Believe it or not (and there are days that I refuse to believe it!) my internship is quickly coming to a close. After nine months of living and working at Immaculate Conception Church in Durham, NC, I find myself preparing to say goodbye once more, three weeks from today. The life of Franciscan itinerancy is lived most by those in initial formation, and I must move on.

Naturally, the announcement of my departure has elicited more than a few questions over the past month and I find myself almost constantly answering some variation of the same question: “What are you going to do next?” For longtime blog readers, my answer may sound a little familiar…

Road Trip!

As is becoming a routine for me, I find myself at the cusp of a third straight year taking a road trip in the month of May. In 2015, some will remember, I drove from San Diego to Washington, D.C. in order to help my classmate move. It was, as I hope some of you will forget, the period of time when my YouTube career began with a fun, yet haphazardly and stressfully made series of daily videos about our trip. (Seriously, I’m not even putting a link. Don’t look for them.)

In 2016 I turned the camera setting from video to photo as I played tour guide for two of my classmates who had never been to the southern part of the United States, visiting all of our ministries in Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia. It was a fantastically energized trip, visiting eight ministries in eight days while traveling 1500 miles, that left us anything but energized by the end.

Now, in what I believe can only be the result of a developing insanity and lack of sleep, I have plans for a trip that not only combines the two ideas… it intensifies them. For 25 days beginning May 22, I will be traveling with two newly-transferred friars from another province to six of our provincial ministries sites. Covering nearly 1800 miles to stop at six locations, our trip has two goals: 1) to acquaint the new brothers to the friars and their fraternities in mission throughout the province, and 2) more to the true reason behind the trip, to film a six-part documentary series about the Franciscans, life in the Church, and active participation in both. More details to come as the time comes closer, but please keep us all in your prayers as this is unlike anything that any of us have done before!

Vacation

By that point, I’m going to need a vacation. If nine months at the parish hadn’t done enough to exhaust me, this will certainly do it, and I’m looking forward to a week with my family in which I do very little at all.

Solemn Vow retreat, More Travels

Which will be a very good thing because there is no rest for the weary this summer: in another dose of déjà vu, I will be making a trip outside of the country for the third summer in a row. Starting July 2 and ending August 7 (yes, five full weeks), I will be making my first European trip. As is required by canon law, all wishing to make solemn profession must make a retreat. Traditionally extended in length (roughly a month) and done in a quiet setting (retreat center or monastery), many Franciscans in the United States have adopted a new model of late. Instead of locking us up in a monastery—a form of life and prayer distant from our own—the powers that be have transitioned to more of a pilgrimage model, one that is prayerful while itinerant, solemn while within the world. In other words, one that is Franciscan. For four weeks this July I will be joining Franciscans from around the country and of various Orders in a journey to the original Franciscan holy places—Rome, Rieti, Assisi, and La Verna—to contemplate my life as a Franciscan in the very places where the charism was born. You could say that I’m a little excited…

But wait! There’s more! What happened to that fifth week, you ask? Well… since the majority of the expense of a European trip is simply getting to Europe… and since I’m already there and am unlikely to return as a friar any time soon… my director is allowing me to use my final week of vacation and all of my vacation money to spend a week visiting other friars in the area and doing some site seeing. So, yeah. If I can walk by that point, it’s going to be quite a trip!

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All told, I find myself in a haze of déjà vu. All around me, the story feels the same: move out of a house to live in another, go on a joyfully stressful road trip, take some vacation, and go on an international trip. It’s amazing how things that, for the most part, never existed in my life prior to joining the friars has become somewhat commonplace now with them. And yet, how, no matter frequency or familiarity of such things, there’s something still so exciting, joyful, terrifying, stressful, and new about them. As I prepare to move out of my sixth friary in six years to move on to another stage, I find myself torn in two directions. On the one hand, I’m still the wide-eyed and excited person I was the first time I went through it all, overwhelmed with the change and exhilarated by what most would consider mundane, while on the other hand the calm and disaffected seasoned vet I’ve become, the product of years of experience and success telling me, like the biblical teacher Qoheleth, that “Nothing is new under the sun.”

