Thursday, January 29, 2009

Living Simply


Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It's Bob, writing to wish you a therapeutic Thursday (I'm not quite sure what I really mean by that...I just hope that the day is in some way stimulating for you. May you find joy in the day before Friday!).

Reflection:

I'm taking a political philosophy class this semester which I am finding to be rather enjoyable. The readings we are doing are thought provoking; we've read fragments from Milton Friedman's book (taking a look at a rather conservative approach to handling the economy/politics), we've tackled some reading from a thinker named John Rawls (his economic philosophy is considered liberal in our day---more government with more social programs, accepting economic inequality if and only if that inequality can benefit those with the least amount of money (it is a fairly confusing but logical argument once the teacher simplified it for us...I'm still a bit confused by Rawls I must admit), and finally, we've read Brian Barry, an English man (he talks about England a lot...I assume he is British), who focuses his concerns on social justice and creating an equal opportunity society. Though his tone his harsh, condemning and rather angry, his point resounds deep within me; justice equals fairness for all, it equals providing sound education for ALL and healthcare for ALL our sisters and brothers. How we go about offering this justice can surely be debated...but the core of why we ought to or should offer it seems simple enough---do unto others, love your neighbor, demand liberty and justice for all.

So, I've sketched out one of my philosophy classes (yawn, yawn...boring, you might be saying to yourself.) Or, you might be saying, "hey kid, I know these things...been there, done that." Ok, I accept your criticism. But, I think that some themes should be repeated over and over again. A teaching I find eloquent and pressing is the social teaching of the Catholic Church. During Vatican II (mid 1960s), the Catholic Church came out with a new, updated message for where the institution stands on helping the poor: in a word...ALL should be fed, ALL should be given justice, ALL should be given respect, ALL should be allowed their own spiritual identity. What I mean to say is that the human person, in her inherent humanism, should be endowed with all the nurturing and gifts and care that she deserves.

Is this an easy task? Absolutely not. Bringing about what we might call the "kingdom of God" HERE AND NOW is a most difficult endeavor. It will take our lifetime and longer.

I had lunch with a Jesuit friend of mine yesterday who is a self-proclaimed eccentric and not your typical person entering religious life (that is to say, he is a Jesuit, meaning he lives in community with other people who are either priests or brothers and who take vows of poverty, celibacy, obedience, and, technically speaking, a special promise of obedience to the Pope.) My friend is, as he said, probably not your typical "religious" (a term often used to label someone who decides to take such vows within a community or order). So, why do I bring my self-proclaimed eccentric friend into this discussion about my political philosophy class? Well, one thing he said during lunch really stuck with me. I asked him how his first year living in a Jesuit community was (this is called a novitiate year, when a person has not yet taken the vows the religious community or order asks him or her to take). My friend responded that, in some ways, community life was challenging. However, he found that, since his only real task was to simply pray and discern whether or not he felt called to join this active, service oriented community, he felt a kind of neat simpleness or tranquility. He was able to sort of get rid of a bunch of "stuff" that he had been clinging to. He said that before he entered the Jesuits, his life was full of "stuff..." stuff, stuff and more stuff. It made me think about my own life and how much "stuff" I either own or cling to. Material goods dominate our culture here in the United States where so many of us have so much disposable money. I look around my room, as I finish typing this blog, and realize how much "stuff" is in here.
At what point do I say, "enough. I have ENOUGH stuff?" How do I learn to leave "stuff" behind? There are places, goods, sometimes even people that become "stuff" in our lives. When a person is just a good for us, and not a living, breathing realization that Creation is a wonderful thing, then that person has become a "stuff." Maybe we have too much stuff to see that person for what he or she really is. "Stuff" often deprives us of intimacy, or really knowing who we are or who our neighbor is. "Stuff," when it comes to conquer our life, becomes a god that we worship. Where there is only "stuff," there is no room to hear the quiet whispering voice of God or a loved one---a family member or friend who is calling us to leave our stuff behind and cling to what is truly important.

