Friday, October 31, 2008

Trick or Treat - Perception, Knowledge, Discernment

Greetings Fellow Network of Love Lovers,

BOO! ha, it's Halloween, it's Friday, and it's unseasonably warm outside. What more could you ask for?

This morning as I was going to retrieve laundry from the dryer, I unconsciously brought my cup of coffee from breakfast. I have this coffee cup that says "Loyola University Chicago" (it looks really classy, especially for a 20 year old guy to be carrying around). Anyways, as I get to the laundry room and gather all the fresh, clean laundry into my laundry basket, I realize that the walk back through a hallway and upstairs carrying a coffee cup and a giant laundry basket is going to be more difficult than I imagined. I guess I never even imagined having to partake in such a balancing act.

Thankfully, with the concentration of an acrobat in a Ringling Brothers Circus show, I managed to make the journey without spilling coffee on my just-washed clothes. That's not to say there wasn't one really, really close call! For a split second, as the coffee cup tilted in my left hand, I pictured my clothes all turning an intense shade of coffee-black. But the balancing act worked, and my clothes remained in the original color. AMEN!


My reflection today has to do with a reading from Paul's letter to the Philippians. It comes from the beginning chapter of that letter. In particular, I want to focus on a line that really caught my eye as I was reading it this morning.

"And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value." (Phil 1: 9, 10)

Paul writes to the Philippians while he is in exile at a prison and facing the possibility of being executed. Despite the fact that he faces these adverse, hostile circumstances (to say the least), Paul continues to pray for the Christian community in Philippi. It is the place where he helped establish the first community of its kind in all of Europe and he seems to keep a special place in his heart for these people.
I could probably write about how much of a statement Paul is making when he decides to turn away from his own personal struggle to pray for the people living outside of the prison walls he is trapped in. That seems like an unconditional act of love, an act that brings greater glory, greater good to society. But rather than focus on the personal life of Paul during the time of this letter's distribution, I would prefer to talk briefly about three ways he hopes love will increase among the people he is praying for; in knowledge, in perception, and in discernment.

I'd like to think of these three values (I can't think of a really unique or proper term to accurately categorize knowledge, perception, and discernment), as working in union but also having a bit of a structure or–––dare I use this word–––"hierarchy" system when working together. I say they work together because, for instance, when we gain knowledge we are perceiving something. Moreover, when we perceive something, we inevitably will turn what we perceive into some kind of form of discernment–––whether it be perceiving what options are on a menu at a restaurant and then discerning, from all the options, which meal will satisfy our hunger.

But in trying to unfold how these three values which seem to bring us closer to love–––closer to God–––we can see some kind of structure forming. That is, in some cases, one of the terms must come before the other so that we may more clearly enter another stage that will bring us closer to love. Let me try to make sense of this. I would say that, in a very general way, we might make this order of the three values: 1. Perception 2. Knowledge 3. Discernment. In establishing this order, I mean to say that we first perceive things–––we observe what we say in nature or in our day to day, we realize we are attracted to another person or a group of people, etc. Second, we grow in knowledge about what we have observed or perceived. For instance, we date a person to better learn about that particular person. We go to school to learn and see if we want to continue on the path of what we are going to school for. This is where the third value, discernment comes into play. Our perceptions and the knowledge we obtain from what we perceive seem to bring us to a state of discernment. Knowledge can only take us so far; we have to discern what it is we want to do with that knowledge.

Paul's prayer for the community at Philippi is that they all use what they find out within these three values to establish further connections with each other and with God. He desires that his Christian sisters and brothers in Philippi come to realize that it is through love and only through love that they will understand why they are perceiving what they perceive and how the knowledge they come to can best be spread throughout their society. It is through discernment that they can go about making such choices that will bring them closer to the love they seek–––to the love Paul seeks for each and every one of them.

It's kind of neat to think that Paul, in some way, wishes the same for each and every one of us. I think anyone that really seeks what is best for his or her sisters and brothers will want each and every one of them to grow more in love with the people and places around them.

