Time to Practice Swimming, unlike Narcissus

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Narcissus was a handsome hunter who knew he was handsome and would show disdain for people who recognized him. He was proud and haughty, if you loved him then he responded with nothing but dislike for you. Narcissus was enticed by Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, to gaze into the pool’s reflection, whereby he fell in love with his own reflection. Nemesis was seeking revenge for jilted Echo, a beautiful goddess who was despised and rejected at every turn. Narcissus could not take his eyes off himself, leaning closer and closer toward his own reflection, he fell into the water and drowned. Narcissism means to have an unhealthy fixation with oneself. What are the things that captivate you and fixate your attention?

In March I enjoyed a homily by Bishop Jospeh Cistone of Saginaw, MI who uncovered the narcissistic tendencies of our culture to fixate on individualism and the popular philosophy to “go it alone.” One example is the tragic story of Chris McCandless a 24 year-old who broke ties with family, friends, and society to survive solo in the wilds of Alaska with no safety net. Jon Krakauer wrote a book about his adventures called “Into the Wild” that details his journey from the Ivy league to Denali National Park. McCandless did himself in with his narcissistic myopia when he ate wild potato potato seeds that later caused paralysis and the inability to save himself. I listened to Bishop Cistone speak about the chronic levels of narcissistic individualism that paralyze our own culture. We have a strong chord of individualism that pushes the human person toward selfish pursuits rather than seek out community support. I watched a couple venture out to dinner who were sitting with 2 laptops, 2 cell phones, and completely disengaged from each other across the table. We have so much screen to screen communication these days that our person to person communication is deprived of minimal human interaction. We now have resources available to answer every question on the internet that only requires a pocket sized gadget. People delight in their own information overload as we send voice commands to Siri rather than approach a living person. We love to post social media alerts about our doings and updates, “its all about me” right? It is more convenient to pull up Global Positioning by Satellite rather than ask a person for driving directions. Individualism is a part of the every day person engaged in technology. We are so wired to narcissistic media that is is near impossible to unplug. What do you think about my selfie now? Are these technological marvels fixating our attention on Nemesis’ entrapping pool? How do we depart from the pool edge of this beautiful reflection of what the self can do?

A person’s vocation is the polar opposite of narcissism. A vocation will pursue the area in life that a person can make a generous gift of self. It is a call from God that will enflame one’s desire to serve others. St Clare says her entire life is a call “to become a vessel of God’s compassionate love” poured out for others. This call will never survive in a private world of “God and me.” It requires the community to confirm and affirm the call. The community will sustain a vocational call whether the state of life is a call to be single, ordained, married, or religious. A vocation will have a person compelled to serve a part of the world much bigger than the self. A vocation is not a career but is a personal call by God to serve. Individualism will never survive in a selfless sea of God-called swimmers.

There is an imprint of God in the soul of each person to give themselves generously to a vocation. Given the opportunity people will selflessly give of themselves to something bigger than themselves. We are hard-wired to give ourselves away to a vocation. During 9/11 when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were taken out by terrorists, EMS providers were rushing toward the scene. When most people were fleeing the scene for their own personal safety, fireman, policeman, and EMS providers were running toward the chaos. Some ran for their lives away, others ran for their lives toward. 343 firefighters and 60 policemen died on that day under the rubble of the twin towers. One could easily imagine the difficulty to recruit EMS providers in the aftermath of that level of destruction. But the opposite occurred. Recruitment levels are at record levels in NewYork and people desire to put their lives on the line selflessly to give themselves to something bigger than themselves. These individuals have found their vocation and seek this with all of their heart. This type of self donation has no space for Narcissus.

Where is God calling you to make a heroic donation of self? Have you asked yourself, where does God want my gifts to be selflessly given away in His service? This is your vocation swim practice. And today’s swim lesson is to pull you away from that dangerous pool of narcissism. God is our lifeguard and He will not let us drown!

Hartley Vocations Day

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Deacon Frank Sullivan, campus chaplain at Hartley High School, gave a warm welcome to this Franciscan friar for Vocations Day. We had a long line of young men filing into the chapel to hear about religious vocations from the perspective of a Dominican friar Tom Blau, O.P., Diocesan priest Fr. Dan Dury, and myself a Franciscan friar.

Hartley has an impressive vocation program for juniors and seniors to prepare them for a career immediately after high school. They can spend a half day at High School classes and half day at vocation preparation school taking more classes. These unique career centers located around Columbus, Ohio prepare the Hartley student to learn the trades of the job and complete high school classes to receive a high school diploma. Impressive vocation program for a career but we were visiting to speak about something bigger than just a vocational career.

On Vocations Day we were concentrating on religious vocations. There were Dominican sisters combing the halls. Sr. Mary Jacinta and Sr. Mary Perpetua spoke to all the young women. The young men were cycling through the chapel to hear from two mendicant friars and a diocesan priest. Great questions and insightful young women and men who were willing to absorb our stories and begin that dialogue with God, “Where God are you calling me?”

