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Doing Lent Together

As Church, we follow the path of those gone before us. As Fraternity, we follow that path together.

As Church, we follow the path of those gone before us. As Fraternity, we help each other along the way.

It’s that time of year again. Lent is upon us. Put away the green vestments, get the ashes ready, and hide the chocolate, it’s time for some penance and conversion!

Lent is always an especially fruitful time of year for me, a season of intentionality and clarity. More than any other time, I am forced to look deep within myself, call to mind the ways that I have wavered from the right path, and do what I have to do to be ready for our Lord’s resurrection. It is a time of knowing deeply who I am in all of my gifts and failings, and remembering all that Jesus did/does for me (and you!)

That being said, I don’t think I have to tell you that it is also a time of great struggle, proving the adage “no pain, no gain” to be right. Fasting is the worst. Rearranging my schedule is inconvenient. Realizing that I’m not perfect, that there are times in which I am actually bad, is the last thing I want to spend time thinking about. Although I can look back and clearly see how much I have benefited from acts of penance and conversion throughout the years (from somewhat trivial things like not eating candy and refraining from “That’s what she said” jokes to praying more and developing a habit of using my resources for others) they were dreadfully painful at the beginning. Nobody likes change. It’s even harder when what’s bad for us is easy, comfortable, and feels so so good.

So why do we so often do it alone? Why do we go down the path of conversion without a guide or partner every step of the way? When you ask the majority of people what they’re doing for Lent, you’re likely to get, “Oh, I’m going to pray more,” “I’m going to donate more to charity,” “I’m going to fast on Fridays.” I’m going to do something. For most people, including myself before entering religious life, Lent was a private devotion and a personal conversion. Others at times knew what I was doing, but it was ultimately my cross to bear, no one else’s.

There are two things I want to say about this.

The first is that, as Church, we need to support one another in our conversions. As Christians, we walk together, not alone, following the path of those who have gone before us and benefiting from two thousand years of faithful living. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel; the Church has shown what is spiritually life-giving. Prayer. Fasting. Almsgiving. But these things are not to be done solely in private devotion and personal conversion. No, penance and conversion are public and communal acts that build up the community through mutual support, and evangelize others to follow the path with us. Think about how powerful of a witness it is to see someone vulnerable enough to share the ways in which s/he needs to be converted and asking the community for help, and how encouraging it must look to an outsider to see the whole community answer the call for one another.

Putting ashes on our forehead is not a private devotion but a public sign of our need for conversion.

Putting ashes on our forehead is not a private devotion but a public sign of our need for conversion.

And yet, being Church is more than simply joining an support group, as important as support may be. It is uniting in word and deed with other people of faith around a common mission. When this happens, when we truly become Church, we begin to adopt a communal identity, a “we” in belief and action. This is a tremendous step. When it happens, we no longer look simply at the ways in which “I” have sinned, but now in the ways that “we” have sinned. We begin to realize that the Church is in need of conversion and that we are all a part of that.

What does this look like? Well, there are at least three levels to look at. The first and most important is the family, the principle building block of the Church. Coming together as a household, the family must look at its life together and determine the ways in which the culture of the house could better promote the coming our Lord. Maybe there is a weekly prayer night. Maybe money is saved by not going out to eat as much and donated to a charity. From there, one looks to the worshiping community. Is there something special the community can do together throughout the season, an additional prayer service or community service day? Lastly, one looks to the Church/society as a whole. Have we, directly or indirectly, supported injustice in our world? Maybe there is something we need to change in the way we treat certain people or issues, in the way we act and are perceived publicly.

What about me, you ask? What I am doing that I need support from the community and how am I doing Lent together with others?

