Confession: Common things I say

Recently, Sr Teresa Aletheia asked for a quote for me on the topic of Confession. I had returned from World Youth Day, and was a month behind preparing for the new school year, I could only come up with a sentence.

It is important to bear these things in mind:

  1. The Sacrament of Penance may be therapeutic, but it is not a counseling session.

Although I am open to give practical advice, or helpful perspective, I believe the grace of God that they receive in that Sacrament is more important than anything that I can say. I also believe that people would be happy for there to be advice or perspective that is not merely practical, but explicitly  spiritual. Finally, bearing in mind, that many people don’t want or need any advice whatsoever (often this is how I feel going to the Sacrament), I merely need the grace that the Sacrament offers.

  1. People may need moral clarity, but it is not primarily a catechetical session.

I have had a difficult time with older priests assuming that I am paralyzed with guilt over sins. Catholic guilt is not something I suffer from. In fact, I wish my contrition was deeper and more heartfelt. I don’t think a person needs to be explained that they did not in fact sin according to the theological moral criterion and definition of sin. The peace that forgiveness grant’s is more important. That doesn’t mean that the questions of a penitent ought to be disregarded.

  1. People are not forced into the Confessional these days.

Involved Catholics gripe that there is not enough talk of sin in the pulpit. I am sure there are some who would want to know that I am scolding & castigating every last sinner who comes in. The fact is, nowadays, there are no social pressures to go to Confession. Whether or not there should be is another question. What that means, is that whoever shows up, has done so freely, set aside time from their busy life, because they know what they did is wrong, and they know that they need the help of God and the Church. They don’t need moral lessons, they need God’s grace.

  1. Catholics are not encouraged to grow spiritually

I find that most of their regular sins are their own personal spiritual plateau. Faith Formation ends at 14 for most Catholics. Catholics have mistaken holy darkness for atheism or agnosticism. Sometimes a one-on-one session with a Priest is an opportunity to teach them that God’s plan for them is satisfying beyond their wildest dreams.

Now when they show up, I keep these things in mind, and it informs the advice that I give them. As I have advised often, I find that there are a things that I turn to often. People think that they are so alone and unique in their sins and struggles.

  1. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is an Encounter with Christ and his mercy.

I know I can get legal minded, and I do encounter this with others as well. This is how relationships are made whole, by communication, by apologizing, by receiving forgiveness. It is personal, not just legal. Sometimes the remorse of the sin, or the preoccupation with the ritual can make people forget that Christ stands at the center of this.

  1. Strategies are not as effective as God’s grace.

I get a Confession of a sin, followed by a lengthy explanation of what they are doing to work on that sin. Maybe they are used to priests scolding them, or challenging them to think about ways to overcome that. Any strategy we make to overcome sin is entirely ineffective if we are not praying, not going to confession, not receiving the sacraments. I often find that the practical advice is inadequate. The most that I often do is ask them to find a mentor or few friends who can help with advice and accountability.

  1. Read the Scriptures

I know Catholics suck at reading or studying the Scriptures. I am not comfortable giving this out as a penance to many people, because many people look at the bible like operating a complicated and elite piece of machinery. I remind them that the Psalms are a good source of prayer, and the Gospels are how we can know about Jesus. This is also very dangerous. It can provoke them to love God and others more.

  1. The Holy Spirit seems to be working in their life

I can’t count how many times, someone enters Confession, after having to traverse many internal challenges. I really admire so many people boldly crying out to Christ in their brokenness. I am moved. As they are their wallowing, imagining that God wants to lunge and hurl condemnations, that the opposite is very true. The courage that to show up is probably an indication of the Spirit’s guidance in their life.

When Penance time comes around I usually assign a few non-traditional penances

  1. Read the Sunday Bible Readings

Every once and a while, I find that someone wants more. They have no legitimate mentors in their life to steer them in the direction of mature faith. One simple thing anyone can do is spend some time in prayer with the Readings for Mass. I started doing this my Senior Year of High School, now it’s my job to do it.

