This is the fourth episode of an ongoing series. For the previous episode, click here.

When most people think of the essentials of living a Franciscan life there are a few things that come to everyone’s mind: humility, simplicity, fraternity, care for creation, and an intimate prayer life, to name a few. And these are all absolutely right. But having lived this life for almost six years, I can say that there is one often-forgotten aspect that might be most essential of all: joy.

What made St. Francis so inspiring to his early followers, and what has kept this order alive for more than 800 years, is the joy he experienced in life, in prayer, and in his interaction with the world. It’s been said that St. Francis never truly got over the fact that God loved him, that he lived until the moment he died with the unbridled joy of one who has recently fallen in love. Christian life for him was not one of sadness or stoicism, it was a life of profound thanksgiving and constant rejoicing as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake. While some may not see this in his life of mostly ascetic prayer and fasting, the joy of being a son of the Father was the very reason for everything he did. Even in suffering, there can be laughter and rejoicing because of our eternal destination.

There are few people I know that live with as much optimism and joy as Br. Angel Vazquez, OFM, one of our student friars studying in Chicago. Angel is the type of brother who is always at the center of a loud conversation, always with a smile on his face, and always bringing levity to a tense situation. I had the joy of living with Angel for a year and enjoyed his presence greatly. He lives his emotions on his sleeves and doesn’t hold back, and is a great instigator of friar game nights and outings to keep us a lively bunch. In a world where everything means so much and we’re given so much serious responsibility in people’s lives, it is Angel’s joy that reminds me how essential it is to our charism: we could not do the things we do unless we had the joy of being loved by God. Unless we’re able to step back from time to time and laugh until our stomachs hurt, we’ll never make it in this life.

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This is the third episode of an ongoing series. For the previous episode, click here.

Fr. Bill McConville is a formidable man. Intellectually, he is a well-read scholar that can speak intelligently on everything from 17th century literature to medieval philosophy to modern world history. Professionally, his resumé is as solid as it gets, having lectured and taught at many distinguished schools before serving as a president of a university. Socially, he speaks with a powerful voice and tremendous confidence, attracting the company and respect of a wide array of people. And of course, physically, he is not exactly the average 70-year old, still training heavily and toning his body to peak condition.

In many ways, as even he would put it himself, he has lived a privileged life. From an early age, he was simply good at things and people wanted to be around him. Success by association.

And yet, no one knows more than him how flawed he truly is and how much he needs Jesus in his life. Despite all appearances of perfection—including what can be considered a fairly healthy ego—what has impressed me most in the last year living with Fr. Bill is not what he can do, it’s his willingness to openly share what he can’t. Of all the friars I’ve lived with over the past six years, I have not met a friar willing to be as vulnerable with the community and share who he truly is. At 70 years old—a lifetime behind him with more accomplishments to shake a stick at—he is a man continuing to battle himself in this life of conversion.

For me, that’s an essential piece of what it means to live A Friar Life. Called to humility before our Lord, there is no room to rest on our laurels and expect to be revered because of what we’ve done: our journey of living as Christ in the world is never complete.

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This is the first episode of an ongoing series. For the next episode, click here.

Everyone has that one friend who always has an interesting story. No matter what you’re talking about or who you’re with, that friend always seems to have an experience that is so entertaining and over-the-top that you begin to doubt whether any of it is even real.

In my experience discerning with the friars back in 2010, Br. Fred Dilger, OFM was that friend for me. Living with him and the other friars for two months, I heard more stories about his life than I can possibly share.

There’s the story of him wanting to be an actor after high school. Rather than attending a school for the arts, something that his parents thought would be a waste of money, they decided to encourage his dream by dropping him off in New York City and telling him to see if he could make it. He didn’t, realized it wasn’t for him, and saved at least two years of his life.

Or his first interview at a powerful architecture and interior design firm. When asked where he saw himself in five years, his ambition and drive blurted out, “Your office, higher floor.”

That story only gets better when you find out where he actually was in five years. Having extraordinary talent and business savvy, Br. Fred found himself running his own interior design firm with none other than Elton John, a close personal friend, as his first client. Oh, and he also did design work for John Mellencamp, John Reid, John Bon Jovi… and I’m sure other people not named John.

There was the first time he tried to cook for himself in his Manhattan apartment. Unsuccessful, he thought, because the oven was broken, he found out later that it simply had never been plugged in. This was during his fourth year in that apartment.

But nothing beats his call to religious life. Feeling a little unsettled in his work and wanting some time away, he asked his assistant to book him “a nice room at the monastery” near him, “something overlooking water or something.” Even though his assistant told him that, “They don’t do that sort of thing,” he went anyway. Scandalized by the fact that he would have to share a bathroom with a stranger, he decided to leave quietly, stopping for evening prayer on his way out. Within minutes, he felt a tremendous and undeniable call from God and knew his life needed to change. He called one of his sisters that night to tell her that he was selling his business to join the monastery. And he did.

These are just a few of the stories that make Br. Fred, Fred. And they haven’t stopped since he’s entered the friars now a decade later. Of all places one might have expected him to choose as his first assignment, he chose the poorest one with the most manual labor: St. Francis Inn, a place for people to be served a hot meal restaurant-style 365 days a year. Even in the most ordinary of places, Br. Fred continues to find the extraordinary. While this video, the first of a seven-part series, doesn’t come close to capturing all that makes his life a friar life, it offers a piece of who Br. Fred is and what he brings to this life.

