Really, Would You Do It With Me?

In my last post, I mentioned that I was in Greenville, SC and that I was going to be speaking at four masses and appearing on a student radio show. I cannot begin to explain how well it went. Besides getting to see a lot of people that had influenced my vocational journey, I gained some invaluable pastoral experience. After a number of requests, I’ve decided to post the text of my reflection Sunday. I hope that God is able to speak through this to you, or to someone else you might know that could use this. If you would like any information about a vocation in the church, I would be more than happy to help.

[After a brief introduction specific to each community], and so I’m here to share a little bit about how God has worked in my life over the past four years, how I felt a call to follow God, and how I believe that he is calling each of you.

And what better way to begin than with our first reading and psalm: “The Lord hears the cries of the poor.” We are reminded once again that God knows our concerns, cares about us, and is willing to intercede for us. Just as he heard the cries of his people when they were slaves in Egypt, the Lord has heard our own cries and has come to free us from our burdens.

How often have we been a poor and oppressed people? How often have we looked around and asked, “How am I ever going to get through this?”  Whether it’s been a demanding job, a difficult relationship, bills that keep piling up, or just lack of direction, we’ve all felt the weight of oppression, have been tempted to lose hope.  DON’T LOSE HOPE! God is here to answer our prayers! All we have to do is cry out to him. In my own life, money has always been a worry, and school is very expensive.  Each year in college I would pray that I would have enough to get by, that they wouldn’t kick me out or that I’d run out of money half way through the year. God answered my prayers, and each year I made it through.

But it’s been my experience that God is not one for theatrics, that he does not answer our prayers through shock and awe miracles, but through our brothers and sisters we see each day. When I was struggling to find a way to pay for college, I didn’t happen to find the money miraculously sitting in my back account one day, nor did twenty-dollar bills fall from heaven like manna.  No, it was the sacrifice of my dad who changed jobs, drove over an hour to work each day at a job he hated because they offered tuition exchange.  It was the dedication and perseverance of my mom who has worked at the same job for more than 25 years that has kept my family above water and made it possible for me to get an education at all. It was a teacher who saw potential in me and invited me to apply for a program with a scholarship.  God heard the cry of the poor, but he answered my cry through the works of others who were willing to be God’s hands and feet.

Which got me thinking. If I truly believed that God heard my prayers and answered them through others, if I truly believed that I was nourished by God in the Eucharist and in the word, that God truly dwelled in me, then it meant that it was time for me to start hearing the cries of the poor as well, and to be God’s hands and feet. I realized that God was calling me to his service. I realized that God was calling me to a life devoted to others in prayer, poverty, and fraternity.

But there is a great danger in stepping up and being God’s representative. I’ve seen it in myself and I’ve seen it others: the moment that God starts working through us and letting us bring his grace to others, we are tempted to turn into Pharisees.  You see, the sin of the Pharisee was not that he fasted. Fasting is a good thing. It is not that he paid tithes. How else would we have this church and new school? It’s not even that he prayed in public, seeking validation from others. We’re doing that right now.  No, the sin of the Pharisee is that he began equating the grace God had worked in him with his own ability. Since he was a Pharisee, God had no doubt blessed him with a good education, a stable upbringing, and enough money to remain comfortable.  He did not deserve these things, he did not earn them. The reason that he had everything was because of the grace of God, God’s freely given, unmerited favor.  And how did he thank God? By praising himself and judging his neighbor. “I pay tithes. I fast. I did all of these things without anyone else’s help, so why can’t you?” How ugly! The Lord says, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

There’s a story of a group of scientists that got together and figured out a way to create life, not by putting together things that were already living, but by simply mixing together chemicals and water and dirt and a few other things. They created life out of nothing.  So proud of their own skill, they called up to God and said, “Hey God! We don’t need you anymore. We can make life ourselves.” “God responds, “Oh. Is that so? All by yourself? Where’d you get the chemicals and water and dirt? Your ability to think, your passion for science, and the life you have? Did you make those things too?”

These scientists, like the Pharisee, forgot how blessed they were, how you can’t even walk out the door without running into God’s grace. This is an absolute tragedy because it is the acceptance of a lie. We are fooled into thinking that we are in control, that we determine our own fate, that all we have to do is work hard and we can accomplish anything all on our own.  It is a lie in believing that we do not need God. As St. Paul tells us, this could not be further from the truth. He says,

At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf,
but everyone deserted me.
May it not be held against them!
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.

I’ve experienced it and so have you: people will let you down. It’s a fact of life.  Your kids will disappoint you. Your parents will embarrass you. Your church, your government, and your best friends will do things that infuriate you. I will let you down, and at times, you will even let yourself down.  When we try to be our own lords and do things without God’s help, we will let each other down.

But God will never let you down. God will never abandon you. God will always be there at your defense, hearing your cries.

