Saturday, February 27, 2010

Joel Goldsmith and St. Benedict

Anyone who knows me well can vouch for the fact that I have a great number of heroes. The title of this blog post names just two.

A few days ago, I was reading the daily portion of the Rule of St. Benedict on the Benedictine website ( thought to myself, that is exactly the point that Joel Goldsmith made in his works. Joel Goldsmith and St. Benedict are separated by over 1,000 years but we conjecture that some truths are timeless.

The specific reference from the rule was "It is not in speaking much that we are heard" quoting a verse in Proverbs. Joel, on many occasions, points those on the Infinite Way to a practice of repeating a short phrase frequently to bring ourselves into the presence of God. My favorite pointer that Joel recommends is "I and the Father are one," quoting Jesus. Uncanny isn't it. Equally ironic, is that the Catholic Church had the rosary and a host of ejaculations that were aimed at a similar awareness of God's presence and the Orthodox Church had the Jesus Prayer. Outside of Christianity, I would place the mantras of the Bhuddist in the same category. We know that Joel spent years studying spiritual truth, so it really is not all that surprising that at his level of consciousness, we find a unity of thought with other spiritual masters and traditions.

All the same, if you are not acquainted with Joel Goldsmith's body of work, you might find it very helpful.

Vacation Better Website

There is a great website that talks about ways to enjoy a vacation. It is and under the Vacation tab it provides great answers to the question, "Why do I need a vacation?"

Because we are blogging, I welcome comments on your answer to that question!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Vacation Quotes

I was searching this evening for some quotes regarding vacations. Google it some time, I think you would be surprised at what you find! Here is one that I could not agree with more. Talk about an endorsement, this anonymous quote is nearly an imperative!

Vacation used to be a luxury, but in today's world it has become a necessity. ~Author Unknown

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Polycarp of Smyrna

At work today, one of my friends said that when she was in Catholic school, they used to announce the saint of the day over the P.A. system. I told her that today was the feast day of St. Polycarp, an early martyr and bishop of the second century. She said she didn't think they ever announced him. I think maybe she was home sick that day!

PBS is Amazing!

I rarely watch television but this weekend I was entirely exhausted and turned it on for a little down time. Instead of relaxing, I happened to be treated to a biographical piece on Zora Neale Hurston for the PBS commemoration of African-American History Month. A remarkable author with a notable body of work and an interesting way of being in the world.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Great Appreciation for the Works of Dr. Cornell West

Dr. Cornell West is on the faculty at Princeton University's Center for African American Studies and the Religion Department. I initially learned from him and his work while being a seminarian at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, as he was a professor at Union previously. One of his books was also in the Masters of Social Work curriculum at Rutgers University (Newark) when I was a student there.

Union has a podcast library on their website and I strongly recommend that everyone listen to his lecture, available for free and also free within iTunes. In this talk, Dr. West talks about both the prophetic and socratic traditions and specifically calls everyone into a deeper awareness of our own levels of thought about the significance of life and what it means to be human. In relation to the Socratic tradition, he introduces members of the audience to an ancient Greek word, paideia. Paideia is roughly translated as education or instruction at the level of what it means to be human, at the uncovery of the True and the Beautiful.

Dedicate some time to the significance of your life and lend an ear to Dr. West. When we ask the fundamental and universal questions such as, "Why am I here?", "What is my purpose in life?", etc., have the patience to sit back and critically reflect on the answers your mind supplies to you. Pause, and then ask yourself the great Byron Katie question, "Is it really true?" Then, stand back and/or sit down as I know the answers you uncover will be life-altering. Beware of Elijah's "still small voice!"

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Convent Purchased on E-bay

Why, you might ask, would someone buy a convent? I felt the hand of providence in it at the time. I was striving for a way to bring together a group of similarly situated folks for a monastic experiment and house of hospitality in the Catholic Worker tradition.

