Monday, January 12, 2009

In the Bleak Mid-Winter

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

I'm no meteorologist, but I heard on the news yesterday that the next few days will be some of the coldest days Chicago (and I presume much of the mid-west) has witnessed in years. Yikes! Stay warm my fellow friends here in the chilly mid-west. There is supposedly a blizzard on the way with strong, strong winds. Before I get blown away, I thought I'd post a reflection.

Maybe after the next few days, the weather will improve. My reflection today addresses 'Mary Queen of Heaven,' the church and faith community in West Allis Wisconsin I grew up in. My family attended weekly mass there and I participated in religious education classes there and occasionally volunteered at parish events. Since I have become a seminarian for the Milwaukee Archdiocese, Mary Queen of Heaven has taken on a different meaning for me---it is sort of my 'parent parish' as I journey on towards the possibilities of ordained ministry in the Catholic Church. They support me, guide me and give me a dimension of community. In a way, all of you who read Network of Love, who share comments or simply browse through previous posts, are another dimension of community I greatly appreciate. This writing helps me to try and live a happy, meaningful, fulfilled life trying my best to spread a little joy to others. I hope that the posts in one way or another help you too. Maybe it's a moment where you can pause during a busy day and appreciate the excitement and sometimes naive attempts of a 20 year old to find meaning in life---to find God in the events he takes part in, the people and places he witnesses.

In the reflection, I begin by talking about weather. Sorry, but it's hard to not get the cold off of my mind after spending three weeks in warm Brazil. I commend all of you who endured the Holiday Season at home in the mid-west.



Greetings MQH Family!
It’s your seminarian friend Bob Spoerl, saying peace and hello to all of you!

I hope your Christmas Season was filled with love and a redeeming quality in the nativity and baptism of Jesus of Nazareth, our Lord.
It’s January in the mid-west–––a time of the year that is cold, desolate, dark full of a whole lot of nothing but snow and freezing temperatures. Christmas has come and gone, and we have a few months of ordinariness in our church before we begin Lent. I know for me this is a time of the year that I don’t particularly look forward to–––depending on which side of the bed I wake up on, it can very well be a time of the year that I dread. Jack Frost seems to not only nip at my nose, but at my ambition and Spirit at times in the dead of winter. I think of a song my high school jazz choir sung–––“In the Bleak Mid-winter.” It sounded pretty from a musical standpoint, but the lyrics were hardly uplifting.

It is in this time of year that we sometimes struggle to find a purpose or a whole lot of hope in the day-to-day drudgery. Mid-January seems to more often than not be a time when we go through the motions, etching out an existence almost instinctively–––like a bear forced out of hibernation and told to run on a treadmill before eating his porridge.

So, I write to you at this time of year, telling you that, in case you are feeling seasonally down, you are not alone. Many others probably feel the exact same way.

Thankfully, you–––we–––are fortunate to have a community–––a church, a people of God, to collaborate with during this winter grind. We can come together in search of the Spiritual street lamp that lights the cobblestone, icy streets of our hearts. That lamp is the light of Christ for us–––his message, life, death, resurrection, and all the celebration and challenges in between.

I find myself incredibly blessed and fortunate to have the caring, familial support of Mary Queen of Heaven, a people that helped raise me since I was a child. In addition, I rely on fellow seminarians like Stephen and others at St. Joe’s College Seminary to help me look beyond the cold and darkness of this season. Moreover, I am surrounded by a beautiful community of fellow students at Loyola University–––so many of them who are committed to finding a way to make God an always active participant in their lives.

This weekend, I am on retreat with a small group of people from the latter community. To be more precise, I am in Rockford Illinois on retreat with Loyola Campus Ministry preparing to return to El Salvador this May. I will be leading a group of fellow students to that country to learn a little bit about the church, the culture, and the people of El Salvador. We will tour a sight where Jesuits were killed during a civil war in that country as well as a place where missionary sisters where killed. We will also have an opportunity to learn about Oscar Romero, a bishop from that country gunned down by soldiers during the middle of presiding at a mass in a small hospital chapel. Romero, a modern martyr and considered a saint, beloved by the people of El Salvador, was killed because he preached the gospel and refused to remain silent for the poor and suffering in his country.
I am looking forward to returning to once again wrestle internally with the economic and social injustices that plague the country while paradoxically loving the time I spent with the incredibly joyful and communal people of El Salvador. I look forward to encountering the heart of Christianity once again during my stay in Central America.

That same heart of Christianity beats at Mary Queen of Heaven. After traveling and witnessing church elsewhere, I come to find the beautiful, uncanny similarities between worldwide Catholic worship and how our “we” is the universal we of the entire Catholic Church. Communion is communion in all parts of our world. From that communion, people come to build a Christian community. I look forward to seeing you all again soon, to celebrate communion and fellowship with my Mary Queen of Heaven faith community.

Traveling to Brazil, France and El Salvador over the past year has been–––well, it has been absolutely amazing. I wouldn’t trade those experiences in for anything. But, returning to the place where my Christian faith was nurtured and where I developed a deeper understanding of Love–––a place where I continue to witness that Love in my fellow friends in the pews and in the guidance of our pastor and pastoral team of musicians, secretaries, youth and adult ministers and parish council members.

We are all a part of the same community of believers looking for that same light at the end of the tunnel. That light this winter can give us hope and bring our hearts and minds and Spirits out of the cold and into the warmth of Christ’s heart. I remember returning for Thanksgiving and sitting next to a young couple from our community who just recently welcomed a new member into their family. I am talking about Sharon and Dave. I was rather surprised when I noticed a baby carrying crib thing underneath the pew. I thought to myself, wow, I’m kind of out of the loop here at MQH! But then, my heart warmed, my Spirit was filled with joy, and I had a glimpse of Heaven in the thought of welcoming a new member into the community. It gave me that kind of warm feeling, that inner spark of the Spirit. Babies tend to do that!

As I journey on towards the end of my junior year in college as a seminarian for the Milwaukee Archdiocese and a son of Mary Queen of Heaven, I find myself settling in the tender moments of Love I witness both abroad and at my home parish. On this weekend where members of MQH parish consider giving a donation to Steven and I for our schooling and seminary activity, I thank you for giving me tender, Loving, Christ-filled moments. That type of donation is the kind that really counts–––the kind that money can’t buy.

Thank you, God bless, stay warm, and keep all of our brothers and sisters in our parish community and the Milwaukee community at large near and dear to your heart.

Peace and with love,

Your college seminarian friend bob : )

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