I retired from making Hip Hop music.

I have already been retired for a long time, but have gotten away with it, until now.

Recently, several Augustinians were asking during an International Augustinian Youth Encounter in Prague, immediately preceding World Youth Day in Krakow. Previously, I had a hip hop presentation. Although, on the planning commission this year, I did not put my name forward. The easiest thing to say is that I am retired. The harder thing to say is that this gift and passion just doesn’t seem to be relevant. This is one thing that I have had to discern and pray about, and it is a sobering conclusion.

Before describing this conclusion, it is important to note: I have no shortage of meaningful ministry in people’s lives. As a campus minister, without using any hip hop music, I make an impact on young people’s lives and connect them to the love of God. I know that I am doing a lot of good.

Is Hip Hop relevant to young people? Not really.

The brand of Hip Hop culture that set me on a positive path in life, is not something that kids connect to today. 33 years ago, I was born during Hip Hop’s first decade, an unstoppable pop culture phenomenon for the first half of my life. Hip Hop music is still cherished among adults my age and older. Adolescents listen to a sort of Rap derived from this, that sometimes seems like something else entirely. I know nothing about that.

When adolescents see a full grown adult immersed in adolescent pop culture, they scratch their heads, perhaps they get creeped out. It is why I refuse to do Snapchat or Vine. Adults that try too hard just don’t connect. Hip Hop and Rap are very wide and diverse things, it is a bit simpleminded to associate the music of a 33 year old priest with that of a 20 year old popular rap artist.

I came to this conclusion after reflecting on how it worked out form me between 2011 & 2014. I believe that the irrelevancy of Hip Hop may help one understand why it just didn’t work.

Before I joined the Order, I really wanted to rap exclusively at secular venues to the unchurched. Between 2001-2004, I found myself increasingly unwelcome. This did help me look in the right direction for my vocation to Religious Life.

Although I only rapped in my bedroom, I requested to give a demonstration to my community of Friars. This was 2008, I was a Theology student in Chicago. I included a brief history of Hip Hop Culture. In 2010, I was asked to give this presentation at an Augustinian Youth Encounter in London. During my next year in ministry as a Student Friar, I was asked to give this presentation in high school and elementary classrooms.

I was influenced by positive Hip Hop music that was not suitable for children. This had nothing to do with vulgarities, or inappropriate content. It had to do with mature subject matter, much the same way that the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquianas is not on your kindergarten teacher’s shelf. My music was not suitable for children, but they clapped and danced a long with it.

Over the course of these presentations, I developed a few songs to educate young people on what Hip Hop was about. I found that I needed to make two albums; Revolution of the Heart would collect all the songs that I had written since entering Religious Life. Thematically, these songs were more spiritually focused. Along Babylon’s Streets collected several songs dealing with Hip Hop culture in general.

Little fan followup

In 2012 I released Revolution of the Heart, and a year later I released Along Babylon’s Streets. These two albums were available online. The music seemed to connect with people as I performed and they claimed to want to listen. I tracked the listens on SoundCloud & Bandcamp, I tracked the follows on Twitter & Facebook. Over the next few years, ~10% of people who listened to my music would follow up.

So I have to do a measurement. During the school year, I minister to 700+ young people. I am there to guide them, mentor them, listen to them. Maybe 50 of them would have gone online to listen to and download. I really have to wonder what kind of impact this music is doing? I was clearly motivated to write this music to deal with life. It was for me. It did not seem to make a difference in people’s lives? This kind of thing is hard to measure. But when I spend this much time working on music, the payoff is not worth it.

Friends don’t ask me about my Hip Hop Music

The exception being the Augustinians or perhaps two friends who contributed to my album (either by rapping or by artwork). It should be made clear, at no time has any Augustinian ever told me I need to give up rapping. That has never happened. At no time, has any authority in the Church, ever challenged the fact that I rapped.

I cannot recall any conversation with a friend that indicated that they listened to my music. Perhaps they thought one song or other sounded cool or catchy. It is clear that I have friends that care about me, or have been there for me. Whether I rap or not goes by unnoticed. I should say, that a handful of generous friends have paid money for my music, knowing that I have something to show the brothers. It would be even more powerful if I heard someone tell my community that my music changed their lives.

My music updates on Facebook and Tumblr did not show up on people’s news feeds because I didn’t pay to advertise.

I released two albums, posted frequently on Social Network feeds, and most of the people I knew never even saw the posts. These were people who willingly subscribed to my public Facebook page. After doing a little research, I realized that Facebook expected independent musicians to pay.

As Facebook and tumblr started using the algorithmic newsfeed, this helped personalize your newsfeed. It put your preferred interesting items at the top. However, this also removed all of the public pages from your newsfeed, unless you paid a price. Considering that I was making so little money in donations, I couldn’t feasibly sustain paying regularly for advertisements.

No practical support from other Catholic Hip Hop artists.

