Friar Christmas Reflections

If you can believe it, my post Rethinking the “Season of Giving” was not actually the only Christmas reflection on the internet. I know! It was a surprise to me too! Anyway, Holy Name Province has collected excerpts from four reflections written by members of the province for your Advent/Christmas enjoyment. If you’re interested in reading them, the article can be found here (which also includes links to the full text of each reflection).

p.s. I made it safely home and currently elated with the 60 degree weather here in North Carolina.

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Vocation Vacation

Vocation Vacation? Not what I had in mind…

Starting tomorrow, the other four postulants and I will be free to leave for Christmas break, spending the next ten days however we please, wherever it pleases us. Personally, I’ll be on my way to the airport en route for my family’s house in North Carolina where I will spend most of my time relaxing and catching up with friends and family.

There’s no doubt that this is a very typical situation for most people: many people my age (including myself for the last four years) visit home for the holidays and spend the whole time relaxing and socializing. It is a familiar, comfortable place where we fall back into old habits and remember the person we once were. Surely, this is the farthest place from discernment one can be, right? Our postulant director sees it quite differently. Here’s a section of the letter he gave us yesterday:

I have insisted that this break is important and argued for your going home (or as close as I could get you to your home). The break is only a little more than a week, not long at all. During that time I’d suggest you take your breviary and pray the Office as you find comfortable. Do the same with daily mass; don’t feel that you have to go other than on Sunday but go as you like. Do not visit friars or friaries, your break is to get away from friars and friaries (and celebrate holiday time with your family). If you do not distance yourself you cannot get a clear picture of things. Talk with your family members and friends about the choice you’ve made and the vocation you feel called to. Test it against them. Ask if they notice any change in you. Notice any changes in them or your former environment.

This break is as important as any retreat you will take; it is a time for discernment.

Oddly enough, approaching the once familiar and comfortable might be the best bit of discernment I’ll have this entire year. By distancing myself from religious life, breaking out of the new habits I’ve formed and back into the old ones, I’ll have the opportunity to test the new against the old. Will the old habits fit too well to be shaken? Will I remember the life I once had and seek to live it again?

Or will I begin to feel as Francis did, as written in The Legend of the Three Companions: “What before seemed delightful and sweet will be unbearable and bitter; and what before made you shudder will offer you great sweetness and enormous delight.”

There’s no doubt that there is a different feel to this trip home than there was in the previous four years; something feels different. Maybe I’m different. Time to relax and reflect will certainly tell. One thing I do know for sure, however, is that I have been looking forward to seeing my family and being home for a while now, and I’m very excited to see them later today! Wish me luck on my Vocation Vacation!

Now does that mean a vacation for my vocation, or from it…?

Preparing For Novitiate: Update

It hit me after posting “Preparing For Novitiate” last week that I had forgotten to mention the many online publications about the Interprovincial Novitiate I’ll be attending next year.

For starters, the 14 men in Burlington take turns posting about their experiences on a community blog, Franciscan Interprovincial Novitiate. The new blog is a great way for me to prepare for next year as it is very detailed with pictures and personal reflections. A shorter alternative can be found on their community run Facebook page, focusing more on events than personal reflections. Outsides of the community’s pages, John Aherne, OFM, one of Holy Name Province’s novices, also wrote a great post about his experience so far on the province’s vocation’s website, Be A Franciscan

Blogs are not the only way to learn about the year, however, as Holy Name Province has written a number of articles about the interprovincial experience on its newsletter, HNP Today. There’s an article about their reception as novices at the beginning of the year, as well as one about the novices receiving their habits. This is a great newsletter to stay in touch with the happenings around the province with more than 330 friars.

As I mentioned before, Holy Name Province is very connected with technology and offers a great number of resources for those discerning, even for people like me who have already joined but would like to know more. If you just cant get enough of Franciscan blogs, there are six other blogs besides mine on the province’s website that are frequently updated.

Yes, But Under My Conditions

Am I trying to fool God or myself with the fine print?

As I continue to discern whether God is calling me to be ordained or not, I have come up with an analogy that describes my current disposition: I am like a potential parent that says, “I want to have a child… but only if it’s a boy.”

