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My Vocation Journey

It occurred to me this week that, while I have shared much of my journey through formation as a Franciscan, I have shared almost nothing about my vocational story prior to the friars.  Back in August of 2011, weeks before entering, I gave a little explanation as to what a friar was and what it was I would be doing over the next few years, but oddly enough, no explanation as to why. My only guess is that the earliest readers were close friends and family and so I saw no need to share what they already knew.

So, who was I way back when and what happened in my life to cause me to make such a ridiculous decision? Let’s start with a little background. I was born into a Catholic family, baptized as an infant, and made to go to church and religious education until I was confirmed in 8th grade. I was always a good kid (no comments from family members please…), said prayers before bed each night, and genuinely believed in God my whole life. By the time I was confirmed, I found church tremendously boring. “Why do I need to go to church? Can’t I just read the Bible, say my prayers, and be a good person?” According to my parents, this was not enough. To church I went. Every week.

This was a retreat designed specifically for the older leaders. There were still about 40 students.

This was a retreat designed specifically for the older leaders. There were still about 40 students.

The first major step came when we moved to Cary, NC and started going to a new church. What an experience! There was a mass specifically celebrated for teenagers, complete with a rock band playing contemporary Christians songs and three rows in the front (and floor space) filled with students; each Sunday there was a youth group event with about 100 students, 20 or 30 of which came not because it was a confirmation requirement but because it was the most fun thing people did all week; and twice a year there were retreats with 125 people to the mountains/beach that packed together hilarity, intimate bonding, and powerful conversions. What started out as a cool hangout place with the cool kids turned into a true calling: I wanted to be active in the church. When I was 16, I dove in headfirst. I became a peer minister, went on seven retreats in two years, gave talks in front of large groups, found myself at church sometimes 3-4 nights a week, and during my senior year, worked out a program with my school to leave during fourth period to do an internship with my youth minister. Happily dating throughout high school, I knew that I wanted to devote my life to ministry, but had ABSOLUTELY no interest in becoming a priest (and had never heard of religious life.)

Few memories are happier than with these people!

Few memories are happier than with these people!

At that point, I really liked the prospect of becoming a youth minister and so went to college in pursuit of a religious education. While excited about faith, until this point I had very little knowledge of what that faith actually was, and needed a stronger foundation. I got involved with the Catholic ministry group on campus right away, and while it was not what I was initially looking for (it was very small and seemed to be mostly talking, whereas I was used to 100+ people singing, acting, praising, and working), I was encouraged to stick with it and grow in my faith. I was elected retreat coordinator my sophomore year, and Program Director (retreat coordinator combined with Wednesday meeting planner) the final two years. It was here that my faith evolved from the charismatic, evangelical faith I adopted in high school, to a faith grounded in theology and social teaching. I’ll never forget when it just clicked. Catholic Campus ministry did a series on social issues my sophomore year: what does the Church have to say about Walmart, poverty in foreign countries, and injustice in the business/political world? To my surprise at the time, a lot. I realized that faith was not simply praise and worship, it didn’t only take place within the church walls; faith was something that was intrinsically linked to justice, charity, and social action. I was sucked in. The faculty advisor of the Catholic group made a presentation about a new minor being offered in the spring, Poverty Studies, and I knew that’s where I was being led. After classes like “Faith and Ethics,” “Social Class in America,” and “Ethics of Globalization,” two of which taught by this Catholic professor, I knew that my vocational journey had taken a turn: I was called to serve the poor and work for just social systems from a position of faith. While inspired by the Franciscan chaplain at school, I found myself in yet another serious relationship, and the thought of ordination or joining religious life was nowhere on my radar.

Minus Melissa, the group wearing our custom t-shirts for the summer: "OFM What can brown do for you?"

Minus Melissa, the group wearing our custom t-shirts for the summer: “OFM: What can brown do for you?”