I rapped on stage with Righteous B (a Catholic Rapper), who passively snuffed me on stage at a Steubenville San Diego after I rapped.

Phatmass attempted to gather Catholic Hip Hop artists. Despite giving my music to a few of the artists, I never heard any positive (or negative) feedback. After a thanks for sharing a link or a download, I was completely ignored. Despite follows on Twitter or Facebook from other Catholic Hip Hop artists, It was not clear that they listened or supported. Despite posting links to the albums and songs of other Catholic Hip Hop artists, I never once received any sort of promo from any other artist ever.

I thought that, maybe, some of these artists in Southern California, would see a Catholic seminarian, and support. They had better recording and production equipment. Maybe they would give someone with a vow of poverty some instrumentals to rap over, or some studio time.. My attempts to connect were typically ignored.

I was basically in this Hip Hop thing completely by myself with no practical support from other Hip Hop artists. It was just not the way to go.

Add to the list, Catholic Underground LA, and other Catholic venues which were not interested in providing me an opportunity.

Advancing Technology and my life

The production software that I used was limited, and was amateurish. I purchased professional quality software after my ordination in 2013. The software, and accompanying hardware were difficult to learn. I spent several hours with minimal results. I had just finished and released my album, Along Babylon’s Streets, and creatively needed plenty of time to work before the next one.

I was in my first year of ministry. That took up a lot of time. I was looking forward to my second year of ministry, where I might have more time to develop and learn how to make music with this new software. Within that first month of the school year, my dad got West Nile Virus, It completely and irrevocably turned my entire family’s life upside down. This required so much attention from me for the next 18+ months. School, and ministry were not waiting for me to help my dad get better.

When it comes down to looking at all the things in my life that matter, Hip Hop was only a parlor trick to the kids. They said, Fr Mark rap for us! As if I was doing a quick 10 second card trick. They were impressed for a full 30 seconds, then quickly moved on. I may have poured my blood, sweat, and tears into a song, I may have spent 7-12 months crafting the lyrics and the sound of a specific song, it did not seem worth the effort. My dad had been suffering. Many times, the kids I was ministering to were suffering. Rap didn’t help them or inspire them. Considering how much life needed my attention, Things may have been very different if I had practical support (I am not talking about donations) from the Catholic community. There was none. All that was left was Fr Mark rap for us! Come here monkey and dance!

Having written it all out here, makes it sound sadder than it has felt in actuality. I get annoyed that people want me to rap, but don’t open their minds to the music. It has often felt like a burden. The music that I have made has not made an impact in people’s lives. I have been dealing with that reality for 10+ years. It made an impact in my life, and perhaps that was enough for God to give me a reason to create music.

In a few months, another school year will start. I am going to help this senior class cope with life. I am looking forward to it. My campus ministry team has also changed, and I am going to be working with a much younger group, a group more interested in offering practical support in my campus ministry. I am looking forward to working with them. I am going to be helping our prior with the formation of several student Augustinians this next year, and I am also looking forward to that. I might be doing more for my community this next year to help support our student Friars.

Even if the music or songs that I make have not done much for people’s lives, the fact that a young aspiring Hip Hop artist felt a call to the priesthood has impacted people’s lives. I could go the rest of my life without ever creating another song, and the reality of my vocation is still more impactful. Perhaps it is enough that this positive driving passion in my life was nothing compared to the love that God has shown me.

Sisterhood, Reality TV about young discerners

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

Be sure to check out the show on LifeTime: mylifetime.com/shows/the-sisterhood-becoming-nuns

The Sisterhood: Becoming Nuns is a reality show on Lifetime candidly chronicling 5 20-something women discerning a call to Religious Life. I joined the Augustinians in my early 20’s, and thought I could attest to the validity of what these women go through in the course of the series. However, there were only two noticeable differences that I will comment on briefly. However, instead of commenting overall what seems true for almost anyone, I would rather comment on what I have related to in one way or another discussing each of the Sisters, and what they are going through.

“God or the Girl” Reality Show about Priesthood Discerners?

But first, a reminder of why this show is effective from the outset. A couple of years ago, there was an awful reality show about young men discerning a call to the priesthood (not religious life). At no time were they together. At no time were they actually put in situations of serving others or showing compassion or charity to others. One of the guys had to make a pilgrimage (Traveling across the country with no money and little resources, dependent on the generosity of others). Another had to drag a cross around in a literal imitation of Christ’s Passion (I mean really?) Dramatic demonstrations of “devotion,” are much more difficult to test commitment for attitudes and motivations than placing someone in service of inconvenient and needy people. Instead of challenges rooted in the Gospel, they were giving challenges that looked good for reality television with competitions and tests of faith. None of it entailed actual discernment. Besides, choosing Consecrated Life as a vocation is not a dichotomy between God or the girl, it is choosing your fullest self, even if romance and marriage are not part of it. None of the young men applied to seminaries after. I was impressed, because this show actually gave the young women challenges that are rooted in the Gospel, but are practical for Religious Life. I am also convinced that the producers received input from the Sisters of the convents that hosted the girls

Personal Difference One: Age

I joined the Augustinians at 22, and lived in a community of Friars that included elderly retired Friars, Friars in full time ministry, and one other pre-novice / postulant who was 19. The young man left within a few months, and I didn’t have people my age to share my journey with. The following year of Novitiate had me move across country, except I had 3 other men in novitiate with me, and only one was younger (that did not, in any way mean we got along). Nowadays I can’t count on one hand the 20-somethings in our Order across the country, and I’m not in my 20’s. I also had two good friends join the Order as I was completing formation.