That would be my prayer for each and every one of you who have taken the time to read this Network of Love. May you love and be loved more fully. I ask you to pray in the same way for me; that perception, knowledge and discernment will lead you and me to do things for people that will allow all of us to love and be loved.


with love,

your friend bob.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Barkley on Obama

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

Cheers to you on this sunny but cool late October morning. From my bedroom window, I can see autumn in all its beauty. When I walk out to class in an hour, I'll feel love in all It's beautiful until it gets really really cold. Then, we have to focus our attention on the other beauties of the season, the kind that don't revolve around the feeling of the weather. sorta maybe get what I am trying to say.

Anyways, I thought I would share a quote from Charles Barkley. He was a basketball player in the 1980s and 1990s and since retirement has been an announcer on TNT. He is a very vocal person and as of late as gotten involved in politics. Campbell Brown, CNN correspondent, sat down with Barkley to interview the man and talk about his decision to run for governor of Alabama, his home state. Brown talked a little bit about race in the upcoming election. Barkley, an African-American man, said something that really struck me as profound and thoughtful in regards to what an Obama presidency would mean for young African-American students.

"I see him as a great role model 'cause we got to get more black kids educated. And you know we have this terrible thing going on in the black community about if a black kid does well in school we make fun of him. We've got to get more black kids getting their education, carrying themselves with great dignity, and self esteem. I've always looked at this as bigger picture."

-Charles Barkley, from

In one week, we will go to the polls to vote for the next president of the United States of America. We are casting a vote for the present, but also for the future. Who knows what positive influence the next president may have on the children of our country. Role models keep kids motivated, keep all of us motivated.

When you go to the polls, I ask that you seriously reflect on the young people in our nation. Which candidate will drive them toward success? Which candidate will motivate them to do things for our country, for our world, that will move us forward to a kingdom of Love?


with love,

your friend bob.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Little Leaves

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It's Thursday, the grind of the week is more than halfway over. I don't know about you, but this week has been all about waking up and entering the grind, falling asleep cozy enough, and then waking up to enter the grind again. I've been busy, which isn't to say bad. I've just been incredibly busy. I hope all of you, especially if, like me, you find yourself loaded with work and whatnots, find the time to take a minute and enjoy something that will completely take your mind off of any of the stresses of life.

Yesterday, despite having to crank out a philosophy paper on Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas (yawn), I found one particular moment where stress simply fell away. The stress left me somehow in the form of a plain dark red, brownish leaf lying innocently near the sidewalk. I was walking down Sheridan, the busiest of roads near my campus here in Chicago, and, winds of the city hitting my body, I swiveled my head to the right and down, only to notice the multitude of leaves scattered all along the ground. I know leaves are's October, Autumn. But rarely, rarely, have I had the time to actually sit and observe the fallen leaves. This was only the second time of this season I can consciously recall actually making a mental note of the leaves. The texture, the shape, the color of the leaves. Some of the leaves had stems, some of the stems were long, some short. Some of the leaves looked fresh, just fallen. Other leaves seemed more prehistoric, as if they had been let go a month ago and were still milling about, waiting for someone to pick them up, or waiting to be carried to their next destination.

I decided to give one of the leaves a home. I picked up one of the leaves, the plain dark red, brownish leaf that temporarily relieved stress. I had just bought a belated birthday card for a good friend of mine, and I thought the leaf would fit perfectly into the card I had purchased. Sometimes the little things relieve our stress, soothe our inner being. Maybe, as my card finds its way to my friend, the leaf might help relieve, in some small way, any of the stress I know she feels.

Let the stress fall away, fall, fall like a new-fallen leaf, happy in Autumn, but hopeful for May.

peace friends.

with love,

your friend bob.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

All Things Must Pass (But that can be a positive thing!)

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

This post comes to you on a Sunday afternoon. I finally have enough free time to crunch the keys a little and post a small reflection on the Network. Hope all is well with all of my friends. Hope all gets better in time as you continue on whatever you are doing. (That's vague I know, but if I am specific, then someone might feel like I am not writing this blog to them). To be more specific, I guess, I hope your Monday morning finds you rested up and ready to tackle a brand new week of learning, loving, listening, paying bills, stressing out, and loving. (Notice I tried to sandwich the not-so-good stuff in between the stuff we look forward to).

