Friday, October 30, 2009

Part Two: Compassionate God

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Today is Friday...thank God its Friday (but there is a whole lot of rain here in the Windy City...a heap of rain has reigned downed on us). Enjoy your weekend all and I look forward to talking with you soon!

Here is the conclusion of Compassionate God, a posting I started in my previous blog (if you haven't checked out this blog in a while, I suggest you read the previous posting before starting this posting).

I’d like to consider God being revealed through my dead mother. This woman who gave birth to me is by all accounts physically dead. What does she physically have left to give? What compassion exists in her if her life ceases to exist? Something happens when I return home from the hospital. I am still angry, frustrated, guilty and above all feeling a complete sense of loss for having missed the opportunity to say goodbye to my mother. Before going to bed alone (my wife has moved out), I happen to notice a card on my desk. It is not as if the card was not there before, but it just so happens to catch my attention tonight. The outside of the card is a picture of a dove carrying an olive branch–––the inside is a message from my mother. It is a Christmas card she had given me last year. Even though I am middle-aged with children of my own, she writes the same conclusion in all my cards: “you will always be my child–––my baby forever. Love, Mom.” It always seemed like a sappy ending until now–––at this moment that somewhat cliché “I love you” message mysteriously triggers a reconciliation that becomes multiple reconciliations that begin to refocus my life. The written words of my mother seem to say from far away that she is still near and that she loves me–––for who I am and for who I fail to be. This woman, who gave birth to me–––who is dead¬¬¬¬–––seems to live.
Through rereading my mother’s card at a most crucial time, I recognize God. For what other way might I describe why I looked at that card the night my mother passed away? Though my mother’s heart stopped beating, her heart lives on in her memory and in her words. Can this phenomenological experience sustain me (does it provide me with ample faith)? It does seem to point to an even deeper truth–––it reveals a God who is fully compassionate. I conclude that the night my eye happened upon the card was a phenomenological experience: a revelation from a God who works subtly and is elusive while nevertheless pursuing me. God did not want me to feel angry or guilty or sad because I could not say goodbye to my mother. God seems to say, “I recognize your pain and I feel it along with you.” The moment I read the card triggers reconciliation with the life of my mother that begins a transformation in me. I realize selfishness and my ego was holding me back from the relationships I most cherished. The seeds of change are planted through a revelation that neither shocks nor awes but deeply mystifies.
In conclusion, I have painted a portrait of God that is not a theological proof for the existence of God or justification through scripture or tradition. The God I reveal in my story does not appear in wind or fire, but rather in the silence of a most lonely night. The God revealed suffers with me as I mourn the loss of my mother and wipes the tears from my eyes while crying along with me. I need not wipe the tears from God’s eyes because God is fully giving to me–––the tears God cries reveal the full compassion of God. The revelations of God’s fulfilling love come in ways that I don’t always see through my fragmented, sometimes suffering existence. However, when I reach outside of myself, I can collect the images and experiences that will serve as a foundation for beginning to sketch a picture of God. But alas, the sketch will remain incomplete.
Scattered though it may remain, the revelation of a fully compassionate God is one that calls for a transformation of heart and mind. William Reiser, S.J., in my opinion, puts the matter quite well. He discusses the crucifix (the sustaining tree of life of the Christian tradition) as a haunting, yet sacred image. A crucifix “draws attention to a haunting solidarity with the suffering humanity of [Jesus’] time and place that Jesus had demonstrated both in his living and in his dying.” In considering the death of Jesus–––what his death means if we put stake in the words and actions of his life–––we come to see an image of an unselfish person who gives of himself for the sake of others. Does he give fully? That is a question of faith that I simply can’t tackle in the context of this paper. But I would say that if we believe that God really could enter into life fully as a human person and then die fully as a human person, we could conclude that that God is fully self-giving. If we accept the idea that God might indeed have chosen to be revealed through the suffering of Jesus of Nazareth, then who is to say that God would not enter into our own sufferings in a most intimate and compassionate manner? This revelation would be a self-giving sacrifice from the Creator that would redeem our personal sufferings. If one believes in the resurrection of Jesus, one sees the plan of a person carried out in fullness. From life to death to resurrection of body, the Christian tradition believes in a person that becomes someone who conquers death.
Consider once again the narrative I used as an allegory throughout this paper: my mother who died is fully alive and recreated in a redemptive act that remains to be seen by me but exists within the confines of a mysterious God who does not hide behind a transcendent, Kantian kind of wall (nor high in the sky like my five year old brain conceived of it), but who actually exists in our midst as an elusive, yet fully compassionate God.


Thanks for reading my blog! Let me know if you have any questions or comments about what I posted; I'd be happy to share further.

peace and blessings!

with love,

your friend bob : )

Monday, October 26, 2009

Part One: Compassionate God

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I want to post a paper I wrote for my Philosophy of Religion class. It has to do with the idea of God as all-compassionate...feel free to comment on it.

Part One:

When I was five years old, I vaguely recall drawing a crayon picture in my kindergarten class of a God who sat high in the sky at a computer desk. This Zeus-like man sported a flowing white beard and programmed the life of people on earth through his masterly computer programming skills. Obviously, the drawing was an innocent sketch of something or someone–––God–––that remains as much a mystery to me now as that moment I drew my old friend on the computer. I guess the difference between the me that thinks about God now verse the me that thought about God in kindergarten, is that the me now has more ideas and life experiences to draw from when trying to construct an image of God. But I concede that I am still much like the little boy with crayon in hand.
Nevertheless, I now, ironically enough, will consider God through a paper typed on a computer. The God I plan to discuss is not one who sits high in the sky at a computer desk (that would make God some kind of control freak computer geek–––not to offend anyone with computer expertise!). Rather, the God I will discuss is one who is fully compassionate, unselfish, and completely lacking in moral defect. God is not playing any games with anyone or entering codes or cheats to challenge or control. Instead, this God has to find a way to creatively enter into the humanity God created and make a revelation that is potent enough to touch the human heart enough that the human experiencing this God understands and seeks to turn away from her or his own selfish fears and desires. The mysterious interaction between the divine and the human would have to convince the human both in the existence of the divine and in the incredible call to the human to enter into the mystery of the divine, thereby forever intertwining the created with the Creator. What type of evidence might a fully compassionate God give to humans in order interact with them? How might God become present to humanity?
Faith traditions from around the world seek answers to such questions, relying on prophets, tradition, scripture, and phenomenological experiences, among other categories, to form belief systems. However, if I may be so bold, I want to attempt to step outside the doctrine and beliefs of major monotheistic traditions and seek to answer the question of how the God I have described might interact with humans like us from an existential standpoint. Leaving aside my Christian identity, I turn to an allegory to consider a modern Godly revelation.
Say that today I would like to go shopping for a birthday card for my mother only to find out, after walking to the local drug store, that the store is closed for the day, I would feel as if my set task was not fulfilled. Maybe I could shrug that off (with an example like that it wouldn’t be hard to do) and reason that I can walk to the store and get the card another day. But what if I take this to an extreme situation: my mother is on her deathbed and that card symbolizes a last chance to say I love you to a woman that gave birth to me. I run to the store only to realize that it is closed for the day. Dejected, I drive to the hospital to visit with my mother. I get to the hospital only to hear the terrible news from the doctor that my mother has passed away. In this instance, I feel a lack of fulfillment that comes from not only not having a card to present to my mother, but also a feeling of regret at having not been able to at least personally say goodbye. Tears maybe even swell my eyes as I realize that my mother is no longer alive. My desire to say goodbye to my mother, to tell her I love her, has not been fulfilled.
Following the doctor’s announcement that my mother has passed away, I cry out “why!” I am feeling as if I have somehow been betrayed by someone–––though I don’t know who. No one answers. I feel forsaken, shook and angry. My lack of fullness is becoming apparent to the nurse and doctor who are with me. They understand my struggle because they have had similar experiences of loss, and yet anything they say won’t make my pain go away. The pain feels lodged inside of me, as real as the blood that flows through my veins and keeps me from death. In this moment, I am seeking an answer to the question of why my mother had to die before I had the opportunity to tell her I love her. Just to make the situation even more difficult, let’s say that before she died, I had told her something very difficult–––that my wife and I were going to get a divorce. This is something my mother cried about–––I felt terrible telling her on her deathbed. Nevertheless, I felt like I had to tell her, to get it off my chest so to speak. The card I wanted to give her was something more than just a birthday card then; it was an apology and a sign that I sought forgiveness from and reconciliation with her. I was part fearful that if I didn’t apologize it would sting me more and continue to hurt her even as she struggled with the pains she was experiencing while slowly losing her battle with cancer. Giving the card to my mother was more than a way to say sorry; it was also a hidden way to restore some of the pride I had lost after telling her about the breakup with my wife.
To interrupt, it is now evident that the “I” in the narrative is not fulfilled, not fully compassionate and not without moral defect. He struggles with fear, pride and guilt among potentially other things. Moreover, his lack of confidence in relationships and his struggle to find peace in them seems to suggest a further lack of fulfillment. Establishing this, I want to now interject (abruptly) with a revelation from God. It seems to me that God would have three general ways to be revealed: (1) through a place, (2) through a thing, or (3) through a person. Let’s consider God appearing first in the form of a place in our narrative. To speak metaphorically, we might consider the place that a compassionate God appears in the told narrative is the drug store where I intend to buy the card to give to my dying mother. The place seems to represent an attempt of my wanting to reconcile a broken feature of the relationship with my mother. But the place is closed.
Second, let’s consider God appearing through a thing–––the card in itself. God might speak through the compassion, the words of kindness and love to the person who gave birth to me. But the card is never bought and God therefore does not appear in this thing in the case of my narrative.
Lastly, let’s consider God appearing through a person in the narrative. Does God appear through me? Is God revealed in my attempt to reconcile my relationship with my mother? Partly, I would argue, but not fully. For instance, I show signs that I wish to be closer to a God who is fully compassionate and unselfish and to be trusted, insofar as I want my mother to understand my love for her. I express this desire through my desire to give a birthday card. Still, as I have said earlier, the giving of the card is not completely unselfish–––there is an underlying pride because I want to receive–––and implicitly expect–––some kind of forgiveness and acceptance in return for the work I put into buying and giving the card to my mother. A fully unselfish and completely self-giving person would not want anything in return for the gift. Further, I am not giving of myself in giving the card–––I am giving a symbol of how I feel or who I am, but I am not physically giving myself. Would God have to be revealed through a full act of physical giving?