Personal Difference Two: Cellphones

When I joined, I never used text messages, and smartphones weren’t the standard phone. Facebook wasn’t around. You might have made a call when you had time, and I didn’t use every night to make or receive phone calls. I never had my phone confiscated. In my first year, I was encouraged to visit my dad when I could. In my second year (in WI), I couldn’t but called him briefly at least once a week (mostly to tell him I was alive and wasn’t miserable). On the flipside, from about 16-26 many young men have an overwhelming desire to establish themselves independently, while many young women have an overwhelming desire to bond deeply with the important people in their lives. It is not that women cannot, or never want to establish themselves independently, it is that on average men more often mature by independence followed by bonding, while women do so with bonding and then independence.

Stacey, 26 NY: Sharing Your Life

When I look at young men who visit and discern with us, a major question I have is “Would I want to live with him?” We are not merely looking for people to staff our institutions, we are looking for people to share our life with. I have indicated to our Vocation Director, when we have a visitor/discerner, who would be awful to live with. One thought I have with Stacey is that she would be the person who easily passes this test. She is receptive, attentive to others, while also being lighthearted and serious. I had noticed that in someway she wasn’t being provoked by the producers to talk about issues as much, and she stood out as someone who was really present to the moment, present to the other young women, and present to the people she served in the ministry settings. Were she to have a vocation, any convent would easily be blessed to have her.

Christie, 27, CA: Intentionality & Prayer

I met this girl at a party once. She didn’t talk about Jesus visions. In fact, they played this up with her at the beginning. I do not find it unusual. I did a study on Medieval Christian Spirituality, and found something: While Male Saints tended to write systematically on Spiritual Theology, Female Saints tended to write vividly, descriptively, imaginatively and sensuously. I believe it is much more normal for men, and especially women, than this program let’s on, to experience Jesus in a personal way. In her case, it is often romantic. What I am struck by her is her focus on prayer and intentionality. She wants to spend more time in the chapel and in prayer. Often, Catholics use the busy-ness of ministry as a way to escape the vulnerability that intimate prayer requires. I have been there. But on the flipside, I have also had plenty of times, where I felt like the odd man out wanting there to be more prayer (ie suggesting repeatedly to have more Adoration, or Quiet Prayer in the Chapel as a community). I think that the producers have had a challenge portraying her as the crazy woman with the visions, because in social situations she is actually one of the most fun and well-rounded of the bunch. If she does seem like she could be more balanced (more structured common prayer), I believe that she could experience that naturally in any formation program. Again, I could easily say that she would be a blessing to any convent.

Eseni, 23, NY: Being Broken

Eseni joins this series as one of the most conflicted, in that she is currently in a relationship. I don’t think you could be accepted into any formation program if you left a significant relationship that far in the air as she did. Since she is doing a discernment program that is much different, and I don’t see her as problematic. Further, even though she often comments about trying to reconnect with God and her faith, she has also been haunted by the idea of becoming a Sister for a very long time. If you look over my tips on Discernment, I would say that she has good reason to do a deliberate discernment program as such. Whether or not she stays, it is clear her boyfriend may never understand this calling, as there are people who will never understand it. Were I to encourage her personally, I think she should open her heart to the adventure, instead of getting trapped inn expectations. For myself, I wasn’t in love with someone before I joined, but have fallen in love a few times since then. I suppose I will fall in love again. Married people fall in love with other people sometimes. Falling in love is always a reminder to make a choice with God’s guidance rather than being a slave to whims and feelings. I can also personally relate to Eseni, because she is quite aware of her brokenness, I can’t count the many times I have had to put aside my feelings of brokenness and unworthiness in order to discern. I can also relate to having a person (or in my case several), were anticipating me leaving, or giving me the ultimatum of choosing a friendship with them or my vocation.

Augies

Augustinians in formation ~2007. You can find me on the left with my arms crossed.