That was, until the summer I spent in the old friary. Driven by the most altruistic, mature reasons possible (I wanted to be independent from my parents and was hoping to spend a summer near my girlfriend), I accepted a research grant through the Religious Studies department and agreed to take part in a new program at the Franciscan church (which offered free room and board if I worked at the church and lived in community. Cha-ching!) I had no idea what was about to hit me. Consisting of two men and two women from my college, our community lived in a house next to the church, ate meals together, prayed the Office together, and met weekly for reflections with Fr. Pat (aka “FP” or aka another nickname which included his middle name… but I won’t mention that here…) Even today, I’m not sure if I could have handpicked a greater group of people to live with. From prayer we would go out to our ministry sites, returning to share, vent, and recharge each other for another day, ending as we started, in prayer. Not only did I grow more in faith that summer than any other time of my life, I grew in my understanding of intimacy. With these people, without my girlfriend (who ended up going home for the summer rather than staying in the area), I realized that I had everything I needed socially and emotionally. I realized that marriage was not the only way to be fulfilled, and without it, I would not end up lonely. As I learned about St. Francis that summer, the seeds were planted. At first, the idea of becoming a married deacon, taking more of an official role in the Church seemed plausible; the more I let it sit, though, the more I realized that becoming a Franciscan was a legitimate possibility. My girlfriend and I took a short break at the start of the year for me to get some perspective. We eventually got back together, but the nature of the relationship was completely different from then on out: I was now actively discerning becoming a Franciscan and our relationship had to take it one day at a time.

Serving as many as 400 people a day is not possible without a community like this.

Serving as many as 400 people a day is not possible without a community like this.

The final step came the summer after my junior year of college. As a part of the Poverty Studies program, I was required to complete a ten-week internship in which I spent at least 50% of my time in direct contact with the poor. Wanting to also continue my discernment, something that was now always on my mind creating a lot of anxiety, I decided to live at St. Francis Inn in Philadelphia, our friars’ soup kitchen. It was there that I worked as the friars worked, lived as the friars lived, and prayed as the friars prayed. I experienced the vows of poverty and chastity, two vows to be expected in such a situation, but to my surprise, also the vow of obedience: sharing the house with other lay volunteers, I found myself connecting with one guy, ambivalent towards one girl, and completely agitated by another guy. Unlike my experience in community the previous summer, I had to grow in love, even will it at times, to realize the great gifts they had to offer the world, even if the way they ate really annoyed me. Talk about a preparation for friar life! When I wasn’t working, I read as much as a could about Francis and took the opportunity to get to know the actual brothers around me: besides the seven friars there at the time, I was fortunate enough to visit Wilmington, DE for a first profession ceremony, Camden, NJ, New York, and Boston, tallying seven friaries visited and more than 50 friars met in a year’s time. I came, I saw. There was nothing more I could expect to learn or see to have a more informed decision. One day in July of 2010, I found myself in the air-conditioned chapel, asleep in front of the tabernacle. I woke with this very clear thought: if I were to get married, that would mean I couldn’t become a friar. For years, it had always been the opposite. “Look what I would give up if I were celibate.” Something had changed. I realized that I had all-but decided to become a friar many months earlier, that when I said “both are great options” I was really leaning towards religious life. I was simply afraid of how my life would change once I was honest with myself. I knew I needed to say it out loud and live with the consequences of the decision already made in my heart: “I want to be a friar.” Boom. Relief. Direction. Affirmation.

Since that day, I have never doubted my vocation as a friar. Is it always fun? Absolutely not! Am I ever frustrated with the friars and our Order? On a regular basis! But what marriage, job, friendship, or organization doesn’t include these things? As with anything worthwhile, this life requires a tremendous amount of work to make it happen. People often ask me how I continue to know that I’m in the right place. For me, it’s not that everything goes well or simply that there are a lot of good moments. Anyone can enjoy the good times, especially when they come easy, but that’s not a sign of vocation. It’s that I love putting in work to make it happen, that I’m still passionate about this life even through the frustrations. When you can find joy in what you do or who you’re with, even on the worst days, that’s a sign that you’re in the right place. I have my bad days for sure, but they’re bad days with people I’m called to be with. How could I even imagine being anywhere else?

 
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Posted by on December 17, 2014 in Discernment

 

The View From the Periphery

Pope Francis' words reflect a life of go to where the people are, humbly taking on their experiences.