Like the would-be parent who is comfortable with the possibility of having a catch with his son or teaching him how to ride a bike, I have taken the big step forward over the past two years in acknowledging that there are some aspects of “being a father” that are appealing enough to me to take on the new role. Back in August, I mentioned that the sacrament of Reconciliation was one of these aspects. Besides that, I’m feel a strong calling to get involved in social justice activism (such as the ones run by our activist organization, JPIC), a ministry that needs the sacraments to remain fruitful. In this way, like the potential parent, I am very open to some of the roles a “father” might have to fulfill.

The problem with this sentiment is that it is not open to the all of the possibilities one may face. What if it’s a girl? Mentally handicapped? Doesn’t like baseball? Like the parent, there are aspects of ordination of which I am unwilling to accept at this point in my formation. What if I were assigned to an upper-middle class suburban parish so removed from poverty and hardship that it became difficult not to fall into complacency? Or, what if I were made pastor of a one-priest church, required to take on large amounts of administrative duties and left  tied down to one particular schedule and place? These are among the many hypothetical situations (along with a few theological issues that I won’t mention here) that leave me saying, “Yes, but under my conditions.”

Like a potential parent, I don’t think this is the proper disposition one can have to take on such a role. To be ordained is to say “yes” without condition, open and prepared for anything the kingdom of God needs here on earth. It means being a malleable instrument for which God can use whenever and however he pleases. To do so with conditions would be to misunderstand the role entirely; “yes, but under my conditions” is not really a “yes” at all.

As I move forward, this will be the focus of my discernment. Can I be open to all of the possibilities for which God will use me? I’ve certainly come a long way over the past few years in accepting new possibilities, and will just have to see how far that goes. I continue to thank you for all of your prayers in this process.

Time to Read

One of the great things about this year is that I have a lot of time to read. Here’s what I’m focusing on right now.

Francis of Assisi: Early Documents

This is a book that no friar should be without. Part of a three volume set, this book includes everything that Francis ever wrote, including the Canticle of the Creatures, The Admonitions, The Earlier and Later Rules, and The Testament, as well as a long list of prayers and letters written to and for members of the order. Together, it amazingly takes up the first 126 pages of the book, a fact that is quite significant when one realizes the time in which he wrote and the lack of formal education and stability in his life. The rest of the book, as well as the other two books in the series, is made up of biographies, papal encyclicals, and liturgical texts written about Francis within the first few centuries after his death.

Because Francis has probably the largest hagiography of any saint (much of which is based in folklore and legend) it’s impossible to know who Francis actually was without reading the earliest and most authentic sources. So far, I’ve read about half of the texts penned by Francis himself as well as his earliest known biography.

The Catholic Study Bible (NAB Translation)

With the early documents, this is the other text that a friar can never be without. Besides being a critical text for all Christians, Francis was very well read in the Bible and thus, his life and Rule can only be understood by reading it.

After having read Luke and Mark’s Gospels twice each, I moved to the Old Testament for an understanding of Israelite history. Beginning the tour with 1 and 2 Samuel, and I plan to continue with 1 and 2 Kings, Jeremiah, and a minor prophet before returning to the New Testament to finish the Gospels and explore a few of Paul’s letters.

For me, it was/is critical to have a plan. Since the book is so large, it can be overwhelming to even start because there is a feeling that no matter how much reading I do, it can never be finished. By picking out a few critical books (some are just more important than others in the Salvation History narrative), and reading a few pages a day, the task is much more manageable and certainly more fulfilling.

In the Spirit of Francis and the Sultan

Over the years I’ve developed a real interest in ecumenism and inter-religious dialogue, embracing the Church’s efforts for peace and reconciliation among all of the world’s peoples. It’s no surprise, then, that I’ve taken to Francis’ encounter with the Sultan as a source of great inspiration: in a time when relations between Muslims and Christians were even worse than they are today, these two men found a way to speak peacefully, respect one another, and depart as equals to one another.

Though the book recognizes that there is little historical detail to the content of their meeting, the meeting in and of itself was a great first step in relations, and there is much to be learned from it to be used in our world today. Beginning with a basic overview of the two faiths, the authors point out the many similarities that could be used as a point of contact, as well as the many differences as a point of challenge to approach with caution, all with the hopes that with greater understanding will come more fruitful interactions, and ultimately peace.

St. Anthony of Padua: Wisdom for Today

Though most famous for being the saint for finding lost things, St. Anthony of Padua is also considered one of the greatest preachers of all time. This book is a compilation of excerpts from his homilies and writings, organized and commented on by a friar in the 1970s. Using it as more of a prayer/meditation aid than an academic read, I’ve been reading a page or two of this book every few days as a starting point for reflection.