Francesca, 21, NJ: The Importance of Spiritual Mentors

Francesca is the youngest, and obviously the most emotionally volatile. I guess I was closer to her age when I joined then some of the other women on this show. She is made to stand out, probably by the producers, for wanting to run away, for wanting to call her family. Unfortunately, she is portrayed perhaps too unfavorably on the show. When you are in formation for religious life, you should meet regularly with mentors, a Prior, a Formation Director, a Spiritual Director. These people are there not to give you easy answers, but to help you process the difficult decision you have to make, as well as your own Spiritual & Ministerial Growth. Finally, opening up to members of your community can help you cement bonds. I remember I had a few times I would visit family during Summer or Christmas, and would get caught up in the drama of some of my old friends. Often, I felt as if I was the only student / seminarian who had to deal with the kind of stuff that I was, so it was difficult for me to reach out for understanding. Maybe Francesca has a lot to learn, and some maturing to do, but much of that is because she is still young, so I wouldn’t be too hard on her. I can appreciate her struggle. I imagine the cameras following her around, as well as taking the risk of appearing amount to a lot of pressure for any 21 year old girl. She is the kind of person who would probably benefit from a check-in each week by Superiors for the first couple months, (ie, one on one time for her to be able to process). I also think that her family has had their share of challenges, and is understandably tight knit. Maybe her vocation would actually flourish if she had a few visits from her mother during the beginning of her formation, were she to have a calling. Of course, I come from the Augustinian background, where Augustine’s Rule permits that each person’s needs are addressed particularly, depending on where they come from. Some other religious communities would disagree with this approach.

Claire, 26, IL: Loving Other People

Claire comes from a homeschool family in Joliet, IL. I assisted with an Augustinian Parish near Joliet, and could have run into her at some young adult gatherings in Joliet that I attended. (At least I don’t recall). She seems to have had a rigorous faith formation, and in some ways has never come across the challenges that have shaped the other young women on the show. In some ways, it appears that the producers picked up on this early, and have been digging into her for comments about the other young women. In religious life, we often use our opinions of other people to distract ourselves from what God is calling us to. Sometimes I would rather be persnickety because some other brother is failing to live up to our ideal in Religious Life than do so myself. Sometimes I would rather make a judgment about another than about myself. I remember during my novitiate, I sat across from the computer room. I made a decent effort to avoid internet use during the day (I was literally sending hand-written letters to friends, as well as reading a lot of awesome books). I struggled, because I had a clear view of the other student Friars entering the computer room with frequency. I also struggled because I was the only student who took up a hobby, or who exercised each afternoon, instead of watching all the Harry Potter movies. I was also perceived as too blunt by my classmates that year (even in comments that were not about them). So I can relate. I just remember learning that I also had to be a contributor to community life, toward it’s delight and enjoyment. Certainly, loving my brothers could be a higher penance than fasting or abstinence, but that I was also to be involved in the delight and flourishing of others (rather than mere toleration). Yet, as the show progresses, the more she immerses herself in the life and service of the sisters, it lessens her noticing the flaws of others.

*** UPDATED: Spoilers ahead for those who have seen the whole series ***

As I said, Reality Shows are often more competitive, and so the dynamic is about stirring conflict and controversy. I believe that the producers didn’t go as far as normal shows, and I believe that the girls sincerely did not attempt to go at it this way. That doesn’t stop it from happening. I am seriously convinced that the Producers took the Sisters at each of the convents, and their wisdom and input, very seriously. I believe that they set the agenda for the girls, and the Producers accepted it.

Some people might balk at the young women speaking candidly about their sex lives on national television. Some Catholics might find it unnecessary, or disgusting that they would. I have found that sexualized images of nuns are a problem on tumblr. I also find it off that in our pornographic culture, people generally feel entitled to that sort of information. Whether or not there were cameras rolling, they would have talked about this stuff. Whether or not the producers had a say, it probably would have happened. It is one of those sad states in our culture. However, their conversations rotated around their past, not about their future. One has no reason to believe that any of them think that a Consecrated Sister should subvert her own Vows of Chastity. I think it also gave one of the girls an opportunity to talk about Chastity as redemptive.

When the girls conclude the discernment program, they end up better off. Some of the girls take their discernment to the next level. Only one walks away from discerning religious life, and she is ends in a better position for herself then when she started. One of them invites some of the sisters over to meet her family. It is very important for anyone discerning religious life to make sure their family is connected. All the parents assume that entering a convent means that their daughter WILL NEVER, IN A MILLIONS YEARS ASSOCIATE WITH THEM. If they actually got to know the Sisters, they would feel happier with them and more at ease.

10 Tips on Discerning Religious Life

Saint Augustine Monastery, Austin Hall Arcade, San Diego, CA. Where I dwell and stroll to Morning Prayer & Mass each morning.

I have met several Vocation Wrecks, who can never manage to get close to deciding what to do with what God has given.

Sometimes they are given really lousy vocation advice. To deal with vocation wrecks, to comfort people, to dispense scrupulous young people from the misery of discernment, they give them bad advice. Worst is that God gives you a desire. This is an attempt to comfort people who want to be married, assuming that they think marriage is evil or something. I have met more people who cannot make a decision because they desire two mutually exclusive vocations. Second awful vocation advice is telling people that they will find peace. More on that below. I could actually go on about the lousy vocation advice that people who grew up in sheltered ethnic (Irish / Italian / German) parishes tell young people who have become spiritually obese on pop culture and consumerism.

