Category Archives: faith

Faith and Prayer: Part 4

St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls
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After I had completely finished with school, I moved back to my hometown and got my career underway.  Soon afterward, I got a letter from my high school choir director, who was also the choir director at the local Cathedral.  The Bishop was commissioning a new all-male choir, and the members would be assembled by invitation.  I was proud that apparently my skills were enough to warrant my consideration.  unfortunately, I was working a God-awful 1pm to 10pm shift, and would never be able to make it to practice on time.  So the charter members of the Sioux Falls St. Joseph Cathedral Schola did not include me.

It was shortly after this time that I would meet the woman who would eventually become my Lovely Wife.  I guess we’ll call here Lovely Girlfriend for now.  Much to the consternation of my mother, Lovely Girlfriend was not Catholic, but rather Lutheran.  As we dated we both attended each other’s services at one time or another.  We dated for a while until she broke up with me.  I was a little confused, but I think it had a little to do with my living arrangements (yes, I had moved back in with my parents for awhile).  In the mean time, I met and began hanging out with another girl, who in our household is now sometimes facetiously referred to as She Who Shall Not Be Named (Lovely Wife doesn’t like to think about this time period).  SWSNBN was also very straight forward about her faith, which we openly discussed.  I also attended church services with her on occasion, at the Reformed Church of America in her home town.  One night, SWSNBN had agreed to meet with her ex for dinner one night.  Feeling that I didn’t really have a say in this (as we weren’t officially “dating”), I didn’t ask her not to go, but inside I was stressing out considerably.  So confused, that night I threw out the rote prayers of my Catholic background and pleaded with God to let me know what I was supposed to be doing here.  When Jesus met the blind man on the road to Emmaus, and asked “What do you want me to do?” the answer was “Lord, that I may have my sight.”  While he was looking for a return of his physical sight, I just wanted some insight on my future.  Did it involve Lovely Girlfriend?  SWSNBN?  Someone else?  I loved them both, but as it looked, to me it seemed that I would end up with neither.  Lord, that I may have my sight.

As it turns out, I did get back together with Lovely Girlfriend, who would become Lovely Fiance and eventually Lovely Wife.  I don’t forget the lesson that is often put “Let go and let God,” but there are still sometimes that I think over and over Lord, that I may have my sight.

Lovely Wife would go through RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) classes to become Catholic, with me as her sponsor.  Although the question wasn’t completely settled, we thought it was best to at least start out on the same page.  In the meantime, I attended Bible studies with her, at first with a group from her Lutheran church, and later with a group from her best friend’s Methodist church.  I learned a great deal about my faith from attending these Bible studies and RCIA classes.

It was also around this time that I ran into my choir director, who assured me that “The invitation is still open,” for me to join the group.  Having a more amenable work schedule at this time, I excitedly accepted the invitation.  The music that we sang was incredible.  It was a mix of contemporary hymns, classical pieces (some of my favorites being 16th century polyphony) but perhaps most distinguishable, the Schola specialized in plainchant from the Pius X hymnal.  The music moved me, and gave me the feeling that I was ministering to others in my own way.

Coming in Part 5: Pain, questioning, and another reveal.

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Faith and Prayer, Part 3

After being away at college for a while, I had settled into a routine.  St. Thomas Aquinas, which had become my “home” church, held a Mass at 7pm on Sundays.  It was a perfect time to wind down from the weekend and prepare myself for the week.  Although I had several friends who attended that service, I liked to make myself scarce ahead of time, because I liked to have the time to worship with the community while at the same time worshiping by myself.

Most of the congregation at this particular mass consisted of students, but there were other members of the Ames community represented as well.  It was here that little old ladies would start the tradition of turning to me as I was getting ready to leave and saying something like “You have such a wonderful voice!”  At first I would respond with a thank you.  Later I would respond that it was God that gave me the wonderful instrument.  Later still, I started to tell them that St. Augustine said that “To sing is to pray twice,” a phrase that I still use.

After the 7pm Mass, the staff would have “Church Chats”, where one of the priests or a lay person would lead a group of parishioners in a discussion about faith, tradition, ethics, etc.  For someone who grew up in an environment where things just “are the way they are” it was refreshing.