All you have to do is act as the tax collector did, and return to God will humble heart and be open to God’s grace working through you. We don’t know what the tax collector did to make him a sinner.  But does it matter?  His example to us is that he knew that he couldn’t make things right without God. He knew that God would listen, and he showed to tell him.  He could have let his sin get in the way of his relationship with God, too afraid to ask forgiveness; he could have chosen to deny the fact that he had sinned at all; he could have acted prideful, believing that he was big enough to handle it on his own.  But he didn’t.  He recognized that all that he had been given up until then was grace, and if he was ever go to make it to another day, it was going to be because of more grace.  He recognized that his life meant nothing without God. “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”

My life as a Franciscan friar has just begun, and I couldn’t be happier.  I could speak for hours about how free I feel, how much fun I have with my brothers, how my mind has been stretched so far with philosophies and theologies about God, how I have been challenged to do work that I would have never done otherwise, work that, frankly, no one else is doing. But we don’t have that sort of time.

Instead, I’ll end with a question for you. If you believe that God has worked wonders in your life, that God is capable of great things in you, that our world is in need of God’s faith, hope and love, and that our church is something worth preserving; if you believe all this,

Would you be God’s ears to hear the cry of the poor and his hands and feet to answer their prayers? 

Would you live a life for the life of the Church?

Would you let God poor you out like a libation wherever he needs you?

I pray that you may be given the openness to hear God’s call, whatever it may be, and the courage to answer it. I’m here to tell you, you won’t regret it. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made and I couldn’t be happier. But I don’t want to do it alone. And so I ask you,

 

Would you do it with me?

A Chance To Teach, Learn

This film is one of the teaching tools I will be using this year. It's actually quite good!

This film is one of the teaching tools I will be using this year. It’s actually quite good!

While in school, simply professed friars like myself are given the opportunity to get experience in ministerial settings. Each year we’re assigned to a different ministry, and the ministry opportunities are far and wide. There have been catechists, hospital chaplains, retreat coordinators, prayer group leaders, peace and justice advocates, visitors to nursing homes and a many more that I am simply unaware of. The purpose is to get us out of our studies and into the real world, to interact with people and to hone our pastoral skills.

One of the areas that I has caught my attention over the past few years has been religious education, both of children and adults. I won’t say that Catholics don’t know their faith, as some would posit, but I will say that Catholics are much less confident in their knowledge of their faith than others because they possess a very different skill-set than our Protestant brothers and sisters. As I see it, It would not take much to give people the tools they need to be active and confident sharers of their faith, and most of all, interested to continue learning even after the requirements are over.

Thus, this year I have chosen to be a religious education teacher at St. Camillus Church, helping out with their newly reorganized faith formation program. Put simply, there are two categories of courses for teenagers and I am teaching one of each. The first category is called Confirmation Prep and it is designed for students that have been in religious education in some form for many years and are ready for confirmation. There’s a high expectation for classroom assignments, memorization of prayers and teachings, and a general grounding in faith that is meant to be matured and matured.

The RCIY (Rite of Christian Initiation for Youth) class on the other hand is for students who are being introduced to religious education or church for the first time. Because there’s no guarantee as to how much any student will know coming in, and the fact that many students are probably a bit apprehensive about being around church, this group is much less of a class than it is quality time with teenagers. In fact, for these students, I am refraining from ever using the word “class” to describe our time together as it presents a very negative image to many of the students, and it doesn’t adequately describe what it is we hope to accomplish. Ultimately, our goals with these students is to 1) introduce them to church through community building and personal relationships, and 2) provide them with a basic understanding of our Catholic faith with the hope that they will continue on in their journey, wherever it may be at the moment.

Splitting the classes up in this way helps to meet the needs of everyone involved without exclusion for sure, but from a teaching standpoint, it also offers the opportunity to have two wonderfully different experiences of faith formation. At this point, everything is very new, and there’s still a lot that needs to be worked out as far as curriculum goes, but the whole experience is very exciting. Obviously the teaching aspect will be a great test of my interpersonal and organizational skills, but the opportunity to walk with teenagers in their faith journey, whether it be a first introduction to Jesus or developing an adult faith, is a tremendous blessing. In no way am I delusional enough to think that it will be an easy time, but what worthwhile experience is? I’ll keep you posted.

Hitting The Ground Running

It's when the world is moving the fastest that I need to spend time in prayer to guide me.

It’s when the world is moving the fastest that I need to spend time in prayer to guide me.

One would be hard pressed to find a more difficult transition than the one Dennis, Ramon and I have made over the past few weeks: Having spent an entire year in a highly structured, isolated year focused on contemplation (and surviving cold, grey winter days!), we now find ourselves in one of the busiest cities in the country, responsible for almost every aspect of our lives, thrust into a highly demanding environment focused primarily on action.

The most obvious and so far overwhelming change from last year is my studies at The Catholic University of America. I have no doubt learned a lot of things in the last few years through in-house classes and workshops, but there is a big difference between a steady dose of workshops and a full load of college courses, especially when those courses consist of Ancient Philosophy, Metaphysics, Reasoning and Argumentation, Human Nature, and Latin. Talk about a brain cramp! I’m not particularly worried about the workload, per se, as each of the courses except Latin are at the undergraduate level, it’s more so the fact that I’m being asked to use my brain and time in a way that I have not had to for more than two years.

