Every year in formation, the Franciscans of my province host an event called “Intersession,” a meeting of all levels of formation between the sessions of school for a workshop and time for fellowship (hence intersession and not intercession). Without school or ministry on our minds and removed from our normal routines and comforts, it’s usually a welcomed time of intentional fraternity, prayer, and good ol’ fashioned doing nothing.
In that respect, this year was no different. From Thursday until Sunday, I spent time with the postulants, novices, and simply professed friars, catching up on how their year was going, playing games, staying up too late, and eating more than I would normally like. Basically, what you do on intersession. And it was great.
And yet in another respect, although I had attended it three times previously, this week seemed completely unrecognizable to me.
For starters, it was the first ever interprovincial intersession (gotta love religious jargon…) Instead of hosting it at a retreat center somewhere in Maryland or Pennsylvania like usual, everyone flew out to the tundra of Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, and instead of consisting solely of formation students from Holy Name Province, we invited all formation students from all US provinces to attend. Yeah, this was going to be different. Even though some of the provinces were not able to send all of their guys because of the distance, our group of normally 10-15 swelled to 31, not including formators and directors. That’s a significant group.
And a young one at that. For the first time in my friar life—I repeat, for the first time—I attended a gathering of friars and I was not the youngest person. Eight people were younger than me, making me not only “not the youngest,” but in fact outside the youngest 25%! How did that happen?? I was pleasantly surprised at this enormous breath of fresh air, and felt a clear difference in the dynamic of the group. Instead of simply sitting around and talking or watching a movie each night (like normal, and not bad at all), guys played animated board and card games, made a heck of a lot of noise, and even (and no, this is not a mistake), organized a four-on-four basketball game in the on-campus gym. First time for everything, I suppose!
But beyond all that—and those things were certainly significant—the thing that struck me the hardest was looking around and realizing that I was the most senior class in attendance. Like my words in I’m On Deck last year, I realized that “there is no one in front of me.” As young as I am, as unprepared as may feel at times, in this gathering, there was no one with more experience in formation than me. With a small handful of others, I was an upperclassman, someone now 4-5 years removed from the experiences of the new guys and the one answering all the formation questions rather than asking them. I was attending my last intersession.
Like so many moments throughout this year so far, it was a moment of pause . . . of reflection . . . of anxiety . . . of comfort . . . of joy. While my regular day-to-day life of being a friar is not considerably different now, nor will they be much different after I profess my vows, these moments remind me how far I’ve come so far and how far I plan to go in the future.
The view from the top is always the clearest, and only makes sense after the long journey to get there.