Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo (Psalm 88:2)
Misericordias Domini in aeternum cantabo (Psalm 88:2)
On the Third Sunday of Lent, the newly clothed Carmelite novices were blessed to assist in choro at Pontifical High Mass at the Faldstool, celebrated by His Eminence, Raymond Cardinal Burke, Patron of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, at St. Margaret Mary’s, Oakland. In attendance as well were priests and seminarians of the Archdiocese of San Francisco, the Diocese of Oakland, the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, and friars of the Order of Preachers and Conventual Order of Friars Minor. Deo gratias!
On March 18, the Vigil of St. Joseph, I was clothed as a novice in the Order of Brothers of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Mount Carmel! Pictured above, first row (L-R): the new novices, Bro. Colin of Jesus and Mary, Bro. Matthew of the Incarnation, Bro. Frank of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Bro. Dustin of the Eucharist. Back row: Father Robert Elias of Divine Mercy, our postulant master, and Father Mark Kissner, our novice master.
Make sure to follow the Carmelites on Facebook to see pictures and updates from the novices. Please keep me in prayer and be assured of my prayers for you! Laudetur Iesus Christus!
Morning sun transforms drooping leaves of palm-trees into dazzling green-gold fringes on the noble vestment of the sky.
Black coffee in the bottom of a plain white cup,
Pure white cotton draping over rough brown wool.
In the corner, the Paschal candle on a golden lamp-stand casts a dim blue shadow, proclaims “alpha” and “omega” are even closer than “you” and “I”.
Light reveals: cracks in the oil-painting, a smudge on the window, dust on the dark-wood tabletop. Imperfections, and beauty.
Snatches of poetry drift on the silence like distant voices: “to bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.” “How shall the breath of God batter my soul?” “Take me to Ephraim, Master, let me stay with you there…”
Bell tolls once, singly, startling birds.
Wes just left for his home visit,—waving to me where I sat on the stone steps writing as he and Fr. Robert drove to the airport—and now it is just the four of us postulants here who will very soon be novices: me, Dustin, Colin, and Frank, and the silence and the stillness and the cool morning sun. I have reflected before, on retreats at Mt. Angel, how silence transforms everything. It is amazing how quickly, how subtly yet unmistakably, this transformation comes about. The silence expands to fill every place and every moment: “here is sacred space,” it proclaims in the kitchen as I wash the coffee-cups; “here is sacred time,” as the sunlight bursts through the window. Sacred silence! It draws out, reveals the sacredness in everything, makes all things new: even this monastery, already cheapened by 2 months’ familiarity.
Yesterday we took our new habits back to our cells; cut our cinctures, smelling of fresh leather, down to the right length; punched holes in them for the belt-buckle, tied our cord rosaries and sacred medals. We tried on the habits a month ago, of course, to be sure they would fit, but it is different now with them hanging in our closets and the day of our clothing so near. They are silent witnesses of the transformation about to take place in each of us: or, better, that has already been taking place, that will continue to take place, but that on Saturday will suddenly be made visible in the down-draping of brown and white cloth.
“A vocation is a harmony between being and life,” writes Blessed Marie-Eugene. Then a habit must be a kind of harmony between being and appearance: the external sign revealing the interior reality. The being of the religious demands the habit; but the habit demands that the religious be a certain way. It is a promise to the world and an obligation to the wearer: that this person is an ἀπόστολος, an apostle, an ambassador of Heaven, a new incarnation of the God-Man, Jesus Christ! in flawed and fallible humanity. It is a glory and a terror beyond telling.
“Put on the new man,” I hear the echo of Abbot Jeremy in my mind. “You have been called. You have been chosen.”—“Me? With all my weakness?”—“Yes. You.”
Six years, my God, almost to the day
since you pulled me from the world and to yourself.