The Community of All Angels was an attempt at a monastic foundation to serve former religious and members of the marginalized communities who were not fully embraced by their local churches or religious communities. In 1992, when I made my final vows, I did so as the first (and only) life professed member of the visible community. However, as a collection of hearts and souls and in the communion of the saints and angels, it was, in mind, a great collection of witnesses! I often think of the communion of saints and angels in terms of Napoleon Hill’s master mind alliance.

Believe it or not, new religious communities come into existence every year. Some are eventually elevated to the status of a congregation, order, etc. or some remain unaffiliated with church hierarchies. I was actually in the novitiate twice, once in the Roman Catholic communion and once as an Episcopalian. Although my affinity is for Benedictine spirituality, I received my religious formation from the Society of St. Francis while a resident at St. Elizabeth's Friary in Brooklyn, New York. The Society of St. Francis is a monastic order in the Episcopal Church whose motherhouse is in Mt. Sinai, New York, just outside of Port Jefferson. One of the guardians of the house, Franciscan speak for superior, was once an Anglican Benedictine in England so at least there are some ties to St. Benedict's lineage.

Although my spiritual journey had taken me from Roman Catholicism to the Episcopal church, I was not setting out to create an Episcopal monastic community. At the time, although the Episcopal church had embraced the ordination of women, the church was still in turmoil over the issues surrounding sexuality and from my Roman Catholic background, I had no interest in entering that fray again. Nonetheless, in response to an article in the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), I sent in a letter explaining my situation and what I was trying to accomplish and the NCR published my letter and entitled it, "Calling All Angels." After publication, the phone rang off the hook at the friary for a few days and then all that subsided. The pledge of support from these individuals was the basis of why I thought there was sufficient interest for such a monastic experiment. So for many years, I kept at it. My entrance to religious life, at age 16, was on March 9, 1983, the Feast of St. Frances of Rome. I spent the next 22 years trying to reconcile my inner experiences with my perception of the outer realities until 2005 and the loss of the convent, purchased to be the home of The Community of All Angels in Jay, Maine. Perhaps I was trying God's providence in the purchase of the convent. As I waited and watched, I did so alone for the most part. That being the case, I interpreted that my monastic vocation is essentially an internal one and abandoned a notion that the truth of it, for me, was in any outward expression of this calling.

The Nuns

There are a few people in your life that demonstrate the meaning of friendship. Perhaps even more rare is a friendship shared among three people (yes, a blatant Trinitarian reference). I was fortunate to have come across Ange and Terese early in my life while in the 8th grade at St. Mary's Grade School in Michigan City, Indiana. I had gone to live with my grandparents that year and St. Mary's is where my uncle and mother attended grade school and high school next door at Marquette. Sissy and I had also done a semester there earlier when there had been a fire in our apartment building. We had stayed with my grandparents until my mother had completed the apartment renovations.

I think that in 8th grade most students are 12, and that would put us in 1979. I know that I graduated St. Mary's in 1980 so this is as accurate as can be hoped. Of course, I was still interested in the monastic life but had learned to accept the notion that I would not be departing for the monastery in the United States until after high school, at least. About this time in Northern Indiana, the Catholic Charismatic movement was taking place. In Michigan City, the prayer group was known as the Alleluia people and it met at St. Anthony's Hospital in Michigan City run by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration. In addition to the weekly prayer group, sometimes before school I would get up early and go to the sister's chapel at the hospital and say morning prayer with them and attend Mass. I was only close to one of the sisters at the hospital and her name was Sister Rita Marie. I believe she was Canadian and was working in Pastoral Care at the time. I met her again in 2008 when visiting my Aunt Carol in the hospital. She didn't remember me at all! Too funny. How would you forget a 12 year old boy coming to the hospital chapel to say morning prayers with the sisters at 6:00 a.m. on a school day?

It was at the prayer group, however, that I first met Sister Angeline Benz. She was a very social person, very feminine and petite with a great sense of humor and good-storyteller attributes (she would be great at blogging or because of the quality of her voice, perhaps podcasting). Ange decided that she should introduced me to Terese Fabbri (formerly known as Sister Anita Mary) and set up a meeting for us at St. Mary of the Lake in New Buffalo, MI. Terese was known for her ability to relate to teenagers and a mutual affection was nearly instantaneous. St. Mary’s had a vibrant prayer group known as the People of Joy. Ange introduced me to Terese and we got acquainted sitting on the stage in the basement of the church before the prayer meeting. Such a simple introduction and under very ordinary circumstances, a life-altering and life-sustaining friendship was developed.

