Cardinal Differences

While these two men are unquestionably Catholic, they have very different visions for the life of the Church

While these two men have very different visions for the life of the Church, they are unquestionably Catholic

It was quite a remarkable week at the Catholic University of America. In what we were told was “completely coincidental,” two different (and I mean different) Cardinals found their way onto campus to give lectures about the Church. On Monday, Gerhard Cardinal Müller, the prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), gave a lecture to the public, and on Tuesday prayed evening prayer and gave a lecture before a private audience of seminarians. On Thursday, Walter Cardinal Kasper received a medal for “Excellence in Scholarship and Leadership in Religious Studies” from the Catholic University of America and gave a lecture entitled, “Theological Background of the Ecclesiological Ecumenical Vision of Pope Francis.”

For those not up on the latest gossip–I mean news–within the Vatican regarding the Synod on the Family, this is quite a coupling of Cardinals to have speak in one week. Both men have been the center of attention of media personnel, and many have caricatured these men against one another as theological and political enemies, one being the progressive in favor of doctrinal change, the other the conservative defending the faith against heresy. While there is some truth to this, as they appear to have taken different stances on a couple of key issues, it seems to me to be a gross oversimplification of the issues and an attempt to create schism where no schism exists. These men hold different points of view regarding the life of the Church, sure, but they are also very Catholic in doing so.

Of the two, Müller’s was certainly the drier of the lectures. Being the prefect of the CDF, one did not expect him to present anything revolutionary or controversial. Added to that, language was definitely a barrier, meaning that his entire lecture and even much of the question-and-answer session, was read from prewritten statements. As far as presentation goes, I have to admit, I struggled to stay awake.

At the same time, though, it was a really worthwhile experience. Attended by and geared toward seminarians alone, the whole evening was a pretty inspiring event. While the Franciscans (OFM) and the Dominicans appeared to be the only religious in attendance (ahem… Carmelites, Capuchins, TORs, Conventuals, Paulists…), there were hundreds of seminarians in attendance, all students at CUA. That was pretty amazing to see. Vocations to religious life and the priesthood are by no means where they need to be, but it’s clear that there has been a small resurgence in numbers over the past five to ten years. Müller took notice of this, but seemed to indicate that quality is more important than quantity. Encouraging us to embrace the process of growth and conversion, he told us that seminary and formation were not simply, “I believe ze English term is ‘hoops to jump troo.'” We must always ground ourselves in faith, and recognize our journey in the life of the Eucharistic celebration. With the mass as our foundation, seminary and formation is not the step before we get to where we’re going, but rather the experience of Christ right now on our journey of faith.

As an added “bonus” to the night, Cardinal Müller shook each of our hands, took a group picture, and invited us to tour the Saint John Paul II exhibit recently opened. (More about this experience at the end.)

But as worthwhile as our evening with Cardinal Müller was, it pales in comparison to Cardinal Kasper’s lecture. Let’s just say that the man was candid, casual, and full of joy with the current pope. Francis, he said, is Jesuit to the core (not a Franciscan in disguise.) Unlike his predecessor who exercised faith from the standpoint of his intellect and theory, Francis’ faith is rooted in experience and defined by practical measures. Distinctly South American, he exemplifies a method of theology found in the liberation theologians: see, judge, act. Unlike the liberation theologians, however, the Gospel is not primarily a message of liberation, but rather joy, and joy cannot be contained. It is God’s mercy that defines the Gospel, not law. As such, social justice is not some far off ideal we seek, but rather “the minimum amount of mercy” required by all. The Gospel requires more than just the minimum, more than just “what is due.” It requires mercy.

