This year, the friars at Holy Name College here in D.C. have been a part of quite a few gatherings. There was the beginning of the year social of all the religious, the recent Franciscan prayer and dinner that brought together OFMs, Conventuals, Capuchins, and TORs (which you can read about here), and the yearly lecture for students in formation. Some, like the “Capuchin Cafe,” have been completely spontaneous and wildly successful: more than 100 students/religious/formators/professors come out each time for a holy hour, great music and coffee each month!
Last night there was something completely new. Not as well attended at the Capuchin Cafe and certainly not organized, it was by far the most creative: The “Paulist Pub.” An obvious play on the Capuchin Cafe, the Paulists decided for a slightly more “adult” way of bringing people together than the Capuchins, replacing coffee with beer and an basement packed with undergrads with an intimate courtyard full of seminarians.
But this was no kegger of cheap light beer, let me tell you. No, in keeping with the history of religious orders, this was a beer brewing competition. That’s right, homemade beer straight from religious houses. You don’t get any more medieval than that! And it was delicious! The Capuchins made a Scottish Ale, a common flavor that was a bit more of my preference, while the Paulists, going for innovation and creativity, decided to experiment with putting mangos in an IPA as it fermented. As someone who does not like that style of beer, let alone never-before-attempted styles made in someone’s basement, I was skeptical. But they proved me wrong. Both were crisp and refreshing, making the vote very difficult indeed.
But lest this become a food and drink blog, I’ll say that I loved the creativity and spontaneity of the event and that we need more of this in our formation experience. No one was forced to be there, there were no formators or evaluators organizing the event, and there was no agenda for our conversation other than to have a good time. together in a setting that had nothing to do with formation or training.
And yet, how critically important such an experience is in our formation and training. In a time when vocations are “not what they used to be,” (although actually growing in the past decade!), it’s really important that we be around people that share our experiences and trials, that we have peers and friends not just “brothers” and wisdom figures. There is a lot we can learn from our older brothers who have lived this life longer than us, but there is just no replacing learning with those who are also new. Here in D.C., we have the luxury of being surrounded by hundreds of men in their 20s and 30s who have chosen to step away from the world and to walk with God in a different way. Each of us has recently struggled with discernment, made major life decisions, and stepped into unchartered waters. To know that there are men life me, who struggle with the same things I do and want what I seek, is very comforting indeed; to actually get to know these people, especially when it is over a fresh brewed beer, is irreplaceable.
So cheers to all my fellow formation students out there and let’s raise our glasses to all those discerning our way of life. It’s a great life that I wouldn’t trade for anything. For me, it’s not about the beer or the coffee, not about organizing orchestrated events with elaborate prayers and planned entertainment, it’s about guys who share a common hope and dream for themselves and the world coming together to get to know each other, support one another, and have a great laugh. With the right group of guys, it could be anything; what better place than the neighborhood religious pub!
As far as our beer brewing goes, we’re considering getting in on the action! One of the Capuchins gave me a book about brewing beer made easy, and we might just have to make our own Holy Name Province lager! Stayed tuned next fall for developments!