I'll post the second half in my next blog posting. Take care and God's blessings.

peace and with love,

your friend bob : )

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It has been forever in my opinion since I last posted on this blog. Part of me really misses my weekly (at the peak of the blog almost daily!) postings here on the network. I regret that my time is crunched this semester to the point that I barely have time for the things I am most passionate about (i.e. writing posts here on the Network of Love). But today is a new day! I do have a morsel of free time, a space on my hard drive not yet filled, if you will.

Here is a poem I wrote about a week ago as the season slowly changed, seemingly in front of my eyes, as I watched the waves beast their way toward my window (Loyola University has a new building, the Information Commons, that has two story windows with a spectacular view of Lake Michigan. Right now, I am glancing through the windows and feeling an incredible peace.)


Throw my fish net out into the Horizon:

Today is a day that I wish I could spend the whole day staring nakedly into the infinite horizon of Lake Michigan
To cast my worries in a net in the sea---to watch the Captain capture them with his bare wet hands and sink them forever.

Today is a day I'd rather be away; but I guess where I am is really where I am called to presently be.
At times of learning, yearning, discerning---there is always an unspeakable presence breathing life within me.

Even when death strikes, when the hellish hounds haunt my night, when terror becomes stronger than sight.
There is an oracle, an interpreter, a guide dog trained to show me the way
To give order to my steps in the fragments and brokenness of my discard-able day.
And when my thought is "come what may"---

I wake and rise fulfilled, sitting silent, soothing waters, on the dock of Otis' bay.

peace and blessings to all my friends.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Prayers for a Friend Far From Home

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I have not posted in a long time. I apologize for anyone who happens upon the site looking for new content. It is just that...well busy has been the name of the game for me this semester. But I will do my best to update the Network, if at the very least it is an instrument for me to extend my prayer and spirituality with others who are willing to share in it with me.

I would ask any and all who stumble upon the site to prayer for Oswaldo da Silva and my friend Raphael. Oswaldo was Rapha's Grandpa and he was buried this morning. Raphael, being here in Chicago, his family in Brazil, could obviously not be at the funeral and burial. So I pray that Oswaldo, or "Cuca" as he was better known to the family, can smile down on Raphael today, as he mourns the loss of a person who was so deeply close to him his whole life.


peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Health Care in Central City

Greetings friends!

It has been a few weeks since I last posted. School, studying and hanging out with friends have kept me happily busy.

I thought I would post a link to a NY Times video a friend shared with me this morning. It discusses a health clinic in my home city, Milwaukee, that may be in jeopardy even if the health care system reforms pass. It is something worth viewing---and on a deeper level, it might be worth reflecting how health care reform can best serve families everywhere...especially families who desperately need clinics like the one featured in this video. Have a look:

peace and blessings friends...and let me know if you have any comments regarding the video clip.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Monday, August 17, 2009

God, Show me the Way!

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I am back at school in Chicago, beginning my senior year of college seminary and undergraduate studies at St. Joe's on the campus of Loyola University. Things are going well. I'm moved in and waiting for classes to start.

My trip to, wow, wow. Did I have a wonderful time! I am very thankful to the people who helped make it happen. I appreciate the hospitality of those who hosted me, and the generosity of people from my home parish in West Allis who donated money toward my efforts to be a pilgrim to Lourdes, France. The five weeks in England and France were a time I will not soon forget. I cherish the memories.


I've been thinking a bit about what an older gentleman whispered to me one night while a group of us were in Lourdes praying by the grotto. This is a place where people who come to Lourdes on pilgrimage gather to offer prayers to God and petitions, opening their hearts and minds to a God they believe hears their prayers.

I was simply sitting, sifting through my own petitions in my head, not really thinking much. Just trying to sort of be in the moment, in the presence of God in this spiritual place.

Anyways, this gentleman from our group, Peter, comes up to me and breaks the silence. He says quietly and in his clever sounding English accent, "Bob, God won't tell you what to do, God will SHOW you what to do." The statement clicked with me for some reason. It made sense and was something I feel that I absolutely needed to hear in that time standing in that place.

I think in my own life, walking the journey I am walking, I wait for God to be the Army General who will order my next move. Maybe this is a remnant of the early childhood concept of God I (and many other children) have---a Zeus-like figure sitting on a royal chair in the clouds with a thunderbolt waiting to shock His minions if they step out of line. Whatever the case, I often feel that God is watching what I am doing and judging me; that there is something I really ought to be doing that God is just waiting for me to do. And so what follows is sometimes me waiting for God to say something, metaphorically speaking.

But waiting for a sign from God can be like waiting for a sunny day in Liverpool England. It may come every now and again (no offense to my wonderful friends from the Liverpool area), but don't bank on it. Having said that, please do not discredit the awesome ways that God can and does work in our lives.

God, we believe, speaks through other people. God speaks through our closest friends and family. God speaks through people we are in relationships with. God speaks through co-workers. God speaks through our bosses. God also speaks through strangers.

We can't put a limit on God's power to speak to us through people. If we ever put a limit on God, we would really be creating a god, a false idol. To consider God as Creator, as a God that breathes with us, as Spirit, we turn to a concept of God that is not a dominating, towering figure high in the sky. Even though God is greater than the sky, God captivates and moves us in the silence of our hearts; in the simplest rustling of leaves on an Autumn afternoon.

What I am trying to say, in a roundabout way, is the same thing Peter whispered to me on that night at the grotto. God won't tell us what to do...God will show us what to do.

For our part, we have to play an active role. God is willing to show us. And we have to want God to show us. To simply play the part of a lover of God is not going to be sufficient. Rather, we have to truly want God to show us the way. If we show God love then we can't help but believe that that God who IS love will show us a love in return. This kind of Love will help us to move mountains and solve seemingly insurmountable dilemmas. I turn to my Christian faith, to Jesus of Nazareth, a person who I actually believe was God in human form, to root myself in the idea that Love knows no boundaries and is limitless.

But this whole loving God thing, it isn't easy. For any of us. And that is why we have people, places, scripture, churches, leaders, ministers---co-workers in the vineyard, so to speak---to help us ferment the wine that our God has shown us how to make.

God, show me the way, for I am often a lost sheep in search of you, my loving Pastor. I have faith that when you find me, you will breath a Love into my heart that knows no boundaries and that Love me, regardless of my flaws.

peace and blessings and wishing you all a wonderful week,

your friend bob : )

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Following Lourdes Pilgrimage

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I just got back from a one week pilgrimage to Lourdes, France, where I spent my time with a group of fellow university students caring for elderly and sick that had also went on the trip. We went with the Shrewsbury Diocese of England and it was an absolutely incredible experience!

In my journal yesterday, I wrote a few words to describe how I felt immediately upon returning from a very moving, spiritual week.

I'm sad because I am no longer physically in Lourdes, on a diocesan pilgrimage. But I am hopeful for a future filled with pilgrimage---a life that is one, long journey. I am hopeful in embarking on a particular human experience that we can call our lifelong journey into the heart of God.

Like Bishop Brian (Shrewsbury bishop) said during the homily on our final day of pilgrimage, the pilgrimage does not end when we return home. It is actually then and only then that we can and should ultimately produce the fruits we planted and laboured for in while in Lourdes.

