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My Advice For Those Discerning

With the transfer of the Postulancy program from Wilmington, DE to Silver Spring, MD, the postulants and simply professed will be under the same roof once again. Holy Name Province is blessed to have eight incoming postulants this year. Their arrival sparked this reflection.

Two years ago I started my journey as a Franciscan. Tomorrow, eight more men will do the same.

Two years ago I started my journey as a Franciscan. Tomorrow, eight more men will do the same.

Having now completed two years of the six-year formation process to become a Franciscan friar, I feel that I have learned a thing or two worth sharing with those discerning religious life. Obviously, my experience is quite particular to my Order, province, gender, and age, but I think that there’s something universal that can be shared with all who are discerning religious life: Give it two years.

What I mean by that is be patient. The entire formation process to become a Franciscan Friar is long (one year of postulancy, one year of novitiate, and four years of temporary profession.) It doesn’t happen overnight, and for good reason. Discernment takes time. Spiritual growth takes time. Building relationships in fraternity takes time. It takes so much time, in fact, that there is a two-year period between entering postulancy and making one’s first official commitment, simple profession. Be patient.

Being patient means giving yourself completely to the program. The first two years are not like the rest of friar life, nor does it claim to be. It is a period of deep spiritual discernment, exposure to a new way of life to try new things, the transformation of self, and the laying of a foundation that will last the rest of your life. These are all critically important. These are all critically tedious and frustrating at times as well. There will be workshops, sharing sessions, confrontations, suggestions and critiques, activities, and people in general that will seem so useless and trivial at the time that you’re going to ask yourself, “What the heck am I doing here?” Sometimes, it’s simply humility and patience that will get you through it. And you will. But I cannot stress it enough: stay open, especially in these times! There have been countless grace-filled moments over the past few years that I didn’t recognize at the time, and had I not been open to try new things, even in the frustrating times, I would have never seen them. Give yourself to the program.

Lastly, most important of all, giving yourself completely to the program means giving up thinking about “all the things I could be doing.” I could be getting a degree; I could be helping the poor; I could be dating; I could be making money; I could be furthering my career; I could be out with friends doing the things we used to do. You’re right: you could be. But you’re not. You’re a part of a once in a lifetime opportunity in which people will take care of everything for you so that you can better know God, yourself, and how that relationship fits with others. Trust me when I say that this is an invaluable opportunity for anyone, even for those who discern away from the friars.

And so I say again, give it two years. What’s two years of your life in the grand scheme of things? Sure, you could discern out, and you would “lose” two years, but think about how much more of an attentive husband, faithful and knowledgeable layperson, effective boss, and empathetic neighbor two years of such an in-depth spiritual program could make you. And if the worst-case scenario were only that, you discern out of religious life after two years a better person, it would seem that you’re risking almost nothing in order to gain everything. What if, on the other hand, that tiny spark of a calling you feel now becomes so enflamed after two years that you can’t think of anything else to do but devote your entire life to God and neighbor? What a wonderful two years that would be.

I now leave you with a prayer that has been very helpful over the past two years in my own discernment, a prayer that has kept me patient in my vocation in good times and bad. May it give you the same peace that it gave me to know that God is working in my life, even if it’s not always obvious.

Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability—and that it may take a very long time. And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually—let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time will make of you tomorrow. Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J.

 
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Posted by on August 25, 2013 in Discernment, Formation

 

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In Two Weeks

This formidable building will be home for almost a year.

In two weeks, the postulants of Holy Name Province will leave our home in Wilmington, DE. Packing up everything we own, we will say goodbye to the house we called home, the rooms we called “sacred space,” and the men we called brothers.

In two weeks, we will move into our new home in Burlington, WI. As in every step of our lives as Franciscans, we will adapt to our new surroundings and learn to call a new house “home,” create new sacred spaces, and learn to call new men brothers. We will adopt the routine of the house, and hopefully bring to it something new from our own experiences.

In two weeks, the postulant year will be over. It’s amazing to look back on the last 12 months and see all of the places we’ve been, the things we’ve learned, the ways we’ve grown, the relationships we’ve developed, and the trials we were put through. I summarized quite briefly my take on the year in “Postulancy: A Year of Discernment”, an article written for the Be A Franciscan newsletter. (Please pass on to anyone considering Franciscan life!)

In two weeks, we will be accepted into the novitiate, and begin a year of preparation for taking simple vows. Taken in steps (of which I only know what is written in this article), we will begin to remove ourselves from the world so as to grow in greater knowledge and contemplation of God, His Church, its servant Francis, and the Order he created. Eventually, we will be without credit cards, internet access, and cell phones, so as to be without as many distractions as possible.

