My first serious life choice

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Sierra Exif JPEG

I looked around during meditation that evening, especially at the priests and realized that in another ten or twenty years my life would probably resemble one of theirs. Was there anyone in the monastery I wanted to emulate? I respected several of the priests for their intelligence. Of the three priests I respected most, one seemed rather paranoid and fearful of expressing his own ideas. One I saw as selling out to the establishment and not sticking up for what he thought, much less what we thought. The third appeared broken and bereft of his dreams.

Most of the other priests I saw as unhappy in a variety of ways, or as having made compromises in their commitment to the religious life. After I had considered everyone, I realized there were no priests in the monastery I would like to turn into in the foreseeable future. I also realized that in another ten years I probably would be like one of them. None were willing to challenge the system and the few students who did want to see change were outnumbered and constantly under a cloud.

I reviewed my observations with God. I tried not to be judgmental about the priests I had just finished considering. It was up to them to decide whether they were living the life God wanted for them. It seemed clear that this was no longer the life for me. I didn’t know what God had in store for me next. It seemed that whatever it was, I had learned something about difficult times and felt ready for the next challenge.

I told Father Xavier I wanted to meet with my Uncle Bob who lived in the Union City monastery across the Hudson River from Manhattan. With his permission, I called my uncle who suggested we meet for dinner in a restaurant in Manhattan. He traveled by bus and I took the subway. Remarkably, we both arrived at the restaurant about the same time. After a few pleasantries, I told him that I was thinking of leaving the monastery. He was not surprised, based on our previous conversations and word which had filtered back to him through the Provincial.

He explained that he had always wanted to preach, but never had much of an opportunity to do so. He went to college to prepare himself to teach Physics at Holy Cross. Then he then became Rector of St. Mary’s Monastery, Rector in Scranton and eventually Provincial Consultor. I told him I thought this must have been quite frustrating. He saw it as his being willing to do the things that needed doing so others could do what they wanted.

I told him I admired his self sacrifice, but found it very difficult to let go of any dreams I had. I also found it hard to trust superiors who seemed to know so little about student development in a changing world. They seemed afraid of the changes which progress implied.

Despite our differences, he understood my position and agreed to respect whatever I decided to do. I told him I had thought about all the priests I lived with and did not want to turn out like any of them. I did not feel I had the self sacrifice to live as he did. I told him I thought it was time to leave the monastery. I felt sad on the way back to Jamaica, realizing how happy he had been when I joined the seminary and how disappointed he must be to see me leave, even thought he did not express it.

The reality of leaving seemed to come upon me fast, although I had been dissatisfied and frustrated for some time. I held out the hope that there would be a resolution to the concerns several of us had raised about the limitations and contradictions of our way of life. It became increasingly clear over time that the order was not about to budge and seemed fearful of change. The only possible resolutions seemed for me to give up my interest in change or to leave. I did not think the first choice would be possible for me without leaving me very embittered and resentful. This was not how I wanted to live. Leaving the monastery remained my only choice.

Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. For a free sample, follow the link to the Amazon page and choose Look Inside. 

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My Profession of Vows

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The Provincial had selected my Uncle Bob to receive our vows as well as to give our Profession retreat. He would preside over the Vestition and Profession ceremonies in Father Provincial’s place. I was impressed by his quiet appreciation of our faith and of our way of life. I was also happy that he had a chance to preach as he had always wanted to do.

After the Vestition ceremony and a meal of celebration, I had a chance to walk in the monastery garden with my uncle and talk with him a little about the novitiate. “Over the past year, I have had to change my life almost completely. I don’t feel like the same person I was a year ago.”

“You’re not. You have given yourself to God and have let go of your own desires. You will be following God’s will from now on in everything you do.”

“Right now that doesn’t sound too hard. I wonder if I will have trouble with it when there is something I really want to do.”

“No doubt. Everyone has times like that. It is a trial of faith which makes us stronger.”

“I have read about such trials in the lives of the saints. I hope I am strong enough to face them, whatever they are for me.”

“That’s why you have a community to live in. You don’t have to face anything alone.”