  1. Gratitude List

If someone doubts, they need to see evidence of God’s loving activity in their life. If someone sins, they need to see evidence that God will care for their needs. A gratitude list is a practical way for anyone to look with their eyes, and read aloud, the good things God does for them. Then they can thank them in a Litany. I tell them, as a penance, that they are required to do this once within 3 days, and that I encourage them to do it regularly 1-2x/week. This is very much rooted in Augustine’s Confessions: Writing down exactly how God has been good and generous in your life.

  1. Jesus Prayer

This is one of the ancient practices of our faith. Catholics are trained to see encountering God as a tedious, and often emotionally exhausting exercise, instead of seeing Christ as the source of all our new life. I find, over and over, Catholics are astounded that we have had this simple quiet meditation prayer for centuries, and that they are only hearing about it now.

  1. Offer a Mass Intention / Offer a Holy Hour

I save this one for Catholics that I have indication to believe that they are involved in their faith. I charge them to offer a Mass intention or a Holy Hour (it depends on the circumstances), in reparation for their sins, and in reparation for others who have struggled with the same sin. Sometimes I hear confessions before Mass, or during a Holy Hour. I also trust that they might be happy to bring their bibles, rosaries, and prayer books to adoration, and be set.

 

Movies about Saints my way

Temptation

Salvador Dali’s Temptation of St Anthony

With the Golden Globes finished, and the Academy Awards around the corner, I wanted to publish this long overdue. I often find Catholic Saints film a bore. For fifth grade catechesis, maybe, but not much for inspiration in my faith. For Greater Glory & There Be Dragons pushed the Action and Intrigue. They attempted to make Saint stories suitable for Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. In 2014, we had Biblical epics picked up by Directors who may have been atheists. The Gospel According to St Matthew, directed by atheist, marxist, homosexual Pasolini, is on the Vatican’s list of top faith films.

While many Catholics dream of big budget, suround sound, 3-D, nationally screened Saint films, I wonder what could be lost. Some saints might get their action sequences. Most saints are dealing with interior dilemmas that just cannot be communicated in the same manner as Big Budget / Big Screen Cinema. You might have to talk to directors who have dealt with smaller scale, intimate portrayals, accompanied by character development. On the one hand, you might limit the audience. On the other hand you might reach an audience (that wouldn’t waste their time on a cheesy sentimental saint film) for an intelligent, thoughtful, artfully crafted film experience around a particular saint.

Classic Film Biopics often portray the subject’s life through a series of episodes. Contemporary Film Biopics typically center around a crystallizing event in the subject’s life. Unfortunately, most Saint films tend to rely exclusively on the classic biopic style. For example, Lincoln dealt with the passing of legislation, rather than entire series of episodes of his life. While the Song of Bernadette (1943) attempts her entire life, Bernadette (1988) captures the apparition event. Most Saint or Pope movies employ the Classic Episodic style Biopic.

Finally, they are portrayed as spiritually unconflicted and morally uncomplicated. That is not always a bad thing, but that would not work for many of the subjects that I haveselected. When I speak of character development, there has to be a mountain in the heart that is moved by faith. There has to be some sort of challenge that they are to face, and that is more meaningful and inspiring than watching a subject never flinch in the face of adversity. I am sure that some people would like to see movies about miracles, stigmata, or zapping fireballs at pagans (see Patrick below), but were we to be approaching stories of human persons becoming saints, it might be the most effective and powerful method. Besides, when you are focusing on covering 60 years in 100 minutes, you miss a the emotion, or you miss the passion

For my proposed ideas, some I have thought about for the past several years. A few have suggestions for a director. I have no interest in suggesting actors, so that it is clear that this list is meant to emphasize how having a skilled director could do a lot more for a film than having some attractive faces.

Augustine
One of my saint film disappointments in recent times was Restless Heart about Augustine. As an Augustinian, I certainly had high hopes. The central theme of Augustinian Friendship as a communal discovery of Truth was absent. The sort of personal conversations among confidants was missing. Sometimes I wonder if you had a director like Richard Linklater, you might be able to capture some of the banter which is essential for a film portraying Augustine. It wouldn’t hurt to also have an Augustinian scholar brought on board to consult, as they do in many other historical pieces. We are, after all, entrusted by the Church with the Spiritual and Theological Legacy of Saint Augustine.

