First Workshop: “Proclaiming the Word”

The Word of God must be "proclaimed"

“Faith grows when it is well expressed in celebration. Good celebrations foster and nourish faith. Poor celebrations may weaken and destroy faith” (Music in Catholic Worship: 6; 1983). Nothing could be more applicable to many Catholics! When the priest artfully connects the lessons into an engaging homily and the music is familiar yet inspiring, the congregation leaves the church with a rejuvenated faith and a great joy; when the homily is difficult to follow, and the music is just coordinated noise, the congregation leaves thinking, “I didn’t get anything out of Mass today.”

Often, though, we forget to focus attention on one of the most important aspects of the mass: the proclamation of God’s word in the readings. The Second Vatican council asserted that, “He [Christ] is present in his word since it is he himself who speaks when the holy scriptures are read in Church” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 7). Think about that for a second. Because Jesus is the “Word made flesh,” when we listen to the readings at mass, we are not merely hearing stories or learning about God, we are in the true presence of our Lord.

Which brings me to the point of our workshop this week: what does it mean to, and more importantly, how do we, “proclaim” the word? When we think about what we’re really doing, bringing the real presence of Jesus to the congregation, it’s an incredibly important ministry to take up and it requires a lot more work than simply dressing nice and reading clearly! Here’s what Gary Maciag, OFM, has been teaching us this week:

Prepare, prepare, prepare. One of the things has been stressed this week is that preparing takes much more than just a glance at the reading before mass. Besides being audible and clear (kind of assumed, if you ask me), the lector has to offer an intelligent reading of the text. Without knowing the context in which the author was writing, the original audience, the genre, and ultimately the purpose of the text, the lector is not proclaiming, they are simply reading. Just as a teacher having no understanding of the material reads directly from the textbook, the Word is not captured by the congregation when the lector doesn’t know what they are proclaiming.

Let your own understanding of the text speak. Often we here statements like, “I’m letting the Holy Spirit work through me,” or “I’m trying to be an empty vessel for God to use.” There is certainly some truth in this, but it needs revision. God doesn’t want a neutral, hallowed vacuum of a soul to work through. We have been given unique gifts, and thus are able to experience God in a number of different spiritualities: Let this come out! Just as two different actors can play the same role, allowing their subtle emphases to develop the character in different ways, so too should the lector. The purpose is of course to let the Word of God speak through us, but let is speak through your specific understanding of him. A bland, unbiased reading doesn’t let the Word speak: it hides it, and frankly, bores the congregation. A dramatic, over-the-top monologue suffocates the Word because the reader draws all attention to him or herself, and the church is turned into a theatre. A good lector will take this ministry very seriously, and find that perfect balance.

To say that the week has been a great bundle of joy would be a stretch: part of preparation is practicing over and over, humbly accepting relentless critique in order to obtain an ideal. But that’s okay. The difference between a good reader and a bad reader makes a big difference; proclaiming the word of God is a critical part of the life of a celebration. Important things like this are certainly worth suffering a bit for.

 

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Meet My Classmates

From left to right, Sergio, Dennis, Edgardo, Ramon, and Me

One of the great things about the formation process is that no one has to do it alone. As I move on from place to place, going from Postulancy to Novitiate to Post-Novitiate, the group of guys that entered at the same time as I did will do the same. There is a sense of comfort in this sort of community, and some friars describe the relationship they have with their classmates as an intimate bond.

On the other hand, there is only one year, the Postulant year, that I will be with only my classmates: the Novitiate year is inter-provincial (all of the second year students in the country come together for the year), and the Post-Novitiate takes place at Holy Name college where all students years 3-7 living together, including a large number of foreign friars wishing to study in America. Essentially, one’s immediate classmates can be a great source of strength and comfort throughout the process, but if you don’t get along with them it’s not the end of the world.

That being said, I think I lucked out with mine. Starting with the largest class in 5-6 years, each of these guys come with a true desire to be a follower of Francis, and offer a uniquely different perspective on life.

Sergio was born and raised in the New York/New Jersey area, but his parents were from Naples, Italy. He joined the Navy after high school and spent 5 years working on a Destroyer ship. After a long journey of faith, he found himself studying, then teaching philosophy, eventually connecting with the friars while getting his M.Div. from Union Theological Seminary in NYC.

Dennis is a Rhode Island native and thought about religious life at a young age. As he explored alternative options for his life in college, he became very passionate about Chemistry, and received both a Bachelors and Masters in the field. His earlier life interest in religious life didn’t go away, and as a chemistry professor over the last few years he felt called once more.

Edgardo grew up in Costa Rico, and is a native Spanish speaker. Over the years, he has studied French and English in foreign countries, began a life with the Franciscans in Mexico, taught philosophy and Catechetics at home in Costa Rico, and at one point was on a track to become a diocesan priest there. He comes to our Province because of it’s diversity in ministry.

Rounding out our world tour of Postulants, Ramon spent most of his life in the Philippines, having come to New York only 5 years ago. Since that time, he’s gotten a higher education degree in teaching and taught high school English in New York City where he was the creator and advisor of a student magazine about social justice. As you can see in the picture, he likes photography as well, which is a plus.

I feel very blessed to have a group of guys such as this, and believe that they will all have a profound effect on my faith journey.