Now, 31 years later, there are many additional stories to tell of friendship shared, great vacation experiences and endless hours of really great telephone conversations! I look forward to blogging about some of these as time goes on.

Serving at the Altar

The picture above doesn't exactly portray my experience as these altar boys are serving a Tridentine Mass. As I was born in 1966, I did not become a server until after First Communion which I received in the third grade at St. Patrick's School which would have been about 1974. The mass was now the Mass of Paul VI which was firmly in place in the United States by 1969, sometimes know as the Novus Ordo. However, later in life I did purchase a Tridentine Altar from an old Catholic parish mission for the convent in Jay, Maine. That altar was actually shipped from New England to 27 Canterbury Lane in Florida and then moved via Beltman Movers to Maine.

I do not remember how I learned to serve Mass or exactly how I became an altar boy. I assume we were trained in a group but have no recollection of it. At St. Patrick's, I would have served the Masses said by either Father John Baitens or Monsignor Herbert Winterhalter. In fact, Father Baitens got out the old Catholic Encyclopedia and helped me look up the various monastic communities. I don't have many memories of Monsignor Winterhalter because I believe he was ill at the time. The monastic inquiries into the encyclopedias were great fun for me at the time and still occupy some of my leisure reading in the form of the history of religious life and its great heroes.

Well apparently I was very zealous about serving Mass because although St. Patrick's had plenty of altar servers, apparently other parishes did not and I served at St. Joseph's and St. Benedict's downtown. I do not remember the priests there but I remember they were Franciscans and were quite impressed that I would ride my bike across town so early to serve Mass at their parishes. I remember that I, being a budding Benedictine, was just scandalized that Franciscans were at St. Benedict's Parish. I loved St. Benedict's church the most. It was the largest or at least it seems so from memory. It looked huge to a 9 or 10 year old both outside and in. Inside I was moved by the amount of space which seemed endless and mystical and warm.

Shortly after all my parish altar serving had been established, my mother who was a nurse at St. Anthony's Hospital in Terre Haute told me she was caring for a Carmelite nun who was quite ill at the time. My mother got permission from the Mother Prioress for me to visit and I did. I met my first cloistered contemplative in St. Anthony's Hospital; her name was Sister Marilyn of the Holy Trinity. She was very kind to me and eventually I began to serve Sunday Mass at the Carmelite Convent in Terre Haute with Mr. Lundstrom, the brother of the principal of St. Patrick's, Ms. Lundstrom. Mr. Lundstrom was a member of the Discalced Carmelite Third Order and he would pick me and take me to the convent to serve Mass on Sundays. After Mass, we sometimes went to Denny's for breakfast. I'm not sure as to the reasons behind it, but on many Sundays I rode my bike all the way out on Highway 41 to Allendale road to the convent to serve Mass.

In the fifth grade, our apartment caught fire from a neighbors and my sister and I went to stay with our maternal grandparents in Michigan City, IN. During those months and in eighth grade while I was a student at St. Mary's Grade School, I served Mass at St. Mary's Immaculate Conception parish on 11th Street. I served Mass at St. Mary's for Father Zimmerman and Father Pogozelski.

In high school in New Buffalo, Michigan, I served Mass at St. Mary's of the Lake and was a member of the People of Joy, a charismatic prayer group affiliated with the parish.

Upon entering the monastery and later going into seminary, I served Mass on occasion as the need arose or as it was my turn. The early days of serving in Terre Haute hold the simple joy of being close to something very sacred. I had a sense of a reality that could only be perceived in the quiet of those cold dark churches, in the early mornings, before the lights were on, putting on the server's cassock and surplice, lighting the candles and awaiting the priest's acknowledgement to head out the sacristy door (ringing a small bell on the entrance way from the sacristy, as we did in those days).

