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.

“Into the Woods”

How do we approach the unknown?

As a part of our orientation to each other, the life of a friar, and living in community, we spent the afternoon watching a broadway musical called Into the Woods, and spent the evening in conversation about its many themes. For those who are unfamiliar with the story, it is quite interesting: staring Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, Jack (from Jack and the Beanstalk), a wicked witch, Repunzel, and a peasant bread maker, the musical attempts to meld together an assortment of fairy tales based on their common messages. Though we may find such stories a bit silly or juvenile, some of humanity’s deepest truths can be found within them.

Stepping out of the comfort zone “into the woods” causes great changes in us. In the play, each character is forced to leave their comfortable setting and travel to the dark woods in order to fulfill some desire. At first, there are episodes of fear, excitement, mourning, and confusion as each enter an unknown, uncontrollable place. A few of the characters were unchanged and unaffected by the woods because they refused to accept the reality of the situation. The majority, however, left the woods entirely different characters; taken out of their usual setting, they were forced to face their own failings and to cooperate with strangers for the sake of survival. We find this very same concept throughout the Bible: when people are forced into the wilderness, to the unknown, they are found face to face with God. It is only in that uncontrollably setting that we are able to let go of distractions and find truth in such a beautiful way.

There is an interconnectedness about all human interaction making it impossible for any individual to be isolated or unaffected by others. Similar to the movie Crash, (my all-time favorite, go see it if you haven’t already) there is no main protagonist nor is there a central plot in which all of the characters take part. Rather, each character pursues his or her own self interests, meeting other characters doing the same thing. The realization here is that we, like the characters, are not the protagonist of every story. Every human being in the world has been developed by unique set of experiences, forming a truly individual “story” in which they are the main character. When people interact, we see not one linear set of events developing an understandable plot, complete with the “good” characters and the “bad” characters, but rather a complex web of events in which we play different roles to different people, critically altering the plot of each individual’s life. Two things can be learned from this: 1) Our actions, no matter how small to us, may have profound effect on another person’s story, and 2) we do not enter the scene from the same place and so we will not experience it in the same way. When we approach communal life, or any social setting, in this way, we are more likely to try to understand our neighbor better and treat everyone we meet as brother and sister.

Our desires will never end if they are not focused correctly. The play opens with each character singing about their deepest wishes. Statements begin with, “If only I had ____…” or “I would trade anything for ____,” varying from a child, to wealth, to beauty. Each character believes that this ONE this, just this one, will bring them happiness. To the surprise of all, at the end of Act One each character actually obtains their deepest wish and they end by singing about living “happily ever after.” Unsurprisingly, Act Two begins just as the first did: each character is no longer satisfied by their fulfilled wish, and now wishes for something else, to which they will now seek. How incredibly true is this?! (And talk about the anti-Disney!) This idea of happily ever after, and happiness based on a status, possession, or companion is ultimately fleeting. It can never last forever, and we end up right back where we started. As St. Augustine puts it, “Our souls are restless until they rest in you.” Until we start seeking the right things, we will never be fully satisfied.

This was the first deep conversation among the postulants, and I enjoyed it very much. Each person offered a different perspective on the play, and we tackled some tough issues. I’m excited for more of these discussions and know that this is a great group of guys to challenge me.

New Photos Page

As you’ll now notice, there is an additional tab on the top right-hand corner of the page called “Photos.” This was the easiest way (thought not terribly efficient) to visually share my experience with everyone. I’ll post new photos periodically after traveling or attending certain events, and will usually mention it in a post so you’ll know when to check it out. Right now, all I have is my room.

