The invisible decade on my rosary

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the different types of religious congregations that help make up the Catholic Church. Writing it was like spiritual therapy because for years I have been discerning where my spiritual talents could be most useful, which Saint could mentor me towards earning my heavenly crown and those of my family.  St. Francis? Our lady of Mount Carmel?  St. Dominic? St. Ignatius?

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Big Therapist in the sky has astounded me once again with His wisdom.  Upon praying the rosary, a sense of belongingness that was silently coaxing me towards a particular religious charism shone through… and it came in the most peculiar way:

This is my rosary.  It was a birthday gift from my wife that I received back in 2010.

Did you notice something different about my rosary?  It has six decades.

Why? Wouldn’t that anti-liturgical?  Truthfully, I don’t know.  I’ll let you battle that out in the combox.

I learned how to pray this sixth decade from a very lesser-known religious congregation called the Christian Brothers.  They are consecrated laymen who vow poverty, chastity and obedience to the superior Brother (not a Bishop) who then answers to the Pope.  They are teachers and dedicate their bodies and souls to the ongoing construction of the God’s Kingdom as teachers.  Since I am a teacher, I gravitated to their founder’s spirituality.  St. John the Baptist De La Salle, while not very well known in the U.S. is worldwide thanks to his Brethren.

Back to that sixth mystery. It turns out that the Lasallian rosary is always prayed with a sixth decade which bears no evangelical mystery.  Instead, it is prayed to strengthen the community through consecration to Mary and her Son, Jesus.

“The sixth and final decade is dedicated to the Lasallian community which I love so very much.”

These are the words I’ve recited thousands of times prior to beginning my secret sixth decade.  Now, it is not longer a secret.  I am Lasallian.

Here are a few problems with that:

The closest Lasallian community is located 3 hours away from me so I can’t be considered an “official” part of their community.

The Lasallians have no “Third Order”, so there is no real enrollment into the community besides what we experienced while serving with them as missionaries.

Finally, almost nobody knows who they are in the U.S. which makes it hard to connect with other Lasallians.

And so, I have no real merit in saying I’m lasallian, but I sure as heck hope that merit is earned by living as one.

What about you?  Have you ever had a calling to serve but couldn’t realize it?  Do you have a secret prayer that is hooking you up with some extra graces?

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My Ironic Journey Toward Learning the Spanish Language

The Spanish language is something of awe to me. I remember taking intro classes in High School and hating it with all of my being. I thought it was useless for an American like me to learn a language I would never use in the future. Little did I know how much this language would have in store for me in the future, and how God decided to use it to humble me.

When I arrived back from Oaxaca, Mexico in January of 2005, I was very distressed that I could not offer as much help as I wanted to during our 2 week mission trip. It was frustrating that I could not speak with a 5 year old child who wanted nothing more than a piggy back ride. In my misunderstandings, we occasionally were able to communicate through body language, but we wasted so much time that could have been spent helping and loving. It was then that I realized that if I wanted to be at all effective as an inner-city school teacher (or missioner for that matter, a vocation that was also on my heart), I was going to have to learn the language.

I got quick to work taking my first introduction to Spanish class with complete seriousness. My teacher was excellent, Maria Villalobos Beuhner. She made me work very hard and I was up to the task. She planted the seed in me that would eventually become my motivation to make Spanish my major.

After one year of constant study, I was off to Spain to study abroad. The language was very difficult at first, but by the grace of God, I was able to find new ways, new friends, and new dictionaries that helped me learn the language. After 3 months, the language was a part of me and I became addicted to it even though I didn’t completely understand it.

When I came back to the States, I attempted to find any outlet to use my Spanish, but it was not welcomed very well. I watched Spanish TV and read Spanish books, even completed a few more Spanish classes, but it didn’t seem like it was enough.

It was then that I met my wife, Maribel. We fell in love and have spoken the language ever since. I recommend falling in love with someone who speaks a different language than you do (as if you really had a choice). It forces you to listen to every single word whether you want to or not. It leaves no room for laziness and a lot of room for patience; these being two great foundations for marriage.

As it is, the language that I hated for so long and to a certain point despised has now become the language in which I love. God has given me this gift to love my wife, my mission, my students, and of course my family in a whole new way. It is a language of love that I personally cannot speak without smiling. It has humbled me in ways that are only explainable by God. For this gift, I am both in awe of God’s power to change people’s lives in creative ways and I am also thankful.