Pope Francis’ words reflect a life of go to where the people are, humbly taking on their experiences.

History is one of my favorite subjects. Learning about those who have gone before us, their innovations and mistakes, is one of the most valuable things we can study; realizing that we have the ability to affect history demands that we learn from it. What I love about it is that it is much more that just memorizing facts: history is a profoundly subjective, pluralistic discipline. Like everyday situations, there are any number of distinct and valid perspectives to take into account when understanding the past. Unfortunately, history is often written by the victors, while the dissenting and minority perspectives are forgotten or left unheard. (For example, the predominant view of the 19th century United States is that it was a time of great expansion and adventure on the new frontier, forgetting the genocide and war the Native Americans experienced and the forced Chinese labor that allowed it happen.)

In our own day, as we continue to make history, we are susceptible to the same sort of tunnel vision and selective remembering. We use terms like “Americans” or “most people” to describe something central to the culture as we see it, but is that all that’s there? Often times, I would think, these statements reflect a white, middle-class perspective. This is by no means to devalue that perspective, as it is obviously mine; it is simply to identify it as one perspective, and to ask if there might be any other (even conflicting) perspectives worth hearing. What is the experience of the immigrant? The racial minority? The gay man or woman? The materially impoverished?

I ask these questions and present this post because a man I greatly respect has insisted that we take them seriously. Who, you ask? Our very own Pope Francis. Speaking to the Union of Superiors General of men (heads of religious orders throughout the world), Pope Francis had this to say:

“Truly to understand reality we need to move away from the central position of calmness and peacefulness and direct ourselves to the peripheral areas. Being at the periphery helps to see and to understand better, to analyze reality more correctly, to shun centralism and ideological approaches.
 
It is not a good strategy to be at the center of a sphere. To understand we ought to move around, to see reality from various viewpoints… Some time of real contact with the poor is necessary… [we] need to become acquainted with reality by experience, to spend time walking on the periphery in order to really become acquainted with the reality and life-experiences of people. If this does not happen we then run the risk of being abstract ideologists or fundamentalists, which is not healthy.” (For full text, click here.)

When I originally read this passage last summer, I knew that it was speaking to me: While I have had a passion for helping the poor and marginalized for many years and believe that I am fairly socially conscious of the world’s issues, I realized that most of my knowledge of these issues was theoretical, not based on actual experiences with people at the margins. (This reflection influenced much of what I wrote shortly thereafter in Not So Minor, the post in which I talked about being a “friar minor” despite being privileged in every way: “I am a young, white, college-educated, middle-class, heterosexual male…”)

Something needed to change. I needed to stretch myself in some way, even if it seemed insignificant to those around me, to feel that I was at least moving towards the periphery. I wanted to see what others see, feel what others felt, even if for just a brief period of time. Two opportunities have presented themselves so far, and I look to add to them next term.

Rain or snow, people have to get where they're going.

Rain or snow, people have to get where they’re going.

The first came as a further commitment to what I tried last year: take public transit to school. There was something about driving to school in my comfortable car, on my schedule, always warm and dry, that made me feel “fake” when I passed people standing at the bus stop in the rain. What was it like to depend completely on someone else to get somewhere? Was it reliable? Was it comfortableI decided to commit myself to the experience. Every morning. No matter the weather or how late I was. I stood in the rain. I stood in the snow. I stood in the frigid wind. Why was this important to me? Because that’s what many people do every day. Even when the bus was late, slow or inconvenient, even when the weather was disgusting and uncomfortable, even when there was only room for people to stand, populated by smelly, loud and sometimes crazy people, the bus was always full. Convenience is not a factor when there is only one option.

In the few months so far, it has been a valuable learning experience for me. As I said in Growing in Solidarity, my relationship with the people around me changed from sympathy to empathy as I not only knew their struggles, I began to associate them as my own. What I found was that it is much more than the discomfort of waiting in the cold or being cramped next to smelly people: it’s the stress. When relying on public transit, you are at the mercy of the system, completely inflexible and out of control. Each morning I have to be conscious of the weather and make sure that I am not even one minute late, which means rushing at times. There are many times though, even if I run out of time and run out the door without my lunch, that I’ll show up to the bus stop and have to wait 15 minutes for the late bus. Other times I’ve been on time and had to run a block to make it. This little bit of stress, something I had never thought about before, can have a tremendous impact on the day, effecting my mood the whole hour before and after the trip. This is what many people go through each and every day without question or alternative.