Through this lens, he described, Francis’ understanding of the Church is straight out of the Second Vatican Council, even if he never mentions it. “He doesn’t mention Vatican II a lot. The reason for this is not that he doesn’t agree with it, it’s that that he has embodied it so completely in himself.” For Francis, the Church should not be like a business in which the CEO dictates the mission and the heads of each department work towards pleasing the boss, guided by strict laws and protocols; the Church is not a top-down institution with the pope as the sole source and authority of truth, dictating doctrine for everyone to follow. The Church is the people of God, the messianic people, the sensus fidei, and he wants full participation from everyone, particularly the laity. Just as the outwardly written “doctrines” are secondary to the inward gifts of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, the Magisterium is there, not to impose burdens on the people, but to listen to and serve the people of God. When the Church becomes self-centered, failing to move to the peripheries of society and Church out of fear, the joy of the Gospel does not get communicated. (I’ve intended to write a post about Francis, and maybe I’ll get there, but can I just go on record to say that I love this guy?)

It’s here, I guess, that the reflective piece of this post begins, and the true purpose of writing comes out. Having listened to two Cardinals with very different tones this week, and having spent a lot of time in conversation about the differences between the papacies of John Paul II and Francis, (not to mention the fact that there were two people protesting outside of one of the lectures!) I cannot help but recognize that each of these men is truly Catholic in his theology and understanding of Church, even if I prefer one over another. I think Cardinal Kasper’s very candid opening line of his lecture expresses what I want to say: “For some of you, the papacy of Francis is a spring of new life, a great warmth after a winter that has lasted for many years; for others of you, it is an unwelcome cold spell that has caused you to grab your coat and pray for a short winter.” This is not a new phenomenon, nor does it indicate that we are headed towards schism. To have a different perspective on Church, and thus, to be disappointed with the Church’s leadership at a given time, does not make someone a good or bad Catholic. As I walked around the John Paul II exhibit, I couldn’t help but be inspired by the many wonderful things he did and the great man of prayer that he always was; at the same time, I couldn’t help but remember that his understanding of Church and style of leadership were far from my own, and that he did a lot to undo the reforms put in place by the Second Vatican Council that really define my own theology. And that’s okay.

You see, we live in a pluralistic world, and like it or not, worship in a pluralistic Church. Having now taken classes in Church history, history of theology, history of the sacraments, foundations of moral theology, and social ethics, it’s clear to me that there has never been time in which everyone in the Church believed and acted the same way, even among the greatest of theologians. (Look at Saint Bonaventure and Saint Thomas Aquinas: contemporaries and doctors of the Church, they represent a Church moving in opposing directions. Look at East and West: truly faithful people that agree on every important dogmatic statement (minus one word that we added later…), both drawing their lineage all the way back to Jesus, and yet are very different in thought and practice.) While the experience of God’s revelation in Christ is unchanging, the way we understand that revelation and live it out develops over time. Just because we may have different opinions about theology and Church organization does not mean that one is right and one is wrong, it simply means, as Kasper said, “The totality of God cannot fit into one human perspective.” Instead of calling for Schism or name-calling among the people of faith, instead of a theology of arrogance that claims to know all that there is about the infinite, let us treat one another with humility of heart and joy for the Gospel, and do as St. Paul tells us: “Test everything; retain what is good.”

Finding Solitude

I may have experienced solitude here, but a spirit of solitude comes from within.

Back we are in Wilmington, and away we go! Today I found myself enjoying the bright sunny day with a little reading, cleaning, and laundry, taking in the time to relax  before heading out again. No complaints here, though: t’s was a great week at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center, and I’m looking forward to our retreat coming up!

The week started on Tuesday with a 4 day workshop on Franciscan prayer led by the renowned André Cirino, OFM. Centering the material around Francis’ radical approach to constant prayer, we spent a good portion of our time focused on his The Office of the Passion (translated and published by Fr. André as The Geste of the Great King), and A Rule for Hermitages (also known as The Prayer of Solitudea less common but arguably more accurate name).

Of all the little bits of wisdom I received from Francis and Fr. André alike, one thing really struck me: solitude is less of a place than it is a state of mind.

This is a great challenge for me. When I’m in between activities with only fifteen minutes to pray or am outside of traditionally “sacred” places where it can be busy or loud, I find it difficult to get into a prayerful mindset, and believe that less-than-ideal environment makes my prayer less meaningful, and to some extent, less effective than a more formalized, “ideal” prayer. The problem that I’ve realized is that I am looking for solitude outside of myself, as if it can be found in a particular place or situation. In reality, one finds solitude from within, not from without.

