Monday, December 29, 2008

School Cyber Bullying Law in California

I was reading the Sacramento Bee this morning and one of the front page articles was focused on one of the new laws passed in the California State Assembly. The law, which was entitled Bill 86, was proposed by Ted Lieu, D-El Segundo and was signed by Governor Schwarzenegger on Sept. 30. So what is so important about this law? This law takes aim at stopping cyber bulling. Unfortunately it doesn't call for the end of social networking sites but it does however tell our children that we are aware of what is happening on the internet. The interesting part of the Sacramento Bee article was how it started. The article began, "It was bad enough when middle school students in Novato last year harassed and ridiculed 14-year-old Olivia when she suffered a seizure on campus.

But her torment only worsened when the girl went online and discovered a MySpace page full of taunts, slurs and threats directed at her. Her classmates had dubbed the page "Olivia Haters."

The case of the Novato teen would inspire a book, "Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope." It would also stir a hand-wringing discussion over the emotional cruelty of school bullying and the power of the Internet to make it even more severe." According to, "The law gives school administrators the leverage to suspend or expel students for bullying other students by means of an electronic device such as a mobile phone or on an Internet social networking site like MySpace or Facebook; the law, however, only applies to bullying that occurs during school hours or during a school-related activity." One of the main influences for the bill being made into law was the case of Megan Meier in Missouri (Megan's case was the subject of another blog that I had written). I found some suggestions for parents if they believe that their child is being cyberbullied on the website,

# Stay calm. Plan out what you are going to say to your child's teacher and school administrators. Stay sensitive to your child's feelings and concerns.
# Report the bullying incident as thoroughly and accurately as possible. Listen to your child with an open heart and mind, and let them know they have done the right thing in coming to you with the problem.
# Document everything! Pretend you are a lawyer and put everything in writing. Tape record statements, type them up and have witnesses sign them. Take pictures of injuries and date them accordingly.
# If your child is being bullied online, print hard copies of all the messages. Save all e-mails and instant messages. Build a file.

The interesting part of the Sacramento Bee article was how it caught your eye. The article began, "It was bad enough when middle school students in Novato last year harassed and ridiculed 14-year-old Olivia when she suffered a seizure on campus. But her torment only worsened when the girl went online and discovered a MySpace page full of taunts, slurs and threats directed at her. Her classmates had dubbed the page "Olivia Haters." The case of the Novato teen would inspire a book, "Letters to a Bullied Girl: Messages of Healing and Hope." It would also stir a hand-wringing discussion over the emotional cruelty of school bullying and the power of the Internet to make it even more severe."

Hopefully we can all move forward to stop cyber bullying and stop any dependence on social networking sites.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Into the Wild

Just a note before this post. Most seminarians have already started their Christmas break but mine starts today. WOOHOO! So you won't hear from me for a couple weeks as I'll be outside the country, Italy that is, for a bit. But with all that has been contributed in the past couple weeks, it looks like I won't even really be missed. I hope all of you have a wonderful Christmas and may you come to know Christ more deeply than ever as we look to the birth of our Savior. AMDG.

I recently watched the movie, "Into the Wild", which ended up reminding me of another film, "Into Great Silence". For those who have never watched the first, it's a real life story about a young man fresh out of college and disillusioned both with his family and the world. He sets off on a mission of self-discovery, in my opinion, and discovers so much about who he is and what life is really about through a series of encounters with others. It is also interesting that much of what he uncovers comes through others, through this sense that we need other people.

The second film is a documentary on the life of Carthusian monks who live in the French Alps isolated from the rest of the world. They spend most of their time in prayer or in manual work, only spending an hour a week, I believe, talking freely with their fellow monks. These men flee the world and they too are searching. In fact, they've also found something.

What am I getting at? There is this great search within the human person for something that matters, for the purpose of life, for some sense of fulfillment. We are searching. I've discovered this so quickly in Italy where I have run into people who have simply left everything and moved to Italy because they just want to do something else - they want to find something else. It also reminds me of this man in Australia who put his entire life up for sale and decided to move away. Searching...people are searching.

