For the past four years, I’ve spent New Year’s Eve renting a house with friends I met freshman year of college. For two, sometimes three nights, we catch up, play games, and just enjoy the company of people we have known for nearly a decade, reminiscing on old times as we make stories worth telling next year. Now nine years removed from the time we all met living in the same freshman dormitory, twelve different people have attended at least one weekend and seven of us have attended them all. To say that it’s one of my favorite times of the year is an understatement.
As the years roll on, so do our lives, and it’s amazing to watch my friends grow up, to see their careers take off, and most significantly, to be a part of their lives as their personal relationships become more serious. While we have always included new boyfriends/girlfriends into the fold and “couples” have generally made up more than half of the group, this year marked a distinct step. Of the thirteen people attending, ten were with someone with whom they have been dating for more than three years (with the longterm boyfriend of another unable to attend and the other having just ended a serious two-year relationship with a former attendee), two sets of couples had gotten a pet together in the past year (and brought it with them), and one couple had even gotten married since last year.
And then there was me. Not in a relationship, not looking to be in one. While my friends are all really mature when it comes to the setting and are in no way exclusive or publicly affectionate while in the group, the gravity of the situation was impossible to miss: when each night was over and people went to bed, when we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways, everyone else had a partner. Everyone else had someone else on the journey, someone to share a conversation with, to share their lives with.
Me? I had the radio. And it was a jerk.
“An’ here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known,
Like a drifter I was born to walk alone.”
With my friends on my mind, the first song I heard on the radio was “Here I Go,” by Whitesnake. Yeah… I didn’t listen to the rest of the song.
But it got me thinking. As I continue to discern my life with the friars and my imminent decision of whether or not to make final vows in August, am I really choosing a life “on my own”?
The immediate and obvious answer is “no.” As I shared during my first year and have reiterated numerous times since, just because I am choosing to remain unmarried does not mean that I am choosing to forgo intimacy. There are multiple ways to love and be loved and I’m simply saying no to one of them. There is still the intimacy of platonic friends supporting each other through struggles, of work colleagues pouring their lives into a project, of academics challenging one another intellectually, of “the guys” working out and playing sports together, and of course, of the brothers in the fraternity committing their lives to one another, among many more. As a friar, I have and will continue to experience intimacy on many levels, feeling a part of something greater than myself, finding a permanent home with men who welcome unconditionally, and sharing in a common vision of life and Church. In a very true and important sense, I will never, ever be alone because I have the brothers.
And yet, five and a half years with the friars has shown me that, no matter how significant and important it is, a fraternity most certainly is not an equivalent alternative to a spouse. While, yes, both are lifestyles of intimacy and commitment, both are intended to be unconditional and lifelong, and both offer stability and produce fruit for the Church and world, they are fundamentally different in focus and lived experience: a marriage is based on a one-to-one, finely-chosen relationship while a fraternity consists of hundreds of unchosen ones. As similar as they may seem and as fruitful as both can be, choosing to love and making a commitment to one romantic partner will never, ever be the same as growing in and learning how to love a group of diverse, transient people. Like a married couple, I can say without question that in times of crisis and times of joy the fraternity will be there to share in and support me, but I cannot say with certainty who the individual men will be, where they’ll be when I need them, or when I will see those most important to me. Very much unlike marriage, my decision to stay or leave the fraternity is not dependent on the individual members of it, and in fact, some of my closest friends within the fraternity have left the order, will eventually leave, or will ultimately die within my lifetime. Thus, even though there exists many intimate relationships, my life within the fraternity will always have a sense of being “on my own.”
Is this some unforeseen revelation that I’ve just now had? Am I beginning to question my life as a friar or fear what might be ahead? No. Not at all. As much as we can equate this life to being married or “having a new family,” I knew even before I joined that these things were meant analogically. Similar, but not the same. Fraternal life can never fully replace true family life; fraternal intimacy is simply not the same as exclusive one-to-one intimacy.
