…and another thing!

It occurred to me only today that my last post was all about the need for flexibility and openness in developing a routine, but that I had shared nothing about the routine itself! The summer heat must be getting to my brain.

Anyway, because of the dual nature of this summer (education and fraternity), our schedule is a bit busy as times, and complicated all the time. Our main focus, I would argue, is class from 8:30-11:20 Monday through Friday. For the last two weeks we were enrolled in “Francis: Life and Charism” which focused on the early history of the order and the foundational texts; starting Monday, we will be taking “The History of the Franciscan Order” with esteemed Franciscan scholar and Vicar Provincial of Holy Name Province, Dominic Monti, OFM. (Dominic came to Wilmington twice this year to give us a workshop on the history of Holy Name Province)  Both are enriching experiences to learn about Francis in a more formalized and rigorous setting than we have been accustomed.

But while I say the academic work is probably our main focus, it wouldn’t be a true Franciscan experience without prayer and fraternity. We meet as a University community for morning prayer Monday through Thursday  at 7:15, mass Monday through Thursday at 4:30, mass on Fridays at 7:15, and night prayer at 9:00 on Wednesdays; as a house community, we meet for mass on Saturday at 8:00, night prayer Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, and evening prayer Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays. (I mentioned that it was confusing!)

In addition to our prayer life, we meet once a week on Wednesdays for a house meeting in which we give an update of our lives and hear house news. On Tuesdays and Thursdays we meet for a  University run “roundtable” for men and women in formation to get away from their formators and discuss the positive and negative sides of formation.

Our afternoons are free, and so it is a great time to relax, get some classwork done, or spend some time at the fitness center. As for fun, the evenings after night prayer are usually finished with some laughs together, and a few of us have begun a weekend tradition of darts, pool, and dinner at a few of the local restaurants.

All in all, it’s been a great time so far.  It’s much harder to write an academic paper than I remember, but it feels great to be back in the classroom and working on an intellectual level.  I’ve enjoyed living with my new seventeen brothers, and look forward to spending the next year with them in Burlington, Wisconsin! (For a refresher as to what I mean by that, check out a few earlier posts about my new brothers and the novitiate.)

I’m still behind on getting pictures uploaded from campus, but I’ll post about it when I do.

A Spirit of Itinerancy

As itinerants, friars are constantly on the move: we change dwelling places, ministries, friar communities, and schedules. As I’ve alluded to here and there, the reason we do this is to avoid attachment and to remind us that all we have and use is borrowed, not owned.

If all of these consequences are true about itinerancy, there is not a more detached and sharing group of men in the whole world than the postulants (and director) of Holy Name Province: having settled into Saint Bonaventure University for a few weeks, I have now slept in twenty-one different beds since August (not including those I slept in while on breaks). That’s what I call itinerancy! On almost a bi-weekly basis, we were forced to adapt to not only new locations, but also new people, new situations, and new ways of doing the same things we were used to doing differently at home.

Herein lies what I believe to be the true benefit of becoming an itinerant: flexibility and openness. While communities that never change may be more efficient and comfortable, they run the risk of stagnation and stunted growth behind the killer of inspiration, “This is the way we do it.” Groups such as ours, ones that are always changing environments and forced to incorporate different members and situations, remain much more flexible in routine, are open to new possibilities, and can experience much greater growth.

Nothing could have prepared us better for our experience here among the other postulants. With men represented from seven different Franciscan provinces across the United States and Canada, we are now all faced with (at least) seven different ways of doing something. Prayer, chores, meals, recreation, personal time, and entertainment now have seven different voices coming together as one, each saying, “This is the way we do it.”

With no established routine or majority, there are two possible results: growth fueled by listening, respect, and compromise, or anarchy.

So far, we’ve leaned towards the former. With two of the seven directors present to facilitate, the nineteen of us have met multiple times already to discuss the needs and expectations of both self and community. So far, we’ve established a signup sheet for particular chores and responsibilities around the house and voted on a prayer schedule that works for most. So far, we’ve avoided anarchy.

The entire experience, big picture as well as here at Saint Bonaventure’s, has been something I believe will better prepare us for lives as friars. Though we will probably never move as frequently as we do this year, we will be periodically faced with situations that upset our status quo, situations that can either make or break community life in our friaries. It is my hope that I may always live with a spirit of itinerancy, flexible and free of attachments, so that I may always be open and attentive to the needs of both brother and neighbor.