A Rush to Slow Down

My "sacred" space

Having completed 24 hours of the Postulancy, I have to say that I’m already exhausted. I imagine the majority of physical fatigue is due to the abrupt change to the sleep cycle, but there is certainly a rush of new information, experiences, relationships, and responsibilities that is not helping either. This is not to be misinterpreted though: I’m very happy so far! I’m pleased with my fellow Postulants, feel incredibly comfortable in my room and in this house, and am enjoying the new lifestyle so far (7:30 morning prayer may be a chore though…)

Rather than trying to recount everything that has happened, I’d like to focus on one concept that I imagine will be quite critical to this year’s formation: learning to slow down in the midst of being very busy. We already know that we will be traveling to New York City, Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Chicago, and St. Bonaventure’s University throughout the year, while also being responsible for taking a spanish class at the community college, working three days a week at an internship site, and taking part in a number of seminars and workshops. There is no doubt that we will be very busy throughout the year. But ministry, we were told last night, was not the purpose of this first year.

Where we begin to be “formed” is in our emphasis on slowing down, and emphasizing our life of prayer and community. For starters, we were asked to approach our bedrooms as sacred space. They are to be kept simple, yet personal, and used exclusively for individual use; rather than using them for fellowship or general space, they should be an intimately private space to retreat, reflect, and recharge (this is not some catchy list they gave us, but just a coincidence that they were the three words I used to describe the space.) It is in conjunction with the communal time and regimented prayer life that we’re asked to slow down our lives, begin to listen more closely, and remove distractions. To aid in this task, each of us were given hardcover notebooks (not the cheap $1.00 spiral ones) as a reminder to journal our experiences, thoughts, concerns, etc. I hope to use this almost every day as a place for raw ideas and unfinished conclusions rather than “well” planned reflections such as these. There is something to be said about a stream of consciousness, writing without a filter and with no regard to organization or aesthetics.

All in all, I am overjoyed with my experience so far, and thankful for all the prayers and messages I’ve received so far. There is simply too much to report at the moment, so I hope you’ll check back soon for more updates!

(Two more pictures can be found here.)

Transitioning to a New Life

I'm ready to accept a new way of life

On the eve of making the trip up to Wilmington and starting my journey into the Franciscan order, I find myself finally grasping the reality of my situation. I’ve known for a while now that I would be entering on this day, but for some reason my life has felt a bit surreal since graduation; while always knowing where I was going, it was just a blur of events and experiences since then. The gravity of the situation did not begin to set in until I started packing, and I imagine will not fully sink in until I have settled in my new home: this is a transition in my life unlike any other til now. In a lot of ways, what I’m doing next is not just the “next step” in my life; it is the acceptance of a new life. Here are a few changes that I’ve been thinking about:

This is not college. Given my age and recent experience at a University, packing a small number of belongings, moving in with people I don’t know, sharing a bathroom, taking classes, and having very little purchasing power comes with a false sense of familiarity. What I will be doing now, though resembling what I did six months ago, is a fundamentally different situation, and requires a fundamentally different approach.

I am not “mature” anymore. For an adolescent or young-adult, being called mature is a great compliment. It means that an individual makes rational choices, relates well with a variety of people, and understands one’s place in development. Essentially, being “mature” means grasping things that are not expected of one’s age. This, I feel, will be where another fundamental change occurs. Though I obviously cannot magically obtain years of life experience and all of the sudden act like an “adult” (whatever that means), the expectation is that “mature” will be the status quo rather than the exception.

My role in evangelization will change. What I mean by this is that I will be perceived differently based on my social status. Sharing my story of struggling with faith and deciding to accept a religious vocation is heard by a group of college students one way when it comes from a peer who plays sports, goes to parties, and is a part of their primary friend group, and a different way when it comes from a first year postulant that does religious things all day, even though it’s the same story. It’s kind of like an adult complimenting a child: if it’s someone else’s child, the adult comes across as unbiased and credible; when it’s their own child, it’s less interesting because any compliment is to be expected. Entering the order is accepting a status are being part of the institution, relinquishing the ability to share from the perspective of an outsider.

There is no doubt that I will encounter many more transitions, and I hope that you will all share in my journey as I face each one. We’re leaving North Carolina at 7 tomorrow, hoping to arrive in the middle of the afternoon. Thanks for all the prayers! Look for a lot of updates in the next few days!