There is a fourth author that I didn't mention before who I am just starting to read for my political philosophy course. His name is E.F. Schumacher, and the title of his book is "Small is Beautiful...Economics as if People Mattered." What Schumacher really calls for is a "metaphysical reconstruction" of our society; that is, an economics and political system that seeks to live in harmony with nature and seek the root of our existence, our relationship with one another. Schumacher converted to Catholicism in the 1970s and was largely influenced and swayed by the social teaching of the Catholic church. It is this teaching that probably most inspired him to take his philosophy in the direction he took it. For his part, he is considered one of the first "green" economists and is sort of a forerunner to much of the green movement of today. Drawing from Schumacher's work, we can look at ourselves and ask the question, "how simple do we live?" To borrow from my Jesuit friend, how much "stuff"---excess stuff---do we have? Do we need all this stuff? Does this stuff help us love others? Or, does stuff get in the way of holding out our hand to a neighbor in need? If we live simply, others can simply live.

Maybe we can live as disciples and apostles with just the clothes on our back (metaphorically speaking I suppose), and trust that the necessary things will be provided. Take only what you need and leave the rest. To reword a famous Gandhi quote, "Be the SIMPLICITY you PREACH." I encourage all of us to try and live simply so others may simply live. And remember, baby steps are perfectly fine...bringing about the kingdom here on this earth, bringing about social justice will take time and ALL of our collaborated efforts. But doing it together, we realize that we are never alone. Being together we have the opportunity to come to the core of our being. May we find God in all things and have the courage to go beyond stuff and into the silence of God-is-with-us.

peace and JUNTOS SOMOS FUERTES! (together, we are strong)

with love,

your friend bob.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Anam Caras Forever

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

This weekend I was able to spend a night back home at my parents house in New Berlin. It was a short but sweet trip---around 24 hours from start to finish including 8 hours of sleep (much needed sleep) Saturday night.

Sometimes I question what all the traveling I have been blessed enough to take part in over the last year has done to the relationships I most value. One of the relationships I sincerely treasure the most is the one between my parents and me. They are the two people in this world responsible for creating me and thereby, in a certain way, they have been two people who have so carefully guided my soul during my life. They have opened my Book of Life and continue to play an active part in bringing plot to the pages in between. And though I know that their books, as well as mine, will come to an end someday, as all stories do (except maybe for the James Bond film series), I am confident that faith will allow me to continue to read their books and thereby share in an Eternal story with both of them---a familial, spiritual, hope-filled blend filled with only the drama of the divine---the drama with a happy ending.

I sometimes think it is kind of strange to write about impending death, and I know many others feel the same way. But death...its the elephant in the room...it's inescapable. But, I think once we embrace that elephant, make it part of our Eternal covenant and plan, we understand the richness and fullness of our present state of being. We belong when we know who we are---and who we are is a group of organic beings working towards a journey filled with winding, unique roads (sometimes easy to climb, sometimes incredibly difficult to ponder). At the end of our journey, we come to the end of our life here on earth. But everything in between, the journey that we come to call "life, can be fully life-giving if we choose to make it that way.

I thank my mom and dad, Rick and Anne Spoerl, from the bottom of my heart, for being two deeply Spiritual people with deep, dear convictions about the power of living life to the fullest. This doesn't mean they don't have their grumpy days (I've seen them, I lived with them for the first 18 years of my life!). What this does mean, however, is that they see a light at the end of the tunnel and are able to shine that light into my young, impressionable, but growing (hopefully) soul. They are two of my nearest and dearest "anam cara" (a Celtic term that essentially means soul friend). My parents are, well, my parents...but they are also my friends. At the age of twenty, ready to take on the world but still not ready to give up a good home cooked meal or a hug from my mom or dad, I can say that my relationship with my parents is at a point nearly void of the terrific tension of the teenage years (I desperately wanted to separate myself from "home" during high school, but still always wanted to have a place to call "home." And despite the fact that I wasn't the sweet little redhead I might have been when I was maybe five or six, my parents still loved me with an all embracing, all forgiving, all healing kind of love that I need during my mid to late teenage years.
My parents have been with me along every step of the way during the last two years since I have been accepted into the college seminary program for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. Since I made the decision to actually enter seminary, I have most definitely needed courageous love from my parents. I have, more often than not, been a kind of metaphorical prodigal son, venting frustrations with them, realizing their ears and hearts and arms were and are always open to hearing, encasing and embracing my innermost turmoils.