[Pictures to come soon]

The “Root” of Our Charism

Manual labor and brothers: the Franciscan way.

After a few long days of packing, traveling, and unpacking, all seventeen postulants and both directors have settled into their new home here at Saint Bonaventure University. Starting Monday, we’ll be in full campus swing, taking classes, attending communal prayers, hitting the books, and of course, spending quality time with our brothers.

But that’s not until Monday and we’ve been here since Tuesday/Wednesday. So what have we been doing to fill the time, you ask?

If you guessed weeding carrots at an organic farm, you’re right! As a way to get in touch with the original Franciscans that worked with their hands each day and took for wage only enough food for the day, we rolled up our sleeves and put in an honest day’s (three hours) work. We left dirty, sweaty, and exhausted two days in a row, but not without a sense of accomplishment for a job “well” done (by which I mean, “well, it’s done,” and not to indicate any quality in our work, as none of us appeared to be called to this line of work…)

That being said, as much as this type of labor would not fulfill me as a full-time ministry, there is something to be said about our ability as friars to do the “dirty work” ourselves rather than leaving it to someone else. Sure, I understand that it may be more efficient or even more cost effective to have outsiders take care of tasks around the house (i.e. cooking, cleaning, maintenance) so that we can focus entirely on our work for others in our parishes and schools. But is this the sort of trade-off we want to make? Just as Francis told Anthony he could teach theology as long as he didn’t “extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion,” we should not wish to approach our ministry with the risk of extinguishing our Spirit of poverty and humility.

By that I do not mean to romanticize manual labor or in any way to say that it is more fruitful to our charism than intellectual labor is. Rather, what I mean to say is that a friar or friar community that refuses to engage in any form of manual labor or “dirty jobs” for the sake of others, runs the risk of becoming lazy, developing a feeling of entitlement, and ultimately losing the sense of poverty and humility that is at the root of our Franciscan charism. I would much rather clean a toilet, cook a mediocre dinner, cut the grass in the hot sun, or clean a hundred dishes, than allow myself to feel that I deserve these things to be done for me because the community needs me in some way.

My hope, as always, is that this reflection will be taken simply as that: a reflection of what I feel to be an ideal for my life. In no way do I mean this as a criticism to those who do have cooks, cleaners, landscapers or anyone else serve them on a regular basis, whether one is a friar or not, as there are always different circumstances that call for different solutions.

What’s Next?

My new home for the next six weeks

After a five-week Vocation Vacation, a period of discernment away from religious life to determine whether or not to return to it, I have come to a very shocking conclusion: I’m going to return to Delaware to continue my formation as a Franciscan Friar. Okay, so it wasn’t all that shocking, but it is a conclusion.

So, what’s next? If there was one thing that was unanimously misunderstood among the people I spent time with this break, it was the upcoming steps in the formation process (and who can blame them?) Everyone knew that we would eventually make it to Wisconsin, but most didn’t know when that would be.

For now, Wisconsin (the second year in the process) will have to wait. For the next six weeks we’ll be attending summer classes with our fellow postulants around the country at Saint Bonaventure University. All of us are enrolled in two introductory level graduate school classes, Francis: His Life and Charism and Survey of Franciscan History, so as to formalize a lot of the information we have been learning all year.

The time together will go beyond simply our classroom experience, however, as each of us will be attending integration seminars, sharing meals, worshipping together, and living together (the true test for next year). The six weeks will be a time for academic advancement, but the true growth will no doubt occur in our ability to form and build relationships with our new brothers. This part will certainly be more difficult than the work inside the classroom, but potentially more fulfilling.

We’ve got a busy few days and weeks ahead of us, but look for more posts with a bit more regularity once we’re up and settled in Olean.

The End As We Know It

It only feels like it is!

After nearly nine months of attending workshops, meeting friars, ministering, praying, reflecting, and so on and so forth, the postulancy year is just about over… Well, with the exception of the final three months we have yet to complete.

With all the goodbyes we’ve said over the past few days, and the fact that our bodies are naturally attuned to the academic calendar, we’ve all allowed ourselves to believe that we were approaching the end by completely forgetting about the final three months. This minor lapse in memory aside, the fact of the matter is that the postulant year will come to an “end as we know it” next Saturday.

