As I mentioned five weeks ago, the purpose of this summer experience at Saint Bonaventure University was twofold: 1) gain a more formalized and academic understanding of Francis, and 2) begin to create a brotherhood with the men with which we’ll be living next year. So far, the latter has been the highlight, and honestly, a bit of a surprise.
Prior to this summer, the postulants from all seven provinces met three times for a workshop and community time. The purpose, just as this summer, was to tie in something academic with fraternity opportunities so as to better prepare us for the novitiate. Though I did not mention it in my previous posts, these were not the greatest experience for me, and I left each one with a bit more anxiety about next year. I have to live with them? I liked a lot of the guys individually, but the group as a whole was exhausting, and I had no idea how I was going to do this summer, let alone all of next year.
In these five weeks together so far, my fears have been completely unfounded, and my perspective on next year has changed dramatically for the better.
Part of this is due to the change in atmosphere. Rather than being a short week of travelling, all seventeen of us have settled in and are able to feel comfortable in our routines. There’s enough free time that we’re able to balance community time with personal time, something that was impossible at a four-day workshop. The other part of this is that we’ve begun to see ourselves as one unit, not seven units together in the same place. These factors, with the start of novitiate fast approaching, have made us more able and more open to building fraternity with one another, and the result has been fantastic.
On a personal level, I’ve loved the opportunity to just hang out with some of the guys and do fun things. During the day I spend time at the gym either working out or playing racquetball with a few guys, and at night we watch movies, play pool, or just stay up late telling stories and laughing with one another. (We do work occasionally too.)
Because of this, friend groups are definitely developing. The larger group allows people to branch out of their own provinces and connect with people of more similar age, language, hobby, and background. Unlike in years past, we’re not discouraged from developing personal friendships; whereas before it was thought that such relationships would inevitably lead to exclusivity and the weakening of community, the nuanced approach seeks to develop intimate relationships between individuals so as to incorporate them back into a healthy community. Developing these relationships has been the best part for me so far, as I’ve really enjoyed the chance to get to know a few of the guys a little more each day.
Always in the back of my mind, however, is finding a way to be inclusive with my time, and to see each one as brother. It’s somewhat inevitable, given the age disparity and existence of three native languages, that there will be distinct friend groups. That’s okay. It’s even okay if I’m not “friends” with everyone. That’s community life. What’s not okay is being exclusive to the point of cutting off members from the community. We don’t have to spend all our time together, nor do we even have to like each other all that much, but we need to learn how to respect each other, cooperate, live together, and view each other as brothers, called by Christ to the same vocation. This sounds really nice, and it was very easy to write, but this will no doubt be the toughest part of community life, next year and every year.
All in all, I have to say that I’m excited for the novitiate to start. The anxiety I once had has all but washed away, and I look forward to living with this group of men on a more permanent basis three weeks from now. Though I know that the year will by no means be easy, nor will the community life be a walk in the park, I think that I’ve grown close enough to a number of them to know that it’s going to be a fruitful one for sure.