My attempt to process this new concept could not have had more appropriate, yet ironic, timing: starting tomorrow, we’ll be starting a six-day hermitage retreat. Talk about external solitude! Not only will we be on retreat from the busyness of the world, prohibited from using cellphones and the like, we will also be living in our own private cabin. Whereas we were discouraged from talking outside of communal prayers on our trip to Mt. Savior Monastery back in December (“Living In The Moment“), we will even be discouraged this week from seeing one another but once a day for mass, dinner, and vespers.

Though I do find it a little ironic as well that I’ll be entering into physical solitude while arguing that inner solitude is independent from location, I think that this will be an excellent first step, and a challenge for sure. Just because one can remove all external distractions doesn’t meant that there will not be distractions to prayer! On the contrary, the lack of external distractions simply leaves an individual unable to hide from their internal distractions. These are definitely the hardest to overcome and the true impediments to prayerful solitude.

And with that, I’m off to find some solitude, hidden deep within myself! I thank you once again for your prayers and support, and will be praying for each of you this week!

Once Upon A Time…

Though Franciscan history may not be as neat and tidy as a fairy tale, it is an incredible story!

… there was a man from Assisi that renounced his wealth and status, trading all he had for poverty and started a brotherhood. The small band of brothers merrily traveled from town to town, joyfully singing to the animals and preaching of God’s greatness. When new, intelligent and healthy young men wanted to join their way of life, they were given the formal training necessary and were sent on their way to spread the clearly understood teachings of their founder, who lived happily ever after. Today, there are still many followers of this man that live out the same rule he ordered from the very beginning. The end.

Like all fairy tales, this one starts with a bit of truth but ultimately provides little to no historical value. In reality, the Order of Friars Minor has been one of the most splintered, dynamic religious communities in the history of the Catholic Church, complete with reforms, schisms, papal impositions, and problems with civil governments. There has been so much change that Francis himself longed for the earlier days of the order before he died. Does this mean that from the time of Francis things have only gotten worse? No. It just means that the history of the Franciscans is very rich in its developments and has not resisted adaptation when it was necessary.

Because of this, we needed some help understanding the complex history of the order. Fr. Dominic Monti, OFM, the Vicar Provincial of Holy Name Province and widely known Franciscan historian, was more than willing to help. Besides giving us a fairly thorough background of the order to better understand the historical context of our own province, Dominic helped us to better grasp the inner struggles that have defined and shaped our order for 800 years. Rather than attempt to summarize all of Franciscan history, I’d like to share what he posed as the fundamental catalyst to Franciscan reform throughout history.

Unlike most other religious orders in the church, Franciscans are not defined by a specific apostolate. Though they can educate, preach, evangelize, and care for the sick, none of these things are fundamental to its identity; drop any one of them and replace it with another and the Franciscan identity is unaffected. Francis is thus, best defined by how he approached God and community, not what he did. In this way, friars have isolated three fundamental characteristics to Franciscan identity: 1) prayer, 2) being “lesser”, and 3) brotherhood. From a well-informed sense of these principles, the mission of the friars is defined.

Problems have arisen throughout history when this process has been reversed: out of a strong sense for a specific mission, friars made concessions to maintain a specific ministry, ultimately reshaping the order. Sometimes it was a lessening of prayers so as to work more; a downsize of community as to evangelize in a greater number of places; an acceptance of power and education as to become greater scholars. Of all these concessions, however, none was more divisive than the issue of money. Driven by a desire to run parishes, and pressured by outside forces, some communities of friars began owning property and collecting money, two things expressly condemned by Francis. By 1517, concessions such as these had worked enough changes into the order that the pope saw the differences in prayer, poverty and brotherhood to be irreconcilable, and split the order into two autonomous entities.