I have found myself repeating many of these to many people. Sometimes I not even giving advice to discerners, but explaining the process to people who have a lot of misconceptions. I believe that most of those misconceptions are shared by people who may be called, but never looked into it. So I gathered these into ten points.

  1. If you begin to feel strangely drawn, begin to have a desire, you should look into it. If you begin to find yourself defensive, opposed, or repulsed by it, it probably requires you to look again. I used to think “They Wouldn’t Let Me Rap.” I met a Sister who used to think Nuns were ugly. If you have no emotional reaction besides a little gratitude or cheer, kindly move on.
  2. Do not Passively Discern in your head or your imagination. Do not think that by “praying about it” to yourself is actually discernment. If you have felt drawn or repulsed by it, become an Active Disciple, and then see how you feel about it.
  3. Sometimes a desire for Consecrated Life is simply a call to Radical Discipleship. Spend more time reading the Scriptures, especially the Gospel. Have a Master/Disciple relationship with Christ. Pray daily. Befriend the Saints. Participate in service to the Church or the community. Go to Eucharistic Adoration. Deepen and grow your commitment to Christ, & the church. See a Spiritual Director.
  4. Sometimes it is a good idea to defer discernment. If you are younger than a Junior in college, if you just broke up, or got rejected by a potential special someone, if someone close to you has died, if you have moved to a new city or state, or if you are changing jobs, it is a good idea to at least let 8 months pass before any serious committed discernment. I am not saying don’t discern, it is difficult to decide. Also, a yearning that persists through this is valid.
  5. A conflicted desire for both Married Life & Consecrated Life deserves a critical look. If marriage appears more comfortable, or includes more perks, you need to be honest, both come with their own Crosses. Many people NEVER have a desire for Consecrated Life. The fact that you do means you should look.
  6. You WILL NOT find immediate Peace, instead you find trepidation. All the Prophets & the Saints felt incredible turmoil. They found no Peace until they gave themselves over to a calling. Being afraid of a Vocation to Religious Life requires that you face it, not run from it. If may feel comfortable to turn away from it. If you feel drawn, but afraid, running won’t give you peace, it will only give you comfort. What is the worst thing that can happen, you find God’s plan for you in Religious Life and you discover immeasurable Love & Joy in Christ
  7. Talk to a Religious. Visit a Religious House, a Convent, or Seminary. Spend a portion of your day with a Sister or a Priest. Attend Mass several days a week. Do a weekly Holy Hour. Deepen your commitment to discipleship. Attempt to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. Try the single life for a few months. This is Active Discernment.
  8. You don’t join a religious order for yourself, you join for Christ, His Church, and that community. You don’t pick a habit or patron saint or location that suits your fancy. Eventually all the superficiality and sweetness will wear out, and you will realize that you are stuck with a group of quite unremarkable human beings. This is not a sign to leave or not, but you have to look deeper in yourself and the community you want to join.
  9. Invariably, the moment you decide to actively discern or apply the boy or girl of your dreams WILL magically appear. GOD DOES NOT OR NEED a few bored lonely people with nothing better to do. God wants you to make a choice. Entering religious life does not make everyone else completely unattractive.
  10. Do not wait for 100% certainty to join. No Religious Order expects that. It is easier to leave a Religious Order within a couple years than a Marriage. Do not wait to attain 100% holiness or practice perfect chastity for every millisecond of every day. Marriage IS NOT the magic cure for lust, people have lustful thoughts after being married, and can even fall in love with other people who they are not married to. The point is growing up and moving past your emotions, comforts of 100% certainty or comprehensive preparedness.

Single is the Default Christian Vocation & Not Marriage (or Consecrated Life)

prayer-1Finding THE ONE is the topic of much discussion, the center of rotation of many personal reflections, conversations, art, music & film. The default story anywhere we look is a love story between a man and woman.

At the core of who we are, we have an existential need to receive and give affection. We also need to give of ourselves, and receive it from significant people. The Less people, the more intense the feelings might be. At the basic level of human appetite we crave affection & sex. Being single or being in Consecrated Life does not mean that one is asexual.

This past weekend, I attended the National Catholic Singles Conference in San Diego, only to hear Confessions, and it got me thinking about developing this idea. I am writing specifically for the purpose so that people can think critically about what they take for granted: Married Life is the Default or Normal Way for Christians to live their life, while Consecrate Life is exceptional, and Single People are only given a negative or neutral value in God’s plan. This is not advice for singles, neither is it a detail about the actual single vocation (or the variety of single vocations of Consecrated Life in the Church). I want to write that Married Life is not the Default Christian Life, neither is Consecrated Life exceptional, that everyone is called either permanently or temporarily to a Single Vocation.

