Tying The Knot(s)

The three knots in the Franciscan cord symbolize the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience

The three knots in the Franciscan cord symbolize the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience

Tomorrow morning I will profess my Temporary, or “Simple,” Vows as a Franciscan Friar. What’s that mean, you ask? It means that starting tomorrow I am bound by canon law and the Order of Friars Minor to live the Rule of 1223, as interpreted by the General Constitutions and Statutes of the Order, “in obedience, without anything of my own and in chastity,” for a period of one year. For the next four years, I will have to renew them each year until I am ready to take Solemn, or “Final,” vows.

For some, especially in my commitment-fearing generation, the idea of taking vows such as these seems binding and suffocating. You mean you have to share everything? You can’t have sex? You have to do what other people tell you to do the rest of your life? That’s one way of looking at it. I, on the other hand, see it as a liberating experience.

For the rest of my life I will have a form of life to guide me. By this, I don’t mean to say that all of the sudden I will be a changed individual, completely others-centered and sinless the rest of my life, free from worry and inhibition. Rather, I mean to say that vows before God are serious reminders, inspirations, blueprints, and even excuses to act a certain way, and that, though there will not be a noticeable conversion from one day to the next, it is impossible to stay steadfast to them and also hold onto the worries of the world. What I accomplish, my career, how well I’m liked, how comfortable I am, having the right clothes, the reputation that proceeds me, and how much control I have over my life, are all worries that will eventually fade away when I recognize the significance of what I’m doing: I am consecrating my life to God. Sure, I’ll still bear the mark of a sinful human wanting to fill myself with things that do not last, but there is a part of me, if I let it out, that will never have to worry about anything more than pleasing God.

That’s why, while there are many good reasons to enter a religious order, the primary reason absolutely has to be a longing to be in deeper relationship with God. Fraternity, poverty, humility, ministry, and really cool 12th century clothing are all great, but they are not ends in themselves. Even the vows themselves, poverty, chastity, and obedience, are merely disciplines that hope to find something greater. The true end, the purpose for this life, is to love God more deeply and to seek greater communion/reconciliation with him.

When one begins to look at the vows from this perspective, there is nothing “binding” or “suffocating” about them; they’re simply liberating. Sure, financial liberty, private assets, sex, family life, independence, and professional success can all be very good things. But for me, these are all things that could distract me from giving myself fully to God. In this way, the vows are a means by which I keep unwanted distractions, although good things for others, out of my life so that I am more free to do what I really desire. Trust me when I say that taking vows is the most liberating thing that I will do in my life.

With that, I ask you to please pray for me tomorrow as I take a big step forward in my religious formation and tie the temporary knot(s) in my relationship with God. I will be away on vacation until August 19, but look for a few reflections from Novitiate while I’m gone!

Back In The Habit!

After 344 days of blog-less activity, deep in prayer and preparation in order to profess vows, I’m back! It’s been a long but fruitful year, and I have a lot to share. I’ve cherished my time here in novitiate, and believe that it has brought me much closer to God than I was before, much closer to myself than I ever thought possible, and much closer to my brothers than I ever wanted to be!

But like all things, novitiate must come to an end, and new challenges must begin. This Friday, I will take the next (and arguably biggest) step in my life as a friar by professing simple vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Doing so will make me a Temporary Professed member of the Order of Friars Minor, and will require that I live the life of a friar, in full, for a period of one year (more to come explaining this process).

Friday also means the beginning of my first vacation in about 14 months, and let me tell you, I’m ready! I can’t wait to see my family and friends, get back to the “real world” (by which I mean the East Coast), and just relax!

Come August 19th, I report to my new assignment in Silver Spring, Maryland, where I will attend Catholic University for 4 years obtaining my M.Div. degree. There’s a lot I don’t know about the next few years, but at this point I know that I will be very busy with school and ministry, and that the daily life will be very different than it has been for the past two years. Other than that, you’ll just have to check back throughout this year to see how it turns out.

Here’s a sneak-peak of some of the upcoming posts: Simple Vows, Kenosis, Seeking Insecurity, “This Is Not What I Signed Up For!”, The Whole Bible In Under A Year, Meat Minimalism, and My Advice For New Members. Check back here for these posts soon but in the meantime head over to the Shutterfly website for pictures from the year.

The Freedom of Letting Go

We’re all moved in and ready to let go of our old lives to live new ones as friars.

For one year, I will be without social communication such as Facebook, texting, this blog or anything that uses the internet. I will surrender the use of my bank account and credit card, and will live on a modest stipend of $50 a month giving any money I receive towards the needs of the house. I will not have almost no control over the way I spend my time, when I can leave, and where I can go. I will spend much of my time in quiet.