Two and a half since that hot afternoon
I first drove my pastoral sedan—
firstborn-brother, first of many, wincing
at my every sudden stop and wobbly turn—
one hundred fifty miles from our birth-town
to the Tabor that seemed to me paradise!,
though not at first. But I could not confess then
to you and those who came to see me off
how, after the good-byes and introductions
and desultory day gave way to lonely night,
I sat again in silence at the helm
of my own car (thanked God that I had brought it)
and drove, until I got my bearings back.
That moonless night I knew not where I was going,
nor hardly where I was, in the dim squint
of headlights and the litany of names
that were then strangers, now old friends:
Marquam, Monitor, Silverton Road, and all the rest.
And in the silent downpour which obscured
even more my sight, the windshield-wipers
were no help at all—but in the end
I found my way back to a little store
where I bought hot chocolate and detergent,
and went home by the Way of the Cross.
How many times, those first months, I returned
to the driver’s seat!—to drive, or to sit
at the crossroads of my will and of thine.
No wonder, then, as I stood folding sheets
in the cold and utter solitude
of a little monastic linen-room
and saw the palm-trees of my Babylon
shudder beyond the window in the wind,
I gazed a long time down the winding hill-road—
so unlike another I once knew—
and my heart stirred for a car of my own
to drive me an infinity of miles
back to the damp green homeland of my heart!
“Do you know what time is?” scoffed my brother
in a way that couldn’t help but make me laugh.
Maybe six years sometimes feels like sixty
because everyone else thinks a decade
is what I think a year is—or a month,
Have I been here a month now?
It might as easily be years or days
since I descended for the first time
the mountain where I knew you, O my God:
Engelberg’s daughter, and equally
Mount Tabor and Calvary to me!
White shirt and black suit stuck to me with sweat
that first day I arrived. I did not care.
It was what a seminarian wore,
and so I wore, with pride—til a brother
told me I needn’t wear it all the time.
When, January, monastery-bound,
I came to San Jose, I wore a sweatshirt,
not a sweaty suit and tie. And so it goes.
The life of grace is light that clarifies,
the flame of love a fire that refines.
How many brothers have I gained, O Lord,
and lost since then?—How many loves like sparks
flashed bright before my eyes and disappeared?
(Or burned too close, did they?—so that I blinked
and they were gone.) How many, many times
have I flung, not to the heart of the Host,
my heart, but down to another garden:
to bury my beating in the safer-
seeming soil of a familiar land.
Every “yes” came with a “but” or an “if,”
although I knew it not—I thought I gave
myself unreservedly, all at once,
when under the cross I knew your providence,
or if not then, when before your glory
I begged to love as freely as you love:
a prayer which you’ve been granting ever since.
It is no exile now nor accident
that you transplant me from my shallow soil
I loved as if it were th’ Elysian fields
to the vineyard you chose for me alone!
No wonder—it must hurt as tender roots,
plucked from one place, begin to root again.
I know myself only by reflection.
In one I recognize me as I was:
new convert, overzealous, touched by Love,
but still too full of self to love in truth.
Only six years—what miracle of grace!
Six years yet, and how far I have to go.
Once in impetuous youth, I denied
I was the same at twelve as I had been
at two: same-named, but a different person.
So I claimed.
Now I will have a new name,
“put on the new man,” yet I am the same:
the son beloved, the broken heart reclaimed,
the little one embraced and lifted high
from valley to mountain and open sky,
who loved you in the night when he was lost,
who searched for you in every heart he knew,
and found you more and more—now to find you
in spirit and in truth have you brought me
to be crucified, and to die and rise.
A hawk has—I am told—six feet of wings.
From tip to tip they span the length of me,
this emperor of the air, surveying from his tower
(made by men of steel and iron)
glittering temples, ziggurats of commerce,
A lone figure among saplings,
solitary tree on a bare hilltop—
blacktop, black dog, four men walking—
A rooster. A monastery.
What is it to see and not to know?
Your wings with wind’s-rush rustle
like silk, no effort, only ease,
circling on currents you know not whither:
and neither do you know their Maker,
do you, brother of the skies?
Let me tell you. I know him
like I know “I”—darkly, in a mirror.
As I know I, so I know Him: in you, in all of this,
O brother in this holy family
called Being—or better yet, called Good!