English: Michelangelo's Pietà in St. Peter's B...

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The summer before my junior year, I had the great privilege of being able to travel to France and Italy with my family (my dad loves to travel and wanted to take my sister and I while we were still able to travel easily).  In Paris we went to Mass at Notre Dame, officiated on that day by a Cardinal (whose name I do not remember).  Having taken French in High School, (and of course with the conformity of the Latin Rite), I was pretty much able to follow along.  Going to Rome and the Vatican was an even more exciting experience.  Throughout Italy we had seen beautiful churches and works of art (e.g. St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice, and Michelangelo’s David in Florence) but nothing compared to St. Peter’s Basilica, or the Sistine Chapel.

 

English: Pope John Paul II on 12 August 1993 i...

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But the most exciting event was still to come.  By one of those “know someone who knows someone” connections we were able to get into Mass with a small group of people (about 30 or so) and Pope John Paul II.  Surprisingly to me, the Pope did not officiate the Mass, but rather was part of the congregation.  Looking back, it makes sense to me.  Afterwards, the pontiff greeted us all.  I was worried that I would be nervous and dumbstruck, but he was a very humble, warm, and witty person.  He asked us where we were from, and when we said South Dakota, he said “We don’t get too many from there.  New York, California, but not South Dakota.”  He also gave everyone a rosary.  I have never used a rosary very much, but of course I still have it and will use it on occasion.

My senior year, needing to fill out an elective for my degree, I took a New Testament class.  It was a great class to take, as the critical thinking and historical context added an extra layer of interest for me.  It was taught by Dr. Hector Avalos.  Dr. Avalos let us know early that he had a photographic memory, calling roll the first day without a class list in front of him, and subsequently calling out students that had skipped class, again without referring to any written class list.  He was very brilliant and thorough.  And he is an atheist.  This really troubled some students, and as a Christian, perhaps arguably should have troubled me, but it didn’t.  Taking this one class helped me reassess my own faith.  For a time I had to fall back on my basic articles of faith, and decided that I needed to scrub up a little more on my Christian faith.

After I graduated, I moved to Vermillion, SD to get a Master’s Degree from the University of South Dakota.  Here I was able to reconnect with some of my High School friends.  One late summer night, a few of us were sitting outside, downing some beers and smoking cigarettes (one habit I have thankfully dropped).  Perhaps inexplicably, we started talking about faith, religion, and the nature of God.  When I was walking home that night, I had an amazing experience.  Still ruminating on our discussion, I made a point to myself in my mind.  Today, I can’t even tell you what that point was (unfortunately) but I had an intense yet pleasurable surge of energy course through my body.  Not quite electrical, not quite fire, not quite ice, I don’t know how to explain it.  I do remember that it felt like it was coming from the inside out.  Prior to that time, my view of God was somewhat Deist in nature.  But here I felt as if I was being communicated with directly for the first time.  Or at least for the first time that I was able to recognize and acknowledge it.

Coming in Part 4, Back to Music and my Protestant Wife

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Faith and Prayer, Part 2

By the end of my Senior year of high school, I started to contemplate whether or not I should pursue a religious vocation, namely, become a Catholic priest.  I don’t remember telling people that I was thinking about this, but apparently others either read it in me or had the same idea for me.  I remember sitting and having a chat with one of the teachers at my high school who happened to be a priest.   He asked me if it was correct that I was thinking of joining the Jesuit order.  How he know that I will never know, particularly since I am not really sure how I came to lean to that particular order in the first place.  The extent of what I knew of the Society of Jesus (more commonly called the Jesuits) was that they were well-known as educators.  Many of the famous Catholic universities are run by Jesuits.  I guess that appealed to me.  Many years later I would find out that their approach to theology and spirituality was close to mine.  Maybe that’s what drew me and that is what Fr. Greg saw in me, I don’t know.