On the humorous side, as a seminarian we went home during Passiontide and served the Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Angels back in Gary, Indiana. The Chrism Mass is for each parish pastor to return to the cathedral to obtain the holy oils used in the sacraments for the coming year. It is a very impressive concelebrated event. On this occasion they over consecrated the wine for the service and after Mass it needed to be consumed. Several chalices were shared among the seminarians, who were also employed in filling the Chrismatory sets for each parish. The large cathedral ambries, from which each set are filled, were leaking to a minor extent and given the wine the experience took on a rather non-sacred scene. Picture a slip-and-slide in cassocks!

Defining a Vacation

Did you ever notice that you use words that when you are asked to define them present some difficulty? Or that your definition of a word varies widely from the definition provided by someone else, even if that person is a good friend or family member?

If we were to test out this word definition premise on the word vacation, what do you suppose the answers would be? The most immediate response for most people would be paid or unpaid time away from work? If the person is retired, it might be time away from the normal routine. If a student, time away from school, etc.

For a civilization that is very frenetic, this "time away" carries so many individual meanings as well. What is the time away to be used for? Classically in my family, vacations took place twice a year. Once during the summer, the family would pack up and go to Minnesota, land of a 1,000 lakes, and rent a cottage. Various members of the extended family would join the excursion and the stories of various good times were told by family members down the generations. It seems that many of my cousins were able to build strong family ties on these vacations and at family gatherings, the stories start with some version of ...Remember that time at Lake...? Our family photo albums are full of vacation pictures. There is something "extra" memorable about vacation experiences and they really make the list of those special events for which a camera or a video recorder are on hand to capture the memories. The second annual vacation usually occurred over the Christmas holiday and involved the extended family and various visits from the out-of-town relatives (the occasion when children usually give up their bedrooms for older members of the visiting family and the kids have the giant sleep over in the living room for several days on end).

From a quality of life point of view, how we spend our vacations can alter our sense of well-being. A great vacation can be a remedy for stress. A break in the daily grind, etc. How we use the leisure time that has been available to us isn't generally something that we take for granted. Some of us actually live for vacations! This dedication to vacations has also produced a number of products and services that support us in our quest for that special vacation experience. Some of these options accommodate our needs when traveling generally, such as hotel and airlines. However, some of these vacation services are targeted to fulfill our ultimate vacation fantasies. These would include resort destinations, cruises, wilderness experiences and the like.

I happen to work in a company that is dedicated to helping families achieve the best vacation experiences possible at a reasonable cost. One that is aimed to promote the best quality of life for our member families by assisting them in making the best use of their leisure time. I think of all of this as a special, a very special opportunity.

Here in America, our Constitution protects the "pursuit of happiness." In the end, I believe that the experience we are essentially seeking in our vacations is personal and familial happiness. Here's to your next vacation and fulfillment of your constitutional right to it!

The Name of a Nun

Living in Terre Haute, Indiana, in the 1970s, it was unlikely that a Catholic school boy would not hear of and/or visit Saint Mary's of the Woods, the motherhouse of the Sisters of Providence, founded by Mother Theodore Guerin. Most of the sisters that taught in town were Sisters of Providence including my Religion teacher, Sister Rose Ellen. I have a very funny recollection of Sister Rose Ellen due to the fact that one Christmas mother and I were making out her Christmas card and we did not spell her name correctly, which of course, she did not overlook to mention. The funny thing about the naming of Catholic nuns is that some names were combined forms and others were simply two names. Mother and I had gone for Roselyn or something to that fact but it so happened that she had the two names Rose and Ellen. Later, one of my principals would be named Sister Rose Edward and that was much easier to decipher, that and I had reached 8th grade by then.