The reason I say this is because on that day (which is the day before Mothers’ Day) we will all board flights for our respective homes for “Spring Break.” For five weeks, we’ll break ourselves from the typical routine of a religious house and be thrown back into the secular world, free to run our lives how we please and adopt any old habits we so desire.  Like our Christmas vacation, it will be both a test and an affirmation of the life we’ve chosen as friars.

Upon returning from vacation (on the day after Fathers’ Day), we’ll have one day to do laundry and repack before it’s off to St. Bonaventure University for a retreat with the other postulants and five weeks of classes at the Franciscan Institute.  Living in a community of more than twenty brothers divided into eight townhouses, we’ll forces ourselves back into the “normal” routine of the year, i.e. communal prayer, but the experience will be an entirely different one than we’re used to. It will be, in a sense, a different postulant year with different expectations and challenges before us.

Assuming that we all survive such an experience, we’ll spend the final two weeks of the summer in Wilmington, at which point our entire focus (I imagine) will be on preparing for the Novitiate.

In this way, I think it’s acceptable, even necessary, to say that the postulancy ends in less than a week. From a psychological standpoint, it brings closure to the feelings each of our subconsciouses are already recognizing, that the end is near, by allowing ourselves to feel accomplished with what has already passed. The clear end of one part, and the clear beginning of another, though completely artificial in nature, allows each of us to return rejuvenated and excited for the final three months because it is, in a sense, a new year. The temptation to coast through the final three months is almost eliminated, then, because the mindset is very different: instead of “trying to get through the last little bit of the big year,” we are “starting a new chapter in our lives.” The latter is something for which we all need to strive.

Ultimately, no matter how I explain it to my subconscious, the point I’m making to myself through this reflection is that the year is not over, and that there is still room for growth and discernment. To allow myself to believe that we’re approaching the end is to close myself to new experiences that may shape my life in unknown ways. It may be the end of the postulancy as we know it, but if we begin to see each day as a new day to be formed by God, a chance to break in the habit, what’s it matter what “year” it is?

Easter Internships

With Easter comes new life, and new opportunities. Alleluia!

Alleluia! He is risen! I hope and pray that everyone had peace-filled Holy Week and Easter celebrations and that we’re all rejoicing in the newness of life given to us by the resurrected Christ. It can be a very crazy time of the year, especially for those in liturgical ministries, and so I hope it was also a time for prayer and reflection (and not just work!)

One of the particular things that the postulants do for Holy Week each year is to go out on a “mini internship” at one of Holy Name Province’s many ministries. Because no one place could hold all five of us at once, we went out two-by-two (-by-one) to three different locations: Sergio and I went up to Mt. Irenaeus in West Clarksville, NY, Ramon and Dennis went to St. Francis of Assisi Church in Manhattan, and Ed aided St. Paul’s Church here in Wilmington, a place with only one priest to handle all of Holy Week.

One of the things we realized almost immediately was that there was almost nothing in common with any of the three locations. Mt. Irenaeus houses six friars living on a mountain top, hosting 25-50 people at the table for intimate liturgies and inclusive meals in their home; St. Francis of Assisi Church consists of more than 25 friars living in the busiest place in the country, serving literally thousands of people per day in a much more extraordinary, yet anonymous liturgy; and St. Paul’s is run by one friar, and is a niche parish for Spanish speakers in a poor neighborhood of a small city. In terms of ministerial experiences, we could not have been farther away from one another.

And yet, when we shared with one another our experiences of the week, we described our time with the friars and their ministry in almost the exact same way. Though we had seen it briefly in our trips throughout the year, such an experience made it so clear that there is a particular charism that we as friars bring to our life and work that is identifiable no matter the ministry or location.

The most obvious of this was that each ministry was first and foremost a community. Even at St. Paul’s where there is only one friar working at the ministry, each location had at least three friars with which to share meals, pray regularly, and recreate. This is absolutely the cornerstone for our Franciscan life and mission. Unlike most other communities, we were instituted to be a brotherhood, out of which flows ministry, not the other way around. It is only after we establish a healthy, prayerful community can we begin to understand the needs of the community and attempt to fulfill them.