There is an antiphon (beginning of a prayer) that reads like this:
"When will I come to the end of my pilgrimage and enter the presence of God?" (Ironically, this was the antiphon I read during the first morning prayer I said after returning from Lourdes).

A possible answer to the question posed in the prayer: The pilgrimage here on earth doesn't end until death. And even then, we believe that an Eternal Banquet awaits all people on our journey in this place.

peace and blessings to all!

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Alive and Well

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I only have 6 minutes and 20 seconds to type this blog. The time is running out on the internet hour I purchased at the local library! Yikes...hurry, hurry, hurry.

Trouble is I am using so many words to tell you that I have little to no time to make a posting. That's the irony of this post. I have spent just about all of the time telling you how I have hardly any time to post.

Since blogging last, things have been much, much better.

I visited the childhood homes of John Lennon and Paul McCartney yesterday!!! For a HUGE Beatles fan, this mean a whole lot to me.

The day before, I visited Manchester, a city about an hour from Liverpool by train. Gorgeous. Plenty of pictures to come hopefully! (I took like a hundred or more when I was there).

The day before that, I took an open-top bus tour of Liverpool. Also saw several Rembrandt pictures in the Walker Art Gallery in the city.

Before that, I went up to a tall radio tower called 96.7. One of the morning hosts actually invited me up there for a free tour! It was amazing. The chance of meeting him was so incredible...I met him in the gym that I have a temporary two week membership at. So I was able to get more musical fixes while in Liverpool, aside from my Beatle bonding moments.

I hope all is well with all of you.

peace, prayers and blessings~

with love,

your friend bob : )

JUST FINISHED --- 45 seconds left before the internet shuts off on me!!!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Financial Crisis

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

The last day or so has been damnright frustrating!
I struggled and struggled and struggled to find a cash machine that would allow me to withdrawal money. Thus, I have had little walking around money to speak of the last few days.

However, that is not the most frustrating part of this financial crisis. I was intending on withdrawing money to pay my host Sheila who has been wonderful enough to arrange for me to stay and live with her for several weeks, alongside two high school foreign exchange students from Spain and France, Sergio and Theo.

For the last few days, the money that should be in the hands of Sheila (most of it donated by people from my church at home who were kind enough to donate money to my pilgrimage to Lourdes, France) has been caught in the web of worldwide proportions. That is to say, the money is there in theory but not in practice. I have the funds in the account–––but I can’t access them. And after phoning my bank twice, they have concluded that there is nothing wrong with my account. Still, there is nothing they can do to help me. Chase is terribly sorry for this inconvenience they told me. Is it me or them that is the problem?

It has been frustrating and embarrassing. I feel like that person who keeps saying “oh right, I’ll pay you right away…real soon,” but who never seems to cough up the cash.

But…tomorrow is another day. Thank God for Western Unions! The money is being wired to me to a Western Union from my trustful father because that is the only way I can get money at the time (aside from using a credit card…but that gets expensive…Western Union is expensive too!). I can pick it up tomorrow mid-morning and be on my way, hopefully.

All’s well that ends well (I’ve been reading a Shakespeare biography lately…wonderful book by a historian and comedic fellow from Britain named Bill Bryson)…and I pray that this really does END well.

It’s funny…amidst this personal financial crisis I’ve really been having quite a wonderful time. Aside from today, Liverpool has been a very rewarding and refreshing experience. And I hope that after tomorrow, I can live it with fresh eyes and a feeling that I am stable financially.

While I was reading an evening prayer tonight, I chuckled to myself at the content of the particular passage (from James, chapter 1, verses 2 – 8). The author writes: “Count it pure joy when you are involved in every sort of trial. Realize that when your faith is tested this makes for endurance.” Haha…talk about faith being tested and going through a trial. I thought I was going mad not being able to withdrawal money. I thought maybe I had changed the pin on myself and done away with the password or something. But, I might as well just sit back and have a good old laugh about all of this. For what will the worrying do me? It will only make my trip less than it can be.

This trial has to give me endurance…it is just a little trial. As the saying goes, there is so much bigger fish to fry (and the fish and chips have been marvelous thus far here in England!).
There are people who don’t have anything to eat, who have been kicked out of their home. Take, for instance, the gentlemen who stopped me yesterday as I was sitting down to eat a packed lunch Sheila had made me. The man says to me he has been kicked out of his house by his girlfriend, hasn’t eaten for days, is going through some major financial struggles, etc. The lot has been cast on him and he is sinking in the Mersey River. He is looking for mercy. Whether his story was true or fabricated, I cared not. I gave him my lunch, he told me to keep the apple, and I walked a ways to the nearest pub to have myself a tuna and a pint. I pray that that man’s safe and sound somewhere tonight. It’s been raining like mad the whole day!

Sometimes, our own struggles become something so severe that they shut our eyes from some of the most spirit sucking struggles people go through on a daily basis. When we swallow our self-pill, keeping our self in check, looking out for what we need to when we need to, and then using our excess energy and God-given grace to be there for others, we are doing what Christ did; we our acting as a charitable member of the human race. When we run that extra mile, push ourselves a little further, we are living saintly, outside of ourselves, a disciple who cares more for his sister than himself.

Sheila, thus far, has been a kind of saint figure. I’ll be honest. The way she cares for the three of us living under her roof–––like a parent, a mother cares for her own children–––is incredible. It is breathtaking to see the energy she exerts on our behalf. She is showing me what it is like to be a saint. She is what I imagine early deaconesses in the church to be like–––people, women who provide others with Christian hospitality. Sheila is a living saint in my life right now, one that I am very thankful for.

The money issue, the financial crisis I am in? Well…I must remember the story of Jesus’ apostles worrying they won’t have what they need for the journey. What does Christ tell them? It will all be okay. Things will work out fine. One of Sheila’s favorite words is “okay.” She says it in this absolutely fabulous Liverpool accent. “Okay!”

Well God, make things okay today. Make things okay tomorrow. Make things okay for life. Maybe you need an okay from God today. If you do need such a thing, just ask. In faith, God will provide your okay!

Peace and blessings,

With love your friend bob : )

Domestic Church in Liverpool

An experience of domestic church I won’t forget:

My first night in Liverpool, staying with my lovely friend Sheila and two foreign exchange students she is hosting for the next few weeks, I experienced domestic church. It was that feeling of worshipping God where only two or three (well, in our case four) are gathered.

Before devouring steak, fries, onion rings and green peas (and roley poley jam filled caked for desert), we came together to say an evening prayer. Borrowing from the Christian prayer book, I invited Sergio, the student from Spain, to read the Psalms. I figured it could be a way for him to practice speaking and reading some English. Also, I had found out that both he and Theo, the young man from France staying with us, were Catholic Christians. Alongside Sheila, the Catholic woman who has helped organize my coming on a pilgrimage with the Diocese of Shrewsbury to Lourdes, France, we all prayed in her house the universal common prayers that people all over the world say in the church. The psalms we prayed were the same psalms that Jesus and his apostles and disciples would pray at night after having spent the day in ministry preaching and teaching. (Granted he wasn’t speaking in English---not even the Queen’s English). Nevertheless, the fact that all of us were coming together in a common prayer style, in communion, before eating a meal together, made me reflect on a most basic paradox of what it means to be a person: while we are all unique and have our own sense of culture and self, we are all one in the sense that we all need food to survive, we all cherish hospitality and crave community and friendship and love.

I think what made me most happy about the meal wasn’t the steak doused in Worchester Sauce, or the French (English) fries dipped liberally in Daddie’s brand ketchup. I think what I loved the most about the meal was how it symbolized an essential element of my faith. And I thank God for being able to share in that experience.

Peace and blessings~

With love,

Your friend bob : )

Saturday, July 11, 2009

My 100th Post---In England!

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I am so excited. Not only is it my 100th posting! Yay...but I am currently laying on a bed in a quaint bed and breakfast, the Stretton House, in Stratford-upon-Avon England, the birthplace of some writer named Bill Shakespeare. Apparently, this Shakespeare fellow is pretty popular in literature circles and, in general, worldwide. Huh! haha.

But in all seriousness, it really is quite lovely to be resting in a place where one of the most, if not the most, influential English authors to ever create fiction and poetry began his life. I sat at a pub called the Falcon tonight, the building where Shakespeare was actually BORN, and nursed a pint of lager while scribbling away in my notebook trying to write something ficticious. The place and the pint inspired me to get to page three...but by then it was raining pretty steadily.

So I walked home (to the bed and breakfast) in the drizzle. This kind of weather is typical in England. Misty, drizzly, barely windshield wiper rain. Enough to make you just wet enough to have to change your clothes when you get back to where you are staying.

