All papers and exams are finished, grades are in, and I’m outa here! It’s been a long and tiresome year (with a lot of fruit to show for it, I will add) and it’s on to the next thing. What is the next thing? It doesn’t matter as long as it isn’t school for three months!
Actually, the first all of the friars did immediately after finals were over was to go on a retreat. From Monday to Friday of last week, the seven temporary professed, two directors, and one visiting friar, enjoyed a relaxing and rejuvenating time at PriestField Pastoral Center in West Virginia. Among the least structured retreats I have been on since joining the friars, the purpose of the retreat was less about deep spiritual encounter or conversion, and more about fraternal time and simply processing all that went on in the year. While there was a lot of time for communal and personal prayer, guided reflections and personal quiet time, there was also a lot of time for talking, joking around, having fun, and just enjoying each other’s company. Prayer and quiet are great things, but there’s something to be said about setting up intentional time away from home to be with one’s community in a mostly-prayerful environment. Definitely a great way to end the year.
From there, we’re off to our summer assignments. While we’re not in school, friars are sent to one of our many ministries on the east coast to gain pastoral experience in real-life situations. The process of picking an assignment is very open, and follows a dialogical process: the director meets with the student friar to discuss the desires of the student with the possible openings, the two think and prayer about the best fit for the student, and once a decision has been made, the provincial council is asked to approve or deny an assignment. In almost every case this year each student was given his first choice. You can read about each of the assignments here.
My assignment is at St. Anthony of Padua Church and School in Camden, NJ. It is in a rough part of town (as if there is a nice part!) that is largely Spanish speaking. Those who know me well will note that no hablo Español, and those who know anything about a normally functioning human being will note that I’d prefer not to be shot. Just saying. In any event, despite the obvious drawbacks for the normally functioning human being (oh, and did I mention that the church doesn’t have air conditioning?) I have to admit that this was actually my first choice. Ever since I visited St. Anthony’s back in the postulant year I have been attracted to this community in the way that the friars work with the poorest and the most outcast people you can find (both immigrants and people from New Jersey), live as simply as anyone in our whole province, do incredible work in bringing a broken community together, wear their habits as much as I have seen (not that this is a high criteria, just something I prefer) and they have a dog (and no, this is not secretly the only reason I chose Camden… although I list it for a reason.)
I’m not entirely sure what I’ll be doing throughout the summer, but I know that I’ll be busy. The church has a community garden, a house for AIDS patients to come for food and the dignity of touch/friendship, an active youth leadership group that empowers students to take action in community government, and services to the poor, not to mention the regular activities such as bible study, faith sharing, and liturgies.
With all that said, the real reason I picked Camden was its ministry of presence. As odd as it sounds, I am looking forward to being in place where I have to struggle to communicate, where I will be with the less-than-popular people in a less-than-glamourous town living a simple, even dirty lifestyle. I am sure that there will be a lot for me to do, and I look forward to all of that, but what I am really looking forward to is simply being present to a people and place that has so much to teach me.
But before all of that, there is something much more important to be done: vacation! I’ve chosen to split my two weeks of vacation in two, taking one week starting tomorrow and one week in August before school, both of which will be in Raleigh, NC with my family. I’m not sure if I’ll find the time or inspiration to write while there, but check back throughout the summer for what I hope will be rich (and more frequent) reflections! Please keep me in your prayers!