Thus, at all three locations we noticed that the friars collaborated constantly with the laity, choosing to lead with rather than speaking in directives, even if that the latter might be much easier. At the root of this, I believe, is a desire of friars to invite others to enter into each others’ lives, so as to not only teach, but to be taught. To do this, each community finds itself eating, praying, and socializing with the laity outside of normal “work” circumstances, treating each other as equals on the pathway to faith.

At each place, this manifests itself in different ways, but the effect is the same. Whether it’s having a planning meeting before the liturgy so that the laity can not only participate, but add their own gifts to the liturgy, as at Mt. Irenaeus, or it’s making the sacraments accessible to the people, even if it means taking three-hour shifts for 12 hours a day for confession, or saying the first reading in seven different languages, as in NYC, there is inclusivity and humility in the way the friars lead. In all of these cases, it’s not about what the friars want, but rather what the community needs. I believe that it’s this attentiveness to listen and provide that makes us successful in our ministries and inspiring in our lay movements.

* * *

Obviously there was more to the experience than I am able to share, but I do have a number of great pictures here of Mt. Irenaeus for those interested. You can also find a better description of the place there, as well as at their website, http://www.mounti.com/.

Quiet Weekend, Busy Weeks Ahead

After spending so much time in preparation and implementation of the Parish Mission last week, the other postulants and I enjoyed what turned out to be a very quiet weekend: with the exception of class Friday and Today, and an integration seminar on Saturday, we were actually free to do as we pleased all weekend. This was much appreciated (and much deserved, if you ask me!)

Besides the usual reading, YMCA, and group movies, it was also a weekend of “firsts” for me: on Saturday, Dennis, Ramon, and I went exploring the nearby park looking for good walking trails by the river, and on Sunday, I cooked dinner for the first time. No one died as a result of either experiment, so I would consider it a pretty successful weekend!

There won't be any "magic" in our sketch per se, but we've got a few tricks up our sleeves...

A relaxing weekend couldn’t have come at a better time, because by 6:50 tomorrow morning, it’s back to the Postulant grind. We’re starting with mass at 7:00 at the Poor Clare Monastery here in Wilmington, followed by lunch and fellowship at the Poor Clare Monastery in Wappingers Falls, NY, before we arrive once again in Garrison, New York for a Franciscan four-day workshop at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. If you’ll remember, we spent four days at Graymoor back in November and had an excellent time (you can refresh your memory with my post, Finally, a Franciscan!). We’re all really looking forward to another fully Franciscan run, Franciscan themed, and Franciscan attended workshop.

That’s it for now, but make sure you check back next weekend when we get back. I don’t want to give too much away, but the other postulants and I have been working on another routine for this year’s talent show that you’re going to want to hear about! Wish us luck!

“Mission” Accomplished

St. Anthony of Padua is regarded as one of the greatest preachers in the order.

Arguably the oldest and most “authentic” Franciscan ministry, the Ministry of the Word is an effective way that friars have reached the people where they are for 800 years. Today, it takes the form of a Parish Mission, in which friars travel from church to church preaching at mass, offering time for penance, and organizing a series of evening lectures on a given topic. When done well, inspiring preachers can be the spark that revives a congregation in faith and action, while being the replacement necessary for overworked pastors to take an overdue spiritual retreat.

From Saturday until Wednesday, the other postulants and I got some first hand experience of the workings of such a ministry. Instead of simply supporting our director (Fr. Ron) with our presence and prayers, we were actually given the responsibility of coordinating a significant portion of the events: each of us took part in speaking at the Sunday masses to advertise while Dennis and Ramon spoke three different times to the various youth groups, Edgardo gave the homily at the Spanish mass and coordinated a Spanish mission night, and Sergio and I took turns emceeing for Fr. Ron and each gave ten minute talks of our own.

How did we do, you ask? In terms of our programming, preaching, and message, I think we did a good job. People left with a little more joy, were a little more forgiven, and were hopefully a little more inspired for the life of the Church than when they started. By those standards, I’d say we did fairly well.

But because we’re Franciscan friars, there’s always more to it than the message itself: our witness to fraternal life. Though our programming, preaching, and message may be exactly the same as secular priests, Ph.D.’s, and most other forms of speakers, it is our ability to flow from and witness to fraternal life that sets us apart, and therefore should be the standard by which we judge ourselves. By those standards, I’d say we passed with flying colors.