Praised be Jesus Christ! As of last night, I have arrived at Mt. St. Joseph Monastery, and tonight at Vespers I will be formally received, along with my brother Dustin Vu, as postulants in the Order of the Discalced Brothers of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. The sky is a blank, featureless grey as far as the eye can see, and there has been a gentle, constant drizzle all day, so I feel quite at home. (“San Jose is trying to outdo Oregon!” I told Fr. Robert, the postulant master, this morning, and it is! I went out for a run, but it was short-lived, what with the wind lashing rain in my face and branches blowing off the trees. There were these huge rolls of thunder, too, the awesome drum-beat announcing the coming of the sun, but when it came it was only visible for a brief moment before it was veiled again in the fog.)
Our drive down was not quite what I expected. Yet in one sense—an oddly comforting sense—it was exactly what I expected. Doesn’t ben-Sirach say, “when you come to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for trials”?
And objectively, the trials of our “journey home” were not so great. On Wednesday afternoon, my long-expected day of departure, my grandmother and great-grandmother both came over for tea until Fr. Robert and the other postulants showed up a little after 2:00 p.m. (some 4 hours later than we’d initially been planning due to some unexpected engine trouble with the van). I’d been feeling ready to go for a while, and though I was feeling the sting of leaving that morning and the night before in adoration, as soon as Fr. Robert and my new brothers Wesley, Colin, and Frank arrived, so too did my excitement and resolve return! We were all a flurry of introductions and then tearful goodbyes as the brothers loaded up my suitcase, 4 little boxes, 2 backpacks and an assorted jumble of books and boots—the sum total of my possessions—into the van. Fr. Robert led us all in a prayer as we held hands around the kitchen table. And then we were off, waving to my mom as she stood smiling through her tears on the front porch.
The drive down was at first all chocolate, praise music and excited conversation. We stopped in Ashland to put on snow chains and found one was a little loose, but it was determined there was nothing to be done about it just then, so on we went over Mt. Ashland, going slow and taking in the wonder of our picturesque surroundings, all mantled in white. Once we were descending the mountain again, we pulled over and removed the chains. But soon after, something went wrong. Br. Colin’s theory is that the loose chain must have punctured the tire and kept it pressurized as long as the chain was on, but let air out as soon as the chains were off. In any case, just a few minutes later, the van started shaking violently, we pulled over, and found the front passenger tire was shredded.
Cue all the postulants and Father getting out of the van on the shoulder of I-5, in the dark and the snow, taking everything out of the back to get to the spare tire, jacking up the van, then having to lower it again to move it from the gravel onto the asphalt, jacking it back up, removing the shredded tire (with a brief debate over which way to turn the lug-nuts), putting on the spare… Between Frank and Colin, it was like we had AAA right there in the van with us! We were going to leave the ruined tire behind because the van was full, but Colin saved us by observing that we would need the rim from that one when we got the replacement.
Soon enough, we were back on the road with our spare tire rolling, no harm done, just a little wet and cold. I was even thinking of how I could write a blog post about this—maybe relating it to our holy mother, St. Teresa, that time their carriages got carried away downstream on their pontoons in a Spanish storm, and she cried out, “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few!”—or something about the blessings of being part of a group, how we immediately fell into an easy rhythm, working together, anticipating one another’s needs, to get the job done. I was thinking about how I would not have been able to do all that if I had been on my own and was grateful for the Lord’s gift of calling me to this family of Carmel—even if I was also a little painfully self-conscious of how little I had done besides unload the boxes and hold the flashlight!
But as we continued south and Colin started looking for tire shops on Fr. Robert’s phone, it started to become clear that we weren’t “home and dry” just yet. There were no open tire shops anywhere nearby; most had closed at 6:00, and the nearest one open late (until 8:30) was at a Costco in Redding, another 100 miles down the freeway on our (already a little flat) spare tire! “And by the time we get there,” Father pointed out, toodling along at 40 mph, “they’ll probably be closed, too.”