But here’s the thing: it doesn’t need to be. As I grow in my life as a friar and prepare for my final vows, it’s even more obvious to me that some people are simply not called to such an intense, one-to-one relationship, that, even though such relationships are the norm in most cultures they are not necessarily the best way to love or build communities. Maybe some people, not for lack of love or ability but because of an abundance of both, are called and gifted in such a way to love whomever they are with, living intensely in the present moment without the longterm commitment of the future; maybe some people can live anywhere with anyone doing anything because their life is not defined by the intense love they find and share in one person, but rather by the desire to be in relationship with the source of love itself and to share it in a broad sense with all.
Are these people—am I—”on [their] own”? In a sense, yes: they will never have the unconditional one companion with which to share all their thoughts, fears, desires, and struggles. And maybe they can’t live without that. But in a sense, no: they will always be guided by the One who loved first, both in their relationship to that love and in making it present in the world. And maybe I can’t live without that.
Your thoughts are both thought provoking and so true. i can’t believe you will be taking final vows in August. Time sure seems to go so fast. Happy New Year ! May 2017 be all that God has planned for you.
We met briefly when you offered your assistance for the Charis: What Next? weekend retreat. I have really enjoyed reading your blog. I wish you the best in 2017, and thank you for sharing your thoughts.
One thing we must all keep in mind, even though this is not widely taught, is that in marriage, practically speaking, there is no guarantee that marriage will last a lifetime. For good reasons and bad, marriages do break up. In my case, I was married to a good Catholic woman who ultimately divorced me after 25 years of marriage. After about 20 years of living alone,I began to wonder if my spouse were mentally ill. Sure enough, about 30 years after our divorce, our children told me that they think their mother is a narcissist, i.e., has narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). It is thought that NPD is caused by improper mothering at a very early age, usually before age two, and it worsens with age. Thus my wife was ill when I married her at age 22, but she seemed to be so normal that I doubt that a premarital screening by a psychiatrist would have uncovered her narcissism at that time. Unfortunately, there is no known cure for NPD; the cure rate is only 4%.
In addition, many divorces happen for no good apparent reason and then there is always the specter of death at an early age. In my opinion, marriage is a huge risk. At least, you won’t have to worry about that. Therefore there are no guarantees in marriage despite the goodwill of both parties.
Blessings, Br Casey. Blessed 2017!
Casey, I’ve been following your blog since before you became a postulant. Time sure does fly.
Br. Casey, the only reason I ever looked you up is because someone sent me a picture of you and thought you looked like me. Maybe when I was a Franciscan student in 1971? I so appreciate your honesty and vulnerability when you write, especially this particular blog.. remember in all things ” For I know the plans I have for you says theLord.; plans to give you a hope and a future, to prosper and not to harm.” Jeremiah 29:11 We have a common friend on Facebook, Dan Murray.. He was my 6th, 7th and 8th grade english teacher. I grew up with the friars impacting my life. In Clason Point and Siena I am married with children and grandchildren and have served as pastor in a non denominational church. The call of Francis ” go and build my church which as you see is falling into ruin” has and continues to impact my life. May your days be blessed with His presence and and abundant awareness of His love for you. I hope our paths cross some time
it’s better to marry the catholic church that’s were love comes from you’re not alone brother God wants you to clean the mess of corruption that people have made
I disagree with those who question the sincerity of one’s religious vocation e.g. “Well, won’t you feel trapped in your religious commitment when you could be out in the world?”
My retort to them is: “The world? The world is full of married couples trapped in bad marriages, lawyers trapped in careers they hate. people trapped in debt to their materialism. People trapped in coveting what someone else has.”
Brother Casey, I have watched your videos and I secretly envy you. I am now in my 50s with ageing parents, thinking I just want to change a culture whose people I care for but whose values I reject as un-Christlike.
After going from being a Catholic to atheist about 3 or 4 times in my life, I know I am not in love with the world. Maybe I will become a secular Franciscan and call it a day.
As for people looking at your habit on the street. For those who know history, those religious robes have had historical power. “Humble” monks have been confessors and mentors to kings and queens. You are a dynamic preacher already. Your problem may not be coveting worldly power as much as curbing the temptation to use it. I was educated by Jesuits and I saw a few charismatic Jesuits who had wealthy benefactors and politicians wrapped around their fingers. Maybe they were channeling Rasputin? I don’t know, LOL.
Good luck and thanks for serving Holy Mother the Church. She needs men and women like you.