Personally, I hope to do three things that will touch on a few of my biggest struggles. The first is to read scripture for 15-20 minutes each day, in additional to the thirty minutes of silent prayer I have [mostly] kept since Advent. The Word of God is always right there to be proclaimed and heard, but I don’t sit with it enough. The second is to give of myself more freely to the poor and to continue to grow in my comfort with and respect for those who are homeless. The third is my fast, but it doesn’t have anything to do with food. As I have mentioned before, taking myself off the dating scene has helped me to focus less on attractiveness when entering into a relationship, shaking off the natural tendency to see women as objects. This is by no means a completed process, however, and I want to take this time to be intentional about how seriously I take the vow of chastity.

Communally, it is much more difficult to find specific things that apply to each member of the house, especially when there are twenty guys living together, but we also agreed on three things: 1) On Wednesdays and Fridays we will have soup and bread for dinner, no dessert, 2) At Evening Prayer on those days, we will read one station of the cross and reflect on it together, and 3) The house will match any donations we make out of our stipends for the CRS rice bowl. For me, these things are critically important to the life of the house. Sure, they may not cause the greatest conversion in any one of us, but there is just something so important about recognizing that we are in this together and making an effort to show it. We’re all busy people and we all have our own preferences when it comes to lifestyle, but it speaks volumes to me that we can do something with and for each other.

In this way, I think religious life is a powerful witness to the rest of the Church and the rest of the world, that we are something greater than our individual identity, that there is something life-giving about giving up personal autonomy for the sake of the group. And in a way, isn’t that what Lent is all about? Giving up what we don’t need to build up the Kingdom of God. That sounds good to me. Would you like to do it together?

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2015 in Fraternity, Prayer

 

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Looking Forward to Our New Community

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.

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2012 in Fraternity

 

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A Spirit of Itinerancy

As itinerants, friars are constantly on the move: we change dwelling places, ministries, friar communities, and schedules. As I’ve alluded to here and there, the reason we do this is to avoid attachment and to remind us that all we have and use is borrowed, not owned.

If all of these consequences are true about itinerancy, there is not a more detached and sharing group of men in the whole world than the postulants (and director) of Holy Name Province: having settled into Saint Bonaventure University for a few weeks, I have now slept in twenty-one different beds since August (not including those I slept in while on breaks). That’s what I call itinerancy! On almost a bi-weekly basis, we were forced to adapt to not only new locations, but also new people, new situations, and new ways of doing the same things we were used to doing differently at home.

Herein lies what I believe to be the true benefit of becoming an itinerant: flexibility and openness. While communities that never change may be more efficient and comfortable, they run the risk of stagnation and stunted growth behind the killer of inspiration, “This is the way we do it.” Groups such as ours, ones that are always changing environments and forced to incorporate different members and situations, remain much more flexible in routine, are open to new possibilities, and can experience much greater growth.

Nothing could have prepared us better for our experience here among the other postulants. With men represented from seven different Franciscan provinces across the United States and Canada, we are now all faced with (at least) seven different ways of doing something. Prayer, chores, meals, recreation, personal time, and entertainment now have seven different voices coming together as one, each saying, “This is the way we do it.”

With no established routine or majority, there are two possible results: growth fueled by listening, respect, and compromise, or anarchy.

So far, we’ve leaned towards the former. With two of the seven directors present to facilitate, the nineteen of us have met multiple times already to discuss the needs and expectations of both self and community. So far, we’ve established a signup sheet for particular chores and responsibilities around the house and voted on a prayer schedule that works for most. So far, we’ve avoided anarchy.

The entire experience, big picture as well as here at Saint Bonaventure’s, has been something I believe will better prepare us for lives as friars. Though we will probably never move as frequently as we do this year, we will be periodically faced with situations that upset our status quo, situations that can either make or break community life in our friaries. It is my hope that I may always live with a spirit of itinerancy, flexible and free of attachments, so that I may always be open and attentive to the needs of both brother and neighbor.

[Pictures to come soon]

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2012 in Fraternity, Postulancy, Trips

 

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Easter Internships

With Easter comes new life, and new opportunities. Alleluia!