Like many “once upon a time” stories, the Franciscan story is filled with triumph and failure, success and struggles, growth and decline, all while seeking to grasp its identity. Some have sought to “recapture” the past by living their lives as if they were in the 13th century, literally following every word of Francis; others have sought to extrapolate the spirit of Francis into the modern world, updating the Rule for the modern ages.

For me, I think it’s important to remember Francis’ famous words: “I have done what is mine to do. May Christ teach you what is yours to do.” His intention was never to create an order of homogenous men carrying out a strict order to the letter; he wanted men that shared his love for Christ and a charism of penitence who would ultimately live a life that was authentic to them, individually and communally. When we take this quote to heart, it’s a wonder if “Franciscan uniformity” is a bit of an oxymoron, and things such as reforms and divisions are simply part of the charism. That’s not to say that the fluidity of this rich tradition in any way calls into question its authenticity or truthfulness; it simply means that the holy spirit is working very hard, and that people are inspired in different ways. As I grow within the order, I will have to remind myself and my brothers to be constantly discerning Christ’s call, and to adjust our vision likewise.

For a more detailed history of the Franciscans, the Catholic Encyclopedia is a great resource.

A Friendly Reminder

Found on a New York street between Rockefeller Center and St. Patrick's Cathedral, this statue of Francis is a microcosm of his life: remind those with great wealth and power to be humble before their God through simplicity and radical obedience.

One day, a migrant worker was traveling through a town when a Rabbi spotted him and started a conversation. “Who do you work for,” the Rabbi asked. The man replied, “I do not work for anyone. I just travel from town to town and try to make a living. What about you? Who do you work for?” Surprised, the Rabbi thought to himself, I’m clearly a Rabbi. I am in charge of the Temple, the law, and all of my people. How does he not know this? As he thought, he realized that none of these were sufficient answers to the question: Who do I work for? He realized at that point that he had been working for himself the whole time, and that he should have been working for God. He said to the man, “How would you like to work for me? All you have to do if follow me around when I’m in the Temple, enforcing the law, and leading my people, and remind me for whom I work in case I forget again.”

In the first session of our workshop entitled “The Future of Religious Life,” Seán Salmon, FMS, posed this story to us with a surprising message: as women and men religious, we must always play the role of the migrant worker, not the Rabbi. Through our radical expressions of poverty, chastity, and obedience, we must always remind the Church for whom it works, unafraid to upset the status quo of the hierarchy. He reminded us of the many reforms in the Church, and how it is often religious orders that bring the Church back down to earth; bring sinners back to an uninviting institution; and push the Church ahead when it is stuck in stagnation. The day that we become unable or unwilling to remind the Church of this detail, trading counter-culture for comfort, the Gospel for an institution, the spirit of the law for the letter of the law, is the day that the Church begins to forget.

For an introduction to a workshop, I can’t think of too many more motivating messages than that! The whole time I was thinking about Francis’ message to the very corrupt Church at the time, and the example he lived each day as a reminder. He didn’t call for a violent upheaval of the Church leaders or choose to leave it to start his own: he lived what he believed to be the truest expression of the Gospel, not caring whether or not it matched the lives of the holy men and women around him. This act of “Preaching the Gospel at all times, using words when necessary” (a quote that he did not actually say), inspired thousands of people, both clergy and lay, to give up their previous lives and live a life of great reform in the Church. It is this sort of life that each and every one of us hopes to exemplify, sending a friendly reminder to those who lead that the Church does not work for itself: it works for God. Let us never allow it forget that.


Finally, a Franciscan!

Discernment through the eyes of Francis allows us to identify the thing we seek to avoid, and compels us to embrace it.

Based on our experience with the religious world so far, it would appear that the Jesuits have a monopoly on spirituality, influencing (or tainting) the way in which almost every community prays; the Spiritual Exercises have become the norm for retreats and workshops, and it leaves us wondering sometimes, “What about Franciscan spirituality?”