And in two weeks, we will never again be just a class of five. Next year we will join 12 men from six other Franciscan provinces in what is called the Interprovincial Novitiate, and in each subsequent year of formation after that we will be with all the men in formation with Holy Name Province at our house of studies. The great thing about your class is that it can really shape you, but after the first year, it doesn’t have to.

These two weeks are going to fly by. I hope I’m ready for what’s on the other side of them.

 
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Posted by on July 31, 2012 in Formation

 

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The “Root” of Our Charism

Manual labor and brothers: the Franciscan way.

After a few long days of packing, traveling, and unpacking, all seventeen postulants and both directors have settled into their new home here at Saint Bonaventure University. Starting Monday, we’ll be in full campus swing, taking classes, attending communal prayers, hitting the books, and of course, spending quality time with our brothers.

But that’s not until Monday and we’ve been here since Tuesday/Wednesday. So what have we been doing to fill the time, you ask?

If you guessed weeding carrots at an organic farm, you’re right! As a way to get in touch with the original Franciscans that worked with their hands each day and took for wage only enough food for the day, we rolled up our sleeves and put in an honest day’s (three hours) work. We left dirty, sweaty, and exhausted two days in a row, but not without a sense of accomplishment for a job “well” done (by which I mean, “well, it’s done,” and not to indicate any quality in our work, as none of us appeared to be called to this line of work…)

That being said, as much as this type of labor would not fulfill me as a full-time ministry, there is something to be said about our ability as friars to do the “dirty work” ourselves rather than leaving it to someone else. Sure, I understand that it may be more efficient or even more cost effective to have outsiders take care of tasks around the house (i.e. cooking, cleaning, maintenance) so that we can focus entirely on our work for others in our parishes and schools. But is this the sort of trade-off we want to make? Just as Francis told Anthony he could teach theology as long as he didn’t “extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion,” we should not wish to approach our ministry with the risk of extinguishing our Spirit of poverty and humility.

By that I do not mean to romanticize manual labor or in any way to say that it is more fruitful to our charism than intellectual labor is. Rather, what I mean to say is that a friar or friar community that refuses to engage in any form of manual labor or “dirty jobs” for the sake of others, runs the risk of becoming lazy, developing a feeling of entitlement, and ultimately losing the sense of poverty and humility that is at the root of our Franciscan charism. I would much rather clean a toilet, cook a mediocre dinner, cut the grass in the hot sun, or clean a hundred dishes, than allow myself to feel that I deserve these things to be done for me because the community needs me in some way.

My hope, as always, is that this reflection will be taken simply as that: a reflection of what I feel to be an ideal for my life. In no way do I mean this as a criticism to those who do have cooks, cleaners, landscapers or anyone else serve them on a regular basis, whether one is a friar or not, as there are always different circumstances that call for different solutions.

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Fraternity, Postulancy, Poverty

 

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Mine!

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!

This past Sunday, the postulants took a 24-hour hiatus from the phone, computer, television, newspaper, and general conversation so as to devote an entire day to prayer and meditation. We were free to spend it however we pleased as long as there was an emphasis on renewal and contemplation (for some of this, this even meant intense exercise, as that can be a great time to think!)

Though I found the many things to be fruitful and the day to be rejuvenating in general, rereading parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters ended up being the most revelatory, “blindsiding” me with a truth I needed to hear: “my” time is not my own.

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at this own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-a-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own” (Letter 21, page 111-112)

The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. No more than twenty minutes prior to reading this passage, I was informed that our Spanish class would replace the scheduled afternoon meeting for the next day, that the original meeting would be changed to the evening (my time), and that another meeting would be scheduled another night (also my time). No sooner do I get home do I read this passage, which continues, “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift.”

BOOM! Wakeup call! In as many words, this passage not only captures the most frustrating aspect of postulant life, it forced me to see its true source: me. When I stepped back and asked myself why I got frustrated with these common occurances, I realized that it wasn’t because the unplanned tasks were difficult, painful, or even useless; the source of my frustration was an unfounded assumption that I had exclusive possession of certain time periods. Rather on focusing on the great gift that I have each and every day to work, pray, eat, sacrifice, and so on, I was stuck into believing that I was entitled to a time each day to do whatever I pleased, and that the aforementioned “gifts” were actually inhibitors to that time.