Ok, so this reflection has to do with my internship at a community center near the Loyola University Chicago campus, the university I attend. I tutor children at Centro Romer as part of my community service requirement at St. Joe's College Seminary as well as part of an internship program in collaboration with the English Department. I keep a journal (or try to keep a journal) for the program to help fulfill the internship credit I will receive for completing a year of tutoring with Centro Romero. Background done...onto the reflection...

I feel as if my relationships with the children are growing. Last week, I was able to help one student, Angel, finish most of his math assignment. He seemed to be strong at times in some of the concepts, but at other times I was surprised that he didn’t know a particular concept. For instance, he still has trouble with adding negative numbers together. To his credit, he seemed to grasp it more as we went on in the assignment. The old adage practice makes perfect could apply in that particular situation.

I received an e-mail about a week ago from my site supervisor at Centro. Azalea is a recent graduate from DePaul University who has been at Centro Romero for over three years I believe. Actually, she started first as a volunteer during her undergraduate studies, and then accepted a paid position on the Centro staff. As the assistant of the tutoring program, she deals primarily with the middle school students (ages 11 – 14 approx). Azalea was the person I first contacted when I was interested in doing volunteer work at Centro Romero. She was very welcoming and strong spirited, and, after seeing the way she interacted with the kids during my very first volunteer session, I could tell her heart was in the right place. She loved working with the students at Centro Romero and she still does. Witnessing her helped solidify for myself I was in the right place.

But all things must pass (I mean this in the most positive of ways). Azalea has accepted a job offer that will allow her to continue school and will allow her, in time, to achieve her goal of obtaining a doctorate. Good for her, I say! I sent her an e-mail telling her that I was grateful for what she did to help me start my internship at Centro Romero and wished her luck in any future endeavors. It is neat to watch as other people’s journeys unfold. Azalea seems to be moving from one good to another as she pursues dreams and looks forward to continuing to solve some of the problems that plague our society. She is interested in doing research in Psychology that focuses on Community and Social Psychology. It seems like a practical approach to the field of psychology, an area that will allow her to positively impact the community at large, as well as individuals struggling within those communities. I pray that she continues to glow as she works towards becoming Dr. Azalea. She is an example of a person who has touched my life in a small but meaningful way. Her dedication to the children at Centro Romero is a model for all of us who desire to love the people we find along our path in this life.

peace and blessings friends,

with love,

your friend bob.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Chicago Marathon!

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

Yesterday I completed the Chicago Marathon! I am very proud of that accomplishment and after many prayers, hard work, and support from friends and family, I can say that I did something I never thought I would ever do. In all honesty, I'm excited for the next marathon I run. My final time was about 3 hours and 43 minutes, which puts me only 1 hour and 37 minutes behind the Kenyan runner who won the race. Haha. Well, the headband I wore during the race says "in my DREAMS I am a Kenyan." So, in my dreams, I was running stride for stride with Evans Cheruiyot, the winner of the marathon.

But in all seriousness, the race was an incredible experience that opened my eyes to the diversity of people who run and the determination each and every runner came to the race with. There were us young folk running, there were middle age persons (one woman from Grand Rapids who I met before the race had given birth eight months ago. Here she was, trim and ready to run a full marathon! Wow. Determination, resilience, will.

We all ran for a purpose. Some of us wanted to say we could do it, never thought we would. Some of us were running for charity, myself included. Some of us were running for family and friends who had supported our running for years. Some of us ran because we enjoy the crisp feeling of the wind hitting our face, the sun shining down on us, our feet moving freely, our mouth smiling, our spirit content with not a care in the world. Anxieties become unacceptable thoughts as a runner plunges ahead to mile 16, 17, 18. What gets us through the race is the support of people we cherish: friends, family, companions. I remember the crowd from yesterday. They pushed me to the end. I remember thinking about people close to me and they helped pushed me to the finish. I remember thinking about my Creator, the beauty that can be found in tender moments in this life. That pushed me to the edge, a runner's edge, an end that is an accomplishment.

I am grateful for all who supported me. I thank God for being able to run, it has been and I hope will continue to be one of the lasting joys of my life.