Alleluia! He is risen! I hope and pray that everyone had peace-filled Holy Week and Easter celebrations and that we’re all rejoicing in the newness of life given to us by the resurrected Christ. It can be a very crazy time of the year, especially for those in liturgical ministries, and so I hope it was also a time for prayer and reflection (and not just work!)

One of the particular things that the postulants do for Holy Week each year is to go out on a “mini internship” at one of Holy Name Province’s many ministries. Because no one place could hold all five of us at once, we went out two-by-two (-by-one) to three different locations: Sergio and I went up to Mt. Irenaeus in West Clarksville, NY, Ramon and Dennis went to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, and Ed aided St. Paul’s Church here in Wilmington, a place with only one priest to handle all of Holy Week.

One of the things we realized almost immediately was that there was almost nothing in common with any of the three locations. Mt. Irenaeus houses six friars living on a mountain top, hosting 25-50 people at the table for intimate liturgies and inclusive meals in their home; St. Francis of Assisi Church consists of more than 25 friars living in the busiest place in the country, serving literally thousands of people per day in a much more extraordinary, yet anonymous liturgy; and St. Paul’s is run by one friar, and is a niche parish for Spanish speakers in a poor neighborhood of a small city. In terms of ministerial experiences, we could not have been farther away from one another.

And yet, when we shared with one another our experiences of the week, we described our time with the friars and their ministry in almost the exact same way. Though we had seen it briefly in our trips throughout the year, such an experience made it so clear that there is a particular charism that we as friars bring to our life and work that is identifiable no matter the ministry or location.

The most obvious of this was that each ministry was first and foremost a community. Even at St. Paul’s where there is only one friar working at the ministry, each location had at least three friars with which to share meals, pray regularly, and recreate. This is absolutely the cornerstone for our Franciscan life and mission. Unlike most other communities, we were instituted to be a brotherhood, out of which flows ministry, not the other way around. It is only after we establish a healthy, prayerful community can we begin to understand the needs of the community and attempt to fulfill them.

Thus, at all three locations we noticed that the friars collaborated constantly with the laity, choosing to lead with rather than speaking in directives, even if that the latter might be much easier. At the root of this, I believe, is a desire of friars to invite others to enter into each others’ lives, so as to not only teach, but to be taught. To do this, each community finds itself eating, praying, and socializing with the laity outside of normal “work” circumstances, treating each other as equals on the pathway to faith.

At each place, this manifests itself in different ways, but the effect is the same. Whether it’s having a planning meeting before the liturgy so that the laity can not only participate, but add their own gifts to the liturgy, as at Mt. Irenaeus, or it’s making the sacraments accessible to the people, even if it means taking three-hour shifts for 12 hours a day for confession, or saying the first reading in seven different languages, as in NYC, there is inclusivity and humility in the way the friars lead. In all of these cases, it’s not about what the friars want, but rather what the community needs. I believe that it’s this attentiveness to listen and provide that makes us successful in our ministries and inspiring in our lay movements.

* * *

Obviously there was more to the experience than I am able to share, but I do have a number of great pictures here of Mt. Irenaeus for those interested. You can also find a better description of the place there, as well as at their website, http://www.mounti.com/.

 
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Posted by on April 10, 2012 in Postulancy, Trips

 

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“Mission” Accomplished

St. Anthony of Padua is regarded as one of the greatest preachers in the order.

Arguably the oldest and most “authentic” Franciscan ministry, the Ministry of the Word is an effective way that friars have reached the people where they are for 800 years. Today, it takes the form of a Parish Mission, in which friars travel from church to church preaching at mass, offering time for penance, and organizing a series of evening lectures on a given topic. When done well, inspiring preachers can be the spark that revives a congregation in faith and action, while being the replacement necessary for overworked pastors to take an overdue spiritual retreat.

