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.

3… 2… 1… Liftoff!

After a long and refreshing weekend in Wilmington, we’re off on our last leg of travels for the year. New York? Washington D.C.? Assisi? If you guessed any of these likely places, sadly for both of us, you are wrong. Sitting here at gate F35 of the Philadelphia airport, waiting for flight 4095, is the word “Milwaukee.” That’s right, Wisconsin.

As a part of the effort to better acquaint us with the postulants of the other English-speaking provinces, the formations directors have decided to gather us in Burlington, WI, at the site of the interprovincial Novitiate for an information workshop on Human Sexuality. Like our trip to Cincinnati back in October, this trip will offer an opportunity to build relationships with the men with which we’ll be living next year, as well as to touch on a very important topic in formation.

As you can probably tell from the picture, we have lots of fog and no plane… This is problematic. Assuming that this problem in remedied soon, pray for us that we have a safe trip and a fruitful week!

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The Other Half of the Trip

Once a stronghold for the Franciscans, northern New Jersey used to be place with dozens of churches run by the friars. As the demographics began to shift in the middle of the last century, Holy Name Province began returning churches to the diocese, freeing them up to hold posts in areas with greater need. Of the locations left, we visited Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Wodridge, NJ, Saint Anthony’s Church in Butler, NJ (both parish and retirement home), Saint Bonaventure Church in Paterson, NJ, and finally Saint Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, NJ.

Despite the relatively close proximity of these churches (within an hour), there was a distinct character to each that I’m sure is a reflection of the congregation and its needs. The activities varied considerably from church to church, ranging from youth ministry to drug counseling, adult education to elementary schools, outreach to contemplation, even ranging a bit between traditional and progressive. It was really interesting for me to see how much of a difference there can be, even in the same ministry (parish) led by the same people (friars of Holy Name Province).

One of the inevitable things I find myself wondering when we visited each new location was, “Can I see myself here in a few years?” (This is often compounded when each community attempts to “woo” us so that we will request placement there one day.) For each of the New Jersey houses, there was at least one thing that was very familiar and interesting, as well as at least one thing that was very off-putting or disappointing. I found both of these aspects to be very helpful: It helped me to remain open to new possibilities, new ministries, and new friars, offering an aspect of comfort along with a strong motivation to improve the aspects I found lacking.

Certainly it’s a long way away, (and trust me, I’m in no position to critique, especially not here) but I found the whole experience to be a great exercise in discernment. It allowed me to think about God’s call to me within a real, concrete possibility. It’s one thing to think in abstracts and to let my mind entertain a world of infinite possibilities, but it’s also helpful to look at already established ministries run by actual friars and discern the my life in each. Overall, I was affirmed once again in my Franciscan vocation and continue to look with eagerness as what lies ahead.

More pictures to come soon!

New York, New York

It's hard to believe that this isn't even half of the city!

Despite Mother Nature throwing us a curveball with ten inches of snow (in October no less!), the Postulants are back safe and sound in good ol’ Wilmington, Delaware. It was a fast couple of days with a lot to share about, but I have to be completely honest: everything we did on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday did not compare to all we did in New York City on Friday. The other days were great in their own way, and my next post will definitely be a reflection on some great ministries in our province, but New York just deserves it’s own post.

Arriving at the parking deck in Midtown Manhattan about 9:00, we began our walk through the city to our first destination, the St. Francis Residences. Started in 1980, this ministry offers permanent housing for the homeless, mentally ill population in the city, with room for 240 residents across three locations. Not only is the housing offered at a dramatically reduced rate, the friars and staff offer medical assistance, dining services, entertainment, and general guidance as well. We spent an hour in the morning touring the building on W. 22nd St. and meeting a few of the residents.

From there, we continued south towards the water for a little sightseeing and a walk on The High Line. Built just a few years back, The High Line is an old elevated train track that was converted into a green walking trail, filled with wild plants, flowers, and well manicured grass. Given it’s location (both in the city and heigh above the street), it is a great place to go for a walk and relax in such a fast-paced city.

After a nice walk and a quick lunch, we started walking north for a bit more tourism. Because I’m a huge fan of the NBC show 30 Rock, I made sure we stopped at the Rockefeller Center on our way by to get a picture and in hopes of spotting Tina Fey. Sadly, I left with only the former. Walking just a block to the east, we found ourselves at the gorgeous St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Though both of these destinations were quite breathtaking, and certainly popular for a reason, there is a little known gem right in between them that I found most interesting: St. Francis. Carved into the wall of a shop, he is depicted as a simple man, quietly living out his life of the Gospel in the shadows of enormous power and wealth of both the Church and business. What symbolism of his life and work! I wonder if the person who put it there knew what they were implying…

By then it was time to get on the subway and meet the friars at the Church of the Holy Name of Jesus. Built in 1868, this church has a long history of both growth and decline in a city that is always changing. Taken over by the friars in 1990, it has adapted well to changing demographics and population in the city, and is a key element to the life of the neighborhood. It’s school continues to teach grades K-8, they run a thrift shop, and hold outreach meetings for the community almost constantly throughout the day.

With only a few hours left in the day, we rushed around to fit in a few more sights before we left. Since we were in the area, we walked over to St. John the Divine, an Episcopal church, and easily the largest church I’ve ever seen. From there we took the subway all the way down to the water so that we could take the Staten Island Ferry and pass the Statue of Liberty on her 125th anniversary. (Talk about dumb luck on our part! We had no idea!) And as a last hoorah, we took the subway into the Village for some pizza and Italian pastries.

All in all, we got to see two incredible Franciscan ministries and a great view of the city. A suburban kid myself, the city was a great spectacle and a lot of fun. At this point in my formation, though, it seems entirely overwhelming to think about myself a ministry as large as these, but I’m open to the possibility!

Check back soon to see all the places in New Jersey we visited this weekend, and checkout the updated Photos page for new pictures!