My uncle was an intelligent, thoughtful and wise man who also had a good sense of humor. In contrast to my father’s family, most of whom were quite serious and quick to annoyance and harsh words, Uncle Bob was always the voice of reason and was able to use his humor to diffuse any conflict.

He was present at all the major events in my life. He had married my parents before I was born. He baptized me. He was present at my First Communion where I thought he was a visitor. When it was time for me to receive communion, he came down from the altar, gave me communion and then returned while our pastor finished. He was here now to help me with my next major step in life.

I told God I was as ready as I ever would be to take the next step. I knew I was not perfect, but I didn’t think he expected me to be. I promised to do the best I could to follow the religious way of life and live my life the way He wanted me to. I told Him I could not do it on my own and asked again for His guidance.

We entered the monastery church for Profession of Vows in a solemn procession, the newly vested novices singing hymns from behind the altar. I saw my parents, three brothers and sister sitting near the front of the church. Most of the ceremony was a blur to me as I focused on the commitment I was making. The religious community prayed over us. Confrater Gary’s uncle preached a sermon outlining the life we had chosen and the meaning of our vows. Father Augustine Paul served as master of ceremonies. Confrater Daniel’s and Confrater David’s brothers, Bernard and Claude, assisted as ministers for the ceremony.

As at our Vestition, each of us climbed the altar steps and approached a chair in the center of the landing in front of the altar, this time occupied by my uncle. We knelt one at a time before him and placed our folded hands in his hands to signify our connection with the Passionist Order, with my uncle as Father Provincial’s representative and ultimately God’s.

As we knelt, we professed that we would follow each of the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience as well as the fourth vow of promotion of the Passion of Jesus.  We said all of this aloud. At the end we whispered, “…for three years.” Temporary vows were a chance to try out the religious life without a permanent commitment. If we decided not to continue in the religious life, we could request release from our vows any time during the three years. If we decided to continue in the religious life, we would take permanent vows. If someone still was not sure of a permanent commitment, he could renew his temporary vows. If someone later decided to leave the religious life, he could request release from permanent vows, but only by petition to Rome.

(Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. Click on title and choose Look Inside on the Amazon book page for a free sample.

 

Evening Reflections in the Seminary

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I got into bed, feeling tired after the day’s adventures, hoping to get to sleep. I had never slept in a room full of strangers although I was getting to know a few students. I had been away to Boy Scout camp and to visit relatives, but that was different.

I found myself lying on my back with eyes wide open, a lump in my throat, a knot in my stomach and feelings I could not identify. I eventually realized I was lonely, sad and homesick. I missed the comfort of my family and the familiarity of my room and belongings as I lay in the cold anonymity of the dormitory. I imagined my brother going to bed in our room and seeing my empty bed next to his. I knew I would not have liked to be in his place.

After falling asleep, I dreamed of home and everything I knew there. Nothing here was familiar and each hour seemed to hold expectations of new behavior quite foreign to me. I supposed I could get used to it. I guess I thought I would just become a priest as if by magic. I had not considered all the steps of going through high school, college, the novitiate, and monastic seminary for philosophy and theology before ordination. A long road lay before me and I had completed only one day in the seminary.

(Excerpt from my book, Young Man of the Cloth) For a free sample, click on Look Inside on the Amazon page.

 

Personal Origins of Violence

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Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.

~Isaac Asimov~

Have you ever seen a violent newborn baby? I haven’t. No one is born violent in the sense of trying to harm others. So how does someone become violent? Psychologists and sociologists have conducted many studies over the years to try predicting violence without much success.

No way of understanding violence has been able to predict whether any given individual is about to become violent. Once a person displays violent behavior, it is clear that he or she is capable of violence and likely to be violent in the future.

But the question remains: Where does violence come from? Let’s look at some contributors to violence. One is the path your life takes. Your pattern of life experience can incline you toward acting violently, peacefully or somewhere in between. Dramatic events in your life can also steer you toward a peaceful life pattern or a violent one.

I refer here to violence done by an individual or group of individuals. A person may be influenced by what happens in his or her culture or peer group. Violence may be a group effort in which more than one person is responsible for the violence. Your being part of a group acting in a violent way can give you a reputation for violence whether or not you actually participate in the group’s actions. This is known as guilt by association.