God, help us all run fearlessly into the finish line, into the arms of our loved ones, into the arms of a world that needs assistance, light and hope. Help us realize the difficulties of the race, but help us pursue the end of that race, PEACE, JOY and Love for all sisters and brothers.

Peace and Amen.

with love to all my friends,

your friend bob.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Blogging on Megabus - Part Two of France Trip

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

This might be one of the coolest things I've ever done–––I'm typing and posting my blog while using a Wi-Fi connection on a Megabus ride to Chicago! I had no idea there was wireless internet on this bus until I pulled out my lap top and my computer kindly asked me if I would like to sign onto the Megabus wireless network. WOW! This probably won't sound nearly as interesting to someone actually reading the blog...but oh well. It's sometimes the little things in life, right?

I'd like to continue my reflection of an experience I had while in Lourdes, France as a chaperon and pilgrim to a place of faith.

Part Two of "The Tender Moments:"

Being, walking, partaking in the culture of Lourdes was no doubt a journey, a spiritual marathon of sorts. It was sometimes long, sometimes painful and often tiring. As the director of the pilgrimage Wayne Watts, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, warned us before we left Chicago for Lourdes, “this will be a pilgrimage, not a vacation.” He was right. Four to five hours of sleep was standard protocol, six hours of sleep felt like heaven on earth. We prayed as a group frequently and were almost always together even outside of required events. I would often wander from the group only to be pulled back in by our leader. On several occasions Watts had to remind me to “stay in the group!” I guess I sometimes like meeting new people a little too much for my own good. His poignant insistence that I stay with Chicago seemed to keep me in line, for the most part.

When we worked, we worked. It wasn’t so much the physicality of the labor, though pushing wheelchairs and chariots carrying disabled persons (referred to as malades in Lourdes) got tiring. I think what affected me the most, however, along with many of the other youth pilgrims, was the emotional labor of each day. Most of the people we escorted around Lourdes were struggling, in one way or another, to cope with the state they found their bodies in. If those with the actual ailments weren’t struggling, us young able-bodied persons struggled with the thought of being physically or mentally disabled.

There was one couple I grew especially close to in the week we had at Lourdes. I found it so moving to work with and simply be with these two people, and I think they serve as a great example of how tender moments can be joyful, painful, and everything in between. Through their own struggles, I was forced to face my own inner turmoil, and I grew to accept and appreciate our common struggle and our common need for communal forgiveness and communal love. I realized that Lourdes is a place where faithful come to realize that there is hope beyond their fears. It is funny to note that Rolheiser’s collection of essays, the one where I found the Tender Moments, is called Learning to Love Beyond Our Fears. Not only is their hope in Lourdes, there is much love to be had and enjoyed by all. However, to feel this love, one must put an amount of trust in faith and community that is not easy. Even in Lourdes, it is a struggle to fully commit one’s self to the tender moment.

I came to know Judy and Don, the couple who most touched my heart in Lourdes, by way of serving as their escort to the healing baths of Lourdes. Father Wayne Watts had asked me to go with a married couple from the Chicago Archdiocese who desired to bathe in the waters that so many pilgrims to Lourdes put their faith and hope in. When he explained the situation of the couple to me, I was a bit taken aback. The wife had multiple sclerosis and the husband was experiencing the initial symptoms of Alzheimer’s. Having a mother who had worked with Alzheimer’s patients for many years of her nursing career, I was familiar with the strain the disease puts on family and friends of those stricken with it. I did not fully know what to expect when I met Don, but I was a bit nervous to be the escort for these two. This was going to be an especially important moment in their life–––a tender moment full of joy and pain–––and they were going to be led to the baths by me! I am just a twenty year-old college student, a seminarian who struggles day after day with what his true calling is and how he can best serve people. I was not so worried about having to make sure these two people were physically able to get to the baths, for I had walked the path to that area near the grotto several times before. I believe, in my heart, that what I feared most was helping these people in some capacity spiritually. Though Watts had not said anything about saying a prayer with the couple, or making sure they felt secure and at peace while waiting to feel the healing waters wash their skin, I felt compelled to be in a mental and spiritual state that would allow these people to remain peaceful and calm and hopeful. We all know how the anticipation for a tender moment can be the most tense of moments. I felt like, in some small way, I had to encourage content, hopeful anticipation for the baths for Don and Judy. That meant making small talk that would possibly make me feel uncomfortable and make me face some of my most internalized fears.