As a Christian, let alone a friar in training, this possessive idea of “mine” can be a dangerous one. Left unexamined, it can permeate beyond time into all aspects of our lives until we become disillusioned into thinking we are the Lord of our own lives:

And all the time the joke is that the word “Mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong–certainly not to them, whatever happens (Letter 21, page 114-115).

As I move forward in formation, I must always remind myself of the wisdom in this letter: everything that I have, whether it be time, material possessions, a functioning mind, or good health, are “mine” not because I created them or am their sole controllers, but because they have been gifted to me by God. Thus, a worldview firmly rooted in this wisdom, one that I must challenge myself to accept each day, no longer wishes to differentiate between “mine” and “not mine.” Rather, it wishes to use and share all that we have for the sake of loving God, self, neighbor, and the created order, acting with humility and gratitude for all that we have been given. The first step in forming myself in this way is accepting that God is my all, and that of me, he says, “Mine.”

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2012 in Postulancy, Poverty

 

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Preparing For Novitiate

Talk about a full house!

Although our primary focus for being in Wisconsin last week was an interprovincial Postulancy workshop on sexuality, we enjoyed the added bonus of visiting the Novitiate house and meeting the Novices. We weren’t given a ton of free time throughout the week, but enough that we were able to hear from the Novices about their year so far, share meals with them and the Novice masters, experience their prayer style, and get familiarized with the house and grounds.

By the end of the week, I understood why the three stages of initial formation are called pre-Novitiate, Novitiate, and post-Novitiate: the Novitiate experience is clearly the center and frame of reference for the whole process. The Postulancy year, thus, is not just a waiting or trial period, it has the crucial objective of preparing men for the intense community and prayer life of the Novitiate.

So, what exactly do they do in the Novitiate, and are we being prepared well enough?

To oversimplify the concept, the Novitiate is a year of prayer, work, study, and community, in preparation for simple vows at the end of the year. The Novices in Wisconsin pray together four times a day, have class for two hours in the morning, do chores for two hours in the afternoon, and take turns cooking meals with and for each other before being allowed two hours of free time in the evenings. They are not allowed cell-phones, credit cards, or use of the internet, they’re not allowed to travel more than 15 miles away from the house, and there is a grand silence that begins at 9:30pm each night. It is through these extreme measures that the Novices are encouraged to take great steps in their prayer and community lives, freeing them from the many distractions of the outside world to focus more attentively on those things that are at the center of our lives.

And while this is necessary for a life as a friar, this lifestyle would be too much of a shock for most people right out of the gate. What would the retention rate be like if men left their old lives one day and showed up to this one on the next? Even as someone who is quite affirmed in his vocation, I would have struggled with the transition. Thus, Postulancy.

Having now seen the life of a Novice, everything (except the traveling) that we do makes perfect sense to me now, and I see that the Postulants of Holy Name Province will be as prepared as any for next year. We pray everyday as a community either twice or three times, emphasizing the importance of prayer but doing so in a bit more casual of a way; we attend class twice a week on basic Franciscan studies, preparing us not only in content but also in structure; our weekly group meetings, both as a whole house and as the formation group, keep us in touch with the needs and attitudes of the others, helping us to find our role in community; having set meals seven days a week has enforced a sense of responsibility and community; and our lack of freedom, whether it be in time off, ability to leave, use of technology during the day, limited stipends, or chores, has been taken slowly as to help the adjustment process. Taken together, the year is a stepping stone for the next, an introduction and preparation to the rigors that lie ahead.

In all reality, the hardest thing about next year will be that which we cannot prepare: living in a house with 24 other men. Because it’s an interprovincial Novitiate, we’ll be sharing the experience with at least six other provinces, having completed seven different postulant years, with seven different levels of preparedness, and 25 different personalities. I’m not sure if anything can fully prepare someone for that type of experience. Until that day comes, I look forward to living in the moment of each day as a Postulant, while always remembering what that moment is for: preparing for the Novitiate.

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2011 in Formation

 

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The Test Results Are In…

As if my personality could be contained by letters, numbers, and lines!