Ask and you shall receive! In a more than refreshing change, 56 members of many different Franciscan orders met this week in Garrison, NY for a truly Franciscan experience. Looking exclusively through the eyes of Francis and Clare, Sister Clare D’Auria, OSF, spent the week leading us in a journey of discernment to a greater understanding of God, self, and community. This meant a strong focus on the Gospels (Francis’ rule), a theology focused on the Incarnation (God made flesh, importance of creation), and using the concrete and practical elements of our worldly experience as a connection to God (Eucharist, the Cross, manger).

Since none of these characteristics are all that specific, the spectrum of “true franciscanism” is quite wide. At this workshop, we had men and women wearing brown, tan, grey, and black habits, as well as some that didn’t own a habit; communities ranged from fully contemplative to non-stop active; individuals were politically conservative and liberal, liturgically traditional and charismatic, theologically orthodox and progressive; and their work included teaching, social work, coordination of liturgy, prayer, and manual labor (to name just a few).

And yet, there was a spirit that transcended all of these particularities, a charism and history that connected us all. Despite the wide range of possibilites within the Franciscan family, there is still a spirituality that connects us all, and separates us from the many others ou there. Being very new to Franciscan life, I found it to be wonderfully eye opening to see the many ways our great saint has inspired people throughout history, and to understand that there are many different, yet all connected, ways of knowing knowing God through Francis.

It was this last part that made the workshop for me: beginning to look at God through the eyes of Francis. Being so new to Franciscan spirituality, I can’t even pretend to be able to articulate what that means or even how my perspective changed. All I can say is that it connected in a way that other spiritualities haven’t in the past; there was a comfort, both spiritual and intellectual, that made me feel right at home. When I began to discern my life through his eyes, God became so much more apparent in my past as well as in the present. It’s an experience like this that leaves me thinking, “Finally, a Franciscan!”

To see the beauty of Graymoor, check out the updated shutterfly website.

One Down, One to Go


As I mentioned in the last post, I had planned on bringing my computer with me on our six day, double workshop trip this week so that I could reflect as it was happening. Realizing Tuesday before we left that it might be more of a distraction than an aid, I decided against it (evident from the lack of posts since then). It has ultimately been a good decision, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use my iPhone to offer a sneak peak as to what’s to come…

Let’s see… There were 56 people from almost a dozen different Franciscan communities present… The building was 8 stories tall on the side of a mountain (the picture above is one of the many stunning views)… Dennis, Sergio and I starred in a talent show act with about 24 hours preparation, Ron did a stand up act, Ramon did a Filipino dance, and Ed sang some songs in Spanish… We spent the afternoon today at a Poor Clare monastery laughing almost constantly… and now we’re essentially the only people in one of the most formidable buildings ever built waiting for a workshop called “The Future of the Church.”

Wow. It’s been an exhausting week so far, and there’s more to come! I promise a full report, loads of pictures, and maybe even a video when we get back…

The Test Results Are In…

As if my personality could be contained by letters, numbers, and lines!

Though driving ten hours both ways in a mini-van with five other guys and then spending a week with twenty other men can be an experience in and of itself… there was a more practical agenda to our trip to Cincinnati: Inner reflection and community life. Led by Br. Tim Lamb, OFM, we spent the week taking personality tests and analyzing the results so that we could better know ourselves and our brothers. Here’s what I found out about myself:

Myers-Briggs: Of the 16 possible personality types, mine is INFJ, meaning that I’m introverted, tend to look at the big picture rather than the details, act more subjectively than objectively, and prefer a plan rather than “play it by ear.” I’m told that INFJ’s are driven by their values and take great stock in their insights, leading them to be outspoken about meaningful topics. With a strong compassion for others, IN’s are a bit more inclined to reading people than others, and are good as leading by persuasion. Combined with the emphasis on planning, INFJ’s are usually seen as visionaries that seek social change, for better or for worse (I’ve seen both Ghandi and Hitler as famous INFJ’s). My favorite description of this personality type is that of a “friendly antagonist,” something that I’m sure many of you that know me will find very entertaining.