So much of what we take for granted is stifling for immigrants.

So much of what we take for granted is stifling for immigrants.

My other attempt at moving to the periphery came in my choice of ministry sites this year. Two nights a week, I teach English to non-English speakers at school next door. Being that I have never done this before, I was gifted with the introductory students, those who are just starting to learn a foreign language. This is both a great joy and a great difficulty. On the one hand, there are people in my class that came to this country 5 months ago having little to no knowledge of a single English word. To be their first introduction to a language, and in a sense, the country, is an honor. What they will learn in my class will hopefully be the foundation for the rest of their lives here. And yet, for those who have tried to learn a foreign language, this is an incredibly difficult task to start from scratch, especially when the teacher can string together a few Spanish words and knows absolutely no French. Even asking a question like, “Do you understand?” is an impossible task.

Teaching English has been a profoundly touching, exhausting experience for me. To see students learn and grow right before my eyes is such a wonder; for most of them, their English vocabulary has literally doubled or tripled. But that’s to be expected, I suppose. The formative part for me has really been witnessing the perseverance and courage that most immigrants have. I look out at my class, struggling to communicate with them, and realize how traumatizing this must be for them, every moment of the day. While most live in communities that speak their native language, I don’t think there is anything more infantilizing than not understanding and being forced to speak like a three-year old: “I like banana.” How easy it would be to remain in that tight-knit immigrant community, never learning English, and yet, these men and women show great courage every week to stretch themselves, despite being afraid that I will call on them to speak. What an inspiration.

And really, what a different point of view. It is the view from the periphery, the view forgotten or left unheard. What would history be like if it were written from this perspective? What would our national and international policies be like if we saw the world from this position? It is the great challenge we face as Americans and as Church; it is the challenge that I face as a “friar minor”. To view history only from the center is to forget the thousands, even millions, who do not have such luxury or privilege. It is a call to all of us to see and understand the experiences of those different from us, and dare I say, give a preferential option to the minority voice. That’s what the Church has stressed for decades in regards to the poor (preferential option for the poor) and what Pope Francis is asking us to do for all people. My hope is that this friar life will continue to lead me away from the center so that I may give a voice to the voiceless, and change they way we write history. Want to join? Who knows. You might even like the world a little better from a different perspective.

***

Again, thank you for reading! If you haven’t already, please share what you think about the blog by taking the two question poll on the last post! (Click here to go there from email.)

 
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Posted by on December 14, 2014 in Formation, Justice

 

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School’s Out!

No more papers! No more tests!

No more papers! No more tests!

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! Advent? No. Christmas? That’s not for a while. No, the most wonderful time I speak of is the close of the school semester. No more papers! No more tests! That’s right, as of 3:30 yesterday, after three exams in one day, I am officially free from any academic responsibility until January 12. Let’s just say that I’m as excited as this dog going to the park.

So what will I do with all this time, you ask? You mean after I purge my room of all that has collected over the past weeks (assorted papers, stacks of books, trash, and laundry on the floor) and turn it back into a bedroom? Well, let’s see:

From now until the day after Christmas, the students at Holy Name College are free (within reason) to do what they need to do. In my case, the first thing I need to do is catch up on a few neglected chores e.g. cleaning the bathroom, and sort out some other things in the house. After that, and for the next few days, I’ll spend my time relaxing, exercising, writing, and catching up with friends. It’s been a long term and my brain definitely needs a few days to cool down! The nice thing is that my ministry, teaching English as a second language, will also end for the year tomorrow evening, so there is not much to worry about in that respect either. The house has a few things planned for the end of the year, including a day of recollection this Saturday and a tree decorating party the following Friday, but outside of that, there is very little going on.

