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Tying The Knot(s)

The three knots in the Franciscan cord symbolize the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience

The three knots in the Franciscan cord symbolize the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience

Tomorrow morning I will profess my Temporary, or “Simple,” Vows as a Franciscan Friar. What’s that mean, you ask? It means that starting tomorrow I am bound by canon law and the Order of Friars Minor to live the Rule of 1223, as interpreted by the General Constitutions and Statutes of the Order, “in obedience, without anything of my own and in chastity,” for a period of one year. For the next four years, I will have to renew them each year until I am ready to take Solemn, or “Final,” vows.

For some, especially in my commitment-fearing generation, the idea of taking vows such as these seems binding and suffocating. You mean you have to share everything? You can’t have sex? You have to do what other people tell you to do the rest of your life? That’s one way of looking at it. I, on the other hand, see it as a liberating experience.

For the rest of my life I will have a form of life to guide me. By this, I don’t mean to say that all of the sudden I will be a changed individual, completely others-centered and sinless the rest of my life, free from worry and inhibition. Rather, I mean to say that vows before God are serious reminders, inspirations, blueprints, and even excuses to act a certain way, and that, though there will not be a noticeable conversion from one day to the next, it is impossible to stay steadfast to them and also hold onto the worries of the world. What I accomplish, my career, how well I’m liked, how comfortable I am, having the right clothes, the reputation that proceeds me, and how much control I have over my life, are all worries that will eventually fade away when I recognize the significance of what I’m doing: I am consecrating my life to God. Sure, I’ll still bear the mark of a sinful human wanting to fill myself with things that do not last, but there is a part of me, if I let it out, that will never have to worry about anything more than pleasing God.

That’s why, while there are many good reasons to enter a religious order, the primary reason absolutely has to be a longing to be in deeper relationship with God. Fraternity, poverty, humility, ministry, and really cool 12th century clothing are all great, but they are not ends in themselves. Even the vows themselves, poverty, chastity, and obedience, are merely disciplines that hope to find something greater. The true end, the purpose for this life, is to love God more deeply and to seek greater communion/reconciliation with him.

When one begins to look at the vows from this perspective, there is nothing “binding” or “suffocating” about them; they’re simply liberating. Sure, financial liberty, private assets, sex, family life, independence, and professional success can all be very good things. But for me, these are all things that could distract me from giving myself fully to God. In this way, the vows are a means by which I keep unwanted distractions, although good things for others, out of my life so that I am more free to do what I really desire. Trust me when I say that taking vows is the most liberating thing that I will do in my life.

With that, I ask you to please pray for me tomorrow as I take a big step forward in my religious formation and tie the temporary knot(s) in my relationship with God. I will be away on vacation until August 19, but look for a few reflections from Novitiate while I’m gone!

 
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Posted by on August 1, 2013 in Novitiate, Vows

 

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Back In The Habit!

After 344 days of blog-less activity, deep in prayer and preparation in order to profess vows, I’m back! It’s been a long but fruitful year, and I have a lot to share. I’ve cherished my time here in novitiate, and believe that it has brought me much closer to God than I was before, much closer to myself than I ever thought possible, and much closer to my brothers than I ever wanted to be!

But like all things, novitiate must come to an end, and new challenges must begin. This Friday, I will take the next (and arguably biggest) step in my life as a friar by professing simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Doing so will make me a Temporary Professed member of the Order of Friars Minor, and will require that I live the life of a friar, in full, for a period of one year (more to come explaining this process).

Friday also means the beginning of my first vacation in about 14 months, and let me tell you, I’m ready! I can’t wait to see my family and friends, get back to the “real world” (by which I mean the East Coast), and just relax!

Come August 19th, I report to my new assignment in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I will attend Catholic University for 4 years obtaining my M.Div. degree. There’s a lot I don’t know about the next few years, but at this point I know that I will be very busy with school and ministry, and that the daily life will be very different than it has been for the past two years. Other than that, you’ll just have to check back throughout this year to see how it turns out.

Here’s a sneak-peak of some of the upcoming posts: Simple Vows, Kenosis, Seeking Insecurity, “This Is Not What I Signed Up For!”, The Whole Bible In Under A Year, Meat Minimalism, and My Advice For New Members. Check back here for these posts soon but in the meantime head over to the Shutterfly website for pictures from the year.

 
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Posted by on July 29, 2013 in Announcement, Novitiate

 

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A Life to Share

Celibacy can be a bit of a deal breaker. Ask any young Catholic man or woman, active in their faith, why they are not considering some form of consecrated life, and I can almost guarantee that celibacy is one of the reasons. “I really want to get married,” you might hear. From my own experience, this was the largest hurtle to jump.

But despite what many may think, including even those going through the discernment process, I don’t believe that the problem is abstinence from sex (at least not entirely). Believe it or not, there are still many young people in this world who have not discarded chastity for the loose sexuality embraced by popular culture. (It’s not what you hear on t.v. or see in the movies, but it’s still out there, trust me!) And yet, of those who have held on to or readopted this unpopular virtue, there is an even smaller minority of people wishing to do so in the form of consecrated life. Why is this?