In the end, we stopped at Yreka to check out an AutoZone (no luck), at which point Fr. Robert made the call that we would get dinner and rooms at a motel (“What’s that, you know, motel—something 6?” “…Motel 6?” “That’s the one.”) and have the tire replaced at Les Schwab in the morning.
And everything was grace. That we had been going so slow already when the tire blew that we hardly even felt it, and could pull over right away; that we had guys in the car who could change it; that where we ended up in Yreka we had dinner and a place to stay right next to one another, and a tire shop right across the street. We all had rooms to ourselves (although I couldn’t help remembering my grandmother’s prescient words once upon a time: “my idea of camping is the Motel 6!”) and, since the Les Schwab didn’t open until 9:00 and Fr. Robert told us to say our prayers in private, we had a chance at a full 8 hours. I even got to call my mom and tell her the whole story on Fr. Robert’s phone as soon as we checked in.
But something was nagging at me as I settled (gingerly) into my room. For one thing, I was tired and had been feeling myself starting to wear thin as the night drew on, but more importantly, as I recognized in my examination of conscience before bed, the Lord was teaching my heart how not to be control. That things do not have to be as I have expected them to be. It’s an ongoing class He’s teaching me, but I’m taking the next level now, “Advanced Not-Being-In-Control”. And as I wrote that night, “I ‘opted in’ to this lesson; in fact I am even more ‘in’ than some of the other postulants (the other three still have their cell phones, and money!)” whereas I had brought neither. But even though I freely enrolled in the class, it’s a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. I don’t have my own car anymore, so I didn’t get to decide whether to stay or go, and I couldn’t go back to get a pen from my backpack, which I’d left in the van, without waking Fr. Robert (so instead I borrowed one from the motel lobby). I don’t have a phone anymore, so I couldn’t call (or text, or Facebook) anyone I wanted. Without a phone, and my clock packed away in one of my boxes, I couldn’t even set an alarm to wake me up in the morning—my room, devoid even of pens, was emphatically lacking a clock (so instead I called the front desk and asked for a 7:30 a.m. wake-up call). To my knowledge, I hadn’t even brought any shampoo or body wash, since I knew that would all be provided for at Mt. St. Joseph—I was resigned to washing up with the little bar of soap in the shower when I found, in an obscure fold of an outer pocket in my suitcase, a little travel-sized bottle of face and body wash.
And in a delightful way, that little bottle completely changed my mood. I was feeling like quite the martyr, having to endure such sufferings as walking down to borrow a pen from the lobby of this motel (at which I had never planned or wanted to stay in the first place!) I was thinking for the first time about how the sacrifices I was making would really impact my day to day life in so many ways, large and small. But finding that little bottle reminded me that, just as I wasn’t alone when the tire blew out on the van—all I had to do was my little (yet not insignificant!) part, and the team of us got the tire changed—so I am not alone, not in the least alone, in the little sacrifices I am making for the Lord.
“Grace builds on nature,” Fr. Robert exclaimed that night at dinner, in an attempt to explain the effects of his horchata-flavored energy drink. (“It’s really a grace/horchata synergy!”) In the same way, grace builds on our sacrifices—so all I have to do is make the little, yet significant sacrifices I am called to make, and the Lord meets me right there with all that I need, “good measure, shaken out and spilling over.”
It’s not, in other words, about just making life harder for myself and getting to be all “woe is me” (and, let’s face it, also more than a little self-congratulatory) for taking the more difficult road and having to be flexible when I run into unexpected trials. It’s about being faithful to what the Lord is asking of me, whether that’s to hold a flashlight in the snow, or walk downstairs to borrow a pen, or to humbly nod and accept it when The Plan changes (because The Plan is really a hollow fiction of ours, isn’t it? “Man proposes, God disposes,” as Fr. Robert said on another occasion, casually blowing my mind.) And as long as I am faithful to Him, He is unfailingly faithful to me—whether in the form of this awesome band of brothers, or a hot meal and a room to myself, free of charge, just when I needed a little time “alone with the Alone,” or even, with His divine sense of humor, in a providential little bottle of face and body wash.