It's amazing to hear the story of the young man because he moves across the country towards Alaska. There is a sense that he has to go somewhere else to discover what he is looking for. Likewise with people I've met here and even friends from home, they have to move away from where they are to discover what they are looking for. But I think the Carthusian monks have something so wise to say. That it does not really matter where you go while you search. The search everyone undertakes in life is a search for God, for his face in the world, it is a search for his son Jesus Christ. In the end, it is a search for what truly fulfills, love, ultimate divine infinite love that Christ showed on the cross and which we desire to know. I have a feeling that this is something like what is in the film The Human Experience. Sadly I have not had a chance to watch it yet. But this searching continues.

I think this is one thing that always excites me about ministry now and in the future. I am gifted with the opportunity, through having received faith, to give Christ to others. As people search and come up empty, I can in some small way point them towards the only love that fulfills. Because in the end, we crave this love. We crave this divine love of the Creator who made us in love and for love and calls us back to our original purpose to be love as well.

Monday, December 15, 2008

What I did over Christmas break

Every seminarian has a spiritual director and an academic adviser. The spiritual director helps you with your internal formation and to conform your heart and your spirit to Christ which is undoubtedly the most important aspect of priestly formation since the priest stands in persona Christi during the Mass. The academic adviser doesn't just help you with academics, but ideally he also helps you with the external, visible aspects of living a priestly life. My adviser gave me an interesting task to work on over the Christmas break, although he was quick to point out this will probably occupy me for the rest of my life.

In case you're just joining us, I'm a fairly recent convert to the Faith - four years this Easter. I haven't had any trouble with academics thus far, so Fr. Stevens said he wants me to work on converting my imagination as well. I understand and believe (in some cases the latter more so than the former) everything the Holy Catholic Church approves and teaches, but I never got to experience Catholic culture growing up.

When I told my fellow pre-theologians about this at St. Patrick's, the most common reaction I got was, "You mean Catholic books and movies and stuff? I haven't read or seen many 'Catholic' books and movies." That may be so, but you've been living the faith since birth. If you're here in the seminary or discerning a vocation to the priesthood, it's reasonable to assume that your parents did a good job of teaching you and raising you in the faith. Even if you've never had any catechesis since your confirmation classes, you've had a certain way of looking at the world since you attained your reason. Much of my conversion process has included "unlearning" and rejecting a lot of modern assumptions which lead, as our Holy Father put it, to a dictatorship of relativism. God has His reasons for everything, so I trust that I grew up the way I did because He was shaping me to be the man I am today with all of the experiences, memories, and history that goes with it.

Good literature, music, or cinema points us toward the true, the good, and the beautiful. All of those things are ultimately grounded in God, who is Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. As Cardinal Newman once put it, the real conflict is not between faith and reason, but faith and imagination.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Life at the Angelicum

Though I'm sad not to be at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park this year, there has been one great joy after my first couple weeks of class. And that is....there are sooo many people from other countries and other religious orders in my classes. It's awesome. I've met Indians, Panamanians, Pakistani, Nigerians, Swedes, Irish, Scots, Canadians, Chinese, English, and the list goes on. There are Missionary of Charity Fathers, Norbertines, Dominicans, Benedictines, Sisters of Charity, and on and on. There is a certain beauty of seeing the Church in this universal way. And we get to talk to them about the life of the Church around the world.

I study at the Angelicum which is the Dominican run school in Rome. It's nice. We call it the happy place in comparison to the Gregorian which happens to be run by the Jesuits. The joy is...well...we speak in English all the time and everyone is friendly. It's hard to put into words. It's kind of like the difference between these 2 following pictures. See the Angelicum is just a place of light...angels even.

The Gregorian is just a bit more intimidating...

The greatest danger here is not wondering if you understand anything the professor is saying or whether you are going to suffer from heat exhaustion in a small lecture hall packed with 150 students, but whether an American seminarian will start throwing rocks at you or if you will get sprayed in the face by the water spicket with no control. Yes, these things have happened to me.

