Lent Mid-Terms

66% isn't great for a test, but it's not bad as far as Lent goes!

If you’ll remember from No Pain, No Gain, I mentioned that I would be making two sacrifices during Lent this year: 1) a reduction in my consumption of meat, and 2) taking shorter, more water-efficient showers. In addition to these two commitments, I decided to also spend the hour after dinner with scripture rather than with reruns of 30 Rock.

So, now more than halfway through the Lenten season, how am I doing you ask? Let’s just say two out of three ain’t bad!

Reducing almost all of the meat from my diet has not been easy at all, but I have to say, easier than I had expected. Keen from the start about not being a vegetarian, I have been pretty strict about eating meat once or twice a week, no more and certainly no less. While there are usually quality, non-meat options available that leave me just as full as I would normally be, I have found great satisfaction in the few instances in which there were not quality alternatives. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with going hungry once in a while (as long as its voluntary). Not only is it a wonderful penitential act, it offers a concrete experience of the hunger that so many experience each day, and dropping any feelings of entitlement that “I deserve” something.

Similarly, with the exception of the first few days, I’ve had surprisingly little problem with the adjusted showers. To insure that I am being water-efficient (and to up the ante on the penance), I have been turning off the water during the shower when it’s not in use. The shock of cold can be difficult in the morning, but it certainly reminds me not to take water for granted and to view the showering process in more of utilitarian rather than luxurious way (as it is certainly a luxury in the eyes of many people throughout the world).

My last Lenten commitment has unfortunately not panned out as well. Part of is it my own laziness, but most of it is simply the nature of our schedule: the 7:00 hour of our day has been very irregular given our travels and periodic nightly meetings, and it’s difficult to commit to anything regularly. I have not watched a single rerun of 30 Rock, but at the same time have filled that hour with other tasks. Does that almost count?

Ultimately, the success or failure of Lent does not depend on my ability to observe a given task or achieve an arbitrary goal. Lent is not simply a season for punishing oneself for being a sinner. Instead, I need to ask myself, how have these three tasks helped me grow closer to God, and am I more prepared for Easter than I was before?

In that way, I have to say that Lent has been a success (so far). Each of these commitments have been steps forward in action, flowing from a contrite heart and true faith, to be better reconciled with God, self, others, and God’s created order. Thus, when Lent is over and we are rejoicing in the season of Easter, I don’t plan on dropping these commitments to return to my old habits. What would the point of Lent be if our changed heart does not continue? This is not to say that my old habits are necessarily sinful, but that after having seen how these new habits have helped me grow in awareness and closeness to God, a return to the old ones would be entirely fruitless, and completely illogical.

Lent, like life as a friar, is all about putting on a new habit for the future.

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As for the hermitage retreat last week, there was simply too much that happened for me to post about it right away. Given that I had almost five full days in complete solitude to pray and think, I’m going to need a bit more time to decompress and organize my thoughts before I can share it with everyone. Without putting any sort of time-table on it, look for a post about that in the future! For the time being, check out the Shutterfly website here for a few sneak peek pictures.

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“Acting” Like Friars

For those of you that read Quiet Weekend, Busy Weeks and were completely confused by the picture at the bottom, I apologize. I thought that I had mentioned that earlier, but apparently I did so only on an individual basis.

At the Inter Franciscan Formation Programs held at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center twice a year, there is a talent show on the last night of the workshop. Being the ham that I am, I took the opportunity to rouse the crowd with a fake magic show, as pictured in the other post. To my surprise, one of the sisters actually recorded it. For your viewing pleasure at my expense:

The skit was such a hit, that we were inspired to come up with another idea. Here’s what we did this past weekend. It’s a bit longer, but it’s pretty funny:

I said it in “Mission” Accomplished and believe it even more now that we’ve done these two skits: Friars working separately may be more efficient, but it won’t be more effective. It was harder to work with extra people, and it may be been a little rustier as a result, but our witness as brothers really made the difference. I hope that these silly skits will remind me that brotherhood is our first priority, and from it, ministry will follow. To confuse this order is to confuse our Franciscan charism.

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!