The rest of the drive down passed without incident. The tire shop was open an hour earlier than we’d expected (another grace), so by 9:00 yesterday morning we were ready to go. I-5 was closed just south of Yreka, but Fr. Robert had learned about it in advance and we took an alternate route, on backroads where the snow was chest-deep on either side. In the morning sun, amongst the snow-capped trees, under the shadow of Mt. Shasta, it was like driving through a Christmas card. We arrived at San Jose just after 5:00 last night, and after a social and dinner with the community, Fr. Robert celebrated Mass for the five of us postulants at Our Lady’s altar.
After Mass, he made a few remarks to us, beginning with something a Legionary of Christ priest said to him once: “You know what your problem is, Robert?” he said. “It’s not that you don’t believe in God—you believe in Him all right. You just don’t believe in yourself.” He urged us not to underestimate our own capacity for self-growth. And while our time here in formation will entail purification and suffering, He said to look to Our Lord as our model: He spent 3 hours on the cross, 3 days in the tomb, but after His resurrection He walked the earth in His glorified body for 50 days. The purifications are nothing compared to the glory. Everything is grace: the call, the ability to hear the call, our openness and ability to respond, and everything that response entails.
And finally, he said, if we are tempted to think we could have done more good at home with our family: “Jesus is going to fill that empty chair at the dinner table where you used to sit. And He’s going to do a better job there than you.”
Already in these last 48 hours since leaving home, I am getting a little sense of the broad themes the Lord is going to be teaching me through my brothers during my time here. Surrendering control. (“Learn to love as God desires to be loved and abandon your own ways of acting,” as the plaque on the wall above this computer says.) Doing small things with great love. Learning to believe in myself and trust that God knows what He is doing with me, his poor instrument! I have a lot to learn. But I also have a lot of time. And God is very faithful to us, “unto ages of ages,” as the Orthodox say beautifully.
Glory be to God for His mercy to us!
John Paul’s family, the Mičeks, are like a “second family” to me. I have known them since I joined the Church in 2011; their eldest daughter was confirmed with me in 2012, and their family has always supported me in everything. Now they need help to afford another autism service dog for their next oldest son, John Paul.
Jennifer (mom) writes, “I know your brothers likely won’t be able to donate, but they are champions at prayer, which is also much appreciated!”
Of your charity, if you are able to support this good family spiritually or materially, please do so!
Donate to ASDA here (please click Donate and include “In Honor of JP and Freddy” under special instructions).
Donate to OSU Small Animal Teaching Hospital by calling (541) 737-4812 (please give Freddy’s ID no. 517864).
PRAYER FOR THE INTERCESSION OF ST. JOHN PAUL II
O Blessed Trinity, we thank you for having graced the Church with Saint John Paul II and for allowing the tenderness of your fatherly care, the glory of the Cross of Christ and the splendor of the Spirit of love to shine through him.
Trusting fully in your infinite mercy and in the maternal intercession of Mary, he has given us a living image of Jesus the Good Shepherd. He has shown us that holiness is the necessary measure of ordinary Christian life and is the way of achieving eternal communion with you.
Grant us, by his intercession, and according to your will, the graces we implore, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Pope St. John Paul the Great, ora pro nobis!
This weekend, my home parish of St. Joseph’s was blessed to host several of my seminarian brothers at the Saturday night vigil and 9:00 Sunday morning Masses. Mr. Michael Kelly of the Diocese of Yakima served as thurifer, and Isaac Allwin (Tucson) as boat bearer; Abundio Colazo (Tucson) and Ben Condon (Sacramento) were our acolytes; Brent Durschmidt (Portland) was crucifer, and I served as M.C. The evening Mass was celebrated by Fr. Pedro Arteaga, MSpS, of Mt. Angel Seminary, and the morning Mass by Fr. Jose Manuel Campos (Portland), our fearless pastor, who insisted on taking us all out to breakfast afterwards. Thanks be to God for these fine men!