Researchers have debated for years about whether violence or a tendency toward violence can be inherited. This debate continues and has yet to be settled despite years of research. Hormones appear to play a role. Testosterone is seen as a contributor to aggression, which may well account for the much greater number of male than female aggressors. Aggression is generally viewed as quite similar if not identical to violence.

Aggression might look similar but is not always intended to harm anyone. Remember that intent of harm is one of the parts of the definition of violence we discussed in the last chapter. Men tend to engage in more physical forms of aggression while women tend more toward verbal aggression although neither form is unique to one or the other gender.

Life circumstances and experiences while growing up appear to play a significant role in the violent tendencies and violent behavior of individuals. Here are a few developmental circumstances which can make a difference:

  • Your treatment in your family
  • Your family’s stability
  • The safety of your neighborhood
  • The adequacy of housing and food as you grew up
  • How others react to your racial or ethnic background
  • How you learn to react to threats

Other contributors beyond you developmental years and into adulthood include the following:

  • Your feelings in response to physical danger
  • How you think about yourself
  • How you view other people
  • How you see your life situation
  • Your prospects for a satisfying life
  • The adequacy of resources for managing your life

 

Attempts to Understand Violence

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Over the years many theories have emerged to explain violence. Here are some of them:

  • Self control–Whether someone acts violently depends on what goes on inside him or her. This theory assumes that acting violently is a rational choice. A person decides to be violent for some reason. It also assumes that the person knows what he or she is doing and knows the consequences of violent action for oneself and for others but decides to go ahead with it anyway. It also assumes that the person has the option to act violently or not and chooses violence over other possible courses of action.
  • Social control–Here the person’s environment explains the violence. According to this theory, the person’s environment calls for violence which might be the only viable response available. Others in the immediate environs would act the same way, making violence almost a normal and expected response based on the context.
  • Cultural theory–Each culture has its own values and standards for when violence is acceptable and for what actions are acceptable. Included are norms for when violence is seen as appropriate. People living in that culture are expected to follow the norms for appropriate behavior.
  • Social learning theory–Individuals learn how to act by observing others in situations similar to theirs. Families, schools and religions all have ways of acting to which the young are exposed. Even when the rules are not explicit, young people see how others around them act in response to different situations. This theory suggests that what young people see around them forms the basis for their action in a wide variety of situations in the future.
  • Exchange theory–Violence achieves certain goals and benefits which outweigh the costs of acting violently. In other words, there is something to be gained from acting violently. Perhaps revenge, punishment, the hope of heading off future unwanted behavior of others or similar motivations form the incentive for a person to act in a violent way. The cost of such behavior is the risk of retaliation, legal punishment or social disapproval. In terms of this theory, a person weighs the pros and cons and, all things considered, may choose violence as the best option.
  • Systems theory–This theory takes into account the thoughts, actions and principles operating at individual, group and community levels. The theory is complex and comes closest to providing a many-faceted explanation of why violence occurs. It includes influences based on an individual’s inner workings; what happens around the person; what rules are incorporated from the person’s family and friends as well as neighborhood, community and government. This last theory incorporates most of the other theories.

These are theories from the fields of sociology and social psychology. They suggest explanations of complex behavior and soon become complicated themselves as they try to explain everything that comprises a pattern of violent behavior.

Violence is not an easy topic to explain or even define in simple terms. We need to take  a closer look at what contributes to violence on various levels including the biological, rational (or not so rational), emotional, family, social, community and societal.

(Excerpt from my book From Violence to Peace)

Thanksgiving in August

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Although I regularly write a gratitude list in my journal, I have taken my eyes for granted. Last week I went for my annual eye exam. All went well until the end when Dr. Parsons discovered a possible a detached retina. He sent me immediately to Dr. Connolly, a retinal specialist in Rochester, who confirmed that I had a detached retina and scheduled me for surgery the next day.

I arrived at the Brighton Surgery Center in somewhat of a daze and rather nervous as you might imagine. I received wonderful care from the staff including Julie, Rita, Eric, Jillian and Ray as well as others. I left with a gas bubble in my eye to hold the retina in place while it reattaches. My post­-op recovery has so far been uneventful and I am being patient with my eye as it heals.

