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Pray with One Voice

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to think in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 15:5-6)

“Wherever friars live or come together, the Liturgy of the Hours is to be their common prayer and as a rule it is to be celebrated in common.” (OFM Constitutions Article 23 §2)

As members of the Catholic Church, we come together on a regular basis to glorify God. There are times to do this privately, but as Christians, and certainly as a member of a religious fraternity, it is critical to who we are that we also do so together. But as I said in the conclusion of my last post, doing things together isn’t always the most efficient way to do something: there will almost inevitably be disagreements. Sure, where two or three are gathered, God will be there, but so will about two or three different opinions about how to worship “him”! (A word that I will get to shortly).

One can imagine, then, that prayer is not always easy, even in a religious house of friars. Quite the opposite, actually. Prayer can actually be the most contentious time of our day if competing values are pitted against one another. What does one do in this situation? Which value is “right”?

Universal Church

I think the starting point of every conversation related to communal Church participation has to be with the official, universal statements. What does the Church proper say about prayer? How has the wider Church, people of different times and places, decided to pray? As members of the Catholic Church, we must always remember that the worshiping community expands far beyond our walls, and as the “universal” Church, Catholics are privileged to be able to take part in the same prayer as people all around the world. This is a tremendous gift as well as an honorable duty to our brothers and sisters to maintain solidarity with them. Because of this, it is a great value of mine that one not stray far from the rubrics at mass or the instructions for daily prayers, even if it means losing a bit of creativity.

That being said (you knew this couldn’t be a post about following rules!) it is important to note that  “universal” Church and “uniform” Church are very different notions, and that the Church has rarely sought uniformity as a value. Besides an emphasis on praying in one’s own language and from one’s culture, the existence of more than ten liturgical rites indicate that there are many “official” ways to give praise to God, and that pastoral concerns to the immediate community are as important as uniformity to the wider church. Liturgy is a living, ever-changing expression of our faith, something that must change and adapt to new understandings. What causes this tension?

Multicultural issues

In the three years that I have been a friar, I have lived with men from the Philippines, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Columbia, Canada, and many regions in the United States. For many of these men, English is not the language that speaks to their heart. What do we do?

One answer would be to say, “Well, in American houses we speak English. Learn English better and it will speak to your heart.” This is a common answer, and while it seems harsh, it does have a strong practical dimension to it. On the other hand, how can we as English-speaking Americans be so inconsiderate to the needs of our brothers that we wouldn’t make sacrifices for the sake of their prayer lives? Obviously we can make compromises so that everyone feels included. But how, and to what extent? A tagalog song (that no one else would know)? Mass in Spanish (that would leave some unable to participate)? Liturgical dance (that would seem foreign and even a mockery to many Americans)? Culture is critically important to one’s prayer and makes for a very tricky situation when multiple cultures come together. Where are lines drawn and expectations set?

Style: Words and grammar that make sense

Once a community has chosen the language, there are still major problems with translations and word choices. One look at the new translation of the Roman Missal reveals a world of words unfamiliar to our daily speech (consubstantial), images that do not make sense (dew fall?) or sentences that follow Latin grammar rules rather than English ones. For many, there is a sense that the words we use are not the words that we understand or that speak to our hearts.

For instance, here is the final prayer of the Angelus prayer:

Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord.

What did we just ask for? I challenge you to find a person that has used “beseech” in common language in the past year (or better yet, randomly ask the next person you see if they even know what it means!) The same can be said for the Our Father in which we begin by saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name…” When we use words that do not speak to our hearts, they will not speak from them either; prayer that is memorized but not understood is prayer that lacks the meaning we desperately need in our worship.