The reason has everything to do with intimacy, or rather, the perceived lack of intimacy in religious life. When I look back to the time when I used “I really wanted to get married” as an excuse, I believe what I was really saying was, “I really want someone to share my life with.” For much of my life, I saw marriage as the only way to do this. When I looked at the priests and religious I knew (which was only a few), all I saw were people growing in age, living alone, and frankly, looking either miserable or lonely. From this narrow experience I concluded that it must take the type of holy person that is willing to sacrifice any chance of intimacy for the sake of a worthwhile ministry, and I knew that I was not that holy person.

The first step in my transformative move toward religious life was a painful, yet inevitable one: I matured. As I grew older and developed emotionally, I began to form relationships that were much more meaningful than being “just friends” while being wholly different from my romantic partners. I had begun to realize that intimacy was much more than just romance. For an adult, this is painstakingly obvious. But for me, the realization that I could be fulfilled and sustained emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, and even physically (in a different way of course) from something other than an exclusive, romantic relationship, meant that I didn’t need to get married to have all of my needs met. It was not until this realization did the prospect of entering religious life even deserve my attention.

At some point, however, it did, and I was forced on an excruciating journey of heart and soul that tore me into pieces for many months.  Can I do that sort of work? What about my girlfriend? Do I want children? Which community? Have I lived enough to know? Little by little I grew more comfortable with idea, developed a fondess for St. Francis and became to accept almost every aspect of Franciscan life. I could do that.

There remained one final question: were these specific guys, the members of the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Name Province, guys that I wanted to share my life with? It’s one thing to understand and to like the idea of fraternity in the way St. Francis instituted it, but another thing entirely to live it with actual people. I was convinced that religious life could fulfill me in the way I sought. But would it?

The long and short of it is a resounding yes. As I’ve come to know many of the men in this province over the past five years, I have felt a distinct growth in many of them from mere acquaintances, to familiar friends, to something potentially much more. While I’m growing to understand each member as a brother owed my unconditional love and respect, I have nonetheless grown close to a few in a very spectacular way. I find myself catching glimpses of an intimacy with my brothers that is to come, fulfilling and sustaining me for whatever lies in the road ahead.

It may be true that I will never be fulfilled in such a physical way that a wife could provide: I am never going to have sex. Frankly, I’ll survive without it. But when I begin to look at celibacy through the lens I’ve described above, the abstinence from sex no longer appears to me as a restriction to be followed or a sacrifice to be endured; rather, it is the freedom, and the call to love more broadly than would ever be possible while vowed to just one person. I know that I feel called to this life, and that it is a life to share.

 
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Posted by on April 14, 2012 in Discernment, Fraternity

 

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So… What am I doing, and WHY am I doing it?

Is this what you're picturing?

For a lot of you, I’m sure you’re wondering what the heck I’m doing with my life. You’ve heard that I’m joining the Franciscans, you’ve seen Robin Hood and so are familiar with Friar Tuck, and you’re trying to picture me in a medieval world. For those who understand what it means to be a friar in the modern world, you’re are probably wondering WHY I would want to live a life of austerity. Let me explain.

First of all, there are many different types of friars: Augustinians, Carmelites, Dominicans, and of course, Franciscans. A friar is simply a brother, or a member of one of these religious orders. A Franciscan friar follows the life and rule of St. Francis of Assisi: this means accepting a life of simplicity, brotherhood, others-centeredness, prayer, and love of creation. Formally called the Order of Friars Minor (o.f.m.), the Franciscans strive to be “lesser brothers,” people in solidarity with the poorest and weakest, working in the world by taking on the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience (or as it is sometimes referred to as “no money, no honey, and do what you’re told.”)

The friars are a very diverse bunch. Before entering the order, members of my province held jobs as DJ’s, photographers, translators, interior designers, corporate managers, and scholars; since entering, friars hold positions as priests, spiritual directors, retreat coordinators, professors, social workers, missionaries (while still DJ-ing, photographing, translating, designing, managing, and learning).  Franciscans are found working in and throughout world wherever there are people in need, often times in highly populated areas. Because of this, I find them to be more in touch with the world than any other religious or secular group.

So why is it that I found a need to wear a brown dress, live with a bunch of men, and earn less than minimum wage for the rest of my life? To put it simply, it was the best way that I found that I could follow God and do his work. The three vows, though it would seem like a limit to my freedom, actually make me more free: I don’t have to focus on a getting ahead in my career, caring for a family, or worrying about where I’ll go next. There is a freedom in letting go of some individualism, and focusing solely on how I can serve. What separated the Franciscans from other religious communities was St. Francis’ emphasis on brotherhood, love of creation, and radical poverty (even greater emphasis than other religious groups), and obviously the fact that St. Francis is by far the greatest saint ever. What put me over the edge was seeing and meeting the friars in action. It was one thing to like the ideals of an 800 year old saint, and another thing to like the individuals upholding them; in this case, I could definitely see this group of men as brothers.

To read more, I wrote an article for the Franciscan vocations newsletter last year explaining my discernment journey that can be found here.

 
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Posted by on August 6, 2011 in Discernment, Formation

 

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