“And The Lord Gave Me…Cousins?”

My future “cousins”

There is a friar in our province that shared with us a bit of playful advice prior to traveling to Cincinnati and meeting the other postulants: “Just remember, the guys from your own province are your brothers. The ones from the other provinces are just your cousins… you don’t have to love them as much.” Even typing here in the room, by myself, I find myself laughing out loud.

Though this friar was [mostly] kidding, this sort of statement is clearly a sentiment held historically among the provinces. Almost every American province was founded independent of one another, and because they were originally organized based on language and culture, not geography, there was little cooperation even between different friars living in the same city. Over time, each province began to develop a distinct personality, each of which was Franciscan, but each of which was unique to each other. Even today, despite losing the majority of our cultural ties, there is still a distinct philosophy to each province that is evident in the way new members are formed, which ministries are emphasized, and so on. They’re part of the same family, but probably don’t have the same parents as us.

To say that I didn’t notice these differences, even in a short week, would be a lie. After meeting 15 different guys from four other provinces and hearing about their experiences in the past two months, the friars they know, the ministries they offer, and their plans for formation, I can see very clearly a difference in culture. But to say that we are all fundamentally different, enough so to reserve for each other the title of “cousin” rather than brother, is simply nonsense. The existence of workshops like these and an inter-provincial Novitiate next year says to me that the leaders of each province think the same.

All-in-all, I found this week to be a great experience in community building. I found the differences based on province, as well as different individual personalities, to be both challenging and enriching. I met people that I’m very exited to get to know better and live with; I met people that I could not stand to be near and dread the idea of living with them. In both cases though, I had to remind myself that brotherhood is not about being best friends or hanging out with like it’s a freshman dorm: it’s about upholding one another in faith and sacrifice, mutually existing for the sake of the Gospel.

When Francis famously wrote, “And the Lord gave me brothers,” I can imagine him with great elation, overjoyed with the joy of such a gift. I can also imagine him saying it with a bit of sarcasm, wondering why his life was burdened with such annoying men all around him. I imagine he spoke from both perspectives throughout his life as a brother. In the end, though, he never said, “And the Lord gave me cousins.” They were all his brothers, as all of these men will be mine.

Advertisements

A Brother, Even When Busy

As Franciscans, we sometimes have to take a break from our work to be a good brother.

It would appear that the vacation is over, and life is back to the status quo that I once knew in college. With the relaxation of this past summer fading into ancient history, and the “orientation” grace period of our postulancy long passed, we’ve been handed a full load of tasks that leave me wondering, once again, “How am I going to fit all that in just 24 hours a day?”

Along with our “normal” daily schedule of prayer three times a day, mass, and meals, our weekly schedule of ministry three days a week, Franciscan class twice, Spanish class once, and two additional trips to the Poor Clares for prayers, everything has been amped up a bit: we’ve been given additional homework assignments for class, a bit of a “I can tell you haven’t been doing your chores” reminder, our ministry sites now expect us to be regular employees, and on top of that, we have the task of finding some free time to meet with a spiritual director. Phew! Talk about a run-on schedule (and sentence!).

As a result, I’ve certainly cut back on a few things to make it all work, for better or for worse: my reading as slipped a bit (though I’m still reading the Bible every day), my room was a little messy this morning before I decided to clean it, my blogging has diminished, and my personal reflection has almost disappeared (that will change tomorrow).

All that being said, it is honestly still a great joy! If I had my choice, I’d rather have too much to do than not enough, and I think most friars would agree. There’s just too much to be done in the world to relax all the time, and I get a real sense of fulfillment from a long days work (we’ll see if I say the same thing when work actually starts cutting into my sleep time…that’s a completely different story). This was true in college when I was swamped with classes, practices, and meetings, and I’m sure it will be true for the rest of my life as a friar. When push comes to shove, our true priorities come out and we learn a lot about ourselves (and sometimes we don’t like what we see, and we reassess our priorities!)

For a lot of friars, there can be a tendency to put work above all things, even brotherhood.  I think the main reason that we have such busy schedules is just that: learning to be a good brother, even when busy. If work was the highest aspiration of Francis, he would have never sent out his brothers two by two because it meant half the work was being done. Certainly our work is important, but I think for our Postulant year, being busy is much more of a test and training of our priorities: even after a long day, how are we going to find time for our brothers? I’m loving the busy schedule, and the wonderful opportunity to be a brother, especially when busy.

Meet My Classmates

From left to right, Sergio, Dennis, Edgardo, Ramon, and Me

One of the great things about the formation process is that no one has to do it alone. As I move on from place to place, going from Postulancy to Novitiate to Post-Novitiate, the group of guys that entered at the same time as I did will do the same. There is a sense of comfort in this sort of community, and some friars describe the relationship they have with their classmates as an intimate bond.

On the other hand, there is only one year, the Postulant year, that I will be with only my classmates: the Novitiate year is inter-provincial (all of the second year students in the country come together for the year), and the Post-Novitiate takes place at Holy Name college where all students years 3-7 living together, including a large number of foreign friars wishing to study in America. Essentially, one’s immediate classmates can be a great source of strength and comfort throughout the process, but if you don’t get along with them it’s not the end of the world.

That being said, I think I lucked out with mine. Starting with the largest class in 5-6 years, each of these guys come with a true desire to be a follower of Francis, and offer a uniquely different perspective on life.

Sergio was born and raised in the New York/New Jersey area, but his parents were from Naples, Italy. He joined the Navy after high school and spent 5 years working on a Destroyer ship. After a long journey of faith, he found himself studying, then teaching philosophy, eventually connecting with the friars while getting his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in NYC.

Dennis is a Rhode Island native and thought about religious life at a young age. As he explored alternative options for his life in college, he became very passionate about Chemistry, and received both a Bachelors and Masters in the field. His earlier life interest in religious life didn’t go away, and as a chemistry professor over the last few years he felt called once more.

Edgardo grew up in Costa Rico, and is a native Spanish speaker. Over the years, he has studied French and English in foreign countries, began a life with the Franciscans in Mexico, taught philosophy and Catechetics at home in Costa Rico, and at one point was on a track to become a diocesan priest there. He comes to our Province because of it’s diversity in ministry.

Rounding out our world tour of Postulants, Ramon spent most of his life in the Philippines, having come to New York only 5 years ago. Since that time, he’s gotten a higher education degree in teaching and taught high school English in New York City where he was the creator and advisor of a student magazine about social justice. As you can see in the picture, he likes photography as well, which is a plus.

I feel very blessed to have a group of guys such as this, and believe that they will all have a profound effect on my faith journey.