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.

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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.