Martyrs
Almost any group of martyrs in the history of the Church could be portrayed as a compelling drama for the big screen. Unfortunately, most Catholics filmmakers are more interested in making something that is okay for children. Films have been made portraying violence while minimizing gore, this would not be that hard. I do think of Cecilia, Felicitas, or Perpetua as possible protagonists if we are dealing with early Rome. Alfonso Cuaron, of Gravity and Children of Men has taken on complicated nuanced dramas, and I could see something like this being taken on by him.

Antony of Egypt
Lets face it, the early desert monks don’t look good on a vintage kitsch prayer card. They are not pasty-skinned enough, dainty blonde enough. Think, weathered face, squinty eyed (Clint Eastwood). The Temptation of Antony is one of the oft-repeated paintings throughout art history, and I wonder what an intelligent film director would do with it, and add his twiest. Because, let’s face it, a film like this could subvert the modern cultural paradigm which sees temptation as either insurmountable or as pleasurable. Out of the other ideas mentioned, this one wouldn’t lend itself easily to lighthearted humor. David Fincher and Tim Burton are two completely different director’s, who would take this in very different directions, but could do something awesome with it.

Francesco d’Asis
Many people’s visions of Francis are as a gleeful sprite gracefully prancing around Assisi singing like Snow White to the little birdies. They completely miss the fact that he left behind his urban dandy of a cloth-merchant old man for the callous hands of a wild and rugged stone chapel. Francis was a short man, kind of like X-Men’s Wolverine. I do believe that a Francis movie can find a good way of mixing playfulness with manliness. After seeing Prince Avalanche, something I would like to find in a Francis movie, David Gordon Greene might be able to pull something similar.

Thomas the Apostle
Christianity has existed in Southern India within a century of Christ’s crucifixion. All of the Eastern Christian Churches often appear different than what we expect Christianity to be. Having a film portraying early Malabar or Malankara Christians would, in many ways, be earth-shattering for our stereotypes of Christianity as a Western Religion. This could even be an enthralling story with Thomas as a supporting character or catalyst, rather than a protagonist. Slumdog Millionaire was a joint operation in England and India, and this would be what I would hope for with something like this, however, I wouldn’t want to see Danny Boyle (who did a work about Saints in Millions), as much as a local director.

Patrick
A few years ago, I saw a Saint Patrick movie, where he was going around zapping pagans with fire. There is a desperate yearning to make a Catholic movie into a big screen spectacle. I find my heart moved by his story, and would prefer to have something more dramatic. Years ago, there was a little Irish animated feature The Secret of Kells (2009). It portrayed a group of Christian Monks creating the Book of Kells. It had its share of fairies and folklore, and was meant to be for children. I have wondered what it were like to have short stories of some of the important Irish Saints: Cuthbert, Brendan, Brigid, and of course Patrick.

Mother Theresa
Here is someone that is still in the popular imagination among Catholics, as well as some secular humanist types. Younger Catholics don’t know who she is. I admit, that I am not a card carrying member of her fan club, and there could be a moment or two in her life that is worth capturing. I am impressed that she caused a ceasefire, she got a Nobel Peace Prize. These could be instances. It is also known that she did not feel internal spiritual consolations for the last part of her life. This is the sort of thing that works good on film. I don’t know that I have an idea of a director for this one (as I am not as familiar with her), but one person suggested Parish Hilton should be cast to play her.

Bonus: Hipster Pope Benedict
Ratzinger was forced to join the Nazi youth. He deserted, broke the law by going to the seminary, and became a priest. It could be a sort of wartime star crossed romance, except falling in love with God, and perhaps enjoying beer and having a friend cat. This wouldn’t go through the rest of his life, in fact becoming the pope would be irrelevant to this story that could be wrapped up in the climactic event of him being accepted into the seminary.

4 unusual, although typical priestly encounters

When random people encounter a priest, they are often ready to open up about their entire life. I find, that when I visit different parishes to preside at Sunday Masses, there is always a person or two who will briefly tell me their life story, or want to know mine.

As I am a “young” or “cool” priest, or perhaps a priest without grey hair or a gut, somehow they find me strangely fascinating. My actual ministry is to high school students at an all boys school, and so these sorts of encounters don’t happen at all where I work. Most adolescent boys like to hear stories from their teachers. Myself included. Yet, they never ask me for my vocation story, quite like the adults or elderly people that I encounter at parishes.