Inclusive Language

Which brings us to our final point of contention: what happens when we understand the language, but the images they invoke are contrary to our conception of God. What do I mean by this? Gender-specific language. When we speak of God, God is always masculine. “He” is Father, “He” is Creator, and “He” is Brother. But does this reflect the totality of our theology of God? The official Church says that God is neither male nor female, that words such as “Father” are analogous that attempts to explain what we know about “him”. If that is the case, that human language could never fully capture the essence of God, why not mix in a few feminine words for God to express God’s motherly, sisterly, comforting, wise nature? I’m sure God would love it if we called her our Mother. What did he say?! Our sensibilities have been questioned! How dare he?! God is not feminine! Right. But God is also not masculine and we seem to be okay with that.

For many friars, there is a sensitivity to the fact that neither God nor God’s people are ever described with feminine words despite the many feminine images of God found in the Bible, and the fact that the majority of the people in our Church is female. Even when it would make much more sense to be inclusive (such as praying for “humanity” rather than “men” when there are clearly women present) masculine images prevail over even neutral words in the official prayers. Placed as a high value, one can imagine how this has caused many problems in the way that we prayer.

So what do we do?

What I have presented is three of the MANY ways in which we find ourselves not praying in one voice (along with disagreement on tempo, song choice, frequency of prayer, level of solemnity, and so on). It may sound cynical, but prayer is never going to be a perfect experience in which everyone is in full agreement about what to do. That, then, is not the issue: the issue is how we handle the inevitable conflicts.

On the one extreme, some could say that the community should pray exactly what is said in the book at all times because that is what we’re supposed to do; while I would definitely err on the side of obedience to the larger Church and is the easiest solution, it fails to acknowledge that there may in fact be true stumbling blocks in our prayer and never allows for the liturgy to grow organically through the Spirit.

On the other extreme, some have chosen to simply pray the words that are in their heart and expect everyone around them to do the same; at any given psalm, then, this leads to multiple words being spoken at one time (the one, man, him, woman, her, humanity), failing to ever come together for the sake of the immediate community.

Honestly, the only thing that we can ever do is to engage these issues as a community in a prayerful and open environment. What is it that this community needs to authentically praise God? What can we do as a community to hold ALL of these values in our hands at the same time? These questions are by no means easy to answer. What’s important, it seems to me, is that the conversation be had. As brothers and sisters in this together, nothing could be worse than allowing the cornerstone of our life, communal prayer, be something that is dry, emotionless, exclusionary, incomprehensible, or means for contention; when it is a place of passive aggression or apathy, we have missed the point. Prayer is a unitive activity. Done right, prayer is the activity in our communities that forces us to engage one another around a profoundly important focus, to share what we truly need and to be there to provide for the needs of our brothers and sisters. Thus, it is only when we are able to come together as a community in this way, speaking from the standpoint of commitment, sacrifice, and mutuality, that we truly able to pray with once voice. Let us not be many voices clamoring at once, let us pray with one voice, the voice of a community profoundly committed to God and one another.

 
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Posted by on September 16, 2014 in Fraternity, Prayer

 

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When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

As a friar, I will be called upon to do many things for the kingdom of God. What that will be, nobody knows!

As a friar, I will be called upon to do many things for the kingdom of God. What that will be, nobody knows!

It may surprise some to know that I have almost no idea what I will do with my life. Isn’t being a friar a life-long commitment? What’s there to know? While this may be true, being a friar isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle: we are called to a life of prayer, poverty, and humility within a fraternity. In the spirit of Francis of Assisi, this lifestyle leads us to the margins of society and church where we are called to spread the Gospel in word and deed, to bring peace where there is violence, comfort where there is hurt, and welcome where there is exclusion.

But as wonderful as all that sounds (sign me up!) the astute will notice something very important about that call: it says absolutely nothing practical about what we as friars are to do with our lives. Unlike some orders that are called to be teachers or missionaries and that’s all they do, we are called to live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the way most fitting to our time and place. With that criteria, then, we could be almost anything: elementary school teachers, spiritual directors, store managers, retreat coordinators, political advocates, community organizers, artists, musicians, tailors, parish priests, landlords, technicians, and so on. And we have. The beauty about our charism is that it is open to doing whatever church and society needs.