Married Life or Consecrated Life

Many people figure that the major vocational decision is between getting married to another human or to God. Many of them see Married Life as the Default. There is the command in the Bible since Genesis. Among devout Catholics there is talk of protecting the family. There is a lot of Talk of Theology of the Body, Relationships, Dating, Chastity, in regard to complimentarily, coupling, and the ultimate goal of marriage.

Marriage is characterized as being in crisis. Divorce is rampant. Young men refuse to take on the responsibilities of fatherhood. There might be a whole lot wanting in the Western World’s pop culture perceptions of marriage, love & commitment.

Often the term Vocation Crisis refers exclusively to the rapidly diminishing numbers in Consecrated life. Others will apply the term Vocation Crisis to the state of marriage. Even lay Catholics who are deeply convicted of their personal vocation to have been married and have children, are deeply troubled to talk about this. It is such that people accuse me of being “TOO YOUNG TO BE A PRIEST.”

However, Religious are not seen as single. Consecrated Life is described as a marriage to God. Religious and Consecrated MUST be in an exclusive & all-consuming relationship. Even more explicitly people insist on this EVERYONE MUST BE MARRIED theory when they understand that priests are married to the Church.

Consecrated Life is really a kind of Marriage. There is NOTHING in God’s plan that ISN’T MARRIAGE Therefore, Single people have just not found the person that they are looking for.

Single People don’t get a break

Catholic gatherings, particularly young adult gatherings focus on socializing and connecting people. There are plenty of people who go expecting to find THE ONE. There are events that are planned, hoping that people will find THE ONE.

Conversely, they overlook countless members of society who have never been married. In many parts of the world, some people never marry to care for their parents. Throughout history, there have always been people who have lived lives of service because of their social status, and never married. People not marrying did not magically start happening the instant that the West abandoned God or whatever. It is presupposed by devout Catholics that every single adult that forgoes marriage for a career is a self-satisfied sociopath. It is never even hinted at that even young egotistical career-aholics might actually have a lifelong call to being single. Even in the secular career world, nowhere is someone considered admirable for being single. Our American Culture, influenced by Protestantism that abandoned Religious Life, MANDATED MARRIAGE FOR EVERYONE, and so we are copying Protestantism in the Church.

Single people are said to be a negation. Negatively they are too egotistical to enter into a self-sacrificing married relationship, or positively just haven’t found the right person. Most good Catholics who even accept the theory of a Single Vocation look at Single People as on the way to marriage, and want to fix them with someone. We wouldn’t dare think of insulting someone by suggesting that they will find their vocation in loneliness and negation.

The primary relationship in one’s life.

Because people look at Vocation only in the big picture, and only in terms of a long term relationship, (because Consecrated Life is only a kind of marriage) people overlook their vocation in the moment. God calls. Vocation means calling, God calls in a variety of ways. God calls us to discipleship FIRST.

The primary relationship for the disciple is a mentor relationship. In order for there to be a successful mentor relationship there MUST NOT BE ANY ROMANTIC INCLINATION. Perhaps the most important relationship one can have in their life is a mentor relationship. For the Christian Jesus Christ is the primary Master / Mentor. Perhaps one can find a secondary Master / Mentor in a Saint like Augustine, Ignatius, Theresa of Avila, Francis of Assisi, or Mother Theresa. On a human level we actually need a mentor or two. The Church mandates that we have godparents and Confirmation Sponsors (but we are often pressured to select people who have no actual experience of Christian Discipleship, the Spiritual Life, or even practicing their Catholicism).

A lot of people imagine that the “secret” to chaste celibacy lies in supernatural power directly transmitted by God. There is certainly a need for grace. Others think that the secret is in natural balance, healthy relationships with self & others, regular exercise & days off. I have been surprised at how difficult chaste celibacy is without mentors & particularly a Spiritual Director.

The mentor, who is not parent, would have to be in a completely celibate non-romantic relationship. They would also have the advantage of grace and wisdom, in that the young person is not, and never in a position to pay them back. The mentoring relationship is clearly more valuable to the youth, and not to the mentor. However, sometimes the mentor does not need all the answers, for their presence is often enough to bring a sort of peace to the panicked frantic youth who is unsure that their life will work out for them.

Pop Culture

If one were to look at the trend in popular movies before 1980 and after 2000 you could characterize it as such. Movies before 1980 were primarily interested in romantic relationships, whereas many movies after 2000 were significantly more interested in the mentor relationship. (exceptions might be Back to the Future and Star Wars)

Take Batman as an example. If one were to look at Batman before Christopher Nolan’s adaptation you could characterize it as such. Batman is a fully self-sufficient man. Although he has the help of Robin, or Commissioner Gordon, Batman could do quite well without them. Were you to look at Batman Begins, the primary relationship seems to be Bruce Wayne’s and Ra’s al Gul, or conversely Batman and Alfred. Ra’s al Gul even has a positive effect on Bruce Wayne, but it is Alfred who is indispensible. In fact Alfred is more indispensible then that one girl, what’s her name?