I was scheduled for jury duty last week. If I had ended up serving, I would have had to cancel my eye exam. Who knows when the detachment would have finally been discovered? Not attending to a detached retina can result in blindness.

Among the uncertainties, confusion, chaos and disasters of the recent past, I am most grateful to God for leading me back to the path of wellness, to Carol my lover and nurse, and to my medical team mentioned above.

What are you grateful for today?

 

 

 

Rochester Stories Released

Rochester Stories

Peter faced a new world and it was hard to get a clear picture of where he stood or where he was going with his life but he had to follow the treatment plan laid out for him. He had to find a life for himself after the hospitalization. He did not know how hard it would be or how long the road to recovery would be. It would indeed take a long time to find something resembling a normal life. Starting out, he would know nothing about what was ahead for him, so for a time he lived in a group home following others’ plans for him as best he could.

All he knew was that his past was gone. He felt a brief freedom after getting out of the hospital but found new rules at the group home when he discovered he had to live with thirteen other people that he did not know. It was hard for him to know what the bigger picture was, so he allowed himself to be guided by others. All that he knew was that he needed to make a new life for himself. He would gather with strangers every night for dinner and he took pills kept in the office by staff. He had been put on medication and at the group home his medications were kept under strict lock and key. What a strange adventure he had to face each day.

Everything was so different from what he had known in the past. His working life was behind him and what he did before did not seem to matter anymore. The truck he once owned was gone. His career as a professional construction worker was gone as well. He felt stranded without his job or truck. All he had worked for was gone. All that he had now was given to him at the group home. His family seemed lost to him somewhere along way. He was placed on the disabled list and that was something that changed him, forcing him to accept new realities.

Being in Rochester put him far away from his friends and his past so he would have to make new friends. People he had known and worked with were all gone and the old realities of the past were replaced with a whole new set of circumstances. He could never explain what had happened to those he knew in the past. How could friends and family ever understand his situation when he could not understand it or explain it to himself? There was no easy way to face his situation. How could he ever face the people back in Batavia after what had happened? What had he become and how could he establish a new identity for himself?

He had a new status as a disabled construction worker and he struggled with the very idea of it. He was cut off from his own past life. Perhaps some day things would be different but all he could do for the time being was continue with his group home, stay in Rochester, and try to make sense of his situation. He would not be recognized as an artist anymore. But then he had bigger problems at the time.

What made his situation difficult was that he did not have a physical disability that was readily noticeable. He had a mental disorder, not a physical condition and that was hard to explain. He was a nut case, as he would put it to sum things up in a way that was easy to say but not to accept. He believed he was a nut because he could no longer do the regular things that seemed easy before.

He struggled with his illness. He struggled to accept his bipolar disorder that had been explained to him briefly. He found it difficult asking for help from anyone. One thing that was new to him was the funding he was receiving. It took a while to get his funding in place but he had worked ten years and that entitled him to certain benefits because he could not work full time construction anymore. He also applied for and soon after found himself with health insurance for the first time.

(Excerpt from Rochester Stories by Peter Langen)

 

Rochester Stories by Peter Langen just released

  • What is it like to face life inside the mental health system?
  • How do you find sanity again?
  • How do you deal with isolation?
  • How do you handle separation from you family?

These and other questions are addressed in this journey through six years in the mental health system.

Peter Langen was first diagnosed with a learning disability in seventh grade. From there, he went to Norman Howard School in Rochester where his interest in writing started and where he discovered books on tape. He took an interest in books for the first time.
In 1997 he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a form of mental illness, and went to Rochester, New York to live for what turned out to be six years before his return to his home town of Batavia. He continued writing after graduating from Batavia High School in 1988 and has been writing ever since.
His first book, Rochester Stories, is an account of his days in Rochester as an adult. He continues to take medication for his bipolar condition. In the same way he has been able to cope with his learning disability, he is coping with his mental illness.
He creates artwork and writes books as well as keeping a journal. To this day, Peter continues to write and work on his art. He currently lives in Batavia, New York where he settled in 2003, a small city in western New York near his family.