I have had friends along the way that have also been anam cara. I have several friends now studying abroad for some time, friends that have been close, compassionate listeners and healers of my soul and mind---one friend a person I have considered one my closes friends since I was six years old! I pray for these friends and I am sad to not have the opportunity to literally be with them for several months. Nevertheless, I realize that, understanding the holistic idea of the anam cara, the soul friend, provides me the comfort to realize these friends, people who I respect, admire, and share my thoughts and joys and struggles with, are still with me in Spirit. It is this realization that brings me the deepest kind of peace that I can ever imagine. And it is this realization that makes me confident that the next time I see these friends, wherever we may be, will be a time of great consolation and sacredness. For when we enter into the possibility of being an anam cara with people, when we entertain the possibility of having soul friends, our souls can expand and we can let in more love than we ever thought imaginable.

The larger our circle of soul friends grow, the less we feel isolated. This takes effort on our part. It begs for an openness and, I feel, a kind of confidence in the workings and unity of the Spirit. If we believe that a Great and Holy Spirit has the possibility of bringing us together with another person or a group of people for a purpose, for making individuals a community for a reason above and beyond what we can possibly conceive, then I think we have the ability to bring our soul together with friends who also will open up their souls to us and thereby give us a glimpse of an Eternal Reality that we patiently await.

My parents have opened up their entire life to me---in raising me, in supporting me in all my activities and endeavors, in loving me unconditionally,even when I am probably impossible to love, they have shown me a glimpse of a light that I choose to run with. It is a kind of decision that takes a lifetime to materialize and an intimate connection with daily life to make possible. But it is in sort of metaphorically running a race, a complete and tiring but deeply promising and rewarding race, that we come to etch out our path every step on the way to light and the Promised Land.
Through their complete generosity and openness to the Spirit, my parents have provided me with a grace filled vision of the light of Jesus Christ, the complete being of our faith tradition. I have faith because they taught me what it meant to have faith. I have hope because they showed me that hope brings us life and happiness. I have motivation because they are motivational people. I have life because of my parents and I am loved and can love because they have shown me love. In this way, they have shown me God. Because of what they have shown me, I want to do my best to show God to others. I want to show other people love, and spread love to this world. I am very fortunate and privileged to have two parents, guardians, absolute givers, who have been their for me...it is the least I can do to now go spread what they have taught me to the people who run the race with me, who I find on my path as I continue on my journey. I want to spread the message of love that I have been given to all those in need. And I pray that by doing that, in time, my own needs will also be fulfilled. I have two role models that have shown me what it means to be "givers." And, we are left with hope in the message of Francis of Assisi "it is in giving that we receive."

May we all "give" more to others, so that we may receive true anam caras in return!

I pray for all my anam caras, all my soul friends, and in a very special way, for my parents. I pray for all those people on our earth in dire search and in constant need of an anam cara. May we all collaborate to bring them this wish...and if it is our calling to be that person, may we answer that call with an open heart.
And I pray in a special way for all those people in my life who I do not consider soul friends. May I have the generosity to enter into a deeper friendship with those who I find challenging to be around.

If any of you would like to learn more about the concept of Anam Cara, I suggest the book Anam Cara, A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O'Donohue. It has really moved me over the last few months as I periodically read portions of the book. It seems like reading it slowly is allowing me to take in the deep wisdom of O'Donohue. The book really is worth checking out if you happen to have any free time to read a book of your choice (as a student, I hardly have that time...and if you're a parent or professional reading this blog, you probably have little free time either).

peace and blessings to all.

with love,

your friend bob.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A Nurturing Society

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Today, I want to write briefly about one of the most polarizing political, social, cultural, however you want to classify it, topics of our era: abortion. Sometimes, it seems like either you're for or against it. If you say you are pro-choice, then those on the other side label you a baby killer. If you're pro-life, your an inconsiderate, backwards thinking evangelical Christian or something. I hate to sound blunt, but this type of polarization, this black and white ideology seems pervasive in our society---especially in our country.

As a seminarian for the Catholic Church, as much as politics excites me, I am beginning to understand that, although I have a deep seeded interest in the political game, I don't think it is necessarily my place to try and wow people with my own political opinions. In reality, I don't know nearly enough about the complexities of the political system to really throw two cents in that would actually be worth a full two cents. That is, whatever your political beliefs, if you heard me try and seriously defend what I think, I fear that you'd want a bit of a refund.