And this has made me incredibly happy and satisfied tonight. I wouldn't exchange a rainy Saturday night in Stratford-Upon-Avon for anything else---which tells me I am as satisfied as I can be in the moment. And I thank God for this pleasant experience.

My trip thus far has been just that---pleasant. I can't think of a much more precise word than that to describe all the sights, sounds and Brits I have thus far observed and engaged in conversation with.

Tonight, eating dinner at King Fisher's---THE BEST FISH AND CHIPS in Stratford, according to my Rough Guide tour book (which has been a blessing thus far for a person who is indesisive when making decisions about places to eat and visit, and who struggles without a highly logical map (the book provided me with some structure for my Stratfording on Saturday evening)), I met four wonderful elderly people from Liverpool. Two couples, two sisters and their husbands to be exact, were devouring the same delicious fish and chip special that filled my belly tonight. Small world indeed...I had asked the waitress the best means of transportation to Liverpool when the four people sitting behind me chimed in, noting that they were actually from Liverpool! Well...that got us to talking. Talking about the Beatles, the ferry across the Mersey, Merseyside (it turns out one of the sisters works about one quarter of a kilometer from where I will be staying with my friend Sheila come Monday!).

I am so excited for continuing the next four weeks in England and France. The past few days have been, as I previously mentioned, so very pleasant. Staying with my friend Rachel and her father in Oxford, England, I was able to tour some of the oldest, most prestigious colleges in the entire world. I also went punting in the Thames river, grabbed a drink in a pub where C.S. Lewis and J.R. Tolkein used to relax, and toured some beautiful churches and chapels. I was also able to run in nice, 65 to 70 F and partly cloudy weather, and to connect with a good friend of mine from college. Overall, I would say that England has been charming and incredibly rewarding thus far.

I'm off to finish my nightcap of English tea with a little bit of milk in it. Cheers until my next posting!

Prayers, peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Just leaving Heathrow Airport

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I am so terribly tired...but I look good. That's because I am being a trendy tec. kid, sending this blog out on a bus from London's Heathrow Airport on my way to Oxford. (The Wi-Fi was free). Wow it has been a long, long day (and then night and now day again) of traveling. I have met some wonderful people thus far, especially a new friend I sat next to on the plan from Dublin to London who is from Botswana! She had been studying at university in Dublin and is now on her way to be reunited with family, boyfriend and friends! It was a blessing to be able to set next to her on her plane ride home after years of schooling!

I hope all is well with everyone back at home. I'll try and keep you posted periodically on whats going on. I should be in Oxford England in just over an hour or so. Prayers, peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Life Worth Living

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I just wanted to post a blurb of a moment; one of those "life is worth living" moments. What do I mean? Well, I rode my bike back from Summerfest tonight after seeing Elvis Costello perform (solid show!). After returning to St. Francis Seminary (where I have been staying this summer while in Milwaukee), I brought my bike into the house. Since I am leaving for Europe on Tuesday (I'm so, so excited!) and will be gone for over a month, I figured I would store my bike in my temporary room (I am staying in this room until they kick me out...I already have a room in my seminary in Chicago.)

Anyways...the "life is worth living" moment. I leave the dining room after grabbing a before bed snack and I realize I have two options with this bike in my hands: I can either walk it casually to the elevator...or I can ride it through the dining room to the stairs and finally to the elevator. Feeling a bit mischevious and carefree, I chose the latter. To be able to ride a bike inside, even if just for a few seconds, was incredibly liberating. Why? I don't know. Maybe it was that feeling of freedom that comes every once in awhile you can't quite comprehend. Maybe it was that feeling of a gentle breeze that a pedal bike ride can give a person. Maybe it was the feeling of being alone but being connected with the world all at once through a Spirit of Life and Love.

Whatever the freedom of the moment riding a bike inside a large seminary building meant, it provided me with an opportunity to thank God for life. It is worth is so so worth it. If nothing else, we have those little pure moments of joy we can't explain. And those moments, the unexpected, unexplainable dimension of them...the freeness of the freedom within those moments...that is what we can come to call cherishable. The moments with a person, people, or simply ourselves. It is in those moments that we begin to feel the dimension of a life worth living. And like I said before, I thank God---a God who is Love. I thank Life and the Love that gave life its meaning.

peace and blessings and I look forward to keeping all of you posted on my travels in England and France!

with love,

your friend bob : )

Monday, June 29, 2009

Rest in Peace Jim

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I have some sad news that I feel like sharing with my friends in the Network.

A friend of mine from high school died less than a week ago. Though I didn’t know him very well, I feel obligated to write a little bit about Jim and how his death is hitting me. It’s strange; I had received a message from him only a week before he had died, stating that he planned to show up at my 21st birthday party to say hello to many old friends. We never saw him that night.

Trying to process Jim’s death is very hard right now. I have so many things to look forward to this week---my brother, sister-in-law and nephew are in town and I get to spend time with them, I have plans to go to Summerfest and meet up with friends I have not seen in a while, and I am preparing to spend an entire month in England and France!

But Jim’s death is making me feel very uncomfortable and uneasy inside. I don’t quite know why this is---maybe it is because he had messaged me only a week before his passing---maybe it is because this is the first time that someone my age who I actually knew has died.
Jim was always so incredibly warm and outgoing to me. I remember how musical he was (he played percussion in the high school band), how gifted he was. I remember Jim being really witty, with a fun, kind of cynical sense of humour, but a warm heart at the core. I miss Jim even though I didn’t know him very well and I hadn’t seen him really since ending high school.

I think part of this sadness, to put it in a theological light (which helps me cope with the situation), is that with Jim’s passing away, we lose a member of the body of Christ, a piece of our humanity. I don’t recall Jim’s religious beliefs---and whatever they were, that is not important for this reflection. What is important is that Jim did bring light to many people’s lives, even though he himself may have had to struggle with some dark times (just as we all have to).
Jim’s passing away has put me in a funk since I heard about it---a kind of funk that comes with a shocking revelation. But here is another shocking revelation---I, we, may just have an opportunity to fully reconnect in the eternal banquet. I pray for Jim and for his family today as they cope with the painful loss of a son at such a young age.

I pray that all of Jim's beloved have the strength and the courage to continue their own life journey without Jim (though he may walk with them in spirit). I pray that they cope in productive ways---ways that pay tribute to the creativity and the beauty that rested inside of Jim before he began his rest in peace.

I pray God that you look after Jim in whatever capacity that may be---for the Kingdom is a mystery both here on earth as well as in heaven. Whatever or wherever or however Jim may be, may he be free to love and be loved. May Jim be fully healed and alive in the Spirit of God. I can still picture his full beard (he could grow one by the age of 17!), his John Lennon glasses, and his soothing smile.

"You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world may live as one" (John Lennon, "Imagine" lyrics).

I hope someday we all may be joined in an everlasting life.
Right now, may our friend Jim Russell rest in peace.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Dinner at Polish Restaurant with a Central American Theme

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It is Wednesday mid-morning and I am blogging on break from a summer camp that I am helping to run for my job. This afternoon, sixteen high school boys interested in ordained priesthood are going to come to our seminary to find out more about what it is like to be a seminarian. So I suppose I will have to be on my best behavior : ) Enjoy the heat if that is what you like. If the weather is too warm for you, play it safe indoors. My run this morning was filled with sweat, and this was before 8 am. The high is supposed to be in the mid 90's F in the Milwaukee area. Yikes!
Grab a beverage from a lemonade stand today if you can find one. Or, start your own lemonade stand (you can always be a kid at heart!).