Be it Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, Hunger Games, films that have become extensive cultural phenomenon’s, I believe, because they have brought out the significance of the mentor relationship. Instead of focusing on self-actualization through romance, they have focused on self-actualization through wisdom.

The opportunity of the Postmodern West

While serious and intelligent Catholics are stuck lamenting the cultural insignificance of the Father, Film has given positive images of how alternatives can work. The parents are always absent or irrelevant, and somehow the character manages to grow into an integrated capable person with the help of the mentor.

It truly is a tragedy that Fathers are failures or irrelevant in the West, it would be a misunderstanding to presume that every person who has had a destructive relationship with their father ends up destroyed hopelessly.

Even if we lived in a world were prolonged adolescence wasn’t as normative as mature responsible manhood or fatherhood… Even if, our world really consisted of a majority of men who were admirable and not cowardly, and many young people cite their father’s as their primary mentors, and even pop culture acknowledged this phenomenon, none of that could diminish the need for an additional significant mentor, or several.

Grandparents, godparents, aunts & uncles, older siblings, and other mentors would still be just as relevant. They would still serve in bringing an individual to their fullest self. Besides all this CRISIS talk is overestimated today, because here was have a clear opportunity.

Even married people who are mentored are mentored as individuals

Because the mentor relationship necessitates complete celibacy, as well as non-reciprocity in that the young person is not in a state to repay their mentor, it happens to the person as a single person.

People who are married or in religious life might cite the need for mentors in those states of life. I believe that there are many problems in married life because of a lack of mentors in earlier life. Many people enter marriage not as self-actualized individuals, and feel the need to separate in order to become actualized. Some people never learn to develop trust, something that can only be developed among people in completely celibate disinterested relationships like a mentor relationship. And perhaps couples have emotionally intense relationships where there is a desperate mutual need, these feelings do not get to the depths of the person, a type of relating that is often carried out by people who have had relationships with elders. Finally, many people falsely imagine that married life will grant a surrogate father or mother, or, in other words, another appropriate mentor.

It is not to suggest that somehow when one has found their vocation, or have gotten married, that they are eliminated from being mentors. The Mentor Relationship happens to and among individual persons. If a married person mentors it is as an individual and not as a couple. The young son needs his father to impart wisdom, and would personally benefit in the same way were his widowed grandfather or single uncle were to impart wisdom. In order to become a mature individual, there is virtually nothing that makes the person in married life or consecrated life elite. In order to impart wisdom one must have had, as a single person, had wisdom imparted to them, and had experience.

On the other hand, even when a couple turns to another couple for marriage, it may be the rare exception. However, the mentoring that happens here is often from the man to the man, and from the woman to the woman. It is often still between individuals navigating the same issue. Were this mentoring always to happen with all individuals present, From couple to couple, it would probably not be nearly as effective. Yet all this marks out the one exception where mentoring happens as a single person. However, if one has had some decent mentoring prior to marriage, will have so much more to give as a mature individual.

Someone who has, as fully as possible, worked at integrated and growing into a responsible individual can then almost go anywhere. They are likewise as effective as a biological father or spiritual father. A single person is a ripe for being mentored, and it is as a single person that one mentors.

It is always and only as a single person that one makes a choice on what vocation they will enter. It is as a single person, as a Christian Disciple, that one can commit their life to Christ, properly discern, pray, and be mentored before committing to a vocation. Even if most people are not called to some kind of Single Vocation, or Consecrated Singlehood, there is nobody who is not called to a Single Vocation of Christian Discipleship & Discernment. Married life is not for everyone. There is no Christian who cannot be single.

Cute Gushy Romantic Love Stories

My best friend & his wife run a blog, The Crows Nest. Recently they both shared their love stories. Considering my own insufficient capacity to witness to the wonderful sacrament of marriage, I really felt it important to share it. In fact, they have always had an important part in my vocation. They were the two friends that I asked for a letter of recommendation to include in my application. I share the date of my Solemn Vows & Religious Consecration as an Augustinian with their Wedding Anniversary.

My friend, initialed JJ on The Crow’s Nest, shares The Love Story: His Version. JJ & I used to have a Rap Crew together, well a couple. I will tell a little about it on my next hip hop album. We knew each other since we were young, but really became good friends in college. He mentions the part about going to daily Mass at community college, I was the one who started that (Go figure the one with the religious vocation would be obsessed with daily Eucharist!). This isn’t a rap story, but a love story, and that is what he talks about.

My friend, more importantly my friend’s beloved wife, Kat, writes The Love Story: Her Version. Having known her since HS, but not having been friends until the end of HS and throughout College. The first time I really remember connecting with her was at a Discipleship Week with NET in 2001. She, subsequently joined them for a year. She has always inspired me as a little sister in Christ.