Also, in this blog, I know that at times I have spoken in a voice that a few might deem too political for someone affiliated with the Catholic Church. I respect the opinion of those who feel that way, but I also feel that there is a time and place to properly fuse religion and politics. Many prominent theologians consider the proclamation of the gospel by Jesus, bringing the Word to flesh, preaching a Kingdom here on Earth to be an intricate connection of religion and politics.

I do believe that, to try and make an environment where all feel truly welcome in the Catholic Church, those people considering some form of ministry within the church (myself included) need to present our opinions and the opinion of the church in a way that always seeks to pastorally care for those who feel cast out of society for whatever reason.

Today, I want to ask all of those members of the Catholic Church to continue to support life by nurturing all life on this earth and thereby bringing the kingdom of God to the here and the now. If we truly help build a society where all feel that an intricate part of a loving community, where the hungry are fed, the weak are made strong, the sinners are shown the beauty of sainthood, the violent ground becomes a fully Holy and sacred place, then life will become not a choice, but a process---and an everlasting process at that.

A most organic way to look at protecting life is to protect life at all stages and under all circumstances. While this includes encouraging young mothers-to-be to give birth to the child of God inside of them and creating communities where they feel nurtured and supported and confident that their child can grow and develop and live a peaceful, love-filled life, it also means working patiently and courageously to stop the institutions and individuals that fall into the trap of considering war the only way out. Moreover, it calls on us as individuals and communities to take care of loved ones suffering and near death, to bring about hope and love in times of trial.

Once we realize that the kingdom of God is intimately at hand, we may come to ponder our existence in a totally new, organic, life-supportive manner. We don't have all the answers, don't know all the truths, don't understand all the wrongs in our world. But what we can do is have faith and pray that this world becomes more sustainable and supporting of all people for all generations. What we can do is live life to the best of our ability, spreading joy and peace and harmony as individuals within collective and compassionate communities.

On a more concrete level today, January 22, 2009, as we look back in history to January 22, 1973 and the Roe vs. Wade decision that has since split our country rather decisively into two factions: pro-life vs. pro-choice, I call on all people to look deep within, find the Spirit moving within your hearts, and ask God to stir your heart and allow you to wrestle with all that this issue means to you and to our entire country. It is not an easy thing to do. I myself find it very, very difficult to talk about abortion in most circles. But, in the end, I think we need to listen to our heart, to have compassion, understanding, faith and hope in the future.

Here is a short, short prayer I wrote for both members of the church and those who do not necessarily affiliate themselves with church. Feel free to agree or oppose my words. Realize that I, like you, am simply seeking to understand more fully. May we all work together to bring about a nurturing, life-giving, life-loving society.

A Prayer to Nurture All Life:

I pray that, through the love and support and prayers of community, all expecting mothers will have the strength and courage to bring a child of God into this world.
Let us pray for all men, that they may have the courage and strength to be fathers to their children.
May we work together to provide a kingdom on earth that nourishes and sustains and values all life.
May our society distribute goods and services to young mothers and fathers that will enable them to raise healthy, loving, spiritual, peaceful children.

I hope that this post did not offend anyone in any way. This is simply my way of struggling with a very difficult issue in our life. I pray for continued wisdom and guidance from the Spirit, for continued Love from God and others, so that I may spread joy to all who come along my path.

peace and blessings to all my friends!

with love,

your friend bob.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

Tomorrow we celebrate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His vision, his dream: that all are equal, that all deserve equal opportunities, that all deserve to be judged only by the content of their character needs to be continuously illuminated by each and every one of us. His vision is a vision of hope, pure community, faith in the possibility of the realization of the kingdom here on earth.

I am honored to be a Christian and share in the same religion as Dr. King. His motivation seemed to come from the depth of his soul as his prophetic words came straight from the mysterious Spirit he so beautifully tapped into. Dr. King calls us to dream along with him, to share in a vision proclaimed by Jesus of Nazareth. Thy kingdom come! Dr. King's vision, the kingdom on earth, can be realized by each and every one of us if we work as a cooperative.