I had dinner last night with a friend of mine. He is a Franciscan order priest who has been to many places throughout the world. Where we found ourselves last night was at a polish restaurant in the Milwaukee area. As we nibbled on Polish fare and drank a Polish beer, we chatted about some of our excursions. A melting pot of cultures became a part of our conversation amidst cuisine: I was wearing a Brazilian soccer jersey and talking about El Salvador, while Fr. Steve was speaking in Polish, ordering Polish food for him and I, and discussing his three weeks in Guatemala back in 1984. It was his discussion of Guatemala that I want to talk briefly about.
He was there to give a retreat to a group of religious sisters. He had done a talk in New Orleans for members of the same religious order and they had like him so much that they suggested he ought to speak to the sisters in Guatemala. Back in 1984, it was a bit easier for a United States citizen (or anyone for that matter) to travel to New Orleans than to Guatemala. Guatemala was in the process of fighting what would be a decades long civil war. The war ended up ending the lives of thousands of people, some innocent women and children. The story goes very similar to that of the Central American country that I am most familiar with and that I have blogged about, El Salvador. Both of these neighboring countries were like ships in tumultuous, raging waters in the 1980s---I learned this from a young outsider looking historically in on immersion trips. Fr. Steve, though an outsider as well, learned a bit about the struggle of Guatemala during the time when the struggle was at the height of a civil war.
He said he came back being very angry at our government. I had the same feeling when I left El Salvador for the first time. I thought to myself: why did we do what we did? Why didn't our government have the intelligence to look beyond black and white? Why was the cause who had Marxist tendencies so severely wrong and the people in charge, the government who acted as a military dictatorship...why were they the ones being given money and support? I understand that we were in the middle of the Cold War...but it doesn't seem to excuse the actions of our institution.
And yet, reconciliation has to come from these events. From the war between peoples of the same country and land, from the governments working on the outside and looking in, and from everyone---innocent and guilty---in between. A man in El Salvador at a revolutionary museum that commemorates the efforts of the Guerrilla group who fought against the government during that country's civil war had this to say about the war: there were mistakes made by BOTH sides, and NO ONE had the full truth.
It was a mentality like that that seemed to be a grounds where reconciliation and forgiveness might someday gloriously take place. And it was a faith, coming from the woman I stayed with in El Salvador, who had lost a father and brother in the civil war, that reconciled my own anger. She believes in the intercession of saint Oscar Romero, the Archbishop of El Salvador murdered while saying mass by soldiers of the El Salvador government. Romero has become a real Christ-like figure for the people of El Salvador and for others around the world.
It is in believing that the martyrs of our faith, the martyrs of the people of God, still live to tell the story of how their death can somehow continue to bring life to us, that we begin the long and difficult journey toward reconciliation and healing. Martyrs give us hope and love that there is something beyond this world, if we believe that their lives meant something beyond the struggle, the pain and the wars of this world.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reconciliation: Make our day more right, bright

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I hope your week is treating you well. Tonight, I am thoroughly looking forward to seeing many old friends: today is my 21st birthday and I am having a party to celebrate. The party will also serve as a fundraiser for my efforts to run the Chicago Marathon for Team in Training, an organization that raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The party starts at 9 pm at Live Bar in Milwaukee (just off of North and Farwell) for anyone of age who may be interested in coming.


Real short this morning (I don't have much time...I really should put a few hours of work in at my job for the Archdiocese Vocations Office before taking off this afternoon to celebrate and be with friends!).

This morning, as I read the Gospel reading for today, I was struck by one line. The reading is from the middle of the famous sermon on the mount, presented in Matthew's Gospel.
Jesus says:
"If you forgive others their transgressions,your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others,neither will your Father forgive your transgressions."

It reminds me of a conversation I had a few days ago at dinner with my parents. We talked about how our church needs to be a church of absolute reconciliation: reconciliation within, reconciliation without. The walls of the church need to be thin enough to allow whispers of forgiveness to seep through, penetrating the depth and soul of the institution the world knows as the Roman Catholic Church. Reconciliation can take place on an individual level and on a massive scale. When we say, "I forgive you" to a person who has deeply hurt us, we are saying, God, forgive them. Our words of forgiveness become words that can become tears of joy, as the pain drips down our cheeks, as we pluck the log out of our own eye so that we may see our sister or brother more clearly. That sister and brother, whatever they may have done to us, becomes the light of Christ. In a way, they become purified, just as we become purified, just as our Heavenly Parent is perfect and pure.

When we forgive someone, we forgive our self for our own hardness of heart. But this is not an easy thing to do. I know this. There are wounds in my own heart that I know need to be further cleansed, processed, ironed out. Here is a short little prayer asking God for the grace to be a reconciling person, to process and ultimately release those wounds:

Lord, I know there are flowers in the pavement and there are flowers in the park.
Lord, make these flowers that grow in our world today, instruments to weed out my own hardened heart.

May we all find the peace that reconciliation can bring. To my sisters and brothers today, I say "Peace be with you!" Today, let's all try to forgive a person that has wronged us. It might make our day feel more right---and may we shout, from the dark night of our soul, "bring on the bright light!"

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Sunday, June 14, 2009

With a Spirit of Adventure, I Suggest you see the movie UP.

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

On Sunday night, I decided to use a Marcus Cinema Gift Card that I received several years ago as a Christmas. Finally I used the card–––and it was well worth the wait.

I saw Pixar’s newest movie UP, and was incredibly impressed with the entire production. As is generally the case with Pixar movies, the animation is quite a sight. However, it was the story that I will most remember–––in particular the relationship between Carl and Ellie Frederickson. Without giving too much away, Carl and Ellie are two childhood friends who end up marrying each other early on in the film. Carl is more reserved and quiet while Ellie is an absolute go-getter and talkative person. They really seem to compliment each other.

Early on in the film, there is a four-minute montage where Carl and Ellie gracefully grow old together and experience some challenging moments with one another–––including a painful miscarriage. In the end, Ellie and Carl just have each other. And again, not to give too much away, but the audience finds out in the first fifteen minutes of the film that Ellie passes away before Carl, leaving Carl alone without his soul mate.

The movie is as much about Carl’s resurrection via comprehending and coping with the loss of a truly dear friend. An especially touching part of the movie is a scene where Carl relives the life Ellie and him had together through paging through Ellie’s “Adventure Book.” We find out just how much of an adventure living with Carl really was for Ellie. Ellie seems to come to the realization that it is in some of lives most seemingly idle or basic, simple moments that the Spirit of Adventure most radiates. Looking at her relationship with Carl as an “adventure” seems to make it fresh, life-giving and Spirit-sharing. It is only through incredible struggles and feelings of tremendous isolation that Carl realizes he can continue without Ellie. It is her memory that ultimately provides him the strength and courage to continue on a new adventure, a new journey.

Carl goes through the grieving process: he moves from life with Ellie, to her death, to a kind of in-this-life resurrection both of his own Spirit and the Spirit of Adventure that Ellie had helped him foster and develop.

The movie, among many other things, shows us that a seed planted within us by someone who we especially admire and care for can still grow even when that person leaves us. And that is something that can provide each and every one of us with much hope when facing some of life’s greatest obstacles.

I suggest you go and see the movie if you have the time and money. It is a small investment that is well worth it in my opinion.

Feel free to post any comments you might have after having seen the movie.

Peace and blessings~

With love,

Your friend bob : )

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Innocent Man Killed

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

Today I opened my google news page and read a rather disturbing article from the Washington Post. At the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Maryland, an 88 year old man walked in and opened fire. A security guard named Stephen Johns was killed after being hit by a bullet. Here is the beginning of the article:

Colleagues called Stephen T. Johns "Big John," for he was well over 6 feet tall. But mostly friends recalled the security guard's constant courtesy and friendliness.

"A soft-spoken, gentle giant," said Milton Talley, a former employee of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Johns was killed yesterday in the line of duty -- shot, authorities said, by an avowed white supremacist who entered the museum with a rifle.

"A wonderful individual . . . a truly jovial human being," museum director Sara J. Bloomfield said on this morning on NBC's "Today" show.

Details of the shooting remained sketchy last night, but apparently the 39-year-old guard, who was armed with a .38-caliber revolver, did not have time to react when James W. von Brunn walked into the museum, according to police sources.

"Immediately upon entering the front doors of the museum, he raised the rifle and started shooting," D.C. Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said of von Brunn, 88, adding that he "was engaged by security guards, and there was an exchange of gunfire."

When the smoke cleared, von Brunn was critically wounded. The only casualty among the guards was Johns, who lived in Prince George's County. At least one bullet from a small-caliber rifle hit Johns in his upper-left torso, according to Johns's employer, the Wackenhut security company.

I pray for the innocent security guard Stephen T. Johns and his entire family. May he rest in peace after the violent way his life was abruptly ended on this earth. And, as difficult as it is to say, I must try and pray for the man with a hateful heart---the cold blooded killer James von Brunn. Hopefully, von Brunn lives with a feeling of terrible guilt for what he decided to do. But, as a Christian person, wanting reconciliation for all people, I pray that von Brunn has a conversion. Maybe I can't grant von Brunn quick forgiveness for being a murderer---but maybe God can be open enough to allow von Brunn to see his wrongs and identify the evil persistent in his entire being.

Sometimes we use the term like "it kills me" when something terrible happens. I think in this situation, it might be appropriate to say that "it kills me" that a person like von Brunn would be evil enough to carry out a hate crime against an innocent person like Stephen Johns. I think it has the potential to actually make us realize how fragile and how weak both our individual and collective human spirit can be. von Brunn was one person who was a white supremacist. But there are unfortunately many other racists like him.

The Washington Post concludes with a telling quote from someone who worked at the museum with von Brunn:

"This speaks so powerfully to the mission of the museum...Which is that hate is still with us, and this is why the museum exists."

Hate does exist, in so many complex and serious forms. We all need forgiveness and reconciliation. May it come for all in God's time.

peace and blessings~

with love,

your friend bob.

Monday, June 8, 2009

El Salvador Reflection

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I've been busy typing away at my job writing newsletters for the Vocations Office of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. But while taking a break, I thought I would post a reflection/article I wrote regarding my trip to El Salvador in May. I have already posted several blogs referencing the trip, but this article is more concise and more full, I believe, than the previous postings.