I share that long introduction (there must be a point to this post, right?) to say that I am beginning to think about that question more deeply as I enter studies. I have already discerned a call to be ordained a priest, which narrows the job search down a bit, but there are still so many things that I could do as a sacramental minister.

Parish Ministry

I’ll start with the most obvious: parish ministry. Our province staffs eighteen parishes along the east coast, along with three or four “service churches” (depending on how you classify each) that offer services particular to urban settings such as multiple masses a day and continuous confession. There is a lot to like about parish ministry. Being the smallest organizational block of the church and being the primary connection to the Church for most people, there is a lot to offer: retreats, sacraments of initiation, daily prayer groups, ministry to the poor, faith formation, sick and dying ministry, and so on. Parishes are a place of life and excitement, filled with multiple generations and always being host to some group.

Of particular interest to me at a parish would be adult faith formation. Many people say that Catholics don’t know their faith, and I partially agree: Catholics do not know their faith in a systematic or memorized way that people of other faiths do, but Catholics have a powerful experiential knowledge of their tradition that cannot be overlooked. I would love to build upon this experience and give people the context and facts to organize what they know through many years of worship. What would this mean? Well, the way I see it, I would want to teach at least one eight-week class a semester (Fall, Spring, Summer) on the foundational topics of our faith including the Bible, Church History, Liturgy and Worship, Spirituality, and Social Action. These would be more academic than a traditional bible study or prayer group format, but meant to be attainable for all parishioners.

Campus Ministry

Of extremely high interest at my point in life and formation is working with young people. When I think about my experience in college, I recognize that it is a tremendous time for development in people’s lives: students are away from home and family for the first time, are able to test the worldview handed onto them, and begin to grow into their own understanding of the world around them. As men hoping to shape the world by bringing Christ into people’s lives, I can think of few places in which we can have a greater effect.

Holy Name Province has certainly recognized this opportunity and I hope that it continues to do so as I look for a full-time ministry in the future. Currently we have chaplaincies at the University of Georgia, Clemson University, and my alma mater, Furman University, as well as teaching and administrative positions at Siena College and St. Bonaventure University, two schools founded by our province.

Ministry of the Word

The last possibility that interests me a lot at this time is one I have spoken about before: the Ministry of the Word. As modern day traveling preachers, friars in this ministry go from parish to parish preaching the Gospel and sharing about our life as Franciscans. “Missions,” as they are called, consist of multiple talks over a period of a few days and can be geared toward a specific season (Lent, Advent), have a spiritual or practical theme, or simply be a spark to reignite the fire in a parish.

Traditionally, the friars have done this ministry two-by-two, working together on a mission and sharing their time with the people. As the numbers became smaller over the years, many decided to split up so as to reach more people. This, I feel, is not ideal. What interests me about the missions is that we go out two-by-two, that no matter where we go or what we do, we never do it alone. We are a fraternity even on the road. That is why Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs, and that is why Francis followed suit. Is it because one person is not capable of handling a mission alone? Of course not. But there is something more at play than the words spoken. There is something more than what we say about our life together. When we actually go out as a fraternity rather than simply talking about how we live in one, when people see us laughing together, cutting each other off, and even, dare I say, not getting along at times, there is something powerful expressed that cannot be captured in words. Our life in fraternity is to be lived and shared, not talked about. That’s why I’ve said it many times, working alone may be more efficient than working together (and certainly easier) but it is not more effective.

*

And so, as a student in the first grade declares that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up, I share with you my snapshot in time. As I experience more in ministry and grow in my vocation, I may come to new and exciting opportunities that I had never even considered. As a follower of Jesus, I must be open to wherever I am called, and luckily, as a follower of Francis, I’m free to live that call in many different ways.

 
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Posted by on September 12, 2014 in Ministry

 

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Not So Minor

It is in serving the least of his day that Francis experienced perfect humility and minority.

It is in serving the least of his day that Francis experienced perfect humility and minority.