The above icon portrays Dr. King wearing his jail number, behind bars promoting justice and non-violent change. It is an icon that identifies king as a saint-like figure, a Christian who worked tirelessly to bring about a greater world and who became a martyr for the noble cause. Dr. King's cause, as a campus minister at Loyola suggested, went beyond the core of the Christian message into the core of the human heart and human person. King wanted ALL to be equal. What a beautiful vision indeed!


Here is a link to an article that speculates how Dr. King might see Barack Obama's election to the office of president of the United States. I thought I'd share it on the network.

http://newspapertree.com/opinion/3319-if-rev-martin-luther-king-jr-could-talk-about-obama-and-us


What is YOUR dream? What is MY dream? How are our dreams related? How can we make them part of the same vision---a vision of peace, justice and love?

peace to all my friends!

Have a blessed Martin Luther King Holiday.

with love,

your friend bob.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Tears for Amber

Greetings fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It is Friday, TGIF! My first week of classes has just about ended, and I am preparing to take a retreat with campus ministry here at Loyola University. The first few weeks back @ college seminary have been fulfilling in many ways. True, I've had some down moments, thinking back of my wonderful time in Brazil, thinking of friends that will be studying abroad for months and that I won't have an opportunity to see for some time. I may even end up sharing some of my struggles in coming blogs, so as to help me cope with anxiety or stress. At a deeper level, maybe sharing what is bothering me might help me to embrace the joys that I have in the now---the moments that touch our heart when we are simply sitting safely nestled in the arms of the Spirit. I hope that whatever I write can help you find some sort of hope or consolation if you are feeling spiritually dry. If my writing makes you feel spiritually dry, then I thoroughly apologize and invite you to send a truckload of SPAM e-mail my way, telling me to wake up and smell the roses, or something along those lines.

Stay warm Chicago, Milwaukee, and all my other friends in the mid-west!


Reflection:

There is a teenage girl at my home parish in Milwaukee who I have known about from a distance for years. Her name is Amber and one of the first things someone notices when they first see her is that she struggles to walk. She uses two large crutches to try and move her frail legs, and her parents often guide her steps and help her move.

I just learned Amber's name Wednesday. My mom was talking about a breakthrough surgery that she had went through that has the potential to strengthen and extend the bones in her legs, thereby making it easier for Amber to walk. One day, doctors hope she will be able to walk sufficiently on her own.

I remember four or five years ago sitting in church and observing Amber walk up to receive bread at communion. Truth be told, I remember one or two times tears coming to the tip of my eyes. I was embarassed to be on the verge of tears in public, but I couldn't help it. Seeing Amber, seeing her struggle to walk, such a young girl with so much life to live but so much physical ailment---it made me want to cry for her. It made me frustrated for her and her condition. In a way, I felt guilty for taking so many things in my own life for granted. In another sense, I was baffled. Why would a girl so young, so innocent, so glowing, be struck with such a fate? I can't help but bring these concerns to God. But where do I go for hope?

Years later, still only knowing Amber from a distance, I have an answer as to where I can go for hope. I can go to the person with the ailment, Amber herself.
The members of a prayer group at Mary Queen of Heaven, my parish in Milwaukee, decided to give Amber a prayer shawl to help comfort her during her operation. It just so happens that she was able to bring a blanket into the operation room during the time of the procedure. Amber chose to be with the shawl, to be a sign of comfort during the procedure.
The early reports from doctors after the procedure are full of good news from what I hear. Amber came to the church prayer group Wednesday morning to meet with the people who had given her the shawl and who had been guiding prayers for Amber to God. The story that the prayer group was meditating on that day was the story of Jesus healing a paralytic in the gospel of Mark. Jesus heals the paralytic first spiritually, telling him his sins are forgiven. Next, to show that the "Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth," Jesus heals the paralytic of his physical ailments. (Mark, chapter 2, verses 1 - 12).

Ironically, this is the same gospel passage I read this morning. I heard it proclaimed during mass after I had read it. I can't help but reflect on it and somehow link it to Amber's story.