Because we took the time to work together (even though it might have been more efficient to work alone), and were present and visible to our brothers when they were speaking (even though we probably could have just as easily stayed home and gotten something done), our actions were much more effective forms of evangelization than our words ever could have been. Even though Ron did the majority of the speaking, his visible relationship to us forced the congregation to recognize a collective presence, not just Ron’s. Thus, when they heard the message, whatever it was, and whoever was speaking it, I got the feeling that they heard it as our message, not just one’s own. Because we had made it so apparent to them that fraternity is the core from which we minister, I believe that they saw us as one unified entity rather than a collection of individuals. If that is truly the case, then it is “mission” accomplished.

After having experienced a parish mission first hand, I think it’s certainly possible to be more efficient in programming, preaching, and orchestrating a coherent message when working alone (not too mention much easier); but in terms of effectiveness, friars working together will always triumph because of their inherent ability to witness to the fruits of fraternal life. It is this witness that gives me the life and inspiration to continue in my journey as a friar in training, and gives me great hope for a future with my brothers.

Mine!

Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!

This past Sunday, the postulants took a 24-hour hiatus from the phone, computer, television, newspaper, and general conversation so as to devote an entire day to prayer and meditation. We were free to spend it however we pleased as long as there was an emphasis on renewal and contemplation (for some of this, this even meant intense exercise, as that can be a great time to think!)

Though I found the many things to be fruitful and the day to be rejuvenating in general, rereading parts of C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters ended up being the most revelatory, “blindsiding” me with a truth I needed to hear: “my” time is not my own.

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at this own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-a-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption “My time is my own” (Letter 21, page 111-112)

The timing couldn’t have been any more perfect. No more than twenty minutes prior to reading this passage, I was informed that our Spanish class would replace the scheduled afternoon meeting for the next day, that the original meeting would be changed to the evening (my time), and that another meeting would be scheduled another night (also my time). No sooner do I get home do I read this passage, which continues, “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift.”

BOOM! Wakeup call! In as many words, this passage not only captures the most frustrating aspect of postulant life, it forced me to see its true source: me. When I stepped back and asked myself why I got frustrated with these common occurences, I realized that it wasn’t because the unplanned tasks were difficult, painful, or even useless; the source of my frustration was an unfounded assumption that I had exclusive possession of certain time periods. Rather on focusing on the great gift that I have each and every day to work, pray, eat, sacrifice, and so on, I was stuck into believing that I was entitled to a time each day to do whatever I pleased, and that the aforementioned “gifts” were actually inhibitors to that time.

As a Christian, let alone a friar in training, this possessive idea of “mine” can be a dangerous one. Left unexamined, it can permeate beyond time into all aspects of our lives until we become disillusioned into thinking we are the Lord of our own lives:

And all the time the joke is that the word “Mine” in its fully possessive sense cannot be uttered by a human being about anything. In the long run either Our Father or the Enemy will say “Mine” of each thing that exists, and specially of each man. They will find out in the end, never fear, to whom their time, their souls, and their bodies really belong–certainly not to them, whatever happens (Letter 21, page 114-115).

As I move forward in formation, I must always remind myself of the wisdom in this letter: everything that I have, whether it be time, material possessions, a functioning mind, or good health, are “mine” not because I created them or am their sole controllers, but because they have been gifted to me by God. Thus, a worldview firmly rooted in this wisdom, one that I must challenge myself to accept each day, no longer wishes to differentiate between “mine” and “not mine.” Rather, it wishes to use and share all that we have for the sake of loving God, self, neighbor, and the created order, acting with humility and gratitude for all that we have been given. The first step in forming myself in this way is accepting that God is my all, and that of me, he says, “Mine.”

“What Do You Do For Fun?”

Another question that we as postulants get asked quite often by the curious laity is, “What do you do when you’re not working or studying? Are you allowed to have fun?” Though more times than not I think it comes out of a culture that works from the weekend and doesn’t view work as a life calling, it’s a very valid question. How do we as friars-in-training relax and refuel ourselves mentally and physically?

As bad as it might sound, our most common form of “fun” and most effective way of (voluntarily) bringing the postulants together is around the television. I know, I know! There are more effective ways of forming community and certainly more productive things to do than anchoring oneself on the couch and mind-numbingly staring at a colorful box. At the same time that I accept these criticisms, it’s been something that all five of us have enjoyed doing and look forward to each day we can get together.