That dialogue with God is so crucial. God continues to call young men to religious consecrated life, priesthood, and diaconate and its incumbent on men to have ears ready to listen. Part of the difficulty of discernment, or making a big decision in your life, is calibrating our ears to openness and readiness. All these men were listening attentively with hearts wide open and readied for our message. And what was the message?

People are yearning to give their lives to something filled with worthwhile meaning. People cling to a life imbued in meaning, and want to give themselves to something bigger than themselves. Look at 9-11 for example. On September 11th, 2001 when the terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Centers, the result was tragedy and chaos. While people were fleeing the area in hysteria and running from the scene for their lives, the first responders were doing the opposite. The firemen, police, and EMS providers were rapidly moving toward the danger to put their life on the line for strangers they would never meet. And this noble calling of sacrifice requires a bit of lunacy. Is there a salary worth adequate compensation for this level of danger? Frankly, I don’t think you could pay them enough money for what they do. On that heroic day 343 firefighters and 60 policemen lost their lives in the fall of the twin towers. Patches sewn on jackets were later issued that said, “Remember 343” so that we not forget the sacrifice made by these heroic men and women. Now if I were to post a job description to new recruits and say you will never be paid your worth in a salary, you will be forced to confront terrorizing dangers, and there is a good chance you will lose you life for people you may never meet. I would think new recruits in New York for fire, police, and EMS would be impossible to find! But the reverse has happened. Recruitment classes have had no problem filling their quotas. In fact the numbers of willing people to donate themselves to this noble calling are at record levels. Why?

Deep inside of us we yearn to give ourselves to a noble purpose, we want to dedicate ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, and that is our vocation! The students at Hartley High School get this, and they want to move toward a noble sacrifice of self worthy of their investment. The power, pleasure, wealth, and prestige of our culture have their enticements, but meagerly compare to one’s higher calling toward the things that are everlasting.

The dialogue has begun. Young men and women at Hartley High School are asking the bigger questions like: “Where are you calling me, God?” What is the direction that moves me beyond myself?” “Where can I serve the world that gives me the greatest meaning?” “Where is Jesus Christ leading me to live out this joyful God given call?” “Is my vocation a call to be a single person, married person, ordained person, or consecrated religious person?” Thanks for responding to the challenge to ask the bigger questions. Way to go Deacon Sullivan, “let’s roll” in this essential and world changing ministry. Go Hawks!
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Time to Cultivate

Time to Cultivate“Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it” (Mt. 13:7) Traveling from Minnesota to Texas and everywhere in between I’m always on the move.  Vocation work requires me to move outward and meet people where they are at.  My role is to nurture the call from God working in the soul who desires to do the Lord’s will.  Along my travels I saw the most tragic thing on the roadside.  It was a semi tractor overtaken by weeds.   A machine that was made to be on the move, rolling down the road and it was covered in weeds.  Wheels made to turn, motor made to rumble, a commander’s chair made for hauling and all were held captive by weeds choking out the truck’s purpose.  The essential nature of the very thing a truck does requires movement.  The purpose of a truck is to move!  Somewhere along the way that movement became stationary and the weeds choked it.  It was the saddest thing ever seen.
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We Franciscan Friars are called to be on the move.  It is uniquely tied to our charism.  Francis received the Gospel mandate to go forth to the world and be a missionary to plant the Gospel (Mt. 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.) St. Francis of Assisi was called to carry the Gospel from Assisi, Italy to the streets of the world.  The Gospel message so moved his heart that he could not remain stationary.  St. Francis was the messenger and sent it to the streets.  Today there is not one continent on the globe that lacks a Franciscan presence to witness the Gospel.  This is why the Gospel continues to move outward today and cannot remain parked on the shoulder, overrun by weeds.

We are called to movement in the spiritual life as well.  The weeds of sin always have the capacity to choke out spiritual growth and tie us down.  The Gospel requires one to move and be willing to accommodate spiritual growth.  Archbishop Joseph Tobin tells of an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who was counseling a math professor.  The sponsor was not educated to the level of the professor, and when it came to math he could not keep pace. But when it came to sobriety, the math professor let the weeds of booze take root.  So in the first meeting the sponsor told the professor, you should know that I have only counseled 11 guys in AA and 6 of them committed suicide.  The professor was shocked and said, “why are you telling me this?  You are not all that successful in your counseling, you think?”  The sponsor said, “It’s my job to deliver the message, what you do with the message is up to God.”

We all have a spiritual message to deliver with the collateral of our lives.  This message cannot remain stagnant.  Either we move upward and onward toward our eternal destination, or the weeds will immobilize us.  What part of your life needs a bit of weeding?  Is there a neglected area that requires some focused attention?  An addictive behavior?  A bad habit at work? An internal voice that nags you with the repeat switch of shame?  Selfish time that could be filled with charitable outreach toward others?

We are called to be on the move.  The saints before us like St. Francis shared the Gospel and moved on.  Spiritual growth requires us to nudge forward and move on.  Keep those wheels rollin’ and see you at the next rest area!