Thursday, August 26, 2010

Opportunity Perfected

I arrived at St. Meinrad's Seminary this afternoon. After everything was up to my room I spent some time starting to unpack. At 5pm was mass. I was grateful for this calming, centering sacrament after 8 1/2 hours on the road. After mass was dinner and then socialization with the other seminarians and the monks of St. Meinrad's Archabbey. Back in my room after some cookies and coffee I thought about reading or writing but neither of those felt right. Outside was calling me.

I put on chacos and my hat and headed out of the building. I was greeted at the door with something I've missed lately. Near silence, a bright moon, cool damp air and the faintest of breezes. In front of me just across a broad sidewalk were the stairs that lead down to the left of the library toward the cemetery and the gym. I almost went this way but instead decided to turn and stroll to the right as I had never been that way before.

There are few lights around campus but the brilliance of the moon made any that there were superfluous. I was able to walk without problem along the sidewalk, admire the large Celtic cross and even read its Latin inscription as if it were daylight. I turned and went past the library, my way lit by moonlight across the lawn, out to the road along the tree line taking moments to stop and look back at the monastery whose outline was clearly visible due to the black shape it cast in contrast to the light of the moon. The lights in the windows gave its looming form a gentle glow that softened the imposing nature such a large building on a hilltop might normally have.

Coming around toward the pond I could clearly see the trees in the semi-distance across the pond, and even better could see the reflection of the entire hillside in the water. Even the stars were shining back at me from the calm surface. I found a sloping seat under a willow tree where the roots and trunk converged and admired the view. The grassy bank curving gently away from me and the tendrils of willow branches hanging down from above framed perfectly the reflected hillside, trees and stars.

After some time, thinking of my morning obligations, I drew myself up from this new favorite place but not without first promising to myself that I would remember to come back here, to sit beneath the tree, beside the pond, and under the stars. I returned to my room more at peace than I've been in a while, the wonder of nature having been rekindled after a busyness induced absence. I can really say that this night out in the cool stillness was an opportunity quite perfected.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A Blessed Opportunity

I was talking to my Grandpa the other night. He began by saying that he got to do something that 99.9% of Catholics never get to do. I was of course intrigued since as far as I know he spends every day running his grain drill company and or taking my grandma to the casino (she regularly does quite well). It turns out that the rare thing he got to do was to be present at the sealing of the documents to be sent to Rome as part of the canonization process for Fr. Stanley Rother, a priest from Oklahoma.

For those unfamiliar, canonization is the process in which the Church declares someone a Saint based on the obvious merits of their life and the occurrence of several miracles attributed to the intercession of that person. (This process has no effect on that person's presence in heaven but merely confirms for the public that said person is there.) Significant effort is made to ensure that no mistakes are made. Merely collecting and compiling the documentation has taken years. Many more years will be taken in the review process once the information arrives in Rome.

I liked Fr. Rother before because of the Oklahoma connection and had a lot of admiration for his story. Briefly, he served in a mission parish in Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala, was recalled to Oklahoma when the country became violent but soon he asked to return, saying, "My people need me, I can't stay away from them any longer." He returned and several months later was murdered in his rectory. Despite difficulties learning latin in seminary, in his time in Guatemala he mastered the local Tzutuhil language translated the mass and large parts of the Bible for his people.

Fr. Rother exemplified the missionary spirit and love for his people just like the shepherd of God's people he was called to be. Now, I don't think God is calling me to be a foreign missionary but I'm pretty sure he wouldn't mind if I was willing to do whatever was necessary for God's people like Fr. Rother was.

Since Christianity is rather new to North America, we have much fewer canonized Saints that Europe. The canonization of Fr. Rother would be especially significant because it would add to the small group of North American Saints but he would also be the first Oklahoma Saint. In my case though it's even more significant. As my grandpa elaborated, he grew up with Stanley Rother. In grade school in Okarche they had class together and would ride horses and bikes after school. The previously unknown connection to my grandpa has increased my hope that one day I'll get to see the canonization of an Oklahoma Saint!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Totus Tuus, Summer 2010, the Rest until the End

The first 10 days of training were very intense. See the last post. The schedule took some getting used to but time in college had prepared me for dealing with lack of sleep. [Later I would discover what really made it possible...] We finished training in Wichita and came back down to Stillwater where all four teams would be for our first week.

Stillwater is not big enough for four Totus Tuus teams. I don't mean that in some kind of 'we're awesome so we need an awesome town' kind of way but in that there was an amount of children that would have been appropriate for one team to handle. Had we all known what we were doing it would have been quite ridiculous for us to have all been there at once however, at this point there was only 4 experienced returners among the 16 of us. The 12 inexperienced people needed this week to be shown what to do and then slowly learn by doing. It was frustrating to have to watch while the experienced people did things but I knew it was good for me and that I would have my time to teach soon enough.

The slow start teaching also coincided with a slow moving away from comfortable surroundings. Knowing the pastors and atmosphere of the town during my first week after training made acclimation that much easier. The next week was at St. Benedict's Parish in Broken Arrow, OK. There were 160+ 1st-8th graders and twelve teachers. This was a good ratio because it meant each teacher had a usefully sized class that they taught by themselves. However, because the morning and evening programs still only took 2 teachers to run and there were 12 of us there was lot's of support for planning program.

Our first week that felt real was in Grove, OK at the Parish of St. Elizabeth. My team of four was finally on our own. Every teacher taught every period on their own and had several other jobs too. The jobs weren't necessarily hard but just took more time. Later in the summer the after we had become much more familiar everything it was easier to teach 4 classes and do music prep and plan a skit every day but this first real week it was definitely a challenge sometimes. (Especially because I was teaching 1st/2nd grade this week, something at which I'm not too good. See "Respect to the Teachers" post.)

