After a two-week long hiatus, I’m back on the blog and ready to start the new year. I had a fantastic ten-day vacation (once again traveling nearly 1200 miles!), spending four days with my family, visiting three friar communities, and opening the new year with ten friends from college. It was good to go home, but after it all, it’s also great to be back.
Or, at least it was… for the hour that I made it back to D.C. on Sunday. After my final leg of the 1200 mile vacation extravaganza, I was back in the car for a three-and-a-half hour drive to New Jersey with the friars. Another vacation? Not exactly…
Each January, all of the friars in formation (minus the novices in Wisconsin) attend a workshop together on a Franciscan topic related to our life and ministry. These are no “cupcake” topics either. In years past, we’ve had presentations about the Franciscan theology of the Trinity, the relationship between the Franciscan Order and Islam, and the contemplative dimension of leadership (given by a former Vice President of a Fortune 500 company). This year was no different: we were privileged to welcome Fr. Michael Blastic, OFM, one of the foremost Franciscan scholars in the English-speaking world, to discuss the connection between St. Francis, the Second Vatican council, and Pope Francis. As one would expect, the content was fantastic and our discussions were lively and fruitful.
And alone, it would have been great; a quality workshop for our intellectual formation. But intersession is not just a workshop. As Franciscans, our formation is not just intellectual, it’s prayerful, emotional, and absolutely social.
Outside of the designated times for lecture and discussion each day, when we weren’t praying or at meals, we spent our time together truly enjoying each other’s company. Away from school and ministry in the comfortable confines of a retreat center, without stress or distraction, we were free to simply be ourselves, together. It was time to catch up with the guys out on their internship year (final year of formation before solemn profession) and to mix a little more with those in different levels of formation. All told, it may not sound like much, but is always a blessed time of the year filled with laughter, relaxation, and brotherly love, a time to share our lives with the other men going through the process together.
And alone, it would have been an inspiring and rejuvenating week. But there was more.
Not only did the friars from SPUFY (Solemnly Professed Under Five Years… we love acronyms in religious life) meet at the same time and place as us, offering a unique opportunity for recreation each night, on Wednesday we welcomed 50 of the 70 friars in our province under the age of 55 for an unprecedented meeting about the future of the Franciscans as we enter a period of restructuring and revitalization. For 24 hours, we discussed our vision for the Franciscans in the country, shared our hopes and fears, and debated on the best way to make that happen. Although I can’t share the specifics of what we discussed, there are few things that stuck out to me:
- The numbers are so much more significant when they have faces. So often in the Church we talk about declining numbers, lack of vocations, and a very bleak future. In our province, we talk about how few guys we will have in the future to run our ministries. And it’s all true… based on the expectations of the 1950s. But standing before me this week were fifty men who have devoted their lives to radically living the Gospel. And that’s not even all of them. To think that we have seventy men in the peak of their lives, in our province alone, that are committed to the same life as I am, is incredibly encouraging (not to mention the 240 other men who happen to be 56 or older, many of whom run the province). Too often you see a religious community with 2-3 new members, men or women, under the age of 55, surrounded by 100 others on the verge of retirement. Not the Franciscans. Not Holy Name Province. There is a strong future ahead of us.
- I love these guys. Not only are there enough men to create a viable community for years to come, there are enough quality men to sustain me for the rest of my life. For many, I’m sure it was nothing more than another tedious meeting (and parts of it was…); for me, it was a strong re-affirmation of my vocation. These men make me laugh. They do incredible work. They love each other. They inspire me. Whether we all want to admit it or not, there are really only two questions that we ever want to answer: Who am i? and Who’s going to love me? Being with a group like this, even for a day, reminds me how blessed I am that I can answer both of these questions with joy and confidence.
- We don’t have to get along to be brothers. While the love of Jesus and his Church certainly bound the men in the room, very little else did. In the fifty guys present, it was hard to miss how diverse we are at times when it comes to country of origin, culture, political leaning, vision for the Church, definition of friar life, ideal lifestyle, and personality. It was hard to miss how we don’t get along sometimes. It was hard to miss how, dare I say, certain guys actually don’t like each other. Gasp! Sounds kind of like… I don’t know… every other situation in the world! While some would point to conflict and division as signs of weakness, I see it as one of the strongest points of witness that we have to offer the world. Here we are, men with personalities, egos, issues, etc., and yet we’re willing to come together for something greater rather than giving up on the people and things that annoy us. Do we do it perfectly? Absolutely not. But what I saw in this gathering was enough to brag about: we have at least fifty men that are willing to at least try to follow Jesus in his mission, accepting each other, not because we want to but because Jesus did it first.
In total, it was a rejuvenating, inspiring week with my “young” peers. Together with the guys in formation, those recently professed and navigating their first assignments, and those men who are coming into their prime of their friar lives, I saw that there is a lot to look forward to as a province, and a lot of inspiration for my own personal road ahead. I do not know what the restructuring and revitalization of our Order in the US will look like in five years, but I’m excited to be a part of it.
As a final note, I’m in the process of working on two new videos and planning a few more after the semester gets started, so check back soon!
(Cover photo by Christian Seno, OFM. Body photos by Basil Valente, OFM.)