From Saturday until Wednesday, the other postulants and I got some first hand experience of the workings of such a ministry. Instead of simply supporting our director (Fr. Ron) with our presence and prayers, we were actually given the responsibility of coordinating a significant portion of the events: each of us took part in speaking at the Sunday masses to advertise while Dennis and Ramon spoke three different times to the various youth groups, Edgardo gave the homily at the Spanish mass and coordinated a Spanish mission night, and Sergio and I took turns emceeing for Fr. Ron and each gave ten minute talks of our own.

How did we do, you ask? In terms of our programming, preaching, and message, I think we did a good job. People left with a little more joy, were a little more forgiven, and were hopefully a little more inspired for the life of the Church than when they started. By those standards, I’d say we did fairly well.

But because we’re Franciscan friars, there’s always more to it than the message itself: our witness to fraternal life. Though our programming, preaching, and message may be exactly the same as secular priests, Ph.D.’s, and most other forms of speakers, it is our ability to flow from and witness to fraternal life that sets us apart, and therefore should be the standard by which we judge ourselves. By those standards, I’d say we passed with flying colors.

Because we took the time to work together (even though it might have been more efficient to work alone), and were present and visible to our brothers when they were speaking (even though we probably could have just as easily stayed home and gotten something done), our actions were much more effective forms of evangelization than our words ever could have been. Even though Ron did the majority of the speaking, his visible relationship to us forced the congregation to recognize a collective presence, not just Ron’s. Thus, when they heard the message, whatever it was, and whoever was speaking it, I got the feeling that they heard it as our message, not just one’s own. Because we had made it so apparent to them that fraternity is the core from which we minister, I believe that they saw us as one unified entity rather than a collection of individuals. If that is truly the case, then it is “mission” accomplished.

After having experienced a parish mission first hand, I think it’s certainly possible to be more efficient in programming, preaching, and orchestrating a coherent message when working alone (not too mention much easier); but in terms of effectiveness, friars working together will always triumph because of their inherent ability to witness to the fruits of fraternal life. It is this witness that gives me the life and inspiration to continue in my journey as a friar in training, and gives me great hope for a future with my brothers.

 
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Posted by on February 29, 2012 in Fraternity, Postulancy

 

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“What Do You Do For Fun?”

Another question that we as postulants get asked quite often by the curious laity is, “What do you do when you’re not working or studying? Are you allowed to have fun?” Though more times than not I think it comes out of a culture that works from the weekend and doesn’t view work as a life calling, it’s a very valid question. How do we as friars-in-training relax and refuel ourselves mentally and physically?

As bad as it might sound, our most common form of “fun” and most effective way of (voluntarily) bringing the postulants together is around the television. I know, I know! There are more effective ways of forming community and certainly more productive things to do than anchoring oneself on the couch and mind-numbingly staring at a colorful box. At the same time that I accept these criticisms, it’s been something that all five of us have enjoyed doing and look forward to each day we can get together.

So what do we watch? For starters, Dennis and I have been pretty successful indoctrinating the others with our love for NBC’s 30 Rock, making it an almost daily ritual to watch re-runs after dinner (and the new episode on Thursdays at 8:00, of course!) For an hour most nights, the show allows us to laugh and relax together, while also offering a catalyst for conversation (I’ve seen every episode so there’s often talking while the show’s even on.) On weekends when we have a little more time in the evenings, we’ll get together in the basement around a movie. Though there’s generally no talking during these, everyone recognizes it as a shared experience done in community. Back in October, we got in the “Halloween spirit” with a horror movie marathon, watching a scary movie each night for 5-6 days leading up to Halloween (which included complimentary pranks and scare tactics for our jumpier friars!) On a few occasions, we’ve taken movie night out, going to a theater to see something up and coming.