Amber said something to the prayer group that touched the heart of my mom, and, I assume, the hearts of all the other members praying for and with Amber. One of the members of the group asked Amber how it felt to sort of be the person in the gospel story they had just read as a group. He asked her, as all the group was probably wondering, how she was able to get through the surgery. Amber apparently looked at the members of the group and said that she wasn't scared during the operation because she knew that Jesus was with her every step of the way.

Miracles aren't very popular in our society---let's face it. We have to have an explanation for everything. And while it is certainly wonderful to explore the reasons behind things and to explain as much as we can about this world and our lives, there are some things that simply can't be explained. I myself am truthfully a skeptic at times. I like to scoff at the idea that miracles are persistent, that angels are working behind moments in our lives to help us along the way, that people can be held of physical or emotional ailments miraculously, seemingly at the hand of God. But then I hear of people like Amber. True, if she is able to walk it is the result of the developments in modern medicine and science. But that breakthrough came from somewhere, somehow. And Amber's Spirit---her complete conviction that the person of Jesus Christ is mysteriously with her along her hopeful journey of physical healing and recovering---that is a modern miracle in and of itself. Her hope, her unflinching faith is a miracle. Her story and her life is inspiring. I consider knowing her, knowing about her, a gift from God---a gift I am grateful for having been given.

I pray for Amber, that she continues to have the strength and courage and tenacity to walk directly and intimately with God.

To conclude, I want to share a well known poem called "Footprints."

One night a girl had a dream. She dreamed seh was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from her life. For each scene, she noticed two sets of footprints in the sane; one belonged to her, and the other to the Lord.

Years later, when the last scene of her life flashed before her, she looked back at the footprints in the sand. She noticed that many times along the path of her life there was only one set of footprints. She also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in her life.

This bothered her and she questioned the Lord about it. "God, you said that once I decided to follow you, you'd walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don't understand why when I needed you most you would leave me."

The Lord replied, "My precious, precious child, I love you and would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you."

Amber seems to comprehend this poem. She has a faith that can move mountains. I pray that in my own life, I might grow to have a faith that can move more than just the keys on this keyboard. I hope my tears for Amber can transition from tears of sadness of frustration to tears of joy and hope. I pray that Amber's miracle of faith becomes a sign of hope and possibility for all of us.

peace and a joyous weekend to all!

with love,

your friend bob : )

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.

***

Reflection:

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 : )

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Heart of a chicken, the Heart of Christianity

Greetings Fellow Network of Love Lovers!

It´s early Sunday afternoon here in Birigui Brazil. I have spent the last few days sharing in wonderful, life-giving fellowship with Rafael and his family and friends. I have laughed to the point of tears (some things about culture and language translation can be extremely funny), I have shared (through the help of the always faithful translator Rafa) in some insightful, spirited, even controversial conversations about the Catholic Church, I have simply sat and pondered, in awe, the way of life and the unique spirituality and flow of the people I am surrounded by on a daily basis. I think of morning conversations with Rafael´s parents at the breakfast table, and our struggle in trying to make sense of what each other is trying to say.

But I dare say it is getting easier. My terrible, terrible Portuguese, infused with a rusty somewhat working knowledge of Spanish, and a tinge of remembering small fragments of French allows me to at least relay minimal concepts when talking with Rafael´s mai e pai (mom and dad). At breakfast, it is usually just the three of us (Rafael sleeps in late). It is at this time in the day when I have tried to stretch my boundaries and get a little Portuguese in. Likewise, Rafael´s parents are able to get in a word or two in English, getting aquainted with a language their son speaks on a day-to-day basis in Chicago.

***

REFLECTION:

Oh, I forgot to mention that I ate the heart of a chicken. On New Years Day night, we had a traditional Brazilian soup with chicken, rice, carrots, oregano, and other delicious, spices. There was also a chicken heart swimming in the broth.

Apparently, chicken heart is considered one of the most choice parts of meat and is rather expensive here. I guess I never really considered eating the heart of a chicken, but I was told by Rafael that it was very tasty, that it is a piece of meat loved by most Brazilian children and, as I said before, that it is a very expensive part of the chicken meat.

You have to try it! Rafael told me. Well, my body was telling me no but my (heart) was telling me yes. (I apologize to all my close vegetarian friends if this post offends you in anyway. Please don´t look at me any differently after reading it!)