Believe it or not, this will be the most freeing year of my life.

For many, what I described above may seem like a prison, the complete antithesis of freedom. They see the rules and regulations as inhibitions on one’s own will, and therefore it is restrictive and potentially destructive. I see it differently. Rather than understanding freedom as the absence of external forces, i.e. freedom from a particular rule, I understand it as the presence of opportunity and ability to do what is right, i.e. freedom to fulfill a particular task.

What, then, do I have the freedom to do? More than any time in my life, I have the freedom to completely live in and for God. I have removed almost every “distraction” from my life, and have oriented my entire existence towards God. How could I be any more free? Seriously, what could I possibly worry about this entire year? I wake up in the morning, and my entire purpose is to grow closer in relationship with God by learning, devoting time, and listening. Community life ensures that I will be doing it in a Franciscan way.

I have to admit, though, I am a bit nervous about it all. This is entirely new to me in almost every way. No one likes change, especially when that change is as intense as this, and there are so many unknowns. But I guess that’s all a part of letting go; it’s not just about possessions and autonomy, it also has a lot to do with letting go of expectation that may prevent me from being completely open to the current experience. For now, we’re go with what I know.

Daily Life

Unlike last year, which was “Far From Routine,” this year will be very predictable and consistent. Being a “J” on the Myers Briggs test, I welcome this completely. Along with the prescribed activities of the day, I plan to add my own daily rituals. As I understand (and plan) it so far, here’s what a typical day looks like:

7:15    Lectio Divina (I’m going to make a habit of getting to chapel a few minutes before prayer each day to read a Gospel passage and pray about it. There’s a difference between reading the Bible academically and reading it prayerfully. As Franciscans, it’s imperative that we prayerfully read the Gospel.)
7:30     Morning Prayer
            Silent Meditation before Mass (For now, I think I’m going to leave this 10-15 minutes as quiet, unstructured prayer time. Too much planning doesn’t leave room for the Spirit to move me.)
8:00     Mass
8:45     Breakfast
9:30     Class (this will usually last two hours and will be on a variety of topics)
11:45   Midday Prayer/ ANGELUS (This only takes about ten minutes and is a wonderful break in the day to commit oneself to prayer. The Angelus is a very Franciscan prayer as well.)
12:00   Lunch (No structure, mostly foraging for food.)
1:00     Work period (We will each be given monthly jobs and expected to work 2 hours a day. Since some are easier than others, those who finish early begin to help those still working. I guess they believe that “Idle hands are the devil’s tools…)
4:00     Silent Time/Private Prayer (This can be spent a number of different ways, such as reading, studying, writing, reflecting, praying or journaling, but it must be done alone and in quiet. I think this will be a very refreshing part of the day.)
5:00     Common silent meditation in chapel (So far I’ve spent this time reading spiritual writings, but depending on what I do during the silent time/private prayer, I may use this time for more unstructured prayer or occasionally a devotional or the Office of Readings.)
5:30     Evening Prayer
6:00     Dinner
7:15     Recreation time (This can be spent however we please, such as working out, watching television, making phone calls, playing games, going for a walk, or listening to music, to name a few ideas. I don’t plan on watching a lot of television, and will instead be spending a lot of time either in our small fitness room with the many fitness-oriented friars in our house or playing games.)
9:15     Night Prayer, followed by Grand Silence (While we have no “bedtime,” the time after prayer is meant to be free from all noise, both personal and communal.)

Spiritual direction is on an appointment basis, but will probably take the place of a work period in the afternoon. On Saturdays we only have a work period in the morning, leaving us free from 1-9 to do as we please. Sundays are very solemn and relaxing, and will involve only prayer and quiet time. We’ve also been told that there will be retreats and workshops throughout the year, but with much less frequency than we did last year.

As of yet, I know little more than this. I wish I had more time to update everyone, but that will just have to wait until next year I guess.

Updates will be available

That being said, just because I can’t use the internet and tell you about my experience doesn’t mean that others won’t be doing it about me (and my classmates, of course). Here are a number of ways that you can continue to follow me in my journey outside of the blog:

Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate Facebook page: Throughout the year, our house will post pictures, news updates, and maybe even a few reflections (we’ll see what I can do!) Unfortunately, you have to have Facebook to view it, but this will be the most updated media. I may or may not have been appointed photographer for this today.

HNP Today: Holy Name Province publishes a bi-weekly periodical about the happenings of the friars and their ministries. While we won’t be in every issue, this will offer the most detail when special occasions occur, such as when we receive our habits. You can subscribe to this by clicking here and entering your email address.