As a bit more fulfilling form of entertainment, the other postulants and I have also began playing cards on a regular basis. After an initial night of trying a number of different games, we found one that everyone enjoyed: Poker. Using toothpicks, M&M’s, salt and pepper shakers, dominoes, and Rummicube tiles, we’re pieced together a different form of “currency” each time to simulate real money. So far it’s been more instructive than it has been competitive (as, to my surprise, people grew up doing things other than playing card games), but fun nonetheless.  

Along with both of these things, each of the postulants takes time to relax and have fun individually. Speaking only for myself, this means reading, working out at the YMCA, playing Words With Friends and other online/cell phone games, writing here on the blog, and keeping in touch with friends and family on the phone.

In terms of our definition of “fun,” how we once defined fun is becoming very different than the way we define it now. Going to bars and clubs have probably been removed from our list of future activities, but that’s completely fine. Isn’t that the case for most people? As we get older and make life-changing decisions, so too does our social life change. The important part is that, no matter how “mature” we get or how much responsibility we’re given, we must find time to relax and have fun, with our brothers. In a lot of ways, it’s less important what we’re doing than the fact that we’re having fun and doing it together.

 
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Posted by on February 5, 2012 in Postulancy

 

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We’re Baaaaack….

After nearly 12 days in North Carolina with my family, I find myself back in the familiar (and very cold) confines of Wilmington, Delaware, refreshed and ready for another fives months of whatever the Postulancy has to offer. While at home, I spent most of the mornings/afternoons relaxed on the couch, either in front of the t.v. watching mediocre college football games or re-runs of my favorite show, 30 Rock, or catching up on a little reading and journaling. The highlight of the break was definitely the time I got to spend with my whole family playing games such as Monopoly, Spades, Cranium, and Yatzee, winning all of them of course (except for the ones I lost).

Besides relaxation and fellowship, I had also mentioned before that this would be a great time for reflection and discernment as it would most definitely bring to light the differences between the life I once had and the life I’ve recently adopted. In this way, the break did not disappoint. Though I didn’t come to any earth-changing realizations, I left my house yesterday reconfirmed in my decision to join the friars and actually a bit excited to return to Wilmington (a truly preposterous statement if you’ve ever lived a block from I-95 in Wilmington!) Here are a few of the things that I came to realize that probably influenced these sentiments:

Community prayer is important to me. In the five months since I moved to Delaware, I think I missed Morning prayer, Evening prayer, and Mass a total of ten times, all but one of those times due to traveling constraints. Praying multiple times a day in community became sort of second nature to me, a “habit” if you will. It wasn’t until I went home and forced myself to restrain from praying the Office or going to daily mass that I realized, however, that it was much more than just a programmed behavior: community prayer is a critical part of my spiritual life. Sure, I went to Mass on Sunday, and I prayed frequently over break, but I knew that something was missing.

The friars have subtly become my “other” family. For all in my immediate and extended family reading this, don’t think that I’m in any way saying that there has been a replacement of feelings from you to them! Those in my family will always have that special relationship. But having lived together now for five months, praying, learning, traveling, and working with each other, it’s hard not to see that new, intimate relationships have begun to form. I found myself on break thinking, “I miss those guys,” and “I’m excited to go back and see everyone,” in a way that somewhat resembles, but feels ultimately different than the feeling I had upon returning to college each year. It took a little time away for me to realize that these guys had subtly become my brothers.

For now, I think I’ll leave it at that. I spent some time reflecting on a few other unrelated things, but in the interest of space and organization, I’ll leave those topics for another day. Our next adventure begins Thursday afternoon when we travel down to Maryland for the Formation Intercession, a meeting of all the Holy Name Province students. It should be a great opportunity to look ahead in the formation process and hear from those in years two through five about their experiences along the way.

As a last note, thanks to all those I saw over break that shared such reaffirming words about the blog. I try not to get caught up in the comments or page statistics, but it is nice to hear that it’s more than just a tool to organize my thoughts. Thank you for all of your support along the way!

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2012 in Discernment, Formation, Prayer

 

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