For some, this is a time of complete vegetation: curl up on the couch with hot chocolate and a book, watch lots of movies, and enjoy the freedom of no responsibility. This is what I gloried in last Christmas when the first semester served to be much more difficult that I had anticipated. Others use the time for doing all of the fun things they’re unable to do while in school: see the sites, catch a show, and explore the metropolitan area. This has never been my first inclination, but I like to be dragged to things… sometimes. Still others, like myself and one other this year, will be traveling up to Mt. Irenaeus for a week of prayer and reflection at the friars’ retreat house. I cannot tell you how excited I am for the absolute peace and quite of being in the middle of the woods, 35 minutes away from the closest “city” (by which I mean Olean, NY, population 15,000). I have never experienced quiet like I have there. This time of year, I can only hope for not too much snow and clear skies for hiking and star-gazing. Either way, I think it will be a perfect way to end the semester and prepare me for Christmas.

After that, and after the house celebrates Christmas together, it’s vacation time. Come sunrise on December 26th, I imagine there will be a race to the parking lot as everyone rushes home for a week away. I will once again be heading back to North Carolina to spend time with family for a few days, followed by New Year’s in mountains where a group of college friends have rented a house. It should be a fun break from the regular schedule for sure! We return January 3rd for a short regroup, and then everyone in formation, except for the novices in Wisconsin, will meet for a week of lectures and fraternity in Pennsylvania.

All in all, there is a lot of time for relaxing, reflecting, and most important to you, writing! There have been a few topics rattling around in my head the last couple of weeks and I hope to get them out in this time.

With that said, I wanted to try something new during this break: ask the readers. Apparently the host site for this blog has a “poll” feature for readers to share their opinions. So what the heck! Let’s give it a try. Below, you’ll see two very simple questions: 1) What do you want to read? and 2) What has been your favorite post? For the first, I’ve tried to give suggestions, but please feel free to fill in “other” with something more specific; you may pick up to three choices. For the second, simply write the name (or topic) of the post you liked most. I just want to say that I really appreciate all of you who read this blog regularly and would love to hear your honest feedback. If you would like more space, there is always the comment section. Peace to all!

 
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Posted by on December 10, 2014 in Announcement, Formation, Post-Novitiate, Trips

 

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Francis: The Patron of More Than Just Birds

This evening, the friars in my house celebrated the 35th anniversary of St. Francis being named the Patron of Ecology. As head of the JPIC committee in the house, I had the privilege of preaching at mass based on Gen 2:4-25, Ps. 104:27-30, and Jn 1:1-5. For more information or other reflections, you can go the the Franciscan’s website, francis35.org.

Thirty five years (and six days) ago, John Paul II proclaimed Francis of Assisi the patron saint of Ecology with these words:

Among the holy and admirable men who have revered nature as a wonderful gift of God to the human race, St Francis of Assisi deserves special consideration.  For he, in a special way, deeply sensed the universal works of the Creator and, filled with a certain divine spirit, sang that very beautiful “Canticle of the Creatures”.

It is a great honor that we as Franciscans are able to celebrate today such an example, to be inspired by his life and to imitate his joy and reverence towards God’s creation.

It is also a time for clarity, for us and for the world, as to what Francis actually said and did. As we know, Francis is often found with a bird on his shoulder, sometimes even talking to many animals. But is this the Francis that we see as our inspiration, the one the world needs to see? I believe that there is confusion, even in John Paul’s proclamation, as to what Francis can offer the world. There’s something more to Francis than a lover of animals; something more than someone who saw nature as simply God’s gift to humanity.

Francis was a man who saw the world differently than those around him. Everything in creation pointed him to God.

Francis was a man who saw the world differently than those around him. Everything in creation pointed him to God.

As with everything for Francis, his worldview begins from a position of littleness and humility before his Creator. As humans, we are God’s creatures, beings that owe everything that we are to the “most high, glorious God.” Francis would always want us to remember where we came from: God formed us from the dust of the earth. When the Church talks about social teaching, it puts human dignity as the foremost principle, from which all others flow; creation in this sense is as John Paul put it, a gift for humanity. For Francis, it is the other way around: we were created out of the earth, as a part of creation, called to be stewards and caretakers of something much bigger than us. Creation is not subject to us, free to be used and exploited however it best fits us. No, the whole created order is our brothers and sisters, made by the same loving Father, oriented to pleasing him each in its own way. It is out of this great humility that Francis asked with his life, “What does my brother and sister need?” and remained subject to all so as to allow what God had created to act in the way God had intended.