Just yesterday, I literally had 4 encounters that I think could virtually sum up what all such encounters.

Some context: The sophomore class had their retreat at a Catholic Parish. During the day, we used the Parish Hall, the Church, and one of the annexed parking lots for all the activities. We had over 100 students that I was responsible for throughout the day. These encounters were with people who were around the parish, and not any of the students (or faculty members involved with the retreat). It is also worth mentioning, that I was in the Augustinian habit, and that probably had them begin to open up to me.

  1. There to open the Parish Hall, there was a man who quickly asked me to pray for him. He was there the previous day, and I had a chance to interact and greet him. This day, he probably thought he could seize the opportunity and ask me to pray over him and bless him. It often amuses me, that after mass, after the priest has just given everyone in the congregation a blessing, sometimes a person will come up to me for a blessing. I have blessed people after a young adult event, and a line of very young adults come up to me for a blessing. I think sometimes they mistake youth for sanctity, but often I have to remind them that they just received a blessing. In this case the man didn’t. The man, that morning of the retreat, ready to open the Parish Hall, asked me to pray for his family to return to the faith. As an Augustinian, I thought of St Monica. So I prayed with him on the spot for a minute, and asked for the intercession of Saint Monica.
  2. Later in the morning, a woman shouted to me from across the parking lot. She asked if I was a monk, and what kind of monk I was. I had stepped outside of the hall of 100+ students, to move my car. It was near the entrance to unload supplies, and I wanted to keep the entrance wide open. Before I could get to the car, she was already within a foot in front of me, ready to spill out her entire life story. Interjecting her attempts to tell her life story, and how she ended up in San Diego, she wanted to know what kind of priest I was, and if there was an association with the priests that staffed a St Augustine school where she was from. She continued opening up about her life, on several random tangents. I was unsure if she was going to stop to catch her breath. As a pastoral minister, I realize that many people expect me to drop my entire life on the moment of their need. She wasn’t terribly needy, she was obviously a devout Catholic. I had to remind her that I was overseeing an event (I was not just the chaplain there to say mass, I was the man responsible for the retreat, meaning if a student got injured I had to contact parents, I had to ensure they got to the hospital, etc). She literally followed me around to the door of my car, as I was apologizing to her for not being able to set aside the retreat to hear her tell her life story. It is sort of amusing when you think about it. These sorts of encounters do happen at least once at every single parish or Catholic place that I visit, they either want to tell their life story, or want my life story.
  3. During Lunch time, I had just finished saying Mass for the students in the Church, and a Fire Dept inspector was checking the extinguishers. He was ready to open up not so much about his life stories, but about some of his faith experiences. He was the sort of person, who probably rarely has an opportunity to talk about those sorts of things. As he was looking over the extinguisher, and I was cleaning up the sacristy, he was telling some of his story. He was kind of excited to meet a young priest, I don’t think he ever met a priest younger than him, which probably also made him more excited to talk about faith, religion, church stuff, sacraments, etc. Often I will meet people who are somewhat unchurched, but go to Mass with some kind of regularity. They typically favor their religion, but don’t talk much about their faith. Seeing a young priest often gets them expressing their faith. Sometimes I am told (more often by women), that I am too young to be a priest. When I meet men like this Fire Fighter, I wish that there were more young guys in the priesthood that are easy for him to open up about.
  4. Okay, this guy probably wasn’t Catholic, he probably wasn’t there for Church. He saw me in habit on the street as we went between the Parking Lot and the Parish Hall. He wanted to know who we were, and what we were doing. He seemed disturbed by the fact that we were an group of students that were all boys (almost the complete opposite of most people that I encounter). When I explained that we were an all boys school, and that we were on retreat, he responded “Retreat from what?” I could scientifically explain to him the value of single sex education from a secular perspective, and there are enough secular retreats out there. I sort of felt bad for him.

Anyways, that about sums up the four encounters, fourth being a bonus, and not your typical Catholic encounter.

Making Augustine Viral

Several years ago, I created a tumblr and twitter page for Augustinian posts. These posts primarily consisted of photos, quotes, and other paraphernalia of our Augustinian Life, Spirituality & Tradition. I also wrote several brief didactic posts on these topics. If you viewed my WordPress page, you may have found links to several of the blogs that I have posted there.