To top it all off, this is the language in which I have been given the mission of proclaiming the gospel both in my hometown of Grand Rapids and in my second home in Mexico. The Lord certainly does work in mysterious (and ironic) ways.

Words from a Missionary

Psalms from Saltillo- download now for free.  This compilation is a poetic manifesto of what God does to a soul who chooses to give it all. Called to serve the abandoned and abused youth of Saltillo, Mexico, my wife and I were lucky enough to work alongside present-day saints whose reflection of God’s light shone on us. To this day, their examples and the trials faced while helping those most in need have taught us more than we could ever have dreamed of about regarding Catholic social justice. These poems allow readers to relive that experience.

If you missed it I published another book you might like for free yesterday too.

When the Culture of Death Meets the Culture of Moral Relativism

A coupleweeks back, I informed my students of my Christmas vacation plans.  I told them I was going to Mexico and theywere thrilled for me.  “Enjoy the sunshine”, “Eat a lot of tacos” and “brush up on your Spanish” they told me.  I then informed them that I wasn’t going to the “nice” regions like Cancun or Acapulco.  Rather, I was going to Ciudad Juarez, the murder capital of the world.  They then pleaded with me, “No! Don’t go!  You’ll get kidnapped and we’ll never see you again!”
At that point I realized that I was heading deep into the heart of what frequent visitor to Mexico Blessed John Paul II called “the culture of death.”  What I didn’t know was how very distant this culture was in relation to the one that my own country suffers from- the “culture of moral relativism.”
Anyone will tell you that as soon as the sun sets in Juarez, no one should be out and about.  Others will even go as far to tell you not to go out at all unless it is completely necessary.  There are many reasons why they tell youthis.  Since the late 1990s, women have gone missing for years only to be found beneath the layers of sand dunes located just outside the city.  Also, since Juarez is a heavily populated border city with El Paso, U.S.A, it is a mecca for drug cartels looking to pass their mercancia to American addicts and dealers.  This business has become so intense opposing gangs slaughter each other on a daily basis attempting to gaincontrol over the city. It is not surprising to see the death toll higher thanthat of American soldiers being lost in the Middle East.  Police corruption fuels each side withammunition and hopes of city domination. Meanwhile, innocent victims get caught in the cross fire, the middle class tiendas and shops become victims of extortion and blackmail, and even the poor are mugged for the little they have.
When one enters into a city like this knowing all that happens, you might think them crazy or suicidal.  But this “culture of death” is nothing in comparison to the “culture of moral relativism” that is found within the souls of some people in the United States and around the world.  Sure, while at home, I feel free, more secure, more confident.  But for those very reasons, my soul is in danger.  Because I am secure, confident and free, I need not suffer, fear, nor question my interiorconceptions of morality.  In Juarez, right and wrong is defined every day. In the U.S., right and wrong need not even be contemplated as long as comfort and stability are not at risk.
In each culture, the majority of the population remains “good” while a small percentage ruins it for the rest.  Unfortunately, the majority fear doing anything to change their situations.  This fear settles for mediocrity and allows death and moral relativism reign.  In Juarez, we fear our physical destruction, which provides a tremendous outlet to spiritual conversion.  So why is it that in the U.S. we do not fear our spiritual destruction?

iQue Viva Cristo Rey!

In the early 1900s, Mexico went through a period of religious persecution.  Many people pledged allegiance to the Mexican government and helped injustice rule while others took the side of the Christian faithful and hoped that justice would prevail.  One religious congregation was seen by the Mexican government as a particular threat.  They were consecrated religious teachers called the Christian Brothers.  This group of educators refused to sacrifice their allegiance to God and continued to teach the regular academics prescribed by the Mexican government with the Gospel message sprinkled into every lesson.  When government officials spoke of their teaching methods, they would warn each other saying, “Watch out for those Brothers, they can find a way to teach catechism in math class.”
Although very few Lasallian Brothers were hurt dring this time, many other Catholics gave up their lives to ensure that Christianity would reign in their land and continue on in their culture.  As they made their heavenly transitions, many yelled their last words “Que viva Cristo Rey!” (“long live Christ the King!)
On today’s date, we celebrate the end of the liturgical year on the feast of Christ the King.  May our lessons, our teachings, our very lives be lived as if we were fighting for His glory to remain in our land and in our cultures like our Mexican Brothers and Sisters who paid the price so that Mexico, and all of Latin America could remain Holy.
iQue viva Cristo rey en nuestros corazones por siempre!