Why would I be forced to face my fears you might ask? Well, to begin, it was highly publicized on this trip that I was a college seminarian. In fact, my seminarian identity was what had helped me obtain a spot on the pilgrimage. Through the generosity of Watts, I had been given a hearty scholarship to help pay for my trip to France. In return for the money that came my way, I was to be part chaperone for the high school group going and part presence for the church as a seminarian. The latter end of the deal was what scared me the most. It was, in fact, one of the fears I did not know would have to be faced while in Lourdes.

As my family and close friends know all too well, I consistently struggle with being a Catholic college seminarian. After my first semester last year, I was fairly certain I wanted to leave seminary. But something inside of me yearned for another semester. I am very happy that I chose to stay, for many opportunities came my way and many friendships became stronger as a result of staying in seminary. However, a trip to El Salvador in May, an experience that seemed to change my young life in many, unexplainable ways, seemed to make me, for a variety of reasons, so incredibly uncertain about my future as a seminarian.

This summer, I worked and lived at All Saints Catholic Church on the north side of Milwaukee. The community there helped to foster an environment where I felt like I could bathe in some of the tender moments I was going through as a young person considering a particular vocation. While at All Saints, I was able to struggle, toil with the future of the priesthood, and my own connection with that future. As the seminarian on staff, I was forced to publicly display my intent to be a college seminarian and to test the waters of ministry. I felt comfortable doing that at All Saints because I had a community that I felt comfortable with. Though the question of whether or not I would ever seriously become a priest was something I could not answer this summer, it was a question I was able to face in my mind and invite into my soul. But in Lourdes, I really began to have serious doubts about my immediate future as a college seminarian. One day, I had even begun to plot how I could leave seminary upon my return from Europe. Doubts and fears about plans that were as much as set in stone, that is my continuing as a junior enrolled in St. Joseph’s College Seminary on the campus of Loyola University Chicago, came unexpectedly and seemed to linger with me every day I spent in Lourdes. I was having what my good friend Raphael calls a “vocational crisis.” I didn’t see a realistic future after leaving seminary in my mind, but I felt like I could not return for another year. This is where Judy especially comes into play.

*** To be continued...

peace and have a great Tuesday friends!

with love,

your friend bob.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Bonjour _ Soumission (Tender)

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I am writing an honest, cool Thursday morning. The sky is blue and the sun gleams down on my keyboard to cast shadows on my computer. It's neat.

Today, I start posting bits of a long narrative I wrote about an experience I had while in France this summer. I hope you enjoy Part One of "The Tender Moments."


THE TENDER MOMENTS: How to Let Struggles Soften Our Heart

A reflection by Bob Spoerl

It seems that our hearts are so easily hardened by so many of the moments we find ourselves a part of. And it seems that, more often than not, our society finds itself bogged down by what makes our hearts most hard. When we don’t try to find the beauty in every thing we see, we tend to notice the unattractive mole on an otherwise pretty face. It’s a challenge to soften our hearts–––a challenge that lasts a lifetime. We hope and we pray that as our days go by, the softening will become a less assiduous task. However, as we all know, the softening goes much more easily than it comes–––just think of a person or group in your life who you found yourself growing close to and, after one hurtful comment or one missed meeting, the two of you or the group became worlds apart.

Attachment, the right kind of attachment, is a process. It is a painstakingly long process that needs to constantly be nurtured. To clarify what I mean when I say the “right kind of attachment,” I’m referring to that attachment that allows the soul to expand. This expansion of the soul can come through friendship, marriage and lifelong union with a person, or commitment to a worthwhile ideal. The first two expansions are indeed worthwhile ideals, but they are ideals that are person to person. The third expansion, the commitment to a worthwhile ideal, is something that can either pair with one of the other expansions or become a lifelong opportunity to expand for people pursuing a particular or especially lofty goal.