A man of great conversion, Francis is probably most well-known for dramatically renouncing his earthly wealth and high social status in order to minister to the lepers, those people so sick and disgusting that they needed to live outside the city (and wear a bell so that people could run away when they heard them coming.) The Franciscan charism follows in his example: As members of the Order of Friars Minor, the “lesser brothers,” we are called to live a life for the poor, with the poor, as the poor, renouncing any sort of wealth, power, or status, that would nurture a feeling of entitlement or honor. The lowest in society do not expect to be served or cared for, they know that they must serve others. That is what Francis wanted.

When I look at my own life, I struggle to identify a single way in which I am a minor in our society: I am a young, white, college-educated, middle class, heterosexual male, born in the United States to parents that are still married, a member of the largest religious organization in the world, and have no mental or physical disabilities. If that’s not enough, I joined one of the largest religious orders in the Catholic Church, giving me tremendous (and largely undeserved) respect as a religious and future member of the clergy. In literally every way that I can imagine I find myself among the privileged in society.

And unlike Francis who was able to renounce his status in society with a symbolic undressing before the bishop, I can hardly renounce the attributes that make me privileged in this one:

  • As I see racial discrimination continue to boil over in places like Furgeson, and I am reminded how much easier it is to be white. Upon arriving in Camden, one friar told me, “Oh don’t worry, you’re white. The gang members and drug dealers won’t hurt you because they don’t want to scare away their white customers.”
  • As I watch news coverage of the recent boarder crossings and immigration laws in Arizona and Georgia, I know that I will never be “randomly” stopped on the street and forced to prove that I belong, have to flee one country into a country that does not want me, or have to worry about my rights when abroad.
  • As a male, I know that I will never be given less money for doing the same job as a co-worker, fear being alone outside at night, or constantly have to prove my self and my gender as not inferior.
  • As our church and country continues to understand homosexuality, I am made aware that I have never had to worry about how my sexuality or sexual orientation could offend someone, what people might think of me if they found out, or being thrown out of my house by my parents.

This list could go on and on. As I look out into the world, I see people being discriminated against and made “lesser” in our society each day, and it is never me. I doubt it ever will be. And so I’m faced with a challenge. How do I ever become “lesser” in society? How do I ever even approach minority when things like race, gender, sexual orientation, education, and physical capability are not exactly things that can be stripped and handed to a bishop?

It is here that I would normally have a conclusion like, “For me, what’s important is… The key is… I’ve found that the best answer is…” Unfortunately, my reflection today is a little less complete than normal. The fact of the matter is that I simply do not know and I will have to sit with this struggle for a while longer. There are obviously some things that I can change, e.g. how I spend my money, with whom I associate, how intentional I am at being with the poor. As I leave formation and entire into a little more autonomous life as a friar, I know that there will be a little more freedom to choose where and how I live, and what ministry I do, making this a little easier to live out.

And yet, there is a part of me that realizes that I will never be the least in society and I am struggling to accept that. How can I say to be a friar minor, an imitator of Jesus and Francis of Assisi, with so much respect, authority, privilege, and “wealth,” both civilly and ecclesiastically? I don’t know. For now, all I can do is realize that this “great privilege” I have in our society is nothing but a lucky ticket in the womb lottery: I have done nothing to deserve it and ultimately am no better off than anyone else because of it. I am what I am before God, and nothing more. This is a bit of wisdom that I must always keep with me. For though I may never be able to fully renounce all that separates me from the least in our society, I know that there is always a full reserve of pretension, entitlement, and arrogance just waiting to be given up inside me. If I want to be minor in society, it starts with the attitude I bring to every situation: I am here to serve the people of God with perfect humility and minority, and they do not owe me anything because it is God who is truly doing all the work.

 
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Posted by on September 4, 2014 in Poverty

 

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Calvary: A Call for Repentence

One of the best movies I have seen in a while. Not for the faint of heart.

One of the best movies I have seen in a while. Not for the faint of heart.