I guess that’s what makes déjà vu so mysterious: we find ourselves in two places at once, experiencing the old while living the present, confronted with the things of old from a different vantage point. And I guess that’s sort of a good thing. While we all get older and experience new things, there are aspects of ourselves and the world around us that change, but in many ways we will never escape the recurring lessons and experiences of life. What we can hope for, and maybe all we can hope for, is that the perspective we have the next time around helps us to act in a more Christ-like way with every new day.

After forty days of lent, we’ve finally reached Easter and can triumphantly proclaim, “He is Risen! Alleluia!” I appreciate all who followed the Franciscan Media lenten series each week, and all the many words of encouragement I heard along the way. It was a great experience for me, and I hope to do more projects like it in the future.

 

For now, though, it’s time for a little break! As we’ve all worked so hard preparing for Easter, I think it’s appropriate that we all take a little time to enjoy it. For me, that means a few weeks without posting.

 

But have no fear! As we speak, I’m packing my bags to travel to Chicago to film parts 4 and 5 of a new (and hopefully ongoing) series called “A Friar Life,” a look into the many ways that friars live and work in the 21st century. Check back the first week of May for episode 1!

Peace and good to all, Happy Easter!

Every year in formation, the Franciscans of my province host an event called “Intersession,” a meeting of all levels of formation between the sessions of school for a workshop and time for fellowship (hence intersession and not intercession). Without school or ministry on our minds and removed from our normal routines and comforts, it’s usually a welcomed time of intentional fraternity, prayer, and good ol’ fashioned doing nothing.

In that respect, this year was no different. From Thursday until Sunday, I spent time with the postulants, novices, and simply professed friars, catching up on how their year was going, playing games, staying up too late, and eating more than I would normally like. Basically, what you do on intersession. And it was great.

And yet in another respect, although I had attended it three times previously, this week seemed completely unrecognizable to me.

For starters, it was the first ever interprovincial intersession (gotta love religious jargon…) Instead of hosting it at a retreat center somewhere in Maryland or Pennsylvania like usual, everyone flew out to the tundra of Chicago’s Mundelein  Seminary, and instead of consisting solely of formation students from Holy Name Province, we invited all formation students from all US provinces to attend. Yeah, this was going to be different. Even though some of the provinces were not able to send all of their guys because of the distance, our group of normally 10-15 swelled to 31, not including formators and directors. That’s a significant group.

And a young one at that. For the first time in my friar life—I repeat, for the first time—I attended a gathering of friars and I was not the youngest person. Eight people were younger than me, making me not only “not the youngest,” but in fact outside the youngest 25%! How did that happen?? I was pleasantly surprised at this enormous breath of fresh air, and felt a clear difference in the dynamic of the group. Instead of simply sitting around and talking or watching a movie each night (like normal, and not bad at all), guys played animated board and card games, made a heck of a lot of noise, and even (and no, this is not a mistake), organized a four-on-four basketball game in the on-campus gym. First time for everything, I suppose!

But beyond all that—and those things were certainly significant—the thing that struck me the hardest was looking around and realizing that I was the most senior class in attendance. Like my words in I’m On Deck last year, I realized that “there is no one in front of me.” As young as I am, as unprepared as may feel at times, in this gathering, there was no one with more experience in formation than me. With a small handful of others, I was an upperclassman, someone now 4-5 years removed from the experiences of the new guys and the one answering all the formation questions rather than asking them. I was attending my last intersession.

Like so many moments throughout this year so far, it was a moment of pause . . . of reflection . . . of anxiety . . . of comfort . . . of joy. While my regular day-to-day life of being a friar is not considerably different now, nor will they be much different after I profess my vows, these moments remind me how far I’ve come so far and how far I plan to go in the future.

The view from the top is always the clearest, and only makes sense after the long journey to get there.

In Franciscan life, there is not one way to live together. When we look at factors like size of the community, ministerial focus, liturgical preference, community engagement, recreation, and even house governance, there is almost nothing that unites the friars universally. In our own province now in the 21st century, we have houses with more than 25 guys in which meals are prepared by a staff and ministerial duties are individual to each friar, while we also have houses of 3 guys in which they share both domestic and ministerial responsibilities.