FIRO-B: The three pairs of numbers on the bottom of the page represent my expressed and desired amounts of Inclusion, Control, and Affection. The first thing you’ll notice is that I changed my control scores to make them higher. Typical… and ironic. Like most, I have a need for affection but am very hesitant to show it, and have a high desire to be included in others’ plans, whether I have to make the first move or not.

Leadership Matrix: The final test is depicted by the zigzag line in the center. Based on four categories, Assertiveness, Sociability, Emotional Response (to change), and Readjustment (or how much outer authority is preferred), the scale ranges from Low to High based on one’s preferred leadership style, with the red line representing work and the black line representing home. The high A suggests that I like to take control, but the even higher S means that I do it in a persuasive, rather than dominating, way. I’m confortable with change, but am more willing to look to the authority of others before acting.

Though I find these results to be fairly accurate to my own perception of self, I think it’s important when taking them to remember that they’re only an outward expression, even symptom, of a much more complex inner self. To use these results as a form of categorization or even limitation of relationships would be of no service to anyone. To prevent this sort of thing from happening, it’s important that we use the results as a very basic first step in truly getting to know ourselves and our communities. The better questions might be: Why am I driven by my intuition rather than my senses? Why do I find it difficult to be in situations without a clear plan or leader? Why am I hesitant to show affection but have no problem receiving it? If we don’t move beyond the simple “what” of these results into a relationship that seeks to know “why” a person scores the way they do, we are living a superficial relationship at best, and risk limiting our relationships to boxes and easy categorizations at worst.

For us in community, the test results are in: how are we going to use them? How would Francis use them?

“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.

Ecological Justice

You'd never see a sight like this where the rich live, would you?

When Catholics speak about “justice,” we tend to think about things such as the fair treatment of workers, peace, living wages, freedom from enslavement, etc. The images that come to mind are almost exclusively economic and peace related. For many, ecological justice is a secondary concern.

Attending the RFC Philadelphia region workshop today, we were convinced otherwise. Led by Sister Maria DiBello, RSM, and attended by about 30 men and women in religious formation, the workshop was in part a viewing of a documentary by the Pachamama Alliance called “Awakening the Dreamer.” After watching the documentary and listening to her lecture, it’s impossible to see how ecological justice could ever be overlooked.

One of the reasons that it deserves as much attention as the other forms us justice is that it is intimately related to the well-being of humanity and the protection of the poor. For instance, at one point, a woman on the documentary said something to the effect of, “What does it mean to throw something away? There’s no such thing as away. All we’re doing is displacing our waste to another place.” That place is almost always the home of the poor and oppressed. Pollution in the First World causes the destruction of vital resources for the already poverty-stricken Third World, dangerous water and living conditions, and leaves them highly susceptible to erratic fluctuations in climate. Lack of ecological justice, in the form of overconsumption and waste, hurts more than just the polar bears; it directly effects humanity. For a specific example, take a look at the effect of plastic water bottles.

Though the majority of the day was a reiteration of material I studied in college, I found it all to be a great reminder of the great responsibility we have to protect all of God’s creation, and how our mistreatment of it hurts us more than we think. Often times we find ourselves in the First World becoming complacent and entirely ignorant of the world around us. The truth is, what we do effects others in the world around us. When we look at the dire state of our planet in the long run, as well as the horrific effects it is causing in the present day, we can begin to see the “justice” that is needed in the world.

New Community at the Castle

Mount Saint Alphonsus was built in 1907 as a seminary

Given the history and nature of religious orders in the United States, the majority of the communities spread across the country are either headquartered or have distinct roots in the northeast. Thus, one of the advantages of having our formation process in this area is that there are numerous groups of men and women at the same stage of formation as we are here in Wilmington, allowing for us to form a larger network of support and overall growth.

For example, this weekend we attended a workshop organized by the Religious Formation Conference (RFC) in Esophus, NY. About 20-30 men and women (ranging in experience from 2 days to 3 years in formation) spent the weekend learning about different prayers, discussing our experiences in small groups, practicing each prayer in private, and getting to know the groups and individuals represented on a personal level.