How did God create the world? I think it’s easy to fall into a Deistic, Watchmaker understanding of the world: there was a time at which God made everything, it happened in the past, and now God is off somewhere looking down on everything he set in motion. This, I tell you, is not very Catholic, and it’s certainly not Franciscan. Instead, let us look at the Gospel: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…All things came to be through him, and without him nothing came to be. What came to be through him was life.” God the Father created through the Son, in the Holy Spirit; the Father is the one who speaks, the Word is the one sent to the world, and the Holy Spirit is one hearing and responding. This is not something that happened, something that only took place at one point in time; it is the very nature of who God is: eternal self-disusing, creative love. God created, God creates now, and God will continue to renew the face of the earth.

And lastly, no discussion of Francis would be complete without mentioning the pinnacle of God’s creation and love, the Incarnation. As Franciscans and Christians, how can we not be amazed at what God has done: the Creator allowed himself to become the created. In the person of Jesus, we are able to experience God in our concrete, physical reality. It is a reminder to us that all that God has created, the entire material cosmos, is good and worthy of revealing himself. When Francis looked into the world, he saw the means for us to experience the living God. The Sun. The moon. Wind. Fire. Water. Earth. All of creation. These were not inanimate objects to use at his disposal, they were imprints of the one who created them, and vessels for us to experience him. How amazing it is that we can harvest the earth, bake it into bread, and encounter our God in a physical way? This is the perspective that Francis has to offer the world. This is the awe and reverence that inspires us, the humility and littleness that guides us, to see God working in and through all of existence.

For this reason, we are called to care for God’s creation, not for its usefulness to humanity or for the well-being of future generations, but for its own sake. What God has created is good, it is holy, and it requires our attention. Like Adam in our first reading called on to name the animals and take care of the garden, God has privileged us with being co-creators with him.

We can glory in the wonder of God’s creation or to manipulate it for our own gain;

We can choose to bring life or to destroy it.

We can work with God, who continues to renew the face of the earth each and every day, or we can work against him, polluting and over consuming what is not rightfully ours.

On this anniversary, I pray that Francis may be an inspiration to all of us, that we may be more humble servants in this world, caring for all that may lead us to the one who gives us life. May God grant you his peace.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2014 in Justice, Theology

 

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Prepare the Way of the Lord

How are you preparing for the Lord?

How are you preparing for the Lord?

Before Easter, the Church universally prepares for the passion, death and resurrection of our Lord with heavy fasting, extra prayers, and almsgiving. The thought is, given the solemnity of such a celebration, everyone should be adequately prepared for such an event, so we examine our lives, see what needs to be converted, and purify ourselves for our Lord’s day. It can be a bit grueling, but we’re better for it.

As we enter the season of Advent, the time of waiting and preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s Nativity, I want to call attention to the lack of preparation we do as a Church. Sure, we light a candle each week; we sing O Come O Come Emmanuel; some of us might keep an Advent calendar in anticipation. Things are definitely different, even special, this time of year, but is there any significant preparation? I may be mistaken, but it is my experience that Advent is not taken too seriously: the Christmas season begins immediately after Thanksgiving with Black Friday shopping, insufferable Christmas music on every station, and Christmas decorations everywhere (including three different trees at the Catholic University of America… C’mon! Even the school run by the bishops doesn’t get Advent!) There is very little waiting involved in our “season of waiting” and even less preparation, at least in comparison to Lent.