While both are legitimate expressions of Franciscan life and both provide their own set of benefits and challenges, I have made clear before that I have a strong preference in the matter: small houses are the way to go for me. Even though I’ve had good experiences in houses of 10, 21, 30, 25, and 19, have been able to accomplish great feats, throw great parties, and make great friends, the experiences that inspired me to be a friar in the first place and keep me here after five years have almost always come in the houses of 5, 3, and now 4. With fewer guys, there are fewer opportunities to find community and fewer people to share the load, meaning that there is a greater opportunity for interdependence, active responsibility, and flexibility.

What does all that mean in real life? Among other things, it means that I get to cook again. For four of out my five years as a friar I have lived in houses with cooks. With 25 people in the house, it just makes more sense to have a full-time staff person manage the workings of a kitchen rather than having a host of different people all buying, cooking, cleaning, fixing, breaking, and wasting all at the same time. I get that.

But there’s also something intangible lost in that, something that doesn’t show up on a budget report. At the most base level, there’s just more control: choosing the types of foods and brands, getting to pick what we eat and don’t, being flexible when a craving hits. On another level, there’s something very satisfying about taking responsibility for the domestic duties of the house—buying, organizing, cooking, serving, and cleaning—rather than having someone else do it for you.

But even more important than those, for me at least, is the intentionality that meals can have for a community when done together. Eating together is not simply a practical activity for the sake of nutritional nourishment, it’s a time to bond, to share, to laugh, to plan, and to let loose after (or in the midst of) a long day. Not that there’s anything against guests in the house or meals prepared for us, there’s just something about congregating in the kitchen while someone is cooking, helping to set the table, and working together to clean up, with just us present, that makes the whole experience more meaningful to me. It’s a time to remember, each and every day, that we’re in this life together.

Is it without it’s difficulties? Of course not. Not all meals are winners, having to stop to cook and clean up when there’s a lot of work to do can be a pain, and sometimes it can just be difficult with the same four people gathering together every day. Sometimes you just get bored of each other! For me, though, that’s where the fraternity has meaning and where this life gets its purpose. In fraternal life, as in cooking, the most satisfying experiences are not the one’s given to us through someone else’s labors, they’re the ones that we have to make with our own hands.

Five years ago Saturday, as a newly received postulant, I attended the solemn vow ceremony of two of our brothers. Having just entered a few days earlier and being at the very beginning of my six-year journey of formation, I was deeply moved by that experience:

“It’s hard to imagine that six years ago, these two men were in my position, postulants, young and new to the order, attending some other friars’ solemn profession. It’s kind of cool that one of the first things we do is attend this ceremony because it gives us a glimpse of the ‘finish line,’ so to speak.”

From day one (or four) I was looking to the future at what would one day come: myself in their place, lying on the floor during the litany of the saints preparing to permanently vow my life to God in the way of St. Francis of Assisi. At that time, being as new and far off as one could be, the experience was powerful yet safe, a distant vision that was little more real than a dream.

This Saturday, I found myself sitting in the exact same pew for the exact same ceremony… with a very different reaction. What I was witnessing was not some far off goal, a “finish line” from the view of someone on lap one, it was an imminent reality just before me, the finish line from the perspective of someone who has run the race and knows that they are almost there. The men before me were not just “some friars” years ahead acting as a generic example for my future; having lived with each of them for two years, they were my classmates, my housemates, and my friends. I knew what they were going through and I knew what had gotten them to where there were, but maybe most significantly to me, I knew that I was next.

It was at the moment, sitting in the very pew that had given me the image of running a race to the finish, that I was struck with a new image: I’m now on deck. All at once it became real to me that there is no one in front of me. With no one on and no one out, I better get my helmet and bat because I’m going to be hitting next. Just as I had watched them last year go out on internship year, be evaluated and voted on, sign formal documents with more weight than any documents they had ever signed in their lives, and finish their discernment with a final one-month long retreat, I knew that all of that was upon me now.

How did this make me feel? Exactly like being on deck in baseball, actually: a little nervous, but wanting nothing more than to be at the plate. When you’re sixth in the order, you know that you’re going to get up eventually but there’s no pressing need to be ready. When you’re on deck, things are very real. Nerve-racking, but also so very exciting. No one wants to be sixth in the lineup, they want to be hitting. I knew a year before I even entered that this life was for me and have not doubted that feeling for a minute, and I can’t wait to make that decision official, with family, friends, and friars present. For five years it has been a far-off goal. Now, I’m ready to hit.

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Congratulations to George, John, and Egdardo