I went off to college and mostly forgot about the priesthood.  My extracurricular time was mostly taken up by my fraternity, Kappa Sigma.  A few things did bolster my faith while I was there, however.  Right away I became a relatively active member in the parish that catered mainly to students, St. Thomas Aquainas.  STA had three amazing priests on staff, Pastor Fr. Ev Hemann, Associate Pastor Fr. John Seda, and Pastor Emeritus Monsignor James “James from Ames” Supple.  Each of these priests had unique qualities that complemented each other.  Fr. Ev was a very humble and spiritual leader.  Even though I haven’t seen him in years, he still continues to teach me.  Fr. John seemed to have a knack for connecting with the students.  Monsignor Supple had an avuncular manner, and was a font of humor and wisdom, which were often times inseparable from each other.

During my Sophomore year, our choir had the privilege of performing Mozart’s Requiem with the Warsaw Philharmonic.  Singing in what I consider a world-class venue (ISU’s C. Y. Stephens Auditorium) with a world-class symphony, what I consider to be perhaps the greatest work of Classical music–well I couldn’t help but be awed by it all.  Perhaps that was why the Rex Tremendae in particular touched me.

My Junior year I was once again feeling the pull towards a possible priestly vocation.  I got in contact via email with one of my old teachers and friends (and my confirmation sponsor, incidentally) from High School, Sr. Maribeth.  She seemed excited about the possibility and gave me a lot of advice, but the most important advice that she gave me was to pray.  And I did.  A lot.

After awhile, I was able to discern that I was not being called to the priesthood.  Perhaps inexplicably, I felt a sense of loss.  The best analogy that I was able to come up with was that it was like breaking up with a girlfriend.

But this was just the beginning of the ups and downs in my faith.

Coming in Part 3: Il Papa, doubt, a divine encounter.

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Mindfulness, Meditation, Prayer, and Faith: Part 1

I have been determined to add this post to help explain my spiritual/religious life and experiences, and how I am using them to help deal with my depression.

The only problem was that as I composed the post in my head, a problem arose:  I realized that it had the potential to become very verbose, meandering, and seemingly pointless.  Until the conclusion there would be many seemingly tangential meanderings and asides.   This would lead to me either submitting an incomplete exegesis or–more likely–completely boring you, the reader.

Therefore I have decided to split it into several posts, which will hopefully be illustrative of my journey without being overwhelming.

So where to start?  I guess with my background.  I was raised (and remain) Catholic.  I was educated in an Episcopal school followed by Catholic schools.  I grew up in a community that was overwhelmingly Lutheran and Catholic.  As you can imagine, my early faith was influenced by a highly liturgical and rote environment.  I (sincerely) believed.  Because I was told to do so.

Things opened up a little more when I went to High School.  A few things stood out to me.  As a Catholic at a Catholic school, I was required to have 1 religion class each semester for all four years (non-Catholics were only required to take religion courses for two years.)  That meant as an upperclassman I was able to choose elective religion courses.  I can specifically remember two that stuck out to me: Church history (explicitly a history of the Catholic church, but of course not complete without discussing other Christian denominations) and Ecumenism (fka Ecumenicalism, fka Comparative religions.)  The Ecumenism class was especially interesting considering that we delved not only into other denominations but also other religions entirely.  Unfortunately (?) it was not necessary for me to complete any extra credit projects in order to get an A.  Those projects were to visit a regular worship service to observe and then report.  I now wish that although it was not necessary for me, that I still had participated.  At the time I was particularly interested in attending Temple and a Unitarian Universalist services.

The other profound impact was in the form of my favorite teacher (and incidentally best–at any level), Sr. Jeanette.  Despite being relatively immobile (she had a hip replacement and rode around on an electric cart), Sr. Jeanette was by far the most intimidating teacher in school.  She just had an aura about her that demanded respect.  She also explicitly demanded respect.  There were no yeahs or nopes or uh-huhs or nuh-uhs in her class.  It was always “yes” or “no”, spoken clearly and with authority.  She seemed to some to be perpetually cross but if you played by her rules, she made it quite evident that she had a heart of gold.