For email subscribers, click here to view this video.

When I was discerning a life with the Franciscans, one of the friars told me a joke: “Once you’ve met one Jesuit, you’ve met the Jesuits. Once you’ve met one Franciscan, you’ve met one Franciscan.” A quip both sides actually like to tell (James Martin, S.J., the Jesuit writer of for America Magazine mentions it in his book, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything), once could say that it’s more than just playful sibling rivalry: there’s actually some truth to it. As this friar (and James Martin) described it, Ignatian Spirituality and its subsequent formation program for new Jesuits is very organized, regimented, and clearly defined, producing men that all seem to have similar ideas about various topics. Even the slightest whiff of a reform is squashed immediately. The Franciscan charism, as many of you will remember from my video Why Are There So Many Different Franciscans? is slightly less defined… and is almost built on constant reform. As a result, I have heard Jesuits and Franciscans tell the same followup joke: “If you ask 100 Jesuits from around the world the same question, you will get the same one answer. If you ask 100 Franciscans around the world the same question, you might get 100—or more—different answers.”

It is within that context that I present the newest web series to Breaking In The Habit,  “A Friar Life.” For years I have gotten requests to share what a normal day is like for a friar, and for years I’ve wanted to show it. But who could capture what it means to be a Franciscan for us all? What one single day could epitomize the rest? Surely, for us friars, one does not exist. Luckily, one doesn’t have to. For the next five (hopefully six… maybe seven) Fridays, I will present a glimpse into the life of a different friar. Sometimes shot in a single day, other times highlighting a variety of tasks over a series of days, no one video is meant to capture every aspect of each friar’s life as if each were complete, stand-alone records of each friar’s life. Rather, just as we come together to build a fraternity that is greater than any one individual, these videos are intended to be taken together, each as a piece of the wider, ongoing, and growing puzzle of what it means to live as a Franciscan.

Email subscribers click here to watch this trailer, and be sure to check back in each Friday. If you have not subscribed to the YouTube channel directly, you can do so by going to the page here.

 

For nearly six years I have lived in a community of religious men seeking to live humbly and serve others. I’ve been to workshops, heard lectures, went on retreats, prayed for countless hours, and really, just lived this life for more than 2000 days. You would think that I’d have learned a few lessons in that time.

Apparently not.

A couple of weeks ago, I came home for lunch to find a mess in the kitchen: there was peanut butter everywhere. If that sounds like a strange statement, it’s because it is. I don’t know who did it or how it happened without them noticing, but there was peanut butter on the faucet of the sink, the counter, the cabinet handle, the refrigerator, and the bag of bread. Presumably, someone used the peanut butter, got some on his hand without realizing it, and spread it to everything he touched.

Ultimately, that’s irrelevant, though. My first reaction was not “how…” it was “ah hell no!” I took one look at the mess and said, as I have been known to do over the past six years, “Not my problem.” I was not going to deal with this mess. I was in a hurry, had my own lunch to make… whoever did this—and all the rest of the friars—could come home and see what a jerk he was and clean it himself. Not doing it.

*Fast forward fifteen seconds.*

There I was, having leaned up against the counter I had just complained about, with peanut butter on my habit. Ugh. This is not going to come out easily. Initially even angrier at whoever had left the mess, I found myself feeling really stupid moments later. Had I simply taken fifteen seconds to get a rag and cleaning spray, the kitchen would have been clean and my habit would not smell like lunch. Was it REALLY that big of a deal to clean up after someone else?

The answer is no. And really, the answer is always no. As much as what the other person did is disrespectful, rude, lazy, and inexcusable, a passive-aggressive response is never the answer. Letting myself get angry and handling the issue indirectly—simply leaving the mess in hopes that it will annoy others or send a message to the person who did it—is not the way to resolve an issue; it’s the way I get peanut on myself.

Hmm. . . How symbolic. . . It’s almost as if when we try to avoid an issue, choosing to “send a message” rather than simply talking with the person with whom we have a problem, we end up carrying the mess ourselves without them even knowing it. . .

Naturally, this is but an insignificant kitchen situation, but really, how different is it from the serious issues of life? So often in my life I find myself frustrated with something someone else has done, how they’ve treated me, or what they stand for. How easy it would be to simply address the issue head on, grab a rag, and get rid of it: “Hey, can we talk about something that’s bothering me?” But no. I prefer to hold onto my resentment, let myself get angry without them knowing anything is wrong, and hope that they get the message from my subtle slights and distancing myself from them. That’ll show them what they did.

Or it won’t.

Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how “religious” we are or how much we know, the simplest lessons need to be repeated from time to time; sometimes we need to go back to basics. Luckily for us Christians, the liturgical year offers us a built in mechanism for doing just that. As we pass from season to season—and now as we approach Lent—we return to lessons and teachings that we’ve heard again and again, hoping each year that some will stick for the long haul. It’s a chance to look at our lives and reflect, to take a step back, return to what we know and ask ourselves if that’s what we do. As I have found out over the past six years, and as I was reminded in the kitchen just a few weeks ago, our faith is not the exclusive domain of sacred spaces and buildings: it is something that is lived (and learned) in the ordinary, mundane, messes-in-the-kitchen situations of life. One day, if we’re lucky, we’ll all learn our lesson.