Last night, I went to the movies with two of my classmates to see Calvary. Last night, I was hit by a train in the theatre.

Calvary is about the turmoil of the Irish people in the wake of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church. The movie opens in the confessional with a man revealing to the priest that he had been sexually abused by a priest for multiple years and, just as he had been innocent and undeserving of such acts, he planned on killing this priest precisely because he was a good priest and had nothing to do with the abuse. He told the priest that he planned on killing him on the following Sunday.

For one week, the viewer follows the priest on his road to Calvary, an “innocent” man on his way to slaughter, through the brokenness all around him. Torn apart by the acts committed by clergymen and completely disillusioned by the hierarchy’s attempt to cover them up, each character has one of two dispositions: 1) Pure anger and disrespect, unwilling to hide their disgust and fully willing to take it all out on him, or 2) in a much more chilling way, mockery at what people find to be completely irrelevant, even a laughing matter, the Church.

And yet, oddly enough, each character in the movie is found at Mass in the opening scene, and throughout the movie, each character is preoccupied with the sins they have committed, freely sharing their faults and failings in hopes that they will be forgiven. It is a strange disconnect between thought and action, an acceptance of faith but denial of virtue, a denial of church but a fear of not attending. Because of this, each and every character is able to recognize their sins, but not a single one shows contrition for what they’ve done. Despite the terrible sins of nearly every single character, there is not one truly repentant heart in the whole movie.

Against the backdrop of the sex abuse crisis, Calvary presents a stunning parallel between the people of God and the hierarchy of the Church. In the scene just after the church has been violently burned down by a disillusioned parishioner, the other priest says to him, “Hasn’t the Church paid enough for these sins? For God’s sakes we’re nearly bankrupt because of all we’ve given out. If you ask me, I think it’s time that we forgive and forget” (paraphrase mine). In this one character, Calvary epitomizes what many feel about “the Church”: like the people of God, it is able to acknowledge its sins, and to some extent has even paid greatly for them, but shows no act of true repentance or conversion. Is it sorry for being punished, or does it truly seek reconciliation?

In one of the most gut-wrenching scenes in the movie, the main character reveals to the man wishing to kill him that someone had killed his dog. “Did you cry when you found him?” the man with the gun asks the priest. “Yes… yes, I loved that dog.” “Did you cry when you read in the newspaper what your brother priests were doing to innocent people like me?” (long pause) “No… I was too detached.” It was in this line that I felt the director speaking directly to the audience. “Why didn’t you cry when news broke? Why didn’t you well up with anger at this injustice and put a stop to this?” Like the priest, we may not have abused anyone ourselves, but as the body of Christ, it was the failings of the whole that allowed this to happen, continue, and go un-repented.

Such, I believe, is the nature of all sin and the beauty of this terribly graphic movie. Throughout this movie, the virtuous priest worked night and day to seek out his lost sheep that had been led astray. Confession after confession he remained patient when confronted with the most repugnant of acts: adultery, cannibalism, attempted suicide, domestic violence, corporate theft, abandonment, and sex abuse. With no judgment, he attempted to forgive everyone he met, calling each to focus on positive virtue over past sins. Even though almost every character had been so disillusioned that they felt salvation was no longer an option, he continued to serve God’s people. But he could not save any of them. He could not grant even one person absolution. Where their sins too grave? No, there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, he repeated many times. What was lacking was true repentance. Although they could name their sins, they lacked the virtue to want to live differently. All too often I find myself with the same heart.

All in all, I would say that this was one of the best and most challenging movies I have seen in a long time. As a seminarian, I felt myself pulled violently in opposite directions: on the one hand, “What the heck have I gotten myself into? The Church is broken and irrelevant! Jump ship!” and on the other, “This is exactly why I feel called to this ministry. People need to vent and they need someone willing to walk with them. The world needs more positive images of faith.” Although I would not recommend it to everyone, for this reason I think that every single seminarian should see this movie. Rated R for graphic content and language, Calvary is not for the faint of heart, but it is Christian at its core. The fact that the main character is a priest only makes obvious what the entire movie seeks to portray, that God is a merciful God ever wishing reconciliation with us, and, despite our brokenness and pain, we are capable of loving and forgiving those who have hurt us. But we have to choose to do so. God may forgive us, but it is up to us to accept it.