Plus we have good classes :) and funny professors like the father who commented yesterday as I was sitting in the back of the class something to the effect of, "Would any in the back of the class like to add anything. No wait, you guys aren't even awake." Haha...well he was partially right. On to some pictures for your entertainment. This is one of the entrances. It's usually closed so we have to take these ginormous stairs to the right of it. Chapel is on the left but I forgot to take a picture of it. It's pretty nice. Next time...

This is the inner courtyard. To the left is the evil water fountain spicket type thing that sprays water in your face. Rocks are down below. It's quite nice. We also have this big quiet garden in the back, a little coffee bar with all kinds of food, a library, AND...a Blessed Sacrament Chapel where we have exposition of the Blessed Sacrament from 8-6pm everyday. It's pretty nice.

This is my classroom. Fits about 50-60 people if everyone shows up. :) This is not always typical though. We have some big classrooms too kinda like the university style lecture halls except it's all wood and there is that big ol' crucifix too.

And that's a wrap. AMDG.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

What is a seminarian like?

So, this is my first post here on the Sactown Seminarian blog, and (un)fortunately it isn't going to be my vocation story, just yet.

I am going to start this off with a response to questions that I have been receiving lately in regards to my vocation. See, I had the blessed opportunity to return home recently. When I arrived home, so many people had so many questions for me. The most common questions sounded something like this: "How do you like it?" or "So, what's the seminary like?" Eventually, it would get to this question: "So, What are the other seminarians like?"

Now that is an interesting question, and one that I found myself responding with this answer: "Ridiculous."

That may not be the most descriptive term for seminarians, but it is the word that always comes to mind [I am not sure if my fellow Diocesan brothers would agree, but I think they might]. Now, before any of the readers get scandalized, when I use the word "ridiculous" I don't mean that they take their vocation lightly, or that they treat their faith as a joke. No, what I mean with that answer is this: seminarians are ridiculously human.

A few months ago, after just having settled in to the seminary, a dear friend who is very involved in the faith called and he posed a similar question with a slightly different spin. Paraphrased, he asked me, what, as someone promoting vocations, should I look for as a defining factor when targeting men for priestly vocations? What do all you seminarians have in common? My response: nothing. I take that back, we all have a love for Mother Church, and a desire to follow God's will, but other than that, nothing.

I say this with sincerity.

See, you can walk down the halls of our building and you will hear the sounds of very different music styles, smell the unique types of food being consumed, and participate in conversations of varying topics. We come from different cultures from across the world. We come from different social groups. Some went to public school, some private, others were homeschooled. Young and old, tall and short, round and less-round, we come in different packages. Some are funny, some not-so-much. There are former engineers, professional musicians, farmers, rocket scientists, and more. Some seminarians enjoy soccer, basketball and/or volleyball. And there are those that prefer not to break a sweat. On Sundays, there is a group of us that share the enjoyment of watching our favorite teams go at it playing football! San Diego Super Chargers! There are seminarians that like Sci-fi, others romantic comedies, and then there are those that enjoy High School Musical (*ahem* Patrick Arguelles).

We are different.

Much like every part of the Body of Christ is different.

As children of God, we are all unique, and so are all those called to be priests. There isn't some cookie-cutter prototype of what a seminarian is. There isn't some cookie-cutter prototype of what a priest is. We are men, and we are called.

My advice to those trying to help promote vocations, cast the net wide. Don't look for a type. Support any and all who might be discerning. As made clear in the bible, God will and does use every type of person to accomplish His work.

Who knows? The fellow sitting next to you in the pew, that attractive, young, college dropout who enjoys sushi, board games, and taking pictures of walls, and is wearing a Walgreens Photo Department Uniform, just might need one word of encouragement to push him in his discernment.

What are seminarians like? Ridiculous. Ridiculously human.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Document on Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Seminarians

On October 30th of 2008, the Congregation for Catholic Education put out a document on psychology and seminary formation that has been in the works for years. The title is Guidelines for the Use of Psychology in the Admission and Formation of Candidates for the Priesthood. I think it's a valuable document so as I read along through it I will post different parts of the document.

This document shows at the very least a great care and concern for vocations to the priesthood and for seminarians as well. I know as a seminarian who has already gone through 2 psychological evaluations that these things are not always the most pleasurable experiences but nevertheless necessary. And it's interesting to know the role that the Church desires psychology to play within discernment and formation.