Just to give you a background: Our trip was through Loyola Campus Ministry and there were 10 of us in total who went to El Salvador. We stayed with families for several days in Zaragosa, El Salvador, and spent most of the rest of our time visiting various sites of importance to the history of El Salvador---to the history of the bloody civil war of that country, the struggling economic situation of its history, and to the history of the Catholic Church in El Salvador. There are many Christian martyrs who have played a role in shaping the outcome of the history of El Salvador. It really is a country filled with a rich, dramatic, and, at times very difficult to stomach, history.

My reflection deals primarly with the host family who welcomed me into their home and community. I stayed with them for less than two days, but the experience has touched my heart to the point that I hope, pray really, will last a lifetme.

The Privilege of Immersion
By Bob Spoerl
I am a very privileged, fortunate undergraduate student. Several weeks ago I went to El Salvador for the second time in as many years. Again, I had the opportunity to eat a lot of pupusas (the most popular Salvadorian dish, a thick tortilla stuffed with things like refried beans and salty, tasty white cheese) and devour fried plantains just about every day. On a deeper level, I was able to spend time with some remarkable people and grow closer to God. On May 11, following the end of my Spring semester and junior year of college seminary at St. Joe’s on the campus of Loyola University Chicago, a group of eight students from Loyola University including myself and two faculty members flew out of O’Hare Airport on a flight through Houston to San Salvador, the capital city of El Salvador on our way to a ten day immersion with people from El Salvador. Our trip was part of the Alternative Break Immersion program, a division of Campus Ministry at Loyola. The immersion program (a program offered by many campuses throughout the states, including Marquette University in Milwaukee) presents students with an experience materially out of the ordinary in comparison to the general situation here in the United States.
For the first few days, we spent our time staying with host families from a city named Zaragosa. With a little over 30,000 residents, Zaragosa is a generally self-sustaining community about 45 minutes from San Salvador. Many of the people are essentially working middle class in comparison to fellow Salvadorians. For the seven person family that hosted me, this meant living in a home about the size of a 1950’s style suburban ranch home in the states. However, the construction of the home was much different than what you might find here in the mid-west of the United States. The walls of the house were made out of concrete, the roof partially exposed, and the floor was very dry, hard dirt. If a member of the house wants to shower, he dips a bucket into a tub full of water and then gently pours the water over his body. When cleaning himself, he needs to be careful to preserve the water; it is often a most delicate entity---at the time we stayed with our family, they had lacked running water for around a week from what I understood. Several backup tubs acted as storage units in case water got too low. Nevertheless, preservation of water was a must---when my friend Carl and I (Carl is a sophomore at Loyola University) helped our family by washing dishes, we realized how conscious we had to be of how much water we were using on each cup or plate or fork. For me, it became a game of how efficient my dish cleaning could be---I became a human dishwasher, keen on preserving water!
Even though we developed an awareness of the daily life of our host family on a kind of material level, the home stay was more than a realization of how the economic and material situation in Zaragosa and, by comparison much of El Salvador, affects the actual people living and breathing in the country. Beyond considering this aspect of what it means to be Salvadorian, our group was privileged enough to gain an insight into the spirit and characters of our friends in El Salvador. We actually had an opportunity to become “immersed,” as our program suggests, in a culture foreign to us but home to another. We shared stories with our host families (in broken, broken Spanish), ate meals together, slept under the same roof, and drank the same coffee (which, no argument, beats Starbucks ANYDAY). Our time became Salvadorian and our bodies became swamped in the heat of the place. And our lives, just for a short moment, became intertwined with people incredibly distant, geographically and even economically speaking, than us. Yet, an “us and them” binary became intimately and remarkably transformed into a “we” union in many ways. We were, by all appearances, the foreigners. We were clumsy in our ways, people obviously from a different place. Still, we all gathered together at the same table in Zaragosa. We all ate the same meal and we all laughed at the same jokes (even if some of them had to be translated). We all enjoyed the same music at our Zaragosa block party, and we all danced to the same beat (though some much more gracefully than others). I was a dancing fool, along with many other people in my group, and we did not care how we looked. Sure we were out of our comfort zone. But out of the zone, we were able to enter into a life full of joy and hope. Amidst all of the daily struggle our Salvadorian friends face, despite the fact that our family in Zaragosa had lost three members during a civil war in the 1980’s that left some 75,000 Salvadorians dead, despite the fact that my host grandmother had been thrown into prison by the government for several years, locked away because her husband fought for a revolutionary group seeking to overthrow the militaristic government, there was an incredible amount of faith and vitality in her spirit. She motivated me in the moments I wanted to escape back to “me;” she kept me on the path toward “we,” the place we were called to be in those tender moments with our host families.
Carl and I had an opportunity to share in scripture reading with this little old lady with a heart of gold. Our abuela (grandmother, the one who had lost her husband during the war), is a very devout Catholic. The entire family we stayed with finds a lot of strength in their Catholic faith; on their dinner table sits a Bible and on the wall directly above the table rests a kind of makeshift shrine to Our Lady of Guadalupe. One afternoon, after lunch, I asked them if I could take a look at their bible; our grandmother handed it to me. As I sat there, with a most precious part of my family’s life (and I am referring now to my family in El Salvador and my family in the United States really) I opened it and considered what to do. Saying a little unwritten prayer in my head, I flipped through the pages. After less than a minute, I knew where to go with this moment---rather, I feel the Spirit was leading me to a place in this time. The place was Psalm 23---a psalm that has helped me in several dark and dreary moments during my life.
I handed Carl the bible and asked him to read it (I wasn’t trying to be mischievous, but, like me, Carl does not have much training in the Spanish language). It didn’t matter though. He read the psalm straight from his heart, with what seemed like all his heart. The words flowed smooth and methodically and, as we all listened, I felt like we were part of a very special Sacramental moment. Shepherd us O God, WE need you! I grabbed my camera and took several snapshots of Carl reading. He is a person who can be incredibly deep and serious when he needs to be, but is generally laid back and joking. So, I thought it was an opportune time to take a snapshot of Carl at a moment when he seemed to be connecting especially deeply with the Spirit all around us.
This snapshot of a moment in time is but one example of many other instances of Sacred, tender times I experienced in El Salvador. The “we” moments of our trip is what I most cherish---the times when we gathered to share in union with one another. These unified moments where filled with a variety of emotions: I think of Sunday morning mass; listening to the deeply moving guitar strums and the voice of Julieta, our faithful tour guide and spiritual mentor throughout the week. I recall a prayer said at the chapel where Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated saying mass. The prayer we read was a prayer he, a Christian martyr, had written. Our group from Loyola, we were able to share in the remembrance of a saint of the Salvadorian people. I consider the moments when we visited other martyr sites, and the incredibly difficult, painful moment of traveling to a village, El Mozote, where hundreds of innocent women and children had been brutally slaughtered out of fear that they might one day rise up and fight the government. I consider moments of embrace---times when a hug or a hand held meant the world in that moment. And in these moments, these tender moments, I realized that the face of God is transparent, whispered into our ears like a soft, gentle breeze off the Pacific Ocean on the shores of a Salvadorian beach, written into our hearts and filling them with a Love that always has something to give no matter what we materially possess.
It is not often that we have an opportunity during our busy days as people living, studying and working in the United States to take time to realize and practice the presence of God. I am fortunate to have set times during my day to pray as a college seminarian for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, and to reflect on memories of love, of God. My prayer for everyone reading this article is that you have an opportunity to consider the awesome presence of God in the everyday moments of your life. God is not just present in a trip to a different place, meeting new people. God transcends globalization and circles right back to the very place that a person calls home. To draw from the old adage, “home is where the heart is,” we might update this saying to have it read something like this: “home is where God is.” Hush, hush, someone is knocking at your door. In the silent, tender moments, may a God-who-is be an Advocate to make the “them” in your life a we, so that WE may all come to the table of plenty, marching in the light of Christ and sharing as a Community of believers.
Remember: Juntos Somos Fuertes!!! (Together we are strong!)

~ Peace and blessings ~

with love,

your friend bob : )

Monday, June 1, 2009

Me to We---With a little help from my friends

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I had dinner tonight with a truly inspiring friend of mine, a retired priest from the Milwaukee Archdiocese who spent much of his ministerial time serving people in the central city. I showed up at his place 25 minutes late (I'm becoming maybe a bit too laid back regarding time management being on summer break and all). Because of my tardiness, the dinner plans at a local restaurant were scratched (he had things to do later besides wait for me to show up for dinner plans I suppose!). This turned out to be a good thing. Instead of spending money on food cooked for us, we made a makeshift meal of green pea soup, white rice, baby carrots, milk and watermelon chunks for desert. It was a feast that left me feeling full and satisfied, but, even more importantly, the conversation at table helped to strengthen, encourage, and enliven my Spirit. I thank my friend for that. Our dinner and conversation inspired me to get my hands back on the keyboard and type this reflection.