A Glimpse of the “Finish Line”

Holy Name Province’s mother church

Originally, interested men could show up at the door of a franciscan house, be admitted by any friar, given a habit, and sent out into the world as a follower of Francis, all in the same day. Talk about on-the-job training! With friaries accepting men immature in both faith and action, the pope at the time required Francis to organize a probationary year before new members could be fully admitted into the order, and gave only the provincial (essentially the president) the authority to accept any new members. Today, we witnessed that process as Dan Horan, OFM, and Steve DeWitt, OFM, took solemn vows and were fully accepted into the Order of Friars Minor. It was a beautiful ceremony (and due to the hurricane, a bit more intimate than expected), and a joyous occasion for these two friars who entered the order more than six years ago.

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. Obviously one’s solemn profession is by no means the end of the story or the “happily ever after” moment, but it is certainly the moment that all of us in the formation process are looking and working towards; the purpose of our formation is to prepare ourselves for a consecrated life, and that life “officially” begins at one’s profession.

The ceremony took place at the mother church of the province, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Middle Manhattan. Home to one of the most beautiful chapels I’ve ever been to (don’t take my word for it, check out the pictures), it is one of two “service churches” in the province: the fifteen or so friars run nine daily masses every day (to accomodate the busy lives of New Yorkers), a morning breadline for the poor that has run since 1930, a counseling center, and a ministry list too long to mention. Because it is the province’s headquarters, it is host to many bishops, mayors and other elected officials, friars from around the world, and many other high profile people. Because of this, the friary is a bit nicer than one would expect for a Franciscan church, but the friars there would assure you that they own no more or less than any other group of friars, they are merely borrowing and maintaing the gifts given to them by the community they serve; it just turns out that the community in Manhattan is very different from the community in Camden, and their material space is a reflection of that.

Also, Dan has a very popular blog and podcast (just what you need, something else to check) that you should check out: datinggod.org.

First Day Trip: Camden

The first of many trips around the provinceAs a part of our Postulant experience, we’ll be traveling near and far to get to know the many ministries offered in Holy Name Province. Given that Camden, NJ is less than an hour from our house in Delaware, we took the opportunity on a slow Friday to visit the friars there and get to know what they do.

St. Anthony of Padua is a parish community consisting of a church, elementary school, and an HIV mission house called the Francis House. It is run by Fr. Jud Weiksnar, OFM, Fr. Hugh Macsherry, OFM, and Br. Karl Koenig, OFM. The congregation is primarily Spanish speaking, and located in an incredibly impoverished area of the state. As is the historical trend within the province, the friars took over this community some years ago after returning a healthy, affluent parish back to the diocese in order to seek out places with the most need.

In our time there today, we got a glimpse of the difficulties facing the poor of Camden, NJ, and a chance to see friars living in a wonderfully simple and loving lifestyle. There is a tendency at times to romanticize the poor for those of us who read about social justice and activism; but to see some of the dire living situations of actual human beings, there is nothing romantic about it. Through a real life struggle each and every day, it was great to see a few men willing to give of themselves so freely for the sake of the community.

Check out more pictures from this trip on my shutterfly page.

Far From Routine

Flexibility is key for our schedule!

The first week of being a Postulant has demanded a great deal of flexibility in schedule: Sunday and Tuesday we started with morning prayer followed by mass away from the friary (though none of these events took place at the same time or location), while Monday and Wednesday both took place here at the “normal” time; class/meetings took place in the morning Monday, Wednesday and today, in the afternoon Sunday, Tuesday and Wednesday, and in the evening Sunday and Tuesday; and yet on a day like today, we have a block between 11:00-5:15 with nothing to do.

Part of this is just the case of it being the first week and not wanting to overwhelm each of us with a strict schedule. We are more than grateful for that! The other part is simply the nature of the Postulant year: we’re being taught to be flexible. Though we may all like to have our neat and tidy schedules, there are exceptions to every plan, both foreseeable and unforeseeable.

The “plan” for each week consists of morning prayer, mass, breakfast, evening prayer, dinner, and night prayer almost every day. On Mondays and Fridays we will have Franciscan spirituality classes, Monday evenings will be for spanish classes, and Tuesdays, Wednesday, and Thursdays for ministry site visits. But as our schedules would indicate, there are as many exceptions with this routine as there are in the English language, and it is just as difficult for someone to remember them all. Some of the “planned exceptions” include: experts coming in to hold one to three day seminars on various topics, attending conferences in places like Cincinnati and Chicago in the middle of weeks, taking day trips around the province to familiarize ourselves with other friars, spending a week at both a Benedictine monastery and a Franciscan hermitage, and attending various one-day events, seminars, meetings, socials, and classes. Even still, we’re prepared for cancellations and additions on a daily basis.

In the end, as crazy as it sounds, it’s not a problem at all. Like I said in my earlier post A Rush To Slow Down, the purpose of this year is to form a spiritual and communal foundation that will allow each of us to live a Franciscan life and deal with all the craziness that comes with loving so freely as they do. It might be easy (or easier) to spend time with God in prayer and personal reflection when nothing is going on and there are countless free hours in the day; it is quite another to do so amidst crazy schedules, fatigue, tragedy, endless problems that need immediate action, and so on. God and self are the first two priorities cut when times get tough or we’re too busy. We must always remember though, even the night that Jesus was betrayed and arrested, he spent time in the garden praying (Mt 14:32-42); even though the expensive oil could have been sold to help the poor, Jesus tells his disciples to cherish their time with him (Jn 12:3-8). In a world that is far from routine, we must always find time for our source of strength, Christ, so that we may be a sign of His constant, unchanging love. That’s what I’m training for.