The first section comes largely from Pastores Dabo Vobis (well worth reading for discernment purposes) if I am correct. And it reiterates some key points that I think even today we largely forget.

“Each Christian vocation comes from God and is God's gift. However, it is never bestowed outside of or independently of the Church. Instead it always comes about in the Church and through the Church [...], a luminous and living reflection of the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.”

The Church, “begetter and formator of vocations”, has the duty of discerning a vocation and the suitability of candidates for the priestly ministry. In fact, “the interior call of the Spirit needs to be recognized as the authentic call of the bishop.”

In furthering this discernment, and throughout the entire process of formation for ministry, the Church is moved by two concerns: to safeguard the good of her own mission and, at the same time, the good of the candidates. In fact, like every Christian vocation, the vocation to the priesthood, along with a Christological dimension, has an essentially ecclesial dimension: “Not only does it derive `from' the Church and her mediation, not only does it come to be known and find fulfillment `in' the Church, but it also necessarily appears – in fundamental service to God – as a service `to' the Church. Christian vocation, whatever shape it takes, is a gift whose purpose is to build up the Church and to increase the kingdom of God in the world.”

Therefore, the good of the Church and that of the candidate are not in opposition, but rather converge. Those responsible for formation work at harmonizing these two goods, by always considering both simultaneously in their interdependent dynamic. This is an essential aspect of the great responsibility they bear in their service to the Church and to individuals."

It's easy from the side of the seminarian or a man discerning his call to the priesthood to see it simply as him deciding whether God is calling him to the priesthood. And indeed, that is a huge part of discernment. But this second part, a part I did not really recognize in my own discernment, is this discernment that the Church must make of his suitability. This comes from the reality that the priesthood is never oriented to the oneself but always to the sake of the Church and the glory of God. We can never simply claim priesthood. It always comes as a gift.

Now I truly recognize this as a blessing. In fact, the Church is not simply watching out for herself but really for me. My vocation is only truly authentic when I know God is calling me to the priesthood and the Church believes this as well. It is a double confirmation. And this helps especially when there are doubts in discernment to see the wisdom and the advice of the Church that has helped men discerning this call for the last 2,000 years.

So that part was good. Next time I'll get into the meatier parts of the document.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Gozo y Esperanza

That is the episcopal motto of the new ordinary of Sacramento, Bishop Jaime Soto (it translates as "Joy and Hope" for those who no habla español.) Our previous ordinary, Bishop William Weigand, retired yesterday which also happened to be the fifteenth anniversary of his installation as Bishop of Sacramento. In some ways, I feel like I have to say goodbye to Bishop Weigand right after saying hello. Although I haven't known him as long as some of my brother seminarians have, his concern and devotion to our welfare shone through in the times we have all spent with him at retreats and dinners. The Diocese of Sacramento, and the entire Church, has been blessed to have him as a shepherd. We will all miss him, but after twenty eight years as a diocesan bishop - thirteen years for Salt Lake City and then fifteen for Sacramento - he has certainly earned his retirement! We will all pray that it proves restful and spiritually fruitful.

One thing I like about being Catholic is we get to celebrate New Year's early: yesterday was the first Sunday of Advent, the start of a new liturgical year. Advent and Christmas are my favorite times of the year. It seems providential that Bishop Soto became our new bishop yesterday. I believe his motto comes from the Vatican II document Gaudium et Spes, the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. There certainly are many problems in our country and in our world. But it is important to avoid the two errors one can make here: either throwing up one's hands in despair, or pretending that the problems don't exist through a false optimism. Part of our mission as future priests is to lead souls to the source of all joy and hope: our Lord Jesus Christ, ever present in the Blessed Sacrament. He is the rock upon which authentic joy and hope for the future can rest. Keep your heart and your soul focused on Him, whatever your state of life, and you will be filled with the joy and hope that comes from knowing that the greatest victory has already been won.

I look forward to the day, God willing, when I will be able to serve our new bishop as a priest. Finals are almost here, which means I only have six and a half years to go!