What makes the day really long, though, is the fact that there are gaps ranging from one hour to almost four hours between every class, and so I find myself on campus from 9-5 most days of the week. The added time isn’t all that bad, however, as it gives me time to get a lot of work done before heading home and the opportunity to take advantage of CUA’s athletic facilities.

The other perk to getting so much done during the day is that it frees me up to get involved with a few of the many opportunities being a simply-professed friar in Washington, D.C. has to offer. For starters, it looks like I’ll be teaching an 8th grade religious education class on Sundays and Tuesdays, which would consist of faith formation, Bible study, and justice and peace issues. I’ve also been appointed as the chair for JPIC (Justice, Peace, and Integrity of Creation) issues in our house, a position that has very few set responsibilities but a lot of opportunities. At the moment, I’m working with the friars at St. Camillus Church and the young adult group to organize an event aimed at presenting a Franciscan perspective of creation, scientific conclusions about the state of the earth, and both practical and theoretical applications of integrating the two. If that’s not enough, I’ve been trying to get out of the house and have some fun on at least a weekly basis so as to stay healthy and well-rounded. So far that has consisted of playing a round of golf, something that satisfies my needs to be active, competitive, and contemplative in nature.

But despite all of the responsibilities that I’m adding to my once care-free novitiate schedule, the most difficult transition so far has not been what I have been doing, but rather what I haven’t been doing: praying. With so much action in our lives, it’s all to easy to completely forget about the contemplation that fuels it and gives it meaning. I don’t mean to say that I haven’t prayed or been to Mass in the past two weeks, as I have been very faithful to praying Morning and Evening prayer each day, and have attended Mass every chance I was able. The problem has simply been accepting that there is no way to pray as often and thoroughly as I did when that was my only concern, but that with a little effort and time management, I can find a way to devote myself to scripture, Franciscan sources, silent prayer and meditation with the same spirit as I did in my novitiate. It’s absolutely too important to let that spirit drift away. As Francis wrote to St. Anthony of Padua in regards to Anthony’s request to study books, 

I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the brothers provided that, as is contained in the Rule, you “do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion” during study of this kind.

I don’t know if I could be any happier about all that I get to do this year. The things that I will learn will stimulate and test my mind in new ways, my experience teaching will be an opportunity to share all that I’ve learned and realize all that I can still be taught, and the justice and peace initiatives will make me feel like I’m actually making a difference in the world. Talk about hitting the ground running when you consider what I was doing only one month ago. But with all that, I have to ask myself, “Why am I running, and where am I going?” Without a spirit of prayer and devotion, without an understanding that I am in relationship with God and all that I do is for the sake of fostering that relationship, I may be, as Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI writes in Caritas in Veritate, without Truth to guide me:

Without truth, charity degenerates into sentimentality. Love becomes an empty shell, to be filled in an arbitrary way. In a culture without truth, this is the fatal risk facing love.

Yet Another Transition

Unlike the last two years, the room I'm moving into will be mine for long enough to settle in.

Unlike the last two years, the room I’m moving into will be mine for long enough to settle in.

After two great weeks of vacation, it’s on to the next step of initial formation: post-novitiate studies. (For those keeping score at home, you’ll remember that this is the third stage of initial formation as I discussed it back in 2011. If not, check it out here!) And so for the third time in three years, I packed up all of my belongings and moved into a new house with new people and new responsibilities.

Of these new responsibilities, the most time-consuming, if not most important, will be attending school at The Catholic University of America. In order to be ordained a priest in the Catholic Church, something that I have discerned to be a call of mine, candidates are required to complete 30 credits of undergraduate philosophy and obtain a Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree, among other things. Let’s just say that I’ve got a long way to go… The good thing is that I like school, and that I’m actually excited to get back in the classroom.

As friars, there is much more to post-novitiate formation than academics, however. Along with our regular 12-15 credit course loads each term, we will be expected to work in a ministerial setting for roughly eight hours per week, including a bi-monthly supervision meeting and reflections. Supervised ministry such as this allows us an opportunity to apply the theology we learn in the classroom to real-life situations, as well as to gain crucial pastoral experience that simply cannot be learned in a classroom. As of yet we do not know where we will be assigned, but typical ministries include teaching religious education, youth ministry, or Catholic high school ministry; visiting hospitals, nursing homes, or prisons; direct assistance to the poor; and parish work. I will be sure to share extensively about my experience in this area throughout the years.

Beyond these two responsibilities, there is always the responsibility to be “A Brother, Even When Busy,” as I’ve mentioned before. Simply put, we’re a fraternity, not a dormitory. There is a responsibility among each member to add to the life the community by attending prayer and meals, taking on house chores, and simply being present to one’s brothers in a fraternal way in whatever way that may express itself. Certainly is will be the busiest year (so far) when it comes to external responsibilities, and I hope not to place too lofty of expectations on myself and others, but it’s a value that must always be kept in mind.

For now, I’m focusing on getting to know a new community, becoming acquainted with a new (and busy) city, and trying to get my year in order before it starts. I will most definitely continue blogging along the way, continuing to share some experiences from my novitiate year along with new experiences as they happen, but their frequency may not be as regular as they were during the postulant year. I thank you for all of your continue support in prayers and affirmations, and ask that you continue to pray for me as this year gets underway.