I just wanted to share something I wrote in my journal from my recent trip to El Salvador. I felt a strong attachment to the place and the people this second time around. It was a kind of spiritual high and fulfillment I am very grateful to have experienced. Thus, I feel compelled to share it with you, my friends:

My confession of what is in my heart, put on paper:
May 15, 2009 --- 2 pm

It's not that I don't want to's that I want to return to El Salvador. I want to continue to learn from El Salvador, my friends here; the community---the PEOPLE.
I want to breathe more breaths here, to spend more time here.
This isn't 'home;' but I feel called to better interpret and learn the way of home from my friends here in El Salvador.
If it is meant to be Lord, I pray that I can return. I will do what I can to make it happen. But it is ultimately in your hands.


So I know the above journal entry might sound a bit dramatic or romantic---like I side, it was written at a time when I was definitely feeling a kind of spiritual high. However, I still feel a stirring in my heart to return to the people I was able to see again. And I think part of it is that I feel as if my time in El Salvador is a time for me to try and weed out my material garden that begins to grow when I get so caught up in "me." When I am studying, it is all about me. What do I need to do? How can I get a better grade? How can I get help? Who can help me?
And in my short time in El Salvador, with a group of 10 people from Loyola University, spending time with a community of people from the city of Zaragosa who selflessly cooperate to make daily life a reality, I began to feel purged from some of the greed that stirs within me from time to time.

Upon returning, I realize that that greed does not go away. I am back to plotting for me. What am I going to do next? Where am I going to go next? How will I make it?

But when I am asking these questions, I am trying my best to incorporate the WE I learned from my friends in Zaragosa. When me becomes we, I am a step closer to I AM who AM. WE can discern the whisper of a God who is Love, working in our lives at the very core of our heart.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, May 28, 2009

At work...

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I have abandoned the blog for about a week because I just moved into a new place and started a new job. I am living and working at the beautiful seminary building and grounds in St. Francis, Wisconsin, the major seminary and place where some of the administration of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee is housed: I am enjoying my time here thus far and I am happy to be working for the Vocations office of the Archdiocese. Though I am busy, I still plan to continue compiling stories and reflections from El Salvador. I want to get that trip on paper before the memory fades too much!

I hope all is well with all of you~

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Friday, May 22, 2009

Prayer for beginning our Trip

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Here is a short prayer that summed up the pre-landing feelings stirring inside of me. As I mentioned in the last posting, the next few weeks I would like to share with all of you my experience in El Salvador from May 11 - May 20 on immersion with a group of fellow Loyola University students.

Prayer for beginning the trip:

We thank God our Creator for having brought us to this moment, together sharing in life.
We seek God the Spirit, ask the Spirit to provide a path as we journey ahead to a new place, making new friends.
We ask God the Redeemer to help settle any internal or external tensions that may arise in this time of reflection, awakening and renewal.
We trust that together we are strong and that where we are, so God---the LIVING God---is present.
And so we walk together in light---Juntos somos fuertes! (Together we are strong)...Amen.

peace and blessings,

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, May 21, 2009

El Salvador 2009: In the Sky

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

I have just returned from a ten day immersion with a group of fellow Loyola University Chicago students and staff. It was another incredible experience---touching, motivating, captivating. I can not wait to witness the fruits of this trip both within me internally as well as within the lives of my fellow pilgrims.

I would like to share the experience with all of you who might read this blog. Each day, I want to share some writing from my Travel Journal for the trip (thanks to my mom for giving me a specific journal for El Salvador 2009). And so today begins day one of recapping what I witnessed in El Salvador, and how I felt the Spirit moving me as I tried my best to immerse myself in a place new to me.

El Salvador 2009, DAY ONE - Monday, May 11, Morning:

I would like to fall in love this week. I'm not seeking a long-term relationship with the woman of my dreams (I mean, I am a seminarian after all!). But in all seriousness, I'm talking about a different style of loving. It won't be long distance, though it will include people from a distance far from where I know home to be. This kind of love will sustain and nourish me, will make me struggle; it will frustrate and anger me just like any other act of falling in love. I suspect there is a tension inherent in seeking this kind of love---as a matter of fact, I know there is, having tasted tiny moments of such a love in travels before. This love, being transcendental, multicultural, border-crossing, body moving, spirit shaking, mind-altering, heart-captivating. It is the kind of love that Jesuit priest Dean Brackley (a professor at the University of Central America in San Salvador) hints at, a kind of falling in love with the poor.
"The poor usher us into the heart of reality. They bring us up against the world and ourselves all at once." (Brackley).

Will I meet the poorest of the poor in El Salvador? Probably not. I really have to? Or, do I just need to meet the people where they are, even though that spot is impossible for me to materially comprehend. I still remember the family I stayed with in Zaragosa, El Salvador last year. I don't remember their names---but I recall their faces. And I recall their lack of material things---a dinner table, a refrigerator, running water,, things I assume would make their life much less complicated. I remember the grandma of the family taking my friend Laura and I to her church, Laura and I hungry, thirsty and cranky from the long trip. We were both irritated because we were incredibly uncomfortable. I think we were being forced "up against ourselves" as Dean Brackley suggests happens to privileged North Americans who take immersion trips to developing countries. And yet, despite our discomfort, we made it through that night and through the trip. Fatigued, but touched.

It doesn't seem probable that I will encounter something magnificent in only a few hours when we depart the San Salvador airport to meet with Julieta and begin our life in El Salvador. As I sip my complimentary Continental Airlines coffee, and tower sky high, gazing below at a seaof puffy white clouds, I can't help but recall Julieta's mind-blowing description of a God who is HERE AND NOW---a God who liberates.

Maybe it doesn't seem probable to recapture some of the mystery of last year's trip to El Salvador---or maybe I need to trust in the"mystery of God," the encounter that brought me somehow here to this moment and in this place.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Urban Church Gardening

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I find myself in St. Louis visiting a wonderful parish called St. Elizabeth the Mother of John the Baptist The pastor, Fr. Jeff, has welcomed me into the community, keeping me busy helping out at the school and getting aquintated with some of the various ministries of the church. This morning I helped the eighth grade class do some gardening with "Mr. Steve," (though he prefers to be called Stephen). Stephen is an urban farmer who co-operates Natural Roots an urban farm a few miles from St. Elizabeth. Fr. Jeff asked Stephen to come and help plant a garden at the church; St. Elizabeth now has a garden to call their own, a little urban garden!

More to be said about the experience in St. Louis...I'm enjoying my stay very much but I am also looking forward to running a marathon in Lake Geneva on Saturday morning! And then...I return to El Salvador, a country I visited and wrote about on this blog last May. I can't wait to continue to journey onward, to continue to seek God in the people and places I visit.

I hope you all are enjoying your May and that PEACE prevails.

peace and blessings,

with love,

your friend bob : )

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Namesake

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

TGIF...except that I have three exams in the next four days! Yikes. My friend Stephen is in the same situation, as are many other students during this time. But we see the light at the end of the tunnel, as our summer break is only a few days away. Thank God.


I just (literally 5 minutes ago) finished a novel called The Namesake. Written by author Jhumpa Lahiri, made into a motion picture recently, the novel received some pretty favorable review upon its publication several years back. The story is told in a very subtle, readable fashion. I read a majority of it in one day, finishing about two hundred pages yesterday. (Okay, so I have an exam on the book today...but I really did enjoy reading the novel!).

It deals with the Ganguli family who move from Calcutta to the Boston area to start a new life in America. The story centers around Gongol, the son of Ashoke and Ashami, the couple who had moved from India to the states. Gongol, a first generation U.S. citizen, lives a fairly typical childhood for a kid from the Northeast---except for the culture and traditions his parents maintain from their native home. I don't want to write a reflection on the entire novel, but I would rather reflect on one line in the final chapter that struck me. I warn you, if you have any incling to read the book, you might not want to read this reflection.

That being said, here is the quote: "Her husband dwells discreetly, silently, patiently within its pages." To put the quote into context, Gogol has recovered a book The Overcoat that his now deceased father gave him while Gogol was a teenager. The book, written by Nikolai Gogol, has a special place in the heart of the Ganguli family, especially in Gogol's father. It was this book that had, in a sense, saved Gogol's fathers live. He had been in a massive trainwreck in his early twenties, and had been saved because someone had noticed him drop a piece of paper from his hand, a single sheet from The Overcoat that was still in his hand from reading before the plane had crashed. He gives the name Gogol to his son because he consider's Gogol's novel to have saved his life.

