut...

As I was driving to work this morning, I was listening to a news story about the successful launch of the space shuttle, carrying a teacher among its crew. I was reflecting on the tragedy years back when the space shuttle carrying who was to be the first teacher in space exploded. I was in a classroom back then - watching on TV as...it just disappeared. I began to think of how those seconds & minutes just prior to ignition must have felt for today's "teacher in space" - indeed for all of the crew members.

You're strapped in - months of preparation leave you feeling as confident as you can that you're doing what you're supposed to be doing, and that everyone around you is doing what they're supposed to be doing. The door is bolted shut - the ground crew gives that final thumbs up - hopefully with a smile. You take a deep breath.

There's a few seconds, even after the countdown begins, while the crew member is still there - can still see you - before the rocket engines begin to fire... if you're not going along for the ride, it's time. A few more seconds, and it won't matter how much you want off - it won't matter how much those around you want to help you get off...just a few more seconds and it won't make any difference.

...3 ....2 ....1 ....

In that moment - complete surrender. You're riding this thing to outer space. Getting out, staying on planet earth are no longer an option. The engines have ignited - momentum is building - gravity is losing its hold on you... even though you've not moved an inch yet. Fears of what may happen may enter your mind - but you've no choice but to move through them.

I wonder if our astronauts begin to catalog the things they wonder if they've taken care of - or question whether they've taken care of them adequately. Did I turn the toaster off? Will the kids eat their vegetables while I'm gone? Is the mortgage paid? Did I go to the bathroom? OK to make the list I guess... but no matter what you determine in the process, at least for the next several minutes there's nothing you can do about it. My guess is that Ground Control, no matter how accomodating they are, is busy during lift off. Maybe once you get in orbit they'll check on the toaster for you... but for now... it's total surrender.

What will be will be. God is in charge. We've all done the best we can do to prepare - now its time to go. Now its time to do. If corrections need to be made along the way, we'll do that - but we're committed...

...and we have liftoff.

I realized, driving to work this morning - next to my last day in the job I've held for 12 years... less than three weeks until entering the seminary... I'm sitting on the launch pad. I'm strapped in. Taking deep breaths. Going through my pre-flight checklist. If something critical were to happen, I could still climb out of the cockpit. The moment of TOTAL surrender isn't here yet. The engines aren't yet firing.

...but, my guess is if you're an astronaut, by the time you're strapped in and the boosters are fueling, it would have to be something really, really big - not just passing fear or anxiety - before you'd raise your hand and say, "Um.. thanks anyway, I think I want off." Yeah... me too.

T minus 15 days and counting. God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me. I'm ready, I think.

Did I mention I don't like roller coasters? lol

Monday, August 6, 2007

...unite all Your children...

The blogsphere these days is rampant with discussion on the recent Vatican document that provided some "clarification" on words, terms, and issues related to Christianity beyond Catholicism. I have to admit, I've had to read and re-read, counsel with wise and trusted guides on this journey, and pray with the document. That's a good thing, I've discovered. It is evidence of God living and working in my life.

Those who don't know me may not know that divisions in the "body of Christ" in our world, in our time, was what first opened my awareness to God's calling in my life to Catholicism. I'm sure at some point in my blogging life that will come out in more detail. For now, suffice it to say that this is "important stuff" to me. From my early teen years, finding how to contribute "my part" to unity among believers, finding how to embrace Christian brothers and sisters in appropriate ways, and being heart-broken at the divisions among Christians has been my portion. I'm both grateful for it, and at times lament it. It's like the pain of a child over a broken family. I can only imagine what the divisions must do to Christ Himself, who allowed His body to be broken so that we could find unity with Him in God... and among one another.

ANWAY... I was reminded this weekend that MY portion - MY effort in this, at least includes sharing, expressing, and enjoying whatever measure of unity among Christians can be ours in the here and now. And man, was I ever BLESSED in that reminder, and the experience.

I was raised for most of my life in the Cramer & Hanover Church of Christ in Lexington. My family are still members of that church - and as I've shared before, it still in many ways feels like "home". I'd wanted to take a time to set aside and thank them for all they've meant to my life personally, to my spiritual walk, all they mean to my family... to thank them for loving and tending to a young lamb like me... and to ask their prayers as I pursue God's calling for my life. Yesterday, we met for a couple of hours to share a meal, fellowship together, and ... live out the measure of unity in Christ we share today. We may not be able to break bread at God's altar together, we may not agree on many fine points of doctrine - there is much, perhaps, that is not "united". But - if we're not careful, we'll overlook - I'll overlook - that there is much that IS united. If nothing more than our hearts & minds in trying to serve our One True God, His Son, and follow His Spirit. And, as our shared fellowship and meal proves, we can reach across what divides us to pray with and for one another, encourage one another, LOVE one another, and see Christ in one another.




Later that afternoon, I was praying at mass. It had been a wonderful day - my sister (who's moving half way across the country soon) came to visit so mom & dad could get to spend some time with the grandkids (who are, dare I say, ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS!!!). In short, God was smiling on me all day. And then, He smiled on me even more brightly, and broke my heart in the tenderest and most amazing way. During the (for me) holiest part of the Holy Sacrafice of the Mass, as we are literally on our knees before the altar of God on which is presented Christ Himself broken for us, the priest - with and for us all - prayed these words:

In mercy and love unite all your children wherever they may be. Welcome into your kingdom our departed brothers and sisters, and all who have left this world in your friendship. We hope to enjoy for ever the vision of your glory, through Christ our Lord, from whom all good things come.

And, as the tears streamed down my face - in awe, and wonder, I once again surrendered the lack of perfect unity among followers of Christ to the only One who can address it - the only One who knows and understands - the One for whom we all, in some way or another, long.

Dona nobis pacem.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Welcome Christ the King Family!!!

A few weeks ago, I was asked to share some of my vocations story for our parish newsletter. Along with what I wrote, I provided the newsletter editor a link to my blog. I wanted to invite my parish family - the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington - to share in this journey with me as well as my other family and friends.

My copy of the newsletter arrived in the mail today - and my "article" along with the link was in this month's issue. SOOO.... to any new visitors from CTK - WELCOME! Pray for me, as I remember you in my prayer as well.

And if you don't have it on your calendars yet - remember the incredible opportunity to meet ALL our seminarians for the diocese on Sunday, August 19, from 2 - 4 pm at the Cathedral for the conclusion to our "Rock the Collar" road trip! It will be a GREAT time - Bishop Gainer will be there as well speaking on vocations in our diocese.

...more to come on the craziest road trip ever conceived.... take a bunch of seminarians, cram 'em in an SUV for 10 days, and criss-cross our corner of the state of Kentucky. I'm SO EXCITED!!! I'll have a chance to get to know my fellow seminarians better - get to know the priests of our diocese better - and remember that "strange smell" that always seems to come from the back seat on road trips. (Am I the ONLY one who remembers National Lampoon's Vacation?)