Mine!

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!

This past Sunday, the postulants took a 24-hour hiatus from the phone, computer, television, newspaper, and general conversation so as to devote an entire day to prayer and meditation. We were free to spend it however we pleased as long as there was an emphasis on renewal and contemplation (for some of this, this even meant intense exercise, as that can be a great time to think!)

Though I found the many things to be fruitful and the day to be rejuvenating in general, rereading parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters ended up being the most revelatory, “blindsiding” me with a truth I needed to hear: “my” time is not my own.

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at this own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-a-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own” (Letter 21, page 111-112)

The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. No more than twenty minutes prior to reading this passage, I was informed that our Spanish class would replace the scheduled afternoon meeting for the next day, that the original meeting would be changed to the evening (my time), and that another meeting would be scheduled another night (also my time). No sooner do I get home do I read this passage, which continues, “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift.”

BOOM! Wakeup call! In as many words, this passage not only captures the most frustrating aspect of postulant life, it forced me to see its true source: me. When I stepped back and asked myself why I got frustrated with these common occurences, I realized that it wasn’t because the unplanned tasks were difficult, painful, or even useless; the source of my frustration was an unfounded assumption that I had exclusive possession of certain time periods. Rather on focusing on the great gift that I have each and every day to work, pray, eat, sacrifice, and so on, I was stuck into believing that I was entitled to a time each day to do whatever I pleased, and that the aforementioned “gifts” were actually inhibitors to that time.

As a Christian, let alone a friar in training, this possessive idea of “mine” can be a dangerous one. Left unexamined, it can permeate beyond time into all aspects of our lives until we become disillusioned into thinking we are the Lord of our own lives:

And all the time the joke is that the word “Mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong–certainly not to them, whatever happens (Letter 21, page 114-115).

As I move forward in formation, I must always remind myself of the wisdom in this letter: everything that I have, whether it be time, material possessions, a functioning mind, or good health, are “mine” not because I created them or am their sole controllers, but because they have been gifted to me by God. Thus, a worldview firmly rooted in this wisdom, one that I must challenge myself to accept each day, no longer wishes to differentiate between “mine” and “not mine.” Rather, it wishes to use and share all that we have for the sake of loving God, self, neighbor, and the created order, acting with humility and gratitude for all that we have been given. The first step in forming myself in this way is accepting that God is my all, and that of me, he says, “Mine.”

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No Pain, No Gain

Sure, it sounds ridiculous, but isn't this what our actions say?

Back in October, I wrote in the post Ecological Justice that the care for the environment is just as important as economics and peace when it comes to upholding justice for all humanity. The effects of pollution, climate change, scarcity of natural resources, deficiency of naturally clean drinking water, and so on, hurt the poor much more significantly than does the rich (as well as being a primary source of conflict in economics and peace). Last week we attended a different workshop in Brentwood, NY, in which the speaker reiterated these same points.

The discouraging part about both of these lectures was that both speakers focused almost entirely on outside forces rather than looking at the effects caused by normal individuals. There’s no doubt that multinational corporations are to blame for a lot of the environmental degradation in the world, but who are the ones actually buying, using, and demanding more? The truth is, if we ever want to see to it that the documents of the Church actually get put into action, it’s going to require the individual consumer like you and me to put our money where our mouths are.

Unfortunately, I’m finding in religious communities and the secular world alike that we’re not yet willing to do that: either we don’t quite understand how drastic the changes need to be, or we’ve become too attached to the present comforts of overindulgence that we’re unwilling to enact them. On one side, sentiments like “little changes make a big difference” merely offer justification for unsustainable lifestyles, while on the other, sentiments like “what I do, good or bad, isn’t going to have much effect” place all responsibility on the world community while failing to recognize oneself as a member of that community. If we’re going to actually enact doctrines of ecological justice, it needs to start with the individual, and the actions need to be serious.

So what am doing, you ask? In conjunction with Lent, I’ve decided to add to my list of environmentally sustainable habits a two major inconveniences as a way to remind myself of the injustices of which I am partly responsible, and to call to mind two things that I take for granted in the “First World.”

The biggest of these is the reduction of meat in my diet. Believe it or not, our dependency on cows and other animals for every meal has resulted in the production of dangerous levels of methane in our air, as well as higher rates of polluted water and increased deforestation. My goal is to reduce the amount of meals containing meat each week to only one or two, so as to bring attention to the issue while still remaining healthy.

The second inconvenience is going to be a drastic reduction in the amount of water I consume in the shower. As environmentally conscience I am, I have to admit that I’m a huge culprit when it comes to extended hot showers. I definitely take for granted the amount of (clean) water I use and the amount of energy needed to make it warm, and consume more than I need for the sake of comfort while others do not have enough for the sake of necessity. In a similar way to the meat reduction, it’s not in my best interest to remove showers completely, but a reduction will help to bring to my attention something I have taken for granted for many years.