So what should we do? Should Advent be just like Lent? Well, no, not exactly. While both are times for conversion, they have completely different focuses and responses. Lent, a preparation for celebrating our salvation, focuses on the reason we need for a savior in the first place, our sinfulness, and calls us to turn from our vices. Christmas is quite different. Even though some say that it is merely the precursor to the Salvation event of Easter, as a Franciscan, I can’t help but marvel in the Incarnation as an event in itself: The invisible, all-powerful, largely unknowable Creator became the created. God became human. Seriously, think about it: how incredible is that? It is something that many Franciscans have argued would have happened regardless of our sin because God always intended to reveal godself to us. (For more, I wrote a post on this last year.) Our response to such a wonderful gift? I think our reflection during Advent should be more like John the Baptist’s: Prepare the way of the Lord. It’s a time to add virtues rather than remove vices, to open ourselves up to the joy of the Incarnation rather than the need for our salvation, our sinfulness.

For me, that meant looking at my life and asking, “What could I add to my life that would improve my relationship with Jesus?” My answer was quite simple: give Him more time. As a Franciscan, I know that I am first and foremost a man of prayer. Everything that I am and do must come from my relationship with God. And much of it does. I pray morning and evening prayer everyday without question. I evaluate everything I do against the life of Christ. I try to find time for private contemplative prayer each day. But I could do better. Unlike school work, ministry, and exercise, things for which I set schedules and commit to without fail, prayer often gets relegated to “free time” and is the first thing dropped when I’m busy or tired. (I have also written about this before.)There we go, my Advent preparation: spend thirty minutes in private prayer every day, without question. Make it as important as food and sleep. Commit to it like a workout plan or school schedule.

So far, it’s been going really well. (I say “so far” because it’s been a month. Since Christmas was arguably the most important feast for Francis, he had it written in the rule that all friars were to prepare for Christmas for two whole months: “Let them fast from the Feast of All Saints until Christmas” (Rule of St. Francis III.5).) For me, the difficulty is not praying for thirty minutes; this is something I do very often anyway. What’s difficult is committing myself to this each and every day, even when I’m tired, busy, or just don’t want to pray. This is something that I had in novitiate and unfortunately lost. Commitment. Being present to the God that is always present to me. Giving time to accept the grace that is always and already present in everything I do. I just have to show up.

For me, Advent is all about preparing the way of the Lord. I guess the real question is what do we mean by that: are we preparing the way because Jesus would otherwise not be able to make it us, or because we’re not prepared to welcome him in? Our Lord is coming whether we’re ready or not. May you be ready to welcome him when He comes!

 
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Posted by on November 29, 2014 in Prayer

 

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Thanksgiving: The Calm Before the Storm

Not a bad way to study!

Not a bad way to study!

Thanksgiving break is a wonderful part of the academic calendar. For five long days, students across the country are given time off from classes to visit family, enjoy a celebratory meal, watch football, and just relax. Oh, and catchup on all the assignments that were skipped when too busy earlier in the term. And write papers. And let’s not forget about studying for finals that are less than two weeks away.

The truth is, Thanksgiving break is a unique blend of extreme vegetation and intense productivity. On the one hand, the term is almost over and we need a break. Unlike the diocesan seminarians and lay students that go home for holidays, religious communities tend to stay together and celebrate within their fraternities. This means that there is no stress in packing, traveling, or sleeping on a couch in a house not your own. Community life continues, but prayers are pushed back to allow people extra time to sleep in, the daily grind slows as ministries and classes take some time off, and guys are a little more willing to spend the day playing a game, watching a movie, or just relaxing in the rec-room with a beer. It is a very relaxing time. On the other hand, the term is almost over and we have already taken too many breaks! Two weeks from today, I will [hopefully] have handed in two papers, taken three tests, passed one oral exam, and given one reflection. For that to happen, I have to catch up on the many articles and books that I have not read sufficiently enough (or at all), study the stuff I have, and pray that I learned something by the end. It is a very stressful time.

Taken together, Thanksgiving break is the “calm before the storm.” It’s a time of catching up and looking forward. Sure we have a lot due in the next two weeks, but we have five days free right now to get a lot of it done, and to have some fun in the meantime. So how am I spending it right now? With a study guide in front of the fire on a cold rainy/snowy day. Pretty good to me! I’m looking forward to a great meal and fellowship with my brothers tomorrow, and taking my time getting this work done all weekend.

