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Paulist seminarian Tom Gibbons reflects on his formation experience and his life as a seminarian right now. Along the way, some questions will be will be answered, and a lot more will come up.

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March 8th, 2010

Magazine Quizzes as Points of Spiritual Reflection

 
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I know that a magazine entitled “Spirit” does not necessarily involve any faith connotations per se.  Of course, the official magazine of Southwest Airlines never claimed to focus on journeys of faith… only those involving honey-roasted peanuts.  And when I picked up the magazine on a recent flight, I can’t say that I finally solved the problem of evil or figured out the math of single God made up of three persons.  But when I landed on the page entitled “Wheel of Fortune,” I was given yet another subtle reminder of the different kind of life I am leading.

24253351No, the article did not entail any veiled references to Pat Sajak (disappointingly) but it did feature a bright, multicolored wheel… each piece of the wheel containing statements with which the reader was meant to either agree or disagree.  So with nothing to do and desperately looking to avoid a conversation with the person seated next to me—during that perilous time when all electronic devices had to be turned off, thus eliminating the famous “I’m listening to my iPhone” excuse—I reached for my own dose of “Spirit.”

The purpose of the wheel is to keep score on the number of statements with which you agree in order to determine one’s own likelihood of wealth.  So I get curious… just how wealthy am I? Only one way to find out… I begin with the section of statements entitled “Behavior.”

First statement… “I am married.” Okay then, 0 for 1.

Second statement: “I exercise at least 2-3 times a week.” Rats, this is not looking good for my likelihood of wealth.

“I read newspapers regularly.” Ummm… does reading stuff online count?  I guess until that new iPad comes out I am going to have to answer in the negative on this one too.

“I have a college degree.” Whew!  I FINALLY get on the scoreboard.  Let’s move onto the next section entitled “Goals.”

“I want to be financially comfortable before retirement.” Sure!  Check.

“I always knew what career I wanted.” I can’t tell you how much priestly life was WAY off of the radar growing up.  No points there.

“I want to own a home (or already have one).” I used to own a house… do I have to subtract a point because I had to sell it?

“I devote money to personal savings every month.” Well, the stipend is Okay but Dunkin Donuts tends to get the lionshare of my monthly income.  Okay, this isn’t looking too good; maybe I should move onto the next section entitled “Financial Attitude.”

Or maybe I shouldn’t… let’s go to the section of statements entitled “Personality” – maybe I can make up some points there!

“I am happy.” You know what, I am pretty happy.  One point!  Let the comeback commence…

“I am competitive.” Hhmmm.  It’s not like I regularly challenge my fellow seminarians to “Rosary-offs.”  Nah, I won’t score that one.

“I am confident.”

While before I knew I was playing this little game on how the life of someone in religious life was different from your average person, this question really made me think.  Because in many areas in life—like using Photoshop and knowing a lot of Star Wars trivia—I am a fairly confident person.

But over the past few years, I have learned that as much as confidence can be an asset when pursuing monetary wealth, it can be just as much of a liability when embarking on a faith journey… no matter what letters you do or don’t write after your name.  And it’s that confidence that so often closes more doors than it opens when seeking a deeper relationship with the Divine.

As with all tests, the accuracy of the exam is largely dependent on the questions that are asked.  In the question of whether or not any of us are wealthy, we have to ask if we use Donald Trump or George Bailey from “It’s A Wonderful Life” as our guides.  If I’m being honest with myself, I employ a grid that uses some measure in between the two… even as a seminarian.

So it’s true: my own “Wheel of Fortune” might have to look a little different than the one found in the magazine… whether or not I was studying to be a priest.  It might have to ask if I am concerned about the retirement status of others as much as I can feel confident about my own.  It might have to ask if others feel confident around me rather than the opinion I have about my own personal well-being.  And if I’m being honest, some days my score would be lower on this new particular wheel as many days as it would be higher.

But it’s good stuff to reflect on for Lent.  And I started to reflect on those issues of wealth in my life… just as the captain of the plane announced that it was safe to turn on all electronic devices.

 
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The Author : Fr. Tom Gibbons
Since 2009, Tom Gibbons, CSP, has shared insights on faith, pop culture, and seminary life in the Kicking and Screaming blog here at Busted Halo. On May 19, 2012, Tom was ordained a Paulist priest at St. Paul the Apostle Church in New York City. He will begin serving St. Peter's Catholic Church in Toronto, Canada beginning in July 2012.
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