So, why did I eat the heart? I suppose I could have said no and no one would have been offended. Maybe it was the glass of wine with dinner that loosened me up a little. But, I´d like to think that I ate the heart to share in a cultural experience that was unique to me. And, I think it brought some joy to the people at the table, to at first see my shock that they ate heart, and then my apathetic face when chewing the meat. I didn´t care for the taste, in all honesty. In fact, as the meat was still in my mouth, I washed it down with a swig of the Chilean wine we had at the table. Everyone laughed.

After I ate the heart, I joked at the table that I had a vision of the chicken´s heart beating in unison with my own heart. I pounded my chest with my fist, thump, thump, thump, and Rafael translated for me. Again, everyone laughed. So I was exaggerating a little bit, but I think it helped to bring some smiles and laughter to the table. The experience was different and new to me, but in the end, I can say that I tried ´cora├žon´with a smile on my face, thinking back to the moment at the table, the people, the food, and the conversation that made me enjoy our New Years dinner and helped to make my trip to Birigui, Brazil, my first time in Brazil, an experience I will cherish.

Before eating the chicken´s heart, Rafael and I had a 'heart to heart' conversation with Geraldo and Rosana, Rafael´s cousin and his wife, about the heart of Christianity. We all shared our visions of the church, our joys and struggles with living lives that try to imitate the apostles and disciples of past and present. It is not always easy to live the gospel. I find myself falling often, and I know others do as well. It is part of the human experience to realize that we are not perfect. But, in this realization, we come to realize our desire and need for community. It is in this sharing of hopes, dreams, and struggles, that we come to enter into a Spirit of Guidance and Charity and Love---the Spirit, ultimately of Christianity---the Heart of Christ.

It sounds kind of funny (and maybe a bit distasteful) to compare eating a chicken´s heart to sharing in the heart of Christianity. But, what I am trying to convey is the sense that, to truly try and live a life filled with Hope and Peace and Love, we have to sometimes make sacrifices and do things we don´t always feel like doing. For instance, I didn´t want to eat that heart. However, after I ate it, I realized that it brought the table laughter, and it brought me, in some strange way, closer to the culture I was sharing in. It broke boundaries of what is or isn´t a part of my culture. Culture is something we all share in, though we all, in one way or another, share in different cultures. And though culture gives us an identity, it shouldn´t restrict us from being with people with different ways of living, acting, and thinking.

I am not encouraging people to go seek out the nearest butcher shop and eat a chicken´s heart. If you want to, I warn you it is rather chewy---but it is not that bad really. Here´s what I am encouraging you to do, and you can take my advice or leave it (I am just a 20 year old person with many things to learn): if there is an experience, a place, a group of people or a person you feel compelled to meet or greet or enter into a relationship with because you think it will bring you joy or open up a door you have always wanted to open but never quite had the opportunity, I pray that you have the strength and courage and guidance to go about trying that ´new thing.´ If the new thing is something that is going to bring you joy and, in turn, bring others joy, if it is a good that can be spread somehow someway, if it something that can somehow build up the message of Love in your own unique, heart-felt way, than I say go for it. With the guidance of the Great, Holy Spirit, if it is meant to be, then it really can be so. To have this hope is to believe in things greater, larger, stronger than ourselves. It is to believe in community. It is to believe that we CAN be a universal people.

We can be baptized by the Spirit in the sense that we truly live, breathe, eat the heart of Universal, unwaivering Love.

The hardest part about this is not writing it, but DOING it. I fail everyday to truly act out this way of life, to daily nourish my heart. But in my failings, I find that I somehow need community to supplement my inner struggle.

The people here in Birigui, Rafael´s family and friends, have helped me work with my innermost turmoils and failings to realize that joy exists outside of ourselves in sharing and loving together.

I ate the heart of a chicken here in Birigui. But, more importantly, I have tasted, in my opinion, the heart of Christianity. In a mysterious way, the people I have been with have brought me a sense of belonging and unitedness, while allowing me to realize my own uniqueness and abilities. I fail, yes, but, when I hope, I realize that when I fail, I am provided with an opportunity to go about attempting to soften my heart so that I can present to others as a kind of gift to be shared with sisters and brothers.

peace to all! paz,

with love,

seu amigo bob : )