Challenges arise every time we put ourselves on the line to try and attain one, or a combination of these expansions. When we succeed in expanding our soul, we find that we have built a life giving attachment. But when our hearts are hardened, we bottle up our soul and temporarily send off an SOS to the world. We beg for a softening, that someone or something may find our message in a bottle and help us to soften our hearts. Ultimately, we must dive into the water to obtain the message for ourselves. It is only once we take that plunge that we truly begin the process of attempting to create attachments, and thereby grow as a lover of life.

More concretely than the metaphor of finding a message in a bottle, how do we begin the task of softening our hearts? Where do we seek the answers that may allow us to be more open, loving people? Ronald Rolheiser, an OMI priest, spiritual author and retreat leader, writes in an essay called “Fear of Tenderness Stifles the Soul,” about how capturing tender moments, or erasing the fear of finding ourselves in tender moments, can soften our hearts and make us more the person we desire to be. It is when we accept and cherish tender moments, claim ownership to intimacy, positive, life giving intimacy, that we can soften our hearts. In his essay, Rolheiser gives us some direction as to where to find these tender moments.

What constitutes the tender moment? Anything in life that helps make us aware of our deep connectedness with each other, of our common struggle, our common wound, our common sin, and our common need for help: the suffering face of another which mirrors our own pain, the sense of our physical mortality, the acceptance of our own sin, the beauty of nature, the eagerness and innocence of children, the fragility of the aged, and, of course, not least, moments of intimacy, of friendship, of celebration, of every kind of shared joy, pain or vulnerability.

(Rolheiser, Forgotten Among the Lilies, pg. 122).

Reading through Rolheiser’s words, I find my mind sifting through numerous images of people and places in my life that may have helped me to tender my heart. Interestingly, I found myself reading this particular Rolheiser essay during a time I found myself incredibly busy in service and prayer in the Pyrenees region of southern France. I’d like to try and relate Rolheiser’s processing of the “tender moments” of our lives to my own sifting through the events that occurred to me and to others while on pilgrimage in France. Along with nearly 200 pilgrims from the Chicago Archdiocese, including Cardinal Francis George, head of the U.S. Catholic Congress of Bishops, I walked a journey towards faith, hope and charity in the famous place where a fourteen year old girl named Bernadette witnessed eighteen apparitions that came to be considered by the Catholic Church actual appearances of Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, under the name “Immaculate Conception.” Catholics, especially those who grew up during the reign of Catholicism in the United States in the 1950’s and 1960’s probably recognize the story of Bernadette and her visions in a small French town called Lourdes. For those unfamiliar with Our Lady of Lourdes, I’ll try and give a brief synopsis. Realize I am no expert in church history or official church teaching.

Shortly after Bernadette described the appearances, a church was built near the grotto where Bernadette had her visions to comply with the vision’s request that a chapel be built there. It is said that after Bernadette got down on her hands and knees to dig through and eat mud and grass, a spring burst forth from the place that had otherwise been dry. After word spread of Bernadette’s visions, people came from all around to visit the grotto and church to pay homage to Mary and to also pray for their own intentions. The grotto became a place where the sick come to be healed in the water the vision of Mary had told Bernadette to drink from. The Catholic Church confirms 66 official miracles in Lourdes. In addition to those 66 cures the Catholic Church officially recognizes, countless other persons claim to have been cured of their ailments while in Lourdes. They attest that it was through the power of prayer through Mary that they were freed from sickness. Many more Christians, and even some non-Christians, have found Lourdes to be an environment conducive for spiritual healing.

The pilgrimage became a time in my life in which I realized the overwhelming capacity of what becomes a “moment tender,” to borrow an idea from Rolheiser. In Lourdes, I wrestled with personal struggles and witnessed enough of the crushing struggles of others to begin to process the depth and character of moments that pull at our hearts. Struggle as we may with these moments at the time they come into our being, we hope that they exercise our interior enough to tone the outside we display to all who come in our midst–––to make our being more natural and loving. We hope that, in the words of Rolheiser, these moments make us ever the more aware of “our deep connectedness with each other.”


with love,

your friend bob.