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Living Together

Just like newlyweds, there will be conflict in new friar communities unless there is mutuality and compromise.

As I mentioned in my last post, A Life to Share, intimacy among brothers is something for which we all strive, and is something I see already present in my life. What I failed to mention in my last post is that being intimate with a brother and living together are completely different things. Ask any newly married couple having just moved in with one another or best friends from high school that decide to share a dorm room in college: living together places a strain on any relationship, no matter how close.

One of the things that our postulant director has said to us early and often is that the source of conflict in religious houses is not theology or politics: it’s kitchens and bathrooms. Domestic disagreements, he says, over how clean an area should be or who’s responsibility it is to do certain chores, is the source of all household conflict.

So far in my experience of fraternal life I would have to agree. The fact of the matter is that there are no universal standards by which one is expected to live. Because each of us were formed by different people in different settings, we each have different expectations for the way things should be, making it inevitable that conflicts will arise. The way the table should be set, the position of the toilet seat when not in use, the length of time clothes may sit in the washer/dryer, the level of dust/grime/stain/smear that is acceptable before something must be cleaned, and the time allowed to clean one’s dishes, are all examples of issues for which there is no “correct” answer; each of us answers them from our own experience before entering community life, and must attempt to integrate them into one another.

When this is not done effectively, I envision one of two things happening:

The first is that the friary can turn into a college apartment. In this setting, cleaning is only done when it is convenient or one’s threshold of disgust is met, allowing for all lifestyle choices to be acceptable. It’s a “if it bothers you, you can clean it” mentality in which the majority of people feel very comfortable in their surroundings, while those few with the highest demand for cleanliness and order are left with the majority of the responsibilities of the house. This is not a desirable living situation because it does not take into consideration the needs of all, and places an unfair burden on the few.

The opposite extreme is just as likely: in order to make those with the highest demand for cleanliness and order feel comfortable, the other guys in the house are required to maintain a pristine level of living, one that far surpasses their own needs. This method guarantees that no brother will feel uncomfortable or taken advantage of, but it also means that the whole house is at the mercy of a few individuals. This is also not a desirable living situation because it does not facilitate dialog or expect each brother to make sacrifices for the sake of all.

Now before I get myself into trouble, neither of these extremes describes the way in which we live here in Wilmington, though I do see elements of both from time to time (as I did also in college and at home.)

Like any group of people trying to live together, what’s needed most is mutuality. Each person needs to recognize that there are many right ways of doing something, and that at times, it’s not only acceptable, it’s necessary, to live by another’s standards. Sometimes that means being patient and accepting the idiosyncrasies of others, either accepting it the way it is or doing a little more work to have it the desired way, while other times it means finding a respectful way to ask a bit more of a housemate. The truth of the matter is that it is all compromise, but that compromise isn’t so bad if all parties are involved in the decision and are equally looking out for their own benefit and the benefit of the whole community.

As I continue in my journey as a franciscan friar, constantly living in fraternity, I need to recognize that I am just as guilty of annoying my fellow brothers as they are me because we come with different expectations for one another. If I fail to recognize this, and seek to live my own lifestyle at the expense of others, living together is going to be very difficult for us all. On the other hand, if I’m open and dedicated to the life of the fraternity, living together will simply be a means by which we may form and nurture meaningful, intimate relationships for the rest of our lives. I guess ultimately the question is this: do I wish to live individually by my own rules, or do I wish to give up some of my own expectations so as to live together, fraternally?

I choose to live together.

 
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Posted by on April 19, 2012 in Formation, Fraternity

 

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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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