I recently brought in another student Friar, Maxime, to collaborate with me on this. I however, have decided to make a few design revisions, and plan on making several posts in the near future. Please consider viewing, following, sharing and linking!

The Needs of the People of God Never End: Crisis Mode & Burn Out

UntitledLet me start off by saying that I have not burnt out, I am not unhappy, I am not miserable, I am not depressed, I am not in bad shape overall. Crisis Mode is acknowledging an impending crisis and taking prudent measures, rather than being haplessly swept into it.

The irony is that I am going to have to curtail my ministerial service over the next several months, coinciding with Lent when people typically give things up. It will be summed up in a few areas: The ministry assigned to me by my superiors, my current family situation, and the gratuitous ministries that I have chosen to limit. Things will not get better magically, but they will ease up on me by summer. Let it be clear that I owe it to everyone I will ever serve to commit to the summer vacation I am currently planning.

Pray for your priests!

This is obvious. Even for those devout Catholics who do seriously care about your priests, and would jump at a chance to help them, and support them in any way, my experience is that the majority of Catholics expect their priests to be impervious to pain, suffering & stress. That, and the needs of the People of God never end. Sometimes people will expect the priests to drop everything that they are doing to minister to them, even drop solitary prayer… Yet, all people still expect all their priests to spend a considerable amount of time in daily prayer.

Since I am a Young Priest, or merely a priest without grey hair, belly, wrinkles, or balding head, I have been in demand. This is not due to any excellence on my part, as for lack of viable alternatives. For instance, I go to various youth ministries or young adult gatherings scheduled on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays when Pastors are at their busiest. On campus, when there is a need specifically for a priest, I am not likely the first (or second) person that is requested.

The work of a Religious Priest, particularly one in a High School was very different before the Council. I often find myself jealous for priests of that era. They could spend all week in front of a crowd of teenage boys, then spend their Sunday mornings facing an alter, offering, and tabernacle. They did lesson plans all week, and weren’t expected to have a homily every Sunday. It is impossible for me to not feel incredibly worn out to be expected to stand in front of an assembly of Catholics, who often imagine that my entire priestly ministry is their exclusive right, and not the students that I have been assigned to serve. I rarely go to Parishes for Sunday Masses.

700+ teenage boys under my Pastoral Care

This ministry is important to me! It really is! Even though the needs of the People of God never end, If I gave myself half-heartedly to fifteen different ministries, where’s the value in that! I have been committed to giving myself whole-heartedly to one particular ministry. Any other ministry I do ought to not interfere with this one.

Catholic High School ministry is a real priestly ministry. Because I am not presiding at several Sunday masses, several baptisms, marriages, quinceneras, etc., it does not mean that I don’t have a full priestly ministry. It boggles the minds of many young Catholics that I am not saying several Sunday Masses in several parishes every Sunday. Each month I coordinate a retreat, that includes: planning, training leaders (many of whom are teenage boys who need a lot of coaxing), cajoling faculty members into participating, booking sites, booking buses, booking catering, chasing down students who don’t hand in permission slips and retreat related reflections. This involves more yelling at kids then I ever imagined my priestly ministry would require, and I think this is because everyone expects the young priest to be more like a sports coach than a spiritual sage. I merely remind people that their pastor keeps the Sabbath Holy on a weekday, I do it on a Sunday.

But let me conclude by saying that I really enjoy doing this. Working with these kids is really meaningful for me. I want it to be clear that I am grateful to be where I am at. Despite their being a full work load, NOT AN INORDINATELY OR DISPROPORTIONATELY HIGH WORK LOAD, this is totally worth every minute. This ministry, all by itself, will probably not burn me out.

My dad’s health crisis and family situation

If you look back to these posts in October & November, you can get some details about this, and maybe see how this has been a psychologically exhausting issue for me. My dad got West Nile Virus in September, recovered from the infection in October, bedridden for a couple months, recovered a bit in November, but since Thanksgiving has shown minimal recovery. Let me make it clear, West Nile Virus infection does not cause permanent physical damage.