Though driving ten hours both ways in a mini-van with five other guys and then spending a week with twenty other men can be an experience in and of itself… there was a more practical agenda to our trip to Cincinnati: Inner reflection and community life. Led by Br. Tim Lamb, OFM, we spent the week taking personality tests and analyzing the results so that we could better know ourselves and our brothers. Here’s what I found out about myself:

Myers-Briggs: Of the 16 possible personality types, mine is INFJ, meaning that I’m introverted, tend to look at the big picture rather than the details, act more subjectively than objectively, and prefer a plan rather than “play it by ear.” I’m told that INFJ’s are driven by their values and take great stock in their insights, leading them to be outspoken about meaningful topics. With a strong compassion for others, IN’s are a bit more inclined to reading people than others, and are good as leading by persuasion. Combined with the emphasis on planning, INFJ’s are usually seen as visionaries that seek social change, for better or for worse (I’ve seen both Ghandi and Hitler as famous INFJ’s). My favorite description of this personality type is that of a “friendly antagonist,” something that I’m sure many of you that know me will find very entertaining.

FIRO-B: The three pairs of numbers on the bottom of the page represent my expressed and desired amounts of Inclusion, Control, and Affection. The first thing you’ll notice is that I changed my control scores to make them higher. Typical… and ironic. Like most, I have a need for affection but am very hesitant to show it, and have a high desire to be included in others’ plans, whether I have to make the first move or not.

Leadership Matrix: The final test is depicted by the zigzag line in the center. Based on four categories, Assertiveness, Sociability, Emotional Response (to change), and Readjustment (or how much outer authority is preferred), the scale ranges from Low to High based on one’s preferred leadership style, with the red line representing work and the black line representing home. The high A suggests that I like to take control, but the even higher S means that I do it in a persuasive, rather than dominating, way. I’m confortable with change, but am more willing to look to the authority of others before acting.

Though I find these results to be fairly accurate to my own perception of self, I think it’s important when taking them to remember that they’re only an outward expression, even symptom, of a much more complex inner self. To use these results as a form of categorization or even limitation of relationships would be of no service to anyone. To prevent this sort of thing from happening, it’s important that we use the results as a very basic first step in truly getting to know ourselves and our communities. The better questions might be: Why am I driven by my intuition rather than my senses? Why do I find it difficult to be in situations without a clear plan or leader? Why am I hesitant to show affection but have no problem receiving it? If we don’t move beyond the simple “what” of these results into a relationship that seeks to know “why” a person scores the way they do, we are living a superficial relationship at best, and risk limiting our relationships to boxes and easy categorizations at worst.

For us in community, the test results are in: how are we going to use them? How would Francis use them?

 
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Posted by on October 24, 2011 in Postulancy, Workshop

 

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“And The Lord Gave Me…Cousins?”

My future "cousins"

There is a friar in our province that shared with us a bit of playful advice prior to traveling to Cincinnati and meeting the other postulants: “Just remember, the guys from your own province are your brothers. The ones from the other provinces are just your cousins… you don’t have to love them as much.” Even typing here in the room, by myself, I find myself laughing out loud.

Though this friar was [mostly] kidding, this sort of statement is clearly a sentiment held historically among the provinces. Almost every American province was founded independent of one another, and because they were originally organized based on language and culture, not geography, there was little cooperation even between different friars living in the same city. Over time, each province began to develop a distinct personality, each of which was Franciscan, but each of which was unique to each other. Even today, despite losing the majority of our cultural ties, there is still a distinct philosophy to each province that is evident in the way new members are formed, which ministries are emphasized, and so on. They’re part of the same family, but probably don’t have the same parents as us.

To say that I didn’t notice these differences, even in a short week, would be a lie. After meeting 15 different guys from four other provinces and hearing about their experiences in the past two months, the friars they know, the ministries they offer, and their plans for formation, I can see very clearly a difference in culture. But to say that we are all fundamentally different, enough so to reserve for each other the title of “cousin” rather than brother, is simply nonsense. The existence of workshops like these and an inter-provincial Novitiate next year says to me that the leaders of each province think the same.

All-in-all, I found this week to be a great experience in community building. I found the differences based on province, as well as different individual personalities, to be both challenging and enriching. I met people that I’m very exited to get to know better and live with; I met people that I could not stand to be near and dread the idea of living with them. In both cases though, I had to remind myself that brotherhood is not about being best friends or hanging out with like it’s a freshman dorm: it’s about upholding one another in faith and sacrifice, mutually existing for the sake of the Gospel.

When Francis famously wrote, “And the Lord gave me brothers,” I can imagine him with great elation, overjoyed with the joy of such a gift. I can also imagine him saying it with a bit of sarcasm, wondering why his life was burdened with such annoying men all around him. I imagine he spoke from both perspectives throughout his life as a brother. In the end, though, he never said, “And the Lord gave me cousins.” They were all his brothers, as all of these men will be mine.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2011 in Fraternity, Postulancy, Workshop

 

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