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

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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.