Perhaps most importantly (in regards to my faith, that is) was not how she taught but what she taught: chemistry and physics.  She was brilliant and demanding.  I remember how she inexplicably called me to the board every day to work out chemistry problems on the board.  That was until I had memorized a sufficient amount of information from the periodic table of elements.  Once I did, I was no longer called with as much frequency.  Ah.  Anyway, the most important thing that she taught me was that religion and science could indeed intersect.  Despite her scientific knowledge, she had what appeared to me to be a very strong and unshakable faith.  She retired from teaching after my senior year, and passed away a couple of years later.  I still miss her.

But that intersection of faith and religion helped me formulate my go to thought during a crisis of faith (indeed they would come and continue from time to time).  I realized that there are two paradoxes that science could never rationally explain to me in a rational and physical language.  The first: the universe is either finite or infinite.  Either are equally confounding.  One could say that because there is theoretically a multiverse, than the idea of a universe as being finite makes sense.  OK, but then is there a finite or infinite number of universes?  The other paradox is equally perplexing: either there was a beginning for everything, or something always existed.  At the very core of matter might be nothing but energy, but according to the laws of physics we cannot create matter, and we cannot create energy (only transmit it in a different form).

The only reasonable explanation for me was a creator.

Part 2 will consist of: College, Contemplating the Priesthood, and Further Spiritual Exploration.

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Reading the Signs

There is an interstate beltway that goes around the city in which I live.  One particular off-ramp always amuses me.  Getting off onto one of the main North-South drags, this particular ramp has two right hand turn lanes, and of course a traffic light.  The amusing part is the turning lane that is the farthest right.  If a driver is turning right, clearly displayed in his or her field of vision is a sign that says “NO RIGHT TURN ON RED”.  When I am at this particular intersection, I am typically in the other lane, so I like to play a guessing game in my head whether or not the person at the front of the other line is going to turn right on red.  About half the time I guess that they will, and more often than not, I am right.

I don’t think, however, that they consciously see the sign and disregard it.  In our busy lives it seems easy to see signs right in front of us, maybe even recognize what they say, but somehow they don’t register.  Last year Lovely Wife went on a trip for work leaving me home with the kiddos.    I noticed that Little Guy, who was right around 2 at the time, seemed to be scratching his head quite a bit.  Finally one evening, I called Lovely Wife and told her that I thought he had lice.  I looked at his hair and saw little specks.  Not knowing what nits looked like, Lovely Wife convinced me that it was OK (I am not blaming her, by the way).  The next day it seemed to be worse.  This time when I looked there I saw not only the “specks” but definite bugs as well.  After a lot of shampooing, spraying, and vacuuming, we also decided to give him a haircut.  Between his newly shorn head and my folically challenged one, we really did look like a real life version of Dr. Evil and Mini-Me.

Sometimes the sings aren’t as obvious, or don’t have immediate meaning.  After meeting my birth mother, it seems amazing to me (and to her, I think) that we have lived our lives travelling along on parallel lines.  Perhaps maybe they even crossed in the past in ways we didn’t even know.  My brother and I were for a short time on the same college campus, for example.  I wonder now if we ever crossed paths and never realized it.  Being a man of great (if perhaps unconventional) faith, I can only ascribe the events leading up to finding her identity to Divine Providence.   Until that time, my beliefs were somewhat deist in nature.  I believed in God, but didn’t think he was active in my everyday life.  Now I saw the signs sprinkled throughout my life.  When I still hadn’t decided whether I was going to contact her or not, the signs changed from being a tap on the shoulder to a slap in the face with a 2×4.

And yet I am still learning to recognize signs in my life.  Yesterday Lovely Wife helped me really come to the realization that I need to do what is in my heart, what I am meant to do.  Her case was bolstered by me recently reading Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul by John Eldridge.   Eldridge believes that most men don’t follow what is in their heart, and as a result are bored or disheartened.  I highly recommend it for all men, whether you are a believer or not.

Last night I finally accepted that I am a writer and a teacher.  With my Master’s degree, I can qualify to be an adjunct professor at one of the several local institutions of higher learning.  That will allow me to do my part to help pay the bills, and it will also allow me  to follow my true heart.  As of today, I can refer to myself as a writer.

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