Becoming an Oblate

I was ten years old when my maternal grandfather, Walter Cizewski, Sr., came to Terre Haute, Indidana, to take me for my first visit to St. Meinrad Archabbey to be invested as a novice oblate by the Oblate Master, Father Jerome Palmer, O.S.B. The investure took place in the abbey guesthouse chapel to the best of my recollection and I was given the scapular of St. Benedict and a small purple prayer book for oblates with portions of the daily office and the Rule and other Benedictine prayers. I believe the cover of the book had an imprint of the Medal of St. Benedict.

My immediate family of my mother, sister and me were living in Terre Haute where my mother had received her bachelor's degree in nursing from Indiana State University and was working for the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration at St. Anthony's Hospital, Terre Haute, Indiana. Sissy and I attended St. Patrick's Grade School and at the time I was likely in 5th grade and I believe my teacher's name was Mrs. Marsh. The teachers were mostly lay teachers at this time (1975/1976) but St. Patrick's had been staffed as a mission of the Sisters of Providence of St. Mary's-of-the-Woods for many years. We had a home room teacher for each grade, but in anticipation of secondary education, they would have us change classrooms for various subjects including religion and science among others.

My religion teacher was Sister Rose Ellen, S.P. My sister and I both received First Holy Communion, First Confession and Confirmation at St. Patrick's in Terre Haute. This is the geographical location of my body when my spirit opened to the world of monasticism and to the sanctity of Our Holy Father Saint Benedict. In St. Patrick's library which was staffed at the time by a Sister of Providence that was retired from teaching and still in the original habit but whom I often ran into at the library or in the parish church and walking to or from school sometimes. I believe she was caring for an elderly relative somewhere near the parish and that is how I would come across her en route. Anyway, in the grammar school library I found and read and re-read a young reader's version of the life of St. Benedict. I remember spending hours in my room reading the stories about his great penances and his miracle working and how he, too, had a sister, St. Scholastica.

Of course, I had discovered something. Perhaps it wasn't the uncovery of the mystery to the meaning of life but it was certainly significant for me. Early in life I felt the call of God in the stillness and the quiet that my life afforded to me then and I was sure that I was meant to leave for the monastery shortly. As you may suspect, the monasteries in the United States are not regularly in the habit of accepting child vocations. However, somewhere the notion of the oblates came up through some correspondence with St. Meinrad's monastic community and poor, sainted Father Jerome would meet me and, nonetheless, clothe me with the scapular at ten years of age. This, too, must have been completely out of the normal protocol of the time as I later discovered that there was no record of my investiture as a novice oblate and that oblates were generally older. What can I tell you? My grandfather, Father Jerome and I were there! I alone live to have the memory brought to the present moment.

As it turns out, Benedict was looking out for me all along. In his life story, the reader will encounter two child oblates who become saints in their own rights, St. Placid (whose picture is above) and St. Maur. Seven years later, when I was a freshman at St. Meinrad's College I became friends with Brother Placid McIver, O.S.B., through our mutual labor in The Scholar Shop, the seminary/monastic bookstore. Again, I believe that Benedict had arranged this act of God's grace on my behalf as well. For many years in my journey, I would correspond with Brother Placid who convinced me that no one was beyond the mercy of God.

On the more familial side, there was great laughter between my grandfather and I on the journey to St. Meinrad that year. If you were acquainted with Southern Indiana roads (off the interstate) at that time, they were two lanes and not always in great repair. We come across a sign that said "Bumps for the next few miles." Indeed there were bumps for many miles beyond a few. It was like driving on a washboard. With each bump, my grandfather and I would howl with laughter. I called my grandfather, DziaDzia, a diminutive of Dziadek which is Polish for grandfather. In any case, DziaDzia was none too pleased with the monastic accommodation which we were afforded. Don't get me wrong, my grandfather was not accustomed to the good life but he just could not understand how they expected us to stay in a room without a TV! The hospitality arrangements for us had been swung together by Father Jerome despite the fact that the guesthouse was full with some retreatants, so we were housed in one of the college dormitories vacated for the summer by the seminarians. I remember that it was very HOT, the kind of hot that there was no escape from in Southern Indiana at the time. Air conditioning was not to be found, although I believe the library and the dormitory had air conditioning by the time I was a student there.