So what do we watch? For starters, Dennis and I have been pretty successful indoctrinating the others with our love for NBC’s 30 Rock, making it an almost daily ritual to watch re-runs after dinner (and the new episode on Thursdays at 8:00, of course!) For an hour most nights, the show allows us to laugh and relax together, while also offering a catalyst for conversation (I’ve seen every episode so there’s often talking while the show’s even on.) On weekends when we have a little more time in the evenings, we’ll get together in the basement around a movie. Though there’s generally no talking during these, everyone recognizes it as a shared experience done in community. Back in October, we got in the “Halloween spirit” with a horror movie marathon, watching a scary movie each night for 5-6 days leading up to Halloween (which included complimentary pranks and scare tactics for our jumpier friars!) On a few occasions, we’ve taken movie night out, going to a theater to see something up and coming.

As a bit more fulfilling form of entertainment, the other postulants and I have also began playing cards on a regular basis. After an initial night of trying a number of different games, we found one that everyone enjoyed: Poker. Using toothpicks, M&M’s, salt and pepper shakers, dominoes, and Rummicube tiles, we’re pieced together a different form of “currency” each time to simulate real money. So far it’s been more instructive than it has been competitive (as, to my surprise, people grew up doing things other than playing card games), but fun nonetheless.  

Along with both of these things, each of the postulants takes time to relax and have fun individually. Speaking only for myself, this means reading, working out at the YMCA, playing Words With Friends and other online/cell phone games, writing here on the blog, and keeping in touch with friends and family on the phone.

In terms of our definition of “fun,” how we once defined fun is becoming very different than the way we define it now. Going to bars and clubs have probably been removed from our list of future activities, but that’s completely fine. Isn’t that the case for most people? As we get older and make life-changing decisions, so too does our social life change. The important part is that, no matter how “mature” we get or how much responsibility we’re given, we must find time to relax and have fun, with our brothers. In a lot of ways, it’s less important what we’re doing than the fact that we’re having fun and doing it together.

Mid-Year Updates

From Sunday afternoon until noon today, all ten members of St. Paul’s friary here in Wilmington took a retreat to the province’s house in Margate as a way to slow down, fellowship, and pray with one another without the busyness of everyday life. Spending a good amount of time contemplating the year gone by, I read through a number of my past journal entries to see where I’ve been and how I’ve changed. (This sort of reflection makes the time and effort of keeping a journal totally worth it!) In a similar way, I thought it would be the perfect time, being that it’s almost exactly half-way through the year, to give an update on a few of my previous posts.

Retreat to the Beach: Let’s start with this past retreat. While the first trip to Margate was a great chance to get to know one another, replacing content with conversations and stories, this trip was an excellent time to slow down, fellowship, and pray with an already established community. Led by two of the friars, we met for three, one-hour sessions of Lectio Divina to prayerfully and communally explore the word of God. We used Mark 8:14-21, Luke 10:1-10, and 2 Corinthians 6:6-10. Besides prayer, we were also graced with the presence of our provincial, John O’Connor, who added nicely to our time for fellowship.

A Rush to Slow Down: I honestly could not have named the title better back in August. We’re almost never idle, always focusing on how we can be more still (a paradox that it is, I find it both helpful in my formation, as well as a bit crazy…) Nothing could be truer of the post, however, than the point of our rooms being “sacred space.” In a life of community that shares everything and has no privacy, one’s room is a wonderful sanctuary for both.

Español con Capuchinas: I would be lying if I said that my Spanish was anything more than “abysmal” as I described it back in September. The truth of the matter is that languages are very difficult to learn, and meeting for one and a half hours once a week is not enough to become proficient. The lack of improvement so far has made it clear that I’m going to have to put in a lot more time outside of class if I’m ever going to speak the language.

The Charism of Preaching: Dennis and I are continuing with the bible study at the Little Sisters of the Poor each week, and have an exciting “term” planned for our eager “students.” Beginning with the Pentateuch on Thursday, we’re going to focus on a major section/genre of the bible each week, sharing our thoughts on the genre as a whole as well as reading of 2-3 examples of each, until we’ve offered a complete survey of the bible. It’s a big task, but I think it’s important to have a rough idea of what’s in the bible and how it’s put together.

On another note, we’re going to be accompanying Fr. Ron on another parish mission at the end of next month. Unlike last time in which only Ramon and I that spoke to the youth, all five of the postulants will be given the opportunity to “preach” in a particular fashion throughout the week. This one will be a bit bigger scale and will require a bit more preparation.

