Tag Archives: Catholic

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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What’s in a Name: Inked Edition

Louis Comfort Tiffany, Window of St. Augustine...

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Earlier this year I waxed somewhat poetically about the names that were given to me by my parents.  Names (not just my own) still are somewhat fascinating to me.  I thought of this the other day when talking to my son.  Before he was born, my wife and I were leaning heavily towards calling him “Gus”.  My grandfather’s nickname was Gus, and it was one that not only we both liked, but would most likely be unique among his peers.   The only issue was that we could not agree on what Gus should be short for.  I wanted Augustine, after St. Augustine, the great theologian, philosopher, and church father.  Lovely Wife leaned toward Gustav because, well, she liked it.  When he was born we settled on a different name, but then it was suggested that we use Gus for a middle name.  The debate was renewed.  Finally, after several minutes of back and forth, Lovely Wife said, “What about just Gus?” So Gus it is.

Well, interestingly enough, often times now Little Guy will seem to ignore you if you use his first name, but pays immediate attention if you call him Gus.  Maybe it was meant to be in the end.  It will be up to him what he goes by as he gets older, but for myself, it turns out that I find myself calling him Gus about half the time.

That got me thinking about my own name.  In the Catholic tradition it is commonplace to give your child at least one saint’s name.  Alas, to this point there is still no St. Ryan.  My middle name is David, and while there are a few St. Davids, none are particularly well-known (King David of the old testament is not a Saint.)  This got me curious about St. Stephen (Stephen being the name given to me at birth).  I knew his story well–he is often known as St. Stephen the Martyr, as he is recorded to be the first martyr as seen in Acts 7:58.  I looked on the list of saints on catholic.org, and learned that St. Stephen’s feast day was December 26.  Most people would think “Oh yeah, good King Wenceslaus looked about, on the feast of Stephen…”, but my first thought was that December 26 was my parents anniversary.  Not only had they adopted a son originally named Stephen, but had also nearly named me Stephen themselves.  One of those odd syncronicities that I have run into quite a bit.  Curious, I looked up who feast day fell on my birthday, and found out that it was Sts. Joachim and Anne.  If you are unfamiliar with them, they are the traditional/legendary parents of Our Lady.  Interestingly enough, from my point of view at least, St. Anne is the patron saint of mothers.

Finally, today, I wanted to share with you my tattoo that I got a few weeks ago.  I wanted something that would be unique to myself, while honoring both my names and families.  With the help of Erin at The Electric Crayon, this is what I was able to come up with:

It is located on my right shoulder.  A couple of quick explanations.  I put it on my arm in tribute to the passage from the Song of Solomon “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion as fierce as the grave” (8:6).  While the narrator is talking about romantic love, I none the less connected it to love of my family as well.  The author is talking about the “tattoos” of the time, and their permanence, so to set oneself as a seal upon another’s heart was to make them permanently theirs, just as I belong permanently to my families.
Secondly is the letters themselves.  The big initials are the initials of my name, the ones seen everyday, by which I am known.  Inside those are inscribed the initials of the names given to me by my birthmother.  They are somewhat hidden, known to few, but still indelibly part of who I am.

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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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Our Lady of Lemonade

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  An oft heard proverb.  How many times do we listen to this type of advice and follow it?  How many times do we instead roll our eyes, shake our head, and go about our business sucking on those lemons?

One of the fun things about being a senior in high school is looking forward to the next chapter in your life.  “What are you going to do?” we would ask each other.  “Are you going to get a job?  Are you thinking about joining the Armed Forces?  What college do you want to go to?”  For me, the answer to the last question was always quick to roll off my tongue.  The University of Notre Dame. 

There were many things that attracted me to Notre Dame.  The academic prestige.  The history and tradition.  The Catholic identity.  Perhaps the mythos.  And yes, the football team.  How I love college football.  I have also been a wee bit curious how a school with such a francophonic name ended up having the “Fighting Irish” as its mascot.

I dutifully filled out the applications, essays, had recommendations written.  There were a handful of Bs on blemishing my report card, yet I was confident.  I had a good SAT score, lots of extracurricular activities, community service, and recognition by the National Honor Society to bolster my cause.  So, I sent my application in, and waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Letters came in from the other institutions to which I had applied.  Acceptance letters from Washington University (a good sign–Wash U is also an academically prestigious institution), Marquette University, The University of Nebraska, The University of Iowa, Iowa State University.  One denial letter so far, from Northwestern.  The letter from Notre Dame took the longest.  Although I read the news with a heavy heart, I refocused my sights elsewhere.

I ended up choosing Iowa State.  A very well-respected Land Grant Act institution.  The campus was beautiful.  I was far enough away from home to feel on my own, yet close enough if I needed to make a weekend visit.  The football team was . . . well, they had a football team.  I even thought to myself, maybe I could be like Rudy, study hard for a couple of years, and finish out my degree at Notre Dame.

In the process I fell in love with Iowa State.  I lived in a Fraternity and enjoyed the brotherhood and camaraderie.  I lived down the street from the Catholic Church, which somehow seemed tolerant with other viewpoints while still toeing the official line.  I never missed a game from our sometimes hapless football team, and yet I was always proud of our gridiron warriors.  Four years later, I proudly accepted my degree.  I would go on to get a Master’s Degree from another school, but will always consider myself an Iowa State alumnus.

Way back when, in a slim business sized envelope, Notre Dame sent me a bunch of lemons.  I packed up the lemons and took them to Iowa State where I made some delicious lemonade. 

Somewhere along the way, however, I have misplaced my lemonade recipe.  Maybe depression hid it from me.  Maybe anxiety whispered into my ear that I won’t be able to find it.  No matter.  I am looking for it again.  I will find it, and when I do, you are all invited to have a drink.

WEDNESDAY FUN: Cooking Experiment Successes

I love to cook, and I love to come up with my own creations.  For a while I had been bugging my wife to let me try to make fish tacos.  We love fish, we love tacos.  How could it go wrong?  Still, she was nervous.  Finally I just did it one day.  I grilled up some white fish filets (I think I used tilapia) which I then separated with a fork.  I mixed some taco seasoning in with sour cream and a little lime juice.  To top it off, I had a mango salsa, cheese, and a little cabbage and onions for crunch.  I’m sorry that I can’t provide a recipe, as I never write anything down, but try it some time.  Delicious.

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