So, back to the quote: "her husband dwells discreetly, silently, patiently within its pages." Gogol, who had shrugged off the moment his father gave him The Overcoat as a teenager, cherishes the book and that moment some twenty years later, after his father has passed away and as he has time to reflect on just what Gogol actually meant to his father. When he gave the name, it was out of thankfulness that he survived, that he was given the gift of continued life. Gogol, the son, resented the name for such a long time, actually legally changing his name to Nikhil, which he think sounded much more professional and reasonable. However, Gogol, with a copy of The Overcoat in his hands, seems to understand something more about the book than he had ever understood before. The book contains a memory of his father and the life that had helped to give him life. His love lives and dwells "discreetly, silently, and patiently," within the pages of a book.

And think of texts that have an impact on how we live. Think of Shakespeare's famous plays, or of Aristotle's philosophical writings, or Confucious' sayings, or of Ancient Israeli texts that compose part of the Bible. I reflect on how important the Bible is in my own life, how the Gospel writings in the New Testament help to give my life meaning and I believe that God dwells patiently, discreetly, and silently within the pages of the text.

Well loved writings, like well loved music, has the ability to open up our Spirit and provide us with purpose. It is that goosebumpy feeling, becoming SHOOK, understanding that there is a way to remember and record memories. It is in the remembering of history that we transform and shape our present, and work to build a better future.

I hope you have a chance to open up a text that you hold close to your heart, or listen to a song that really strikes a chord within you, or simply be silent and allow a patient Spirit to gently soothe your soul. In our busy lives, finding these moments can keep us motivated and moving forward toward a more beautiful reality.

peace and blessings!

with love,

your friend bob : )

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Saul to Paul

Greetings Fellow Network of Love Lovers,

As I gaze through my window toward Lake Michigan, I see a dreary day, but one I must fill with hope and anticipation...for exams are five days away from being done! I am looking forward to the end of the school year and I am grateful for the experiences of junior year in college and at seminary. The year has been full of many new things and people and places and I thank God for it all!


A short one...simply on Saul to Paul.

Today's first reading, coming from Acts of the Apostles, mentions the persecution of those first and second generation followers of Jesus Christ: "Saul, meanwhile, was trying to destroy the Church; entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment." (Acts Chapter 8). This Saul, this character who is imprisoning members of the early Christian is hard to imagine that he becomes SAINT PAUL, one of the most influential, motivational voices of the Christian faith. His conversion story is one of epic proportions–––and his life after conversion is one that continues to bring people to want to preach, teach, and reach Christ. Paul "finds a new life in Christ." He considers loving one another to be a sign that a person has come to believe and is living an eternal reality connected with Christ. It is a saved living, one that confidently but humbly tries to re-trace the steps of Jesus, re-live a life worth reliving. In this attempt, those who seek to follow will not realize perfection per se...but in the seeking, God is present, alive, real. There is great joy in the city of God, as there was great joy in the city of Samaria in today's reading.

Sometimes I am Saul. I persecute others who I should be loving.
Sometimes I am Paul. I love those, living through the Spirit, that I might not love in another mind frame.
Sometimes I am living in between Saul and Paul. I want to act out of love but I am fearful of what that act might bring me---what realization or bolt of lighting will enter my life.

Is God calling me to take that step from Saul to Paul? Am I being called to preach a gospel message, a life worth living, laying my life down for others?

It might not be bad to reflect on these kinds of questions, especially when we are feeling as if we have mistreated someone with our words or actions. Our wake up call, on the road to Damascus, might be hardly a lightning bolt, but rather the silent stirrings of a God who is love who seeks us wherever we may be in life.

"I will not reject anyone who comes to me." (John, chapter 6 verse 37)

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Thursday, April 23, 2009

God in the Gray Area

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Today we expect remarkable weather here in Chicago. Sunny, bright skies...surprise, surprise. I look forward to a "Waterloo Sunset," for any of you Kinks fans out there (band from the 1960s---before my time but music I really really enjoy).


"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever disobeys the Son will not have life" (John, chapter 3, verse 36).

I start with this quote because it struck me this morning. It makes me uncomfortable when our faith becomes one of "insider" vs. "outsider." Those who believe get this. Those who don't get this.

God in the form of human person, Jesus, in a sense, deconstructs the binary oppositions of how we interpret commonly considered opposing terms like divine/person, real/unreal, mystery/reality, seen/unseen, life/death, etc. A never ending, eternal abyss of gray area, having been seated on earth, yet seated "at the right hand of God Creator," Jesus IS a person that helps our Spirit come to believe. And it can, and really must, be a constant search in trying to grasp the mystery of faith. Faith empowers us to "do something I could never do without faith," as Jesuit priest Mark Link writes. But it is something that we don't quite understand. We are in the process, as believers, of trying to understand. But we humbly accept that we can never attain a full realization.

As a Christian, one is baptized into the Christian faith. But this initial baptism points to a lifetime of constant renewal growth, development; we grow to try and better understand and live in harmony with, struggle with, wrestle with, but ultimately, in time, to be comfortable in and with our world and our self. All people of God, liberated by God as human person, can assist in the building of a kingdom of God dwelling on this earth. All of us who consider ourselves disciples of Jesus are called to commit to actively and continually search for ways to bring about the love and joy and peace that faith has granted us. It is in a spreading of the transforming ways of faith–in dialogue and friendship and love with all neighbors, that we might humbly bring about a world that sees eternal life as something real, something mysterious yet obtainable.

To paraphrase John 3:16, one of the most famous passages in the new testament: "For God so LOVED THE WORLD... that God gave us Jesus, a person living, breathing that we can learn from and we can believe in." It is in this image of God as Lover of the World that indefinite reconciliation seems a possibility. Even the greatest skeptic, the harshest critic of religion, of humanity, of the world, of life, is ultimately LOVED by God and, in turn, should be loved by us.

I fully understand that it is no easy task to love all people in our lives. But, I propose that faith empowers us to do something that we might never do without faith. For me, that faith comes through the life of Jesus, in God who became human person, who suffered, died and then rose to give us hope and greater faith in the possibilities inherent in this world. But it is only with searching, discerning hearts–––with compassion, open minds and open eyes, that we can hope to share in this faith. All of us our searching, no matter what we profess. I pray for all seeking, all journeying toward belief. May they be empowered! May faith become something that has no insiders and outsiders, knows no beginning or end. There is a beautiful gray area that transcends the limits of language. And in cultivating and resting in this area, we might just find God in those unspoken moments of our lives.

peace and blessings.

with love,

your friend bob : )

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Spirit Shakes Us

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers,

It's a dreary, mopey Monday weather-wise. But I hope the Spirit fills you with good things today, with sunshine and hopes of pleasant journeys.


"As they prayed, the place where they were gathered SHOOK, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness" (Acts of the Apostles-ch. 4, verse 31).

I read this line this morning while reading the daily readings before our seminary community celebrated mass. It struck hit SHOOK me. It made me reflect on times in my life when I have been shook while gathered with people in prayer.
Recently, a member of my student prayer group here on Loyola's campus, shared an absolutely moving account of how she, only two years ago, had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. The diagnosis made her uncertain of her future on this earth–––but it made her all the more certain of her faith in God. She told our group that the tumor went away and that she has been tumor free for two years. Thank God! She said that that moment of her life, amidst a struggle that many of us cannot imagine enduring at the age of sixteen, she realized that she had a calling to fulfill. Her faith has led her to believe that she walks with Christ, every day of her life. Indeed, her story inspired both myself and the other member of the prayer group that night. I was shocked, taken aback, SHOOK by her story. It made that moment of prayer a window into the depths of not only my friend's soul, but the heart of faith–––our shared, communal faith.

A second moment that always SHOOK me when I was a kid (quite literally) was the organ at my home parish on special celebrations. Our organist Joe (he is still playing at our parish–––has been for something like 30 years–––is never shy when it comes to cranking out the sound on the organ. And I love that. Music has always been one of my passions–––so, as a little kid, I thought it was so radical and "cool" that music could be played loud and proud in church. Alleluia! Amen! Praise, praise, praise. The music SHOOK me.

And there are times in our life, moments of great sadness, that shake us. A close friend of mine just lost his father. While he seems to becoping with the loss much better than I feel that I could, I can only imagine the inner struggles he faces as he mourns the loss of someone who helped give him life. Hearing that, on Easter Sunday morning, his father had passed away in Kenya and that my friend would not be able to return for the funeral, all of that really SHOOK me. But hearing my friend's words about his father...that the man has discovered the "absolute healing" shook me with its beautiful boldness and total faith in God. Amen.

We gather together to pray, whether in church or at a table or at a special ceremony or event, because we crave that community that brings us closer to each other. In the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of a young community, with struggles, with joys, with hopes, with dreams and IN prayer. Living together in prayer, the place where they are becomes sacred. It is transformed by the Spirit of God. And each member of that community is "filled with the Holy Spirit" and is able to "speak the word of God with boldness."

peace and blessings~

with love,

your friend bob : )