The Lower Delaware Friars: On Sunday the friars from Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Camden, will be meeting in Camden for a Super Bowl party (to watch the Patriots stomp the New York football Giants). I imagine that we’ll begin with prayer as usual, and see it as a nice night for fellowship among communities. Go Pats!

Time to Read: I tend to bounce around with books, skimming for what I find interesting/useful and skipping what I don’t: though I did finish In the Spirit of Francis and the Sultan (and recommend it to anyone interested in peaceful dialogue) and am forcing my way through the bible, I have shelved the other books for a little while in place of others. I’m currently fascinated by Dominic Monti’s Francis and His Brothers because it simplifies Franciscan history into a very manageable and interesting way. As for pleasure reading, I’ve started reading Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (And So Can You!) and listening to Tina Fey’s Bossypants, both of which are hilarious.

What Can’t I Live Without? Which brings me to the most contented issue of that history, and the issue that has been the biggest focus on my own contemplation through these six months: poverty. If I may add an insight to my previous comments, I’d like to add that poverty doesn’t mean dirty or cheap. We are called to sufficiency and simplicity, which means both having less and respecting what we have. Buying the cheapest thing possible isn’t always the best option because it won’t last as long forcing us to be consumers much more often. In the same way, keeping our living conditions dirty and our possessions in disrepair says nothing about sufficiency and simplicity; it says that we don’t value the things we have.

Time to Read

One of the great things about this year is that I have a lot of time to read. Here’s what I’m focusing on right now.

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents

This is a book that no friar should be without. Part of a three volume set, this book includes everything that Francis ever wrote, including the Canticle of the Creatures, The Admonitions, The Earlier and Later Rules, and The Testament, as well as a long list of prayers and letters written to and for members of the order. Together, it amazingly takes up the first 126 pages of the book, a fact that is quite significant when one realizes the time in which he wrote and the lack of formal education and stability in his life. The rest of the book, as well as the other two books in the series, is made up of biographies, papal encyclicals, and liturgical texts written about Francis within the first few centuries after his death.

Because Francis has probably the largest hagiography of any saint (much of which is based in folklore and legend) it’s impossible to know who Francis actually was without reading the earliest and most authentic sources. So far, I’ve read about half of the texts penned by Francis himself as well as his earliest known biography.

The Catholic Study Bible (NAB Translation)

With the early documents, this is the other text that a friar can never be without. Besides being a critical text for all Christians, Francis was very well read in the Bible and thus, his life and Rule can only be understood by reading it.

After having read Luke and Mark’s Gospels twice each, I moved to the Old Testament for an understanding of Israelite history. Beginning the tour with 1 and 2 Samuel, and I plan to continue with 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and a minor prophet before returning to the New Testament to finish the Gospels and explore a few of Paul’s letters.

For me, it was/is critical to have a plan. Since the book is so large, it can be overwhelming to even start because there is a feeling that no matter how much reading I do, it can never be finished. By picking out a few critical books (some are just more important than others in the Salvation History narrative), and reading a few pages a day, the task is much more manageable and certainly more fulfilling.

In the Spirit of Francis and the Sultan

Over the years I’ve developed a real interest in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, embracing the Church’s efforts for peace and reconciliation among all of the world’s peoples. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve taken to Francis’ encounter with the Sultan as a source of great inspiration: in a time when relations between Muslims and Christians were even worse than they are today, these two men found a way to speak peacefully, respect one another, and depart as equals to one another.

Though the book recognizes that there is little historical detail to the content of their meeting, the meeting in and of itself was a great first step in relations, and there is much to be learned from it to be used in our world today. Beginning with a basic overview of the two faiths, the authors point out the many similarities that could be used as a point of contact, as well as the many differences as a point of challenge to approach with caution, all with the hopes that with greater understanding will come more fruitful interactions, and ultimately peace.

St. Anthony of Padua: Wisdom for Today

Though most famous for being the saint for finding lost things, St. Anthony of Padua is also considered one of the greatest preachers of all time. This book is a compilation of excerpts from his homilies and writings, organized and commented on by a friar in the 1970s. Using it as more of a prayer/meditation aid than an academic read, I’ve been reading a page or two of this book every few days as a starting point for reflection.