 
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Posted by on September 1, 2014 in Discernment, Ministry

 

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Back To School

Three days ago, this desk was immaculate!

Three days ago, this desk was immaculate!

After more than three months of successfully (and futilely) avoiding all school-related activities, the fall session has finally caught up to me. Where has all the summer gone?! Like death and taxes, I guess you could say that it is just one of those inevitabilities for a seminarian.

With the new year comes an entirely new experience. Whereas last year I spent countless hours studying philosophy, this year I will spend countless hours studying theology (a major improvement). On Monday I officially started my degree for ordination, the Master of Divinity (M.Div.) In the next four and a half years, I plan to complete 103 credits of Master’s work in systematic theology, moral theology, biblical studies, pastoral care, history of the Church, liturgical history/theology/practice, and canon law, with a one year “break” for a pastoral internship somewhere in between. For those keeping score at home, that will be a grand total of 133 credits in nine semesters of work. Your prayers in this long endeavor will be greatly appreciated over the next half decade.

But that’s not all that’s new. Whereas last year I spent the entire first semester struggling to transition from novitiate, I start this year with a level of comfort unknown to me last year. I know how to get to school and where my classes are, have already established relationships that I can fall back on, a regular schedule within and without the house, a spiritual director I can call and meet with whenever necessary, and a set of leisure opportunities (golf, movies, gym, restaurants) that I can get right back to rather than search for. Without having to establish all of these things in a new city like I had to do last year, my stress level is next to nothing at the moment. This, I might add, is a tremendous gift at the beginning of a difficult academic year.

Lastly, whereas I taught two confirmation classes for 8th grade boys last year, ministering to a demographic that stretched me outside of my comfort zone, this year I will be working with campus ministry at Georgetown University, ministering to an age group that is a little bit more my speed. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing yet, but I’m excited to be with young people in such a formative time in their lives in any way that I can. I have no delusions that the experience will be an easy one, but I look forward to the challenges ahead.

For now, it’s off to do what I will be doing for the rest of the term, reading, completed with a late episode of The Simpsons with a few guys in the house (a show, I might add, shows its characters in church or discussing religious topics more than any show on television. Really. The Vatican Newspaper even praised the show once. Really! Maybe I can team up with my classmate Ed Tverdek, an avid follower of the show, and write an post about it. I digress…) Blessings on all of you this year, and for those in the academic world, good luck with all your studies!

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2014 in Post-Novitiate

 

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Commitment is Radical

From left to right, Jeffrey, Michael, and Ross, made a powerful commitment on Saturday. (Photo by Octavio Duran)

From left to right, Jeffrey, Michael, and Ross, made a powerful commitment on Saturday. (Photo by Octavio Duran)

Yesterday morning, I was a part of a beautiful, powerfully inspirational ceremony in New York in which three men committed themselves to a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience in the way of St. Francis of Assisi. To the outsider, what they did was radical, countercultural, and strange. What would possess someone to choose a life “without anything of one’s own,” in celibate-chastity, obedient to both superior and equals? What would possess someone to devote their entire life to the welfare of others, often sacrificing one’s own livelihood in the process? What would possess someone to wear a brown dress and a rope in public?

As I thought about it all over the past week, I realized that what was truly countercultural about their lives was much deeper and yet so simple: at the heart of their life is commitment to something other than themselves.

