As friars, we’re busy people. The students go to school and volunteer at ministry sites; the solemnly professed work full time jobs; the postulants (first year) volunteer at ministry sites and attend many classes and workshops on a regular basis. Add that to the regular prayers, meals, and house chores, and there is little time left in the day for most of us.
For the long-time reader, this may sound familiar. In A Brother, Even When Busy, I shared a similar reflection as the postulant year was starting to pick up and I was forced to budget my time and focus on what was most important: “Being busy is much more of a test and training of our priorities: even after a long day, how are we going to find time for our brothers?”
You see, being in a fraternity is a lot like one’s own family: you don’t get to choose who you live with, you’re not always interested in the same things, and while there is a common bond that unites everyone, the people around you are often taken for granted and overlooked because we know that they’ll always be there. There is in both cases, I believe, the false idea that our relationships with either stay the same or get better even without much attention; we implicitly believe that they will grow naturally by virtue of living together and sharing a common identity. I’m sure all of us can attest to the fact that this is just not the case. Community life takes work. Without clear intentionality on the part of everyone involved, it is simply going to fall apart when things get busy.
So what do friars do about that? One thing Holy Name College is doing this year for the first time is a monthly fraternal celebration. Set up by the recreation committee (who has just unofficially changed its name to the fraternal life committee), one evening a month has been assigned a theme to make it more than just a regular night, and the friars are “encouraged” to break from the normal schedule to be with one another for an extended amount of time.
With Halloween upon us, we couldn’t help but make the inaugural fraternal celebration a “Black and Orange” party. And how perfect it worked out. Celebrating the feast of Ignatius of Antioch, one of the first martyrs of the Church, the readings and homily at mass reminded us not to be afraid even when the world is crashing down around us or we’re about to be killed by the Romans (or that there are ghosts. That too.) We came out of mass to find the living room completely decorated with blac3k and orange streamers, Reese’s Peanut Butter cups and orange slice candies on the tables, and a witches hat on the lamp (that no one actually put on, surprisingly enough.) The dining room was completely decked out with orange and black table cloths and napkins, streamers from the ceiling, and festive place settings. For dinner? How about blackened salmon, black beans and orange rice, sweat potatoes with blackberry jam, sicilian orange salad with black olives, and for dessert, carrot cake and blackberry buckle. (But wait, there’s more!) After evening prayer at its regular time, the living room was reconfigured for a showing of a scary movie, The Others (good movie but excellent entertainment hearing one friar scream at every slightly scary part!)
Could it have went very poorly? Definitely. Some might have said, “I’m not giving up a Friday night to stay in,” or “We don’t do those sorts of things here. That’s really lame.” And I’ve heard friars say both. But they didn’t tonight, and believe it or not, almost every friar stayed for the whole night (and enjoyed themselves!) Was it a lot of work? Sure. But what would we have gained by “saving our energy”? A regular Friday in which people don’t go out of their way to make sure they’re at mass, small talk about the day for twenty minutes, normal dinner, and then everyone dispersing their separate ways after (or before) prayer. Instead, everyone made an effort to be there, to enjoy themselves and their company, and really appreciate the fact that we’re a fraternity, not a bunch of bachelors living together.
So what do I have to say about all of this, given the Halloween theme? We cannot be afraid to put ourselves out there for the sake of building intentional community. I mentioned a few weeks back how moved I was by our Feast of Saint Francis celebration, and I’m beginning to see a common element: the men that I live with are more open to working on our fraternal life than any of the three house configurations I have lived in before. I sense a comfort with one another and an intentionality of life that I have not experienced. This is very encouraging.
As the year progresses, my hope is that we may build upon the fun we have each other, and in a sense, move beyond it as our sole sense of camaraderie. Especially among men, it can be difficult to move beyond the laughter and good wine to something deeper, to something intimate. Why is it that we’re here, together? What struggles do we face in life? What brokenness do we carry around with us unbeknownst to others? Being vulnerable with each other can be very scary, no doubt. For many, we’d rather face a ghost than share who we really are. But isn’t that what our life is about, walking together because we know we can’t do it on our own? As Christians and Franciscans, let us never fear that which challenges us, builds us up, and above all, reveals Christ to us: our fraternal life together.
To see more pictures of the night, check out the shufferfly site.