If I can summarize something about either of them, is the prayerful deliberation. Unlike myself, my friends here are not very compulsive. They are exciting, adventurous, but perhaps not as compulsive as me.  But more than that, their courting and engagement were always marked by mutual encouragement and prayer. Dating is a discernment process, and it seems clear therefore, that a couple should be praying throughout their discernment. However, what is so much more wonderful than this, is that a couple that opens to each other in mutual intimacy with the Lord is entering into a Sacred place that not many people have the joy of knowing.

Dating and Discerning the Priesthood, for the Guys.

Katrina Fernandez, the Crescat, recently blogged about Dating the “discerning man.” She wrote it for the ladies. She also referenced another one on Seraphic Singles from last year.

I thought, as an Friar, a Seminarian, an active discerner, who is working at growing in my vocation in religious life, I would add my own thoughts.

I was never in the situation described, where I thought God would want me to dump the girl I was dating for the priesthood. I was single for a while, then I made a commitment to being deliberately single, then suddenly I had to turn down an opportunity when it presented itself. After my single commitment I arrived at the conclusion that I was called to religious life. Suddenly two more girls (almost randomly from my perspective) professed their love for me. Each of them did not want to be just friends, it was either all or nothing, and so I was dumped. It was sad for me on account of one of them who I actually valued as a friend.

In all honesty, I sound really cold about it, but I continued to bear a tremendous amount of displaced guilt for something I was not responsible for. Its hard for me to talk about. The pattern continued, some girl would profess her love for me, when all I thought I was doing was being kind and/or friendly. This is not me trying to get into a blame game. What I found in the process was that a woman’s heart is so intricate, so wonderful, so connected, so incomparable in all the world, but to the average man it appears overbearingly emotional.

I don’t know, any man is doing a bad job, who hopes to gives his life with the ultimate reverent care for the Eucharist, when he can quite easily be irreverent to the girl he is dating, by conclusively ending a relationship so he can discern. I had gone out with a girl, who kept telling me I would make a good priest. Maybe a guy who feels a tug to discern might want to get some input from his girlfriend. I think that is part of discerning, and God may be speaking through her.

I also believe that we also need a very specific and concrete short term single commitment to discern our vocation. Volunteer programs are especially helpful for this. I also, impractically, believe that dating should be put off until adulthood, but anyways, I am not very confident in enforcing this lol!

I think another thing, which is also really difficult is even being around women. I have been attentive to a few young women who really feel cheated by seminarians who play games with their hearts. Sometimes it might just be easier to not talk to associate with any women in general. It is easy for me, perhaps because I know who I am, and where I belong. It is also, perhaps easier, because I am called to celibacy, that it is easy for me to love and be loved in way that is celibate and chaste.

It is important that people who are actually in a seminary, or religious order, have a clear sense of boundaries. For instance, I refuse to individually drink alcohol with single women. I am incredibly conscientious of the time I spend with women and where. So if you cannot have enough personal boundaries, you can do a whole lot of damage as a priest. Women who think a seminarian is attractive, a man without boundaries can do a whole lot of boundaries as a husband and a father.

Finally, I don’t believe having absolutely no contact with the opposite sex is essential to a wholesome life. It is not for me personally. I am of the conviction that women, as Sisters in Christ, will always have a unique gift to offer that God would not offer through any other means. These are usually particular insights that are ought to be uncommon around any group of men, if not that women my be somewhat inherently valuable in essence. But that is just the way I see it. And it does not follow, in my mind, or in my heart, that marriage has anything to do with it.

A balance between the boundaries and genuine appreciation. So when most guys are like frustrated for getting friendzoned, I am like “SUCCESS!!!!”

The USCCB has given us a glimpse of this years ordinands here. I must
admit, several things describe me. You can compare and contrast, I thought
I would just say some of the facts that agree and some that disagree.

Current Age – The survey indicates an average age of
31, ordinands being between 25 and 34. I should be 29 about the time I am
eligible for ordination. So at least this is very close.

Family – The majority are Catholic from birth, as am I.
It says a little more than a third have a relative in Religious Life, as do
I.

Faith Practice – Unlike the majority, I never
participated in Church as an alter server growing up. I got involved again
my Senior year of high school, and through that started lectoring. I never
attended a World Youth Day until after entering Religious Life. However, I
did attend several Steubenville youth conferences, and I wonder that that
had a similar effect on me.

Debt – I have managed to steer clear of much debt, due
to state, scholarship and parental support. However, had I normal debt, I
likely would not have been turned down.

Ethnicity – White, lol, I am still the American
majority. I look at ordinands in Southern California. I have a Vietnamese
and a Filipino friend being ordained this year, both in SoCal. Among the
many more, white are the minority.

Beggining Discernment – There is an indication at the
end that many starting feeling a call by the age of 17. I did too. All in
all, I appear to be a pretty average Seminarian.

The New Priests of 2012