It may surprise some to know that I have almost no idea what I will do with my life. Isn’t being a friar a life-long commitment? What’s there to know? While this may be true, being a friar isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle: we are called to a life of prayer, poverty, and humility within a fraternity. In the spirit of Francis of Assisi, this lifestyle leads us to the margins of society and church where we are called to spread the Gospel in word and deed, to bring peace where there is violence, comfort where there is hurt, and welcome where there is exclusion.
But as wonderful as all that sounds (sign me up!) the astute will notice something very important about that call: it says absolutely nothing practical about what we as friars are to do with our lives. Unlike some orders that are called to be teachers or missionaries and that’s all they do, we are called to live the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in the way most fitting to our time and place. With that criteria, then, we could be almost anything: elementary school teachers, spiritual directors, store managers, retreat coordinators, political advocates, community organizers, artists, musicians, tailors, parish priests, landlords, technicians, and so on. And we have. The beauty about our charism is that it is open to doing whatever church and society needs.
I share that long introduction (there must be a point to this post, right?) to say that I am beginning to think about that question more deeply as I enter studies. I have already discerned a call to be ordained a priest, which narrows the job search down a bit, but there are still so many things that I could do as a sacramental minister.
I’ll start with the most obvious: parish ministry. Our province staffs eighteen parishes along the east coast, along with three or four “service churches” (depending on how you classify each) that offer services particular to urban settings such as multiple masses a day and continuous confession. There is a lot to like about parish ministry. Being the smallest organizational block of the church and being the primary connection to the Church for most people, there is a lot to offer: retreats, sacraments of initiation, daily prayer groups, ministry to the poor, faith formation, sick and dying ministry, and so on. Parishes are a place of life and excitement, filled with multiple generations and always being host to some group.
Of particular interest to me at a parish would be adult faith formation. Many people say that Catholics don’t know their faith, and I partially agree: Catholics do not know their faith in a systematic or memorized way that people of other faiths do, but Catholics have a powerful experiential knowledge of their tradition that cannot be overlooked. I would love to build upon this experience and give people the context and facts to organize what they know through many years of worship. What would this mean? Well, the way I see it, I would want to teach at least one eight-week class a semester (Fall, Spring, Summer) on the foundational topics of our faith including the Bible, Church History, Liturgy and Worship, Spirituality, and Social Action. These would be more academic than a traditional bible study or prayer group format, but meant to be attainable for all parishioners.
Of extremely high interest at my point in life and formation is working with young people. When I think about my experience in college, I recognize that it is a tremendous time for development in people’s lives: students are away from home and family for the first time, are able to test the worldview handed onto them, and begin to grow into their own understanding of the world around them. As men hoping to shape the world by bringing Christ into people’s lives, I can think of few places in which we can have a greater effect.
Holy Name Province has certainly recognized this opportunity and I hope that it continues to do so as I look for a full-time ministry in the future. Currently we have chaplaincies at the University of Georgia, Clemson University, and my alma mater, Furman University, as well as teaching and administrative positions at Siena College and St. Bonaventure University, two schools founded by our province.
Ministry of the Word
The last possibility that interests me a lot at this time is one I have spoken about before: the Ministry of the Word. As modern day traveling preachers, friars in this ministry go from parish to parish preaching the Gospel and sharing about our life as Franciscans. “Missions,” as they are called, consist of multiple talks over a period of a few days and can be geared toward a specific season (Lent, Advent), have a spiritual or practical theme, or simply be a spark to reignite the fire in a parish.
Traditionally, the friars have done this ministry two-by-two, working together on a mission and sharing their time with the people. As the numbers became smaller over the years, many decided to split up so as to reach more people. This, I feel, is not ideal. What interests me about the missions is that we go out two-by-two, that no matter where we go or what we do, we never do it alone. We are a fraternity even on the road. That is why Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs, and that is why Francis followed suit. Is it because one person is not capable of handling a mission alone? Of course not. But there is something more at play than the words spoken. There is something more than what we say about our life together. When we actually go out as a fraternity rather than simply talking about how we live in one, when people see us laughing together, cutting each other off, and even, dare I say, not getting along at times, there is something powerful expressed that cannot be captured in words. Our life in fraternity is to be lived and shared, not talked about. That’s why I’ve said it many times, working alone may be more efficient than working together (and certainly easier) but it is not more effective.
And so, as a student in the first grade declares that he wants to be a doctor when he grows up, I share with you my snapshot in time. As I experience more in ministry and grow in my vocation, I may come to new and exciting opportunities that I had never even considered. As a follower of Jesus, I must be open to wherever I am called, and luckily, as a follower of Francis, I’m free to live that call in many different ways.