Our fourth week was in Ponca City, OK. This was one of the best weeks of the summer in terms of team dynamic. We had just successfully finished our first week alone and were finally fully comfortable with each other and with our particular styles if teaching and doing things. At this point things just sort of seem to happen day to day. Not that we were on autopilot. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Because we had finally refined the process we could concentrate more on ministry to the kids. Once you learn how to confidently ride a bike you can really get somewhere.

The week of 4th of July we had off to go home and see family. It was good to see people and change pace a bit however I made too much of a shift. For the last 5 weeks I had had a solid amount of daily prayer but I got lax on it and just went back to only a rosary each day. A rosary each day is all well and good, but when you're used to 3 sessions of Liturgy of the Hours, Chaplet of Divine Mercy, 15 minuted of silent reflection daily mass and Rosary every day you definitely feel a difference. I was glad to meet back in Tulsa and have my team mates hold me accountable for the prayer I knew I needed to be doing.

After break we headed out from Tulsa to Atchison, KS to the parish of St. Benedict's right next to Benedictine University. The parish church is the old abbey church of the monks at the monastery of which the school is a part. The kids this week were really smart because many of them are home schooled by parents who teach at the college. It really challenged us to be better in our teaching.

From there we went to Norman, OK to the parish of St. Joseph's. Beautiful adoration chapel!

Our last parish for the summer was The Church of the Madalene in Tulsa. You might think we would be worn out by this time but that surprisingly was the case. The power of prayer is amazing. (See comments in Allright! Okay! post)

When the last week was finished, after we cleaned up from the water fight and pulled out of the parking lot I would've been fine had we been headed to another parish even after 8 weeks of the program but this time we weren't heading to a new parish. We were headed to the TU Newman center and then over to the parent's house of one of my teammates for an end of summer retreat/debriefing. It was good for us to be all back together, all 16 of us. We shared stories and laughed and decompressed from such an intense experience. We took time to share specifically with our teammates what they meant to us and how the summer went, to say the things we might not have had time for during the program itself. Everyone made sure they had addresses and phone numbers before the final mass on the 31st. After mass we gave last hugs and goodbyes and saw people off on their way home.

The mass, as the source and summit of our faith was a perfect sending off from a summer of teaching the faith. It was a good reminder that we will always be united through our Catholic Faith, through the common reception of Jesus: Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity. "I'll meet you in the Eucharist."


Monday, August 2, 2010

Totus Tuus, Summer 2010, the Beginning

There was a time when I didn't know what Totus Tuus was. I had a vague conception formed by stories and descriptions from friends but stories were all I knew. Stories do not make a knowledge granting experience but merely an idea. Driving to Tulsa for training, all I knew was that I was going to be in churches across the state teaching children this summer. Beyond that it was just an adventure on the horizon.

The initial part of training was held at the wonderful new Catholic Charities campus in north Tulsa. Walking in that May 27th morning to a room full of people I mostly didn't know put me in an uncommon state of mind; quiet passivity. I'm used to, through the last several semesters' experience at the St. John's Newman Center being a leader, being in-the-know and being known at Catholic events. Here I was none of those things. It felt weird and uncomfortable at first, but I knew it was good for me. I knew that once I figured out what was going on I'd feel normal again. This, I discovered, was easier said than done.

We jumped right into training, getting to know each other by the same methods we'd be using this summer to get to know the kids. We also learned from previous teachers about how to and how not to teach. This was all well and good but it wasn't quite sticking yet. I didn't have an overall view/understanding of the program. It felt like trying to pack without a suitcase; you can kind of get stuff ready but can't do anything with it.

Also, I was making a deliberate effort to get to know the people on my team of 16. We would later be broken up into team of 4 so I wanted to get to know everyone so that no matter who was on my team I would be ready. I knew some of the other team members previously with varying degrees of familiarity; Beth and Yasmin from Stillwater and Pamela and Matt from Tulsa. I tried really hard to avoid gravitating to those I already knew without totally ignoring them. Certain things made this easier: Wayne had hired a lot of extroverts who didn't mind talking and opening up. Also they're all really into their faith which tons of common ground to from which to work. (Hooray for the universality of Catholicism!)By the middle of the second day I was becoming more comfortable with the people, even the introverts. Trying to get to know them forced me to be very purposeful with my interactions. It was difficult but I knew it was good for me.

After a few days in Tulsa we went to Wichita for the more official training with teams from all over the country. Here we began to learn the curriculum and more about how the program worked. I was finally getting a feel for what the weeks might be like. Looking back now I realize that had I paid better attention I would've been even more well informed. Training was structured just like the weeks in the parish were going to be. Oh, well. I got it eventually.

When we got our 4-person teams mid-week, I have to admit that I was disappointed, although not surprised. The people on my team were not those that I had connected best with in training so far. I wrote in my journal that evening, "It feels like my friends have been taken away against my will; I have been left with no one in which to confide." At the same time however, I knew I was being ridiculous. I would still be seeing other members of the group of 16 that weren't on my immediate team. Yes these weren't the people I wanted to be with but I couldn't argue that they were probably the people I needed to be with. After all, the boss-man had spent 2 hours in Eucharistic Adoration picking our teams. Work done in the sight of God is probably done right.

That night I decided to trust that things would work out despite that way I felt at the moment. I decided to put myself aside, my wants and desires, to trust that God had put me with these people for a reason. Seen in the light of the next day and the following weeks things did work out more beautifully than I could have imagined. I love my team now and wouldn't trade them for any other people. (Team Ciao' Bella!) How this came about I'll get into during the next post lest this one become a novel.

It was a trying first 10 days from meeting everyone in Tulsa to finishing training in Wichita but I learned a lot about myself and was looking forward to our first week in a parish.