Home at last and back to normal. For now! My hiatus from posting last week was less than desired but not without excuse: five midterms in a week and a half kept me very busy and very tired. Such work is not without reward though, as I’ve spent the last five days on spring break. How does a friar spend spring break, you ask? Itinerantly.
Spending five nights in five different places, I made my rounds in what ended up being a great blend of business and pleasure. Starting in Lancaster, PA (the place where I grew up), I gave two talks at my cousin’s confirmation retreat, sharing about my life in the Church and how the Holy Spirit has guided me in my vocation. From there is was off to the Philadelphia suburbs to spend three nights in three different homes, catching up with family members I have otherwise been unable to see since starting formation. Finally, I finished the trip with a quick visit to our soup kitchen in Philadelphia and the night at our parish in Camden, New Jersey.
Besides being utterly exhausted (so much so that the first thing I did when I made it back to DC was to take a nap), I have to say that it was a great trip with a surprising amount of reflection to be had.
The first point of reflection is about itinerancy. Spending five nights in five beds is both a challenge and a joy. Living out of a suitcase requires one to live much more simply than normal, going without anything that isn’t a necessity. Entering into another’s home, even when treated extraordinarily well, is still an invasion of another’s space: you’re never 100% comfortable because it’s not your fridge, bathroom, bed, television, etc. that you’re using. It requires a lot of flexibility, and with such little time at each place, a lot of energy for each individual person and always feeling like you’re “on”.
For some of us as friars, itinerancy in this form will be a way of life. The Ministry of the Word, as mentioned a few years ago, is a form of ministry in which friars go from parish to parish, preaching at the masses and holding parish missions during the week. Some of our friars can do upwards of twenty or thirty of these per year, spending a lot of time on the road with new people. There are many aspects of this that are appealing to me.
For the rest of the friars, even though we don’t move from house to house that often, there is still a sense with the way we live that we are using, not owning, the things around us. When we know that we will be transferred in 3, 6, or 9 years, we are reminded that someone will be using the things we have shortly after we’re done with them, and that while we have something today, it may not be ours tomorrow.
The second point of reflection I had on this trip, and arguably the more important one, was the experiences I had speaking with relatives and friends about the Church. I come from a very large Catholic family, and like many in the northeast (and western world), many of them have encountered their fair share of struggles within and outside of the church. Having now spent two and a half years in the friars, and spending much of my day in class or indirectly focused on the theological issues of the times, it was a critical opportunity for my own ministerial development to spend time with regular people with varying degrees of affiliation with the Church.
Don’t get me wrong: I have plenty of opportunities to talk about the Church and to be with regular people throughout the day. What I find sometimes, however, is that much of our time is spent with the extraordinary cases, the ones with the best or worst situations who feel a need to seek someone out. They say the squeaky wheel gets the oil, and in this life, its mainly because we have no idea what the other wheels are thinking until they squeak! Being with family and friends this week was an awesome experience to hear where I presume a lot of Catholics are today: not particularly pleased or angered by the Church, simply unsure of a number of things and either unable or unwilling to find someone to ask. The common problem I found this week was that the Church has a twofold problem: education and public relations. The majority of people in the pews simply don’t know what they don’t know. As I think about my future in the Church, this is a big issue that I feel called to work with.
That being said, there’s no use “waiting until I’m older” to get started. In a sort of “But wait, there’s more!” sort of gimmick, my travels are just beginning: next weekend I’ll be in Athens, Georgia at the University of Georgia speaking to the Catholic Student Center about living a vocation in the Church (not just being a friar, but I’ll make sure to emphasize that option!) and in early May I’ll be going down to Raleigh to St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church to speak at all the masses about supporting the friars (and again, maybe even becoming one!)
For me, there’s just too much out there to do to sit around. There’s a great message to be shared, and while some people will come to hear it, it may require us to be a bit more itinerant, meeting people where they are. That’s my mission for now! Off I go again!