Be A Franciscan blog for vocations: The Vocations Office of our province runs a blog that publishes articles by our friars related to their vocational call and life in the Order. A few of my posts have found their way onto this website, and there’s a chance I’ll write for it once or twice while I’m here. It’s good to read either way.

And Finally, Thank You

This past year has been a wonderful experience writing this blog. I’ve enjoyed doing it, and cherish the comments I’ve received here and elsewhere. I will be praying for all of you, as I hope you will pray for me. I fully plan to relaunch the blog in a year, and will probably write a few reflections throughout the year to be posted when I get out. Until then, here are a few of my favorite posts that you could read again:

What Can’t I Live Without, Falling In Love, Why Do We Suffer? Pt. 1, 2, and 3, A Friendly Reminder, An Alternative Interpretation, Living In the Moment, What If I Fall In Love?, Mine!, This Moment Is Sufficient, A Life To Share, A Call to Sacramental Ministry, and Better to be Right or Together?

I’ve also updated the Shutterfly Photo website with pictures from Bonaventure and now here at Burlington.

And with that, it’s time that I say goodbye, and unplug myself from the internet. Thank you for following me on my journey. I will be back before you know it, but hopefully a very changed person.

Br. Casey Cole, OFM

Spiritual Boot Camp

Francis most likely prayed more than anything else throughout his life.

The friars have always been known for the great work they do. Through their direct assistance to the poor, world-renowned Franciscan scholarship, advocacy initiatives on the local and federal levels, thriving parishes and campus ministries, foreign missions, and rejuvenating contemplative centers, to name just a few, friars make a huge difference in the world.

For many, including myself at times, the Novitiate year ahead of me seems contrary to that notion of the friars. So let me get this straight. For an entire year, all you’re going to do is pray, study, clean and cook, and go on retreat? How can you justify not working for an entire year when there’s so much to be done in the world? Because our identity as Franciscans is so often linked to the work we do, the idea of not doing great work seems like a contradiction or a letdown of expectations. How is that Franciscan?

The truth is that being Franciscan has little to do with what one does, and everything to do with the way one lives. Francis did not set out to found an order with a particular task or expertise, no matter how useful it may be, he set out to live the Gospel as perfectly as he could, imitating Christ so as to grow closer to him. Sure, Francis swept and rebuilt churches, cleaned and fed lepers, and preached any chance he got. But for him, these were not ends in themselves as much as they were expressions of his commitment to a new life and identity, one that sought to be poor and humble, fraternal, and most of all, prayerful.

At first, I think it surprised me to find out how much Francis prayed. Given the fact that he observed each liturgical hour of the day, retreated to a cave at Mount La Verna, wrote his own Office of the Passion, and organized a Rule for Hermitages, there’s little chance that he did anything as much as he prayed. Seriously. Some friars even joke that Francis wouldn’t have earned a full month’s wage in his entire life because he was constantly running away to pray. Although this might be an exaggeration, there’s truth and inspiration in the way Francis lived: he was so in love with God and wished to always be closer to God than he was at any given moment.

This is the core of our life and charism. Prayer is our source of strength, inspiration, insight, wisdom, motivation, rejuvenation, and direction. Prayer is the very thing that makes effective ministry possible. Anyone can run a soup kitchen; teach at a university; hold a sign in front of the court house; be liked by parishioners and college students; go to a foreign country; offer quiet places. But without prayer, without a love for God and a desire to be closer to God as our starting point, what motivates us to engage in ministry at all? Altruism and a sense of the “greater good” only go so far. Prayer is at the core of any truly effective ministry.

Thus, the Novitiate year. Many have called it “Spiritual Boot Camp” and I have no reason to see it otherwise. The year will challenge and strengthen us spiritually so that we may lay a solid enough foundation for any experience we may face in life. One friar told me that it was a time in which he realized that Jesus alone was enough for him, that he needed nothing else in the whole world. This is the sort of foundation we as friars in training hope to lay.

Ultimately, yes, it’s going to be difficult to remove myself from the world and almost all forms of apostolic ministry for an entire year. There is a lot I could be doing that I will not be doing. But then I ask myself: How much more effectively could I show love to people if I, myself, understood the love God shows me? How much more effectively could I be the hands of God if I knew who God was and how God’s hands wished to be used? How much more effectively could I minister if prayer actually became the centerpiece of my life? It’s going to take nothing less that Spiritual Boot Camp to find out. I’m up for the challenge (and a challenge it will be!)