Quiet Weekend, Busy Weeks Ahead

After spending so much time in preparation and implementation of the Parish Mission last week, the other postulants and I enjoyed what turned out to be a very quiet weekend: with the exception of class Friday and Today, and an integration seminar on Saturday, we were actually free to do as we pleased all weekend. This was much appreciated (and much deserved, if you ask me!)

Besides the usual reading, YMCA, and group movies, it was also a weekend of “firsts” for me: on Saturday, Dennis, Ramon, and I went exploring the nearby park looking for good walking trails by the river, and on Sunday, I cooked dinner for the first time. No one died as a result of either experiment, so I would consider it a pretty successful weekend!

There won't be any "magic" in our sketch per se, but we've got a few tricks up our sleeves...

A relaxing weekend couldn’t have come at a better time, because by 6:50 tomorrow morning, it’s back to the Postulant grind. We’re starting with mass at 7:00 at the Poor Clare Monastery here in Wilmington, followed by lunch and fellowship at the Poor Clare Monastery in Wappingers Falls, NY, before we arrive once again in Garrison, New York for a Franciscan four-day workshop at the Graymoor Spiritual Life Center. If you’ll remember, we spent four days at Graymoor back in November and had an excellent time (you can refresh your memory with my post, Finally, a Franciscan!). We’re all really looking forward to another fully Franciscan run, Franciscan themed, and Franciscan attended workshop.

That’s it for now, but make sure you check back next weekend when we get back. I don’t want to give too much away, but the other postulants and I have been working on another routine for this year’s talent show that you’re going to want to hear about! Wish us luck!

“Mission” Accomplished

St. Anthony of Padua is regarded as one of the greatest preachers in the order.

Arguably the oldest and most “authentic” Franciscan ministry, the Ministry of the Word is an effective way that friars have reached the people where they are for 800 years. Today, it takes the form of a Parish Mission, in which friars travel from church to church preaching at mass, offering time for penance, and organizing a series of evening lectures on a given topic. When done well, inspiring preachers can be the spark that revives a congregation in faith and action, while being the replacement necessary for overworked pastors to take an overdue spiritual retreat.

From Saturday until Wednesday, the other postulants and I got some first hand experience of the workings of such a ministry. Instead of simply supporting our director (Fr. Ron) with our presence and prayers, we were actually given the responsibility of coordinating a significant portion of the events: each of us took part in speaking at the Sunday masses to advertise while Dennis and Ramon spoke three different times to the various youth groups, Edgardo gave the homily at the Spanish mass and coordinated a Spanish mission night, and Sergio and I took turns emceeing for Fr. Ron and each gave ten minute talks of our own.

How did we do, you ask? In terms of our programming, preaching, and message, I think we did a good job. People left with a little more joy, were a little more forgiven, and were hopefully a little more inspired for the life of the Church than when they started. By those standards, I’d say we did fairly well.

But because we’re Franciscan friars, there’s always more to it than the message itself: our witness to fraternal life. Though our programming, preaching, and message may be exactly the same as secular priests, Ph.D.’s, and most other forms of speakers, it is our ability to flow from and witness to fraternal life that sets us apart, and therefore should be the standard by which we judge ourselves. By those standards, I’d say we passed with flying colors.

Because we took the time to work together (even though it might have been more efficient to work alone), and were present and visible to our brothers when they were speaking (even though we probably could have just as easily stayed home and gotten something done), our actions were much more effective forms of evangelization than our words ever could have been. Even though Ron did the majority of the speaking, his visible relationship to us forced the congregation to recognize a collective presence, not just Ron’s. Thus, when they heard the message, whatever it was, and whoever was speaking it, I got the feeling that they heard it as our message, not just one’s own. Because we had made it so apparent to them that fraternity is the core from which we minister, I believe that they saw us as one unified entity rather than a collection of individuals. If that is truly the case, then it is “mission” accomplished.

After having experienced a parish mission first hand, I think it’s certainly possible to be more efficient in programming, preaching, and orchestrating a coherent message when working alone (not too mention much easier); but in terms of effectiveness, friars working together will always triumph because of their inherent ability to witness to the fruits of fraternal life. It is this witness that gives me the life and inspiration to continue in my journey as a friar in training, and gives me great hope for a future with my brothers.