What was once a problem seemingly exclusive to young men in relationships, I believe that a “fear of commitment” has become a cultural problem in our day. Everyone knows that divorce rates in this country are astronomically high (roughly 50% of first marriages ending in divorce), but what about the declining marriage rate, down 60% since 1974. (Those people sure aren’t all running to religious orders, I can tell you that!) And yet, the problem has nothing to do with the institution of marriage or people becoming less dependent on each other. No, the decline in marriage is one symptom among many of the growing fear of commitment we experience as a culture.

Last week at our sexuality workshop, one of the presenters asked the question, “What is the most difficult part of being celibate?” My response was, “Having to talk about celibacy so much.” And while in jest, there was great truth in it. People are enamored by what we do, not that we don’t have sex, but that we don’t have sex for the rest of our lives. One student pointed out, “For God’s sake, people are up in arms these days that they have to sign a year or two long contract to get a cell phone. How are they ever going to understand what we do?” How true. How very indicative of our culture. When I watch television, I notice more and more that it is not a product that I am being sold, it is a feeling of freedom, a no-strings-attached purchase that can be discarded or traded in for the next best thing whenever I want to. No matter what it is, we are told to follow our impulses, drop anything that gets in the way of our dreams, and to not let anything get in the way of what we want to do. With this way of thinking, there are no wrong choices because you never actually have to make one; without commitment to anything other than your own wants, you are free to drop the previous one on a whim for the next one.

When I look at my brothers having just taken their solemn vows, their final, life-long commitments, the voices of our generation echo in my head. “Think about all of the things they can’t do now.” “What if they want to leave?” “Don’t they want to live a little before settling down?” “Oh, I could never do that. I need my freedom.”

Commitment can be fun. Look at those faces!

Commitment can be fun. Look at those faces!

In each of these responses, there is a false sense of freedom, a false sense of superiority that being free from commitments allows one to do everything, a false sense of having it all. To commit oneself to is deny oneself possibilities. But how many possibilities does one actually have if one never makes a commitment? To stay single leaves open the possibility of marriage and religious life, but it never actualizes either; to switch jobs every two years leaves open the possibility of doing everything, but it never actualizes anything. To commit to something takes away some possibilities, for sure, but it also makes other ones real.

When I look at my newly professed brothers, I see men doing something completely radical, countercultural, and strange: they have committed their lives to finite actuality rather than remaining open to infinite possibility, men that have given up on everything for the sake of something. What they have done is not easy to do. “How do I know what to commit to?” That is the ultimate question, now, isn’t it? How we answer that will determine who we are and where we go, as well as who we aren’t and where we won’t go. The catch to this question is that it cannot go unanswered: to commit to nothing is still a commitment and it will still define you, but it will give back very little in the end.

And so I say, be radical. Be countercultural. Be strange. Make a commitment to something other than yourself. My Franciscan brothers just have, and I hope to do the same in three years time.

 
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Posted by on August 24, 2014 in Discernment

 

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The Irony of Being Celibate

Today I attended a three-hour sexuality workshop to fulfill requirements set by the Church and my province. It was the first of two sessions that we will attend this year, the second level of a four-year program. Prior to this, my classmates and I attended three workshops during Postulancy and Novitiate, each consisting of two or three sessions per day for more than three days each. If that’s not ironic, that is, celibate religious men devoting a tremendous amount of time talking about and developing their sexualities, I don’t know what is. But wait, there’s more!

We talk about sexuality much more [intelligently] than before. 

The ironic thing about being a celibate in a religious order is not just that we talk about sexuality much more than we ever did before entering, it’s that we do it much more intelligently than in the outside world. Sure, guys would get together and talk about sex, but when did I ever have a conversation about sexuality? The thing is, sex and sexuality are related but not the same thing. Our schools were required to talk about the practical aspects of sex, but who ever talked to us about attraction, orientation, loneliness, friendships, non-genital expression, boundaries, or addictive behaviors? These topics are vastly underdeveloped in secular education and common knowledge, and were never the topic of my conversations prior to entering the friars. In religious life, these are common place.