The workshop portion of the weekend, and by that I mean the organized activities, was a bit broad and lacked the depth that I was expecting (if I can be completely honest). The speaker was obviously experienced in each of these prayers, and had a lot to offer. The problem was that she tried to fit a lot of different types of prayers into a day and a half rather than focusing on just one prayer and giving it a lot of attention. Part of it is certainly the limitation of the group: because it is made up of a wide range of experience levels, and because each religious order has different expectations for their formation students, there needs to be a broader, one-size-fits-all atmosphere in order to include everyone.

This is not to say that I was disappointed in the experience; far from it! What was missing in the organized activities was more than made up in private conversations, fellowship at meals, new relationships, and my own personal broadening of “vocation.” In talking about our religious calls, our vocation processes, the struggles we were facing, and our visions for the future, I found myself taking part in the “catholic” aspect of our church: though unified in our call from God and mission to uphold the life of the Church, we went about expressing each of these in entirely different ways. I was fascinated beyond imagination to hear about the different spiritualities, how each group was coping with a changing world, the vision of the founder, and their day-to-day lives.

In hearing each of them speak, I was also more than reaffirmed of my own Franciscan spirituality, the order I am joining, the way we do things and the way we don’t do other things. There is certainly a reason why people join one group over another! As we go to these workshops throughout the year, I have no intention of switching groups or changing spiritualities; but I do hope that in building these relationships I may be able to enrich my faith with new ideas, as well as to enrich others’ with a Franciscan way of looking at something.

Given the title I chose for this post, I couldn’t close without saying a world about the retreat house. WOW! Just look at it. It’s enormous! It was built in 1907 by Redemptorist Congregation as a seminary for its aspiring priests. I’ve added my own pictures to the shutterfly page, and you can learn more about it’s history here. We’re going back in November, so look forward to pictures of the place surrounded by fall leaves!

Vatican II Workshop

2450 churchmen met for this council

As we said goodbye to Gary Maciag, OFM, and concluded our Proclaiming the Word workshop Friday, we were immediately greeted by Gabriel Scarfia, OFM, to begin yet another one on Saturday. Starting that night and ending this morning, the postulants squeezed in six highly intensive sessions with Gabe in an attempt to grasp the significance of the Second Vatican council within the scope of Church history and to understand its relevance today. For those of you that know anything about the council, this was no easy task.

What’s stuck with me this week was a question one of the friars asked rhetorically in between one of the sessions: “What would the world be like if we fully realized the vision of the council in our lives?” Wow. What a powerful and difficult question to answer! So it got me thinking…

A fully realized post-Vatican II world would be one where the laity acknowledges itself as (and is treated like) the centerpiece of the Christian experience, with just as much responsibility for upholding the life of the Church as the priests and bishops; a world where vast disparities of wealth, power, freedom, and education were as disgusting and unacceptable as abortions, and the Christian faithful did not rest while they existed; a world where the Truth of the Gospel was celebrated with open and sincere hearts no matter where it was found, especially in non-Catholic religions and belief systems; and a world where we realized that by it’s very nature, the Church was missionary (Jesus was sent by God), sacramental (by gathering, we both visibly represent, and effectively bring about, the power of the Holy Spirit), and catholic (universal to all people, of all lands, at all times). Radical? Yes. Consistent with the Tradition of the Church instituted by Jesus? Absolutely. Something that we can live up to? I hope so.

For most of you, I imagine, the Second Vatican council is not something that comes up very often in everyday conversation, and it may be a topic that you cannot articulate well, if at all. This, honestly, is a problem. If some of the things I mentioned about sound strange or intriguing, or if you just don’t believe me when I say they were spoken by the council, I strongly recommend that all of God’s faithful look deeply into the words of the council, either by looking at the most important original texts of Lumen Gentium and/or Gaudium et Spesor by one of the many summaries found online. These things are not meant to be read only by priests, bishops, and friars in training like me! Everyone with an open mind and heart for Christ is compelled to take part in this council’s work, and to be sent forth to fulfill its mission! That’s what I’m working on.