I want to conclude by saying that I am thankful for all of you who read this blog, all who keep me in your daily prayers, and all who have been instrumental in my vocational journey. You have been a blessing to me over these past three years. May you have a blessed Thanksgiving, and remember, it is ultimately God who deserves all of our thanks and praise!

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in Post-Novitiate

 

Frat Party with Hillbilly Thomists

As the title would indicate, last night was yet another peculiar night as a friar. Maybe the most peculiar night I have had as a friar. And what a fun night it was. Here’s a small taste:

A few weeks ago, the Capuchins Franciscans (the Franciscans that inspired the naming of the Cappuccino and the Capuchin monkey because of the resemblance to their habit) near Catholic University sent out an invitation to all the religious in the area: “Holy Hour followed by a performance by the Hillbilly Thomists.” Pictured on the flyer was exactly what one would expect: Dominicans in habit playing banjos. To be honest, I could not think of a worse combination of events in an evening: adoration (a devotion that simply doesn’t make sense to me… but that probably requires a full post to explain), coffee (of which I’ve never had a cup in my life), Dominicans (our rivals, who, I would like to remind everyone, we beat in softball this year), and bluegrass music (need I have an explanation for this one?). A few weeks ago, I had not planned on attending.

As of two days ago I still hadn’t planned on attending, and figured most others felt the same way. I was wrong. Two guys in my house were really excited about it; I found out that undergraduate students would be there, giving up a Saturday night in college to go to a religious house; many of the other religious mentioned how much fun it was going to be. Really? I still didn’t think so. But I admired the initiative to start something new, to bring people together. One Capuchin said that it was an experiment: if it worked, they were going to do them frequently with different performances. Alright, I said, I really need to go, if for nothing else, to support guys who were extending themselves and taking a risk with a creative event. Who knows? The next one might be better.

Let’s just say that I underestimated just about every aspect of the night. I was worried that it wouldn’t have enough support: it was standing room only in a large chapel, and almost impossible to move when we transitioned to the basement. I was worried that adoration would be a bit strange, even awkward: the music was fantastic, the energy was tangible, and the preaching was some of the best I have heard, ever (even theologically, I found myself so caught up in the living, breathing body of Christ all around me that I didn’t find myself thinking about how strange it was that everyone knelt there for an hour staring at what should be consumed, I just adored Christ like everyone else, seeing him in my brothers and sisters gathered in great faith.) I was worried that the music would be super lame and that the Dominicans would be formal, pious, and reserved (as has been my experience): the music was so catchy and fun that I couldn’t stop clapping my hands, tapping my foot, and laughing at the great show. All in all, it was one of the most fun nights I’ve had all year.

Last night and today, I couldn’t help but reflect on how creative and effective this was by our brother Franciscans. They found a way to bring together men from five different religious orders and two diocesan seminaries (who, surprisingly enough, do very little together), include as many undergraduate students as there were religious, offering an opportunity to mingle with lay people in a really un-intimidating way, and create a powerful environment for God to touch us all. I think even we as religious can forget the power of intentional, spontaneous prayer in our lives. We prayer multiple times of day, go to mass often, and keep a very good schedule. But when do we go out of our way like this to bring 100 people together who want to be there for no other reason than to praise God? I think people are hungry for this sort of stuff. They want to go out of their way to do something new, something fun; they want to be prayerful people, surrounded entirely by people that want to be there, sing all of the songs, and don’t care what time it is. In a lot of ways, I don’t think it matters what you do if you have people like that coming together. Even if it’s banjo-playing lovers of Thomas Aquinas playing at a [religious] fraternity house.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think we as a Church need to think outside of our status quo, to stop waiting for people to come to us and instead be creative with the way we engage people with our lives. I look at something like the “Mass Mobs” in Buffalo and think, “How simple. How brilliant.” I see someone like Sister Cristina, the “Singing Nun,” using her talents and faith together to creatively re-brand the popular song “Like A Virgin” in such a powerfully Christian way. I think about our friars who have a chapel in the place people go most: a shopping mall. What are the ideas of tomorrow? Whatever they are, they’re going to have to be creative, attractive, inspiring, and new. A hillbilly frat party is certainly a start.

 
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Posted by on November 23, 2014 in Ministry

 

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