In a lot of ways, Lent and ecological action go hand in hand: both begin with an examination of self, particularly how one relates God and others; both encourage sacrifice and penance as a means for reconciliation; both prepare oneself in thought and deed to live rightly in a future soon to come. By means of these two inconveniences, I hope to find myself more rightly oriented to God, others, self, and the created order by the time of Easter, reminding myself all along the way, “No pain, no gain.”

Quick Update

As expected by all, the year has reached a very busy point! With travels, in-house workshops, mid-year evaluations, and all the regular day-to-day activities, I have had little time to post over the past few weeks; add to it the parish mission and Lent fast approaching and you see a busy future ahead of me.

That being said, I wanted to point out a few things past, present, and future in the life of a postulant:

  • We spent last weekend in Brentwood, NY, at the Sister’s of St. Joseph motherhouse for a workshop on the environment. I’ve uploaded pictures of the complex here.
  • Dennis and I are trucking along through the Bible in our sessions with the retired residents. Having completed the Pentateuch and the Historical Writings, we’ll be moving on to Wisdom Literature this Thursday.
  • Having hit a bit of a “wall” motivationally last week (writer’s block was an additional factor in my lack of posts), I have since picked up a little more reading that has inspired me greatly: I’m rereading The Screwtape Letters, and diving into the deep end of philosophy and theology by getting back to Catholicism by Richard McBrien, a book I read a lot of last year.
  • Dominic Monti, OFM, is coming back for the second half of “The History of Holy Name Province” workshop that he started a few weeks ago (of which I mentioned here.)

More to come later! Have a great week everyone!

“What Do You Do For Fun?”

Another question that we as postulants get asked quite often by the curious laity is, “What do you do when you’re not working or studying? Are you allowed to have fun?” Though more times than not I think it comes out of a culture that works from the weekend and doesn’t view work as a life calling, it’s a very valid question. How do we as friars-in-training relax and refuel ourselves mentally and physically?

As bad as it might sound, our most common form of “fun” and most effective way of (voluntarily) bringing the postulants together is around the television. I know, I know! There are more effective ways of forming community and certainly more productive things to do than anchoring oneself on the couch and mind-numbingly staring at a colorful box. At the same time that I accept these criticisms, it’s been something that all five of us have enjoyed doing and look forward to each day we can get together.

So what do we watch? For starters, Dennis and I have been pretty successful indoctrinating the others with our love for NBC’s 30 Rock, making it an almost daily ritual to watch re-runs after dinner (and the new episode on Thursdays at 8:00, of course!) For an hour most nights, the show allows us to laugh and relax together, while also offering a catalyst for conversation (I’ve seen every episode so there’s often talking while the show’s even on.) On weekends when we have a little more time in the evenings, we’ll get together in the basement around a movie. Though there’s generally no talking during these, everyone recognizes it as a shared experience done in community. Back in October, we got in the “Halloween spirit” with a horror movie marathon, watching a scary movie each night for 5-6 days leading up to Halloween (which included complimentary pranks and scare tactics for our jumpier friars!) On a few occasions, we’ve taken movie night out, going to a theater to see something up and coming.

As a bit more fulfilling form of entertainment, the other postulants and I have also began playing cards on a regular basis. After an initial night of trying a number of different games, we found one that everyone enjoyed: Poker. Using toothpicks, M&M’s, salt and pepper shakers, dominoes, and Rummicube tiles, we’re pieced together a different form of “currency” each time to simulate real money. So far it’s been more instructive than it has been competitive (as, to my surprise, people grew up doing things other than playing card games), but fun nonetheless.  

Along with both of these things, each of the postulants takes time to relax and have fun individually. Speaking only for myself, this means reading, working out at the YMCA, playing Words With Friends and other online/cell phone games, writing here on the blog, and keeping in touch with friends and family on the phone.

In terms of our definition of “fun,” how we once defined fun is becoming very different than the way we define it now. Going to bars and clubs have probably been removed from our list of future activities, but that’s completely fine. Isn’t that the case for most people? As we get older and make life-changing decisions, so too does our social life change. The important part is that, no matter how “mature” we get or how much responsibility we’re given, we must find time to relax and have fun, with our brothers. In a lot of ways, it’s less important what we’re doing than the fact that we’re having fun and doing it together.

New Photos

After a while of neglect, I have finally updated the Shutterfly website with an additional 20-30 pictures from our December and January trips. This includes our trip to the Cloisters, New Jersey Parishes, and Wisconsin, as well as a few new pictures added to the Graymoor, and Cincinnati albums.

In the future, I’m going to link the blogposts to the Shutterfly albums so that it’s easier to navigate, but for the time being you’ll have to click here and scroll down through the albums. This link can also be found on the “Photos” tab and the link on the righthand toolbar.