Because of this I find myself to be more self-aware and self-accepting of who I am than I ever was when I had the possibility to date. Talking about these topics ad nauseum (and I do mean nauseum) and studying them in an intelligent context has given me the language and skills to identify not only important aspects of my own sexuality, but also to understand those around me much better and to enter into relationships in a much more meaningful way. Why everyone doesn’t take a full two years to understand oneself, how one relates to others, and social dynamics is beyond me. Going through the process of becoming a celibate religious prepared me for dating more than anything else in my life.

Clearer boundaries actually makes for freer relationships.

Because I am very comfortable with who I am and the vocational path I am following, I never enter a relationship confused or plagued by sexual tension. I am certainly still attracted to people and find myself wanting to be around certain people more than others (welcome to being human), but there is a clear boundary in every relationship that was never there before: I do not want to date you. Really. I don’t care who you are. (I still may be speechless or swept off my feet, but I don’t want to date you!) This, I have to say, is one of the greatest freedoms I have ever experienced in being with people.

When I stopped looking at everyone as a potential date, relationships opened up for me.

When I stopped looking at everyone as a potential date, relationships opened up for me.

Before becoming a friar, there was always the internal tension in every new relationship: “Do I find her attractive? Does she find me attractive? Could I date her? Should I try? Am I trying already? What could I do to make her like me? Dang, look at that body! I wonder what she thinks of me?” With clear boundaries, I know that the answer to any one of these questions now means absolutely nothing to me anymore and am free to completely disregard them for a less superficial relationship that before. Do I succeed at this? Not always. Vanity is a tough one to kill and we all want to feel important around attractive people. I will say this though: giving up the desire to date has helped me tremendously in looking beyond one’s attractiveness and has helped me treat attractive women with much more dignity and respect than I did before.

The ironic and somewhat tragic part of this is twofold: 1) Obviously, that it took stepping away from women for me to objectify them less, and 2) more tragically, that I would be so much better of a boyfriend/husband now having spent three years learning how to be in intimate relationships while having absolutely no intention of possession or objectification. Come on! I’m nowhere close to perfect now nor will I ever be, but I often wonder what a relationship would be like with this more mature and respectful approach.

As “men in uniform” and in positions of authority, we are more attractive than we were before.

The last part is a little bit of a joke but true nonetheless: people in leadership positions, especially for organizations of service or selflessness, are very attractive to people. Add a great looking uniform and be under fifty years old and people will come in droves. As friars, we know that we are “attractive” people. We’re friendly; we’re jovial; we’re virtuous (sometimes); we’re in charge of important things. Whether deserved or not, people tend to think highly of “the brothers” and naturally want to be around us. This is a natural attraction that none of us has ever experienced in our lives.

The difficult part of this for some friars is understanding the difference between being attracted to “Br. Casey” and “Casey”. We were told a story as postulants of a well-liked friar that was very attractive to the people he served, particularly the single women. Seeing other options, he left the friars to pursue a relationship in which the girl later realized that it was “Br. X” that she had been attracted to all along, not X, and they never ended up getting married. (If that’s not the most twisted irony you’ve heard today I don’t know what is!) Sometimes, it’s both “Br. X” and “X” that people are attracted to, but the point remains: being a public person in authority wearing a respectable uniform is going to attract more people than we’re used to and we need to be prepared for that.

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To summarize, I know myself much better, I would make a much more mature and respectful partner, and I find myself with more opportunities than I had before. And this is preparing me for a life alone? Yes and no. While ironic in the sense that it has potentially prepared me for its opposite, celibacy is a gift that has truly prepared me to be a man for everyone, not just a man for someone. In this life, I know myself better, I am a more mature and respectful partner (to all) and I am given more opportunities to love than I would ever have been offered in an exclusive romantic relationship. I guess you could say the real irony of it all is that celibacy deters people from religious life because they are afraid that they will not find the love that they need. In reality, celibacy is a life learning how to love as many people as possible as well as one can possibly love. Wouldn’t you give up something too if you could do that?

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2014 in Discernment, Vows

 

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