My dad has taken a long time to physically recover, such that he will take a really long time to recover. It could be six months, it could be a year. At least he is recovering. This has confronted our family with several very difficult financial decisions. One small mosquito bite has altered the course of my family forever, and there is no return to the way things were before any of this.

For myself, it is a challenge to drive up to LA from SD every weekend when I am free. It is a challenge to spend more time running errands for him than actually spending time with him. It is a challenge to have to get a few voice mails from him every day.

I am sure that people might wonder if I could request a reassignment to something closer and less demanding. Yet, I am filling a position in an institution, and if I leave, the lay administration at school will have to hire someone. I cannot get a substitute for several months. Besides, this would still be quitting, and that is hardly good discernment. A lot of the challenges my family faces will ease up by the time the next school year starts, so I even think it would be incredibly imprudent to just run away and start a whole new stressful transition in life.

Other Ministries

Immediately before all of this happened, I was committed to hearing confessions for a large youth group. I lost track of this. A month ago, I got a request to attend a small bachelor party retreat in a small rental cabin, the groom to be was more a friends friend than my own. All week long my dad was calling me asking me when I was going to visit, and I hadn’t been up in several weeks. I know is seems selfless for me to answer the need that someone has for a priest. Is it not also very selfish and egotistical of me, to pretend to be an invulnerable superhero, who neglects his sick father and students who he has been assigned to minister to?

First Fridays, I assist a young adult ministry. Adoration, Confessions, Benediction, Mass, Praise & Worship, Social & Talk are included. Typically I take Confessions, and concelebrating Mass. I preside a few times a year. Unlike Parishes on a Sunday, this has been the only regular ministry outside of school I find consistently refreshing. Practically, Fridays are the time I can finally drive up to LA to help my dad. Although I might be able to show up at some point over the next few months, I am no longer in a position for them to rely on me. There are a few other reasons.

All Catholic Young Adult Events are off the list. sometimes exhausting, because, even if I go, I am placed on a pedestal, while simultaneously being expected to serve. I can only go to these sorts of things to serve, and never to receive or be refreshed, what a way to end a long day of serving 700 adolescents! One time I remember being asked to give a blessing at the end, only to turn around to find a short line of people in attendance asking for their own special blessing. I am tempted to remind them not to mistake my youth for actual genuine holiness.

Women are another reason. Priests who have abandoned their ministry for a woman have actually hit a crisis, perhaps like the crisis I have. Sometimes I am exhausted at these young adult things because of the looks I get from them. I do remind myself that this shallow affection isn’t for me personally, but for what I do or what I wear. I would rather withdraw than pretend that no risk exists. There are several women I know and trust that would protectively give a talking to to any immature desperate girl who tried to take advantage of me at this time. Since I am not actually required to be here by holy obedience, I don’t see why I would be imprudent in that regard.

Unfortunately, I may also have to limit my activity on this blog.

I do live in a Religious Community, and having them has provided me with much of my sanity. How good and how pleasant it is! Also, I have several awesome friends who have been good to me during this time. Since I really like what I do, and want to have many years serving the people of God, it is urgent that I be mature in this regard. I am sure there are many other priests out there much holier than I am, many priests who are much better at it than I have been in my 19 months, who could do more than I can.

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.

8 Steps to Begin Praying the Liturgy of the Hours

20140916_063101Liturgy of the Hours has taken off among young Catholics. Young Adult Catholics are interested in delving deep into traditions. For Young Catholics who are involved, they are probably more theologically literate or spiritually articulate than their parents. They may use the app on occasion.

A Parish that considers dropping a weekend Mass, may consider filling in the extra time with Common Recitation of Morning Prayer. A group of 4-5 committed lay persons is all you need, and will eventually grow.

There are a few reasons why people who want to pray, but do not, that have nothing to do with their personal busy schedules: The Office books are expensive. It is too confusing for beginners who pray alone. Flipping back and forth in the breviary is difficult. It is still a challenge for proficients who only pray it alone. You have never heard of any of the songs in there.

There are a few reasons why people do pray. They are drawn to formal prayer. They are discerning a vocation to consecrated life, or they have, and see the value in this. They are settling down and find more time in the day. They know a place that prays in common once, and would like to pray for themselves.

The following steps are advice for lay persons who want to start praying, and may not find a regular place where they can pray in Common with others. Continue reading