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…

New Photos Website!

As some of you may have noticed, the Photos tab at the top of the screen is very difficult to format and is often completely jumbled. After a lot of work, I have found an alternative: a Shutterfly website. Similar to Photobucket, Flickr, and Picasa, Shutterfly is a website that allows users to upload and organize pictures easily and neatly. It’s not 100% updated yet, but I thought I would share it with everyone while I’m working on it.

There are a number of ways to find it: 1) type breakinginthehabit.shutterfly.com into your web browser and bookmark the page, 2) go to the old Photos page and click the link, or 3) click “Shutterfly Website” on the right side of the screen underneath the picture of the habit.

I will let everyone know in a new post when I upload new pictures so there’s no need to check it everyday. Hopefully this works out better than the other Photos page did!

The postulants and I are off to back-to-back workshops tomorrow so look for some posts towards the end of the week! Thanks again for reading!

The Lower Delaware Friars

Part of Francis' great witness to the pope was his emphasis on community

Tonight, we had the privilege of hosting eight friars from our Philadelphia and Camden locations as a part of our gathering of the “Lower Delaware Friars.” Gathering three times a year, each location takes turns hosting the others for prayer and dinner as a way of connecting with the friar community at large. It was a busy and joyous evening to have eighteen people over for prayer and dinner, to catch up on our lives and to share about our ministries. I believe that it is the time we take for community, not our ministry or charism, that makes us “Franciscan.” Take this passage from chapter XII of The Life of Saint Francis by Thomas of Celano:

“Go, my dear brothers,” he said to them, “two by two through different parts of the world, announcing peace to the people and penance for the remission of sins. Be patient in trials, confident that the Lord will fulfill His plan and promise. Respond humbly to those who question you. Bless those who persecute you. Give thanks to those who harm you and bring false charges against you, for because of these things and eternal kingdom is prepared for us.”

Accepting the command of holy obedience with much joy and gladness, they humbly prostrated themselves on the ground before Saint Francis. Embracing them, he spoke sweetly and devotedly to each one: “Cast you care upon the Lord and he will sustain you.” He used to say this phrase whenever he transferred brothers by obedience.

Then brother Bernard with brother Giles hastended on the way to Sanitago; Saint Francis with one companion chose another part of the world. The other four, two by two, went to other regions.

Only a short time had passed when Saint Francis began desiring to see them all. He prayed to the Lord, who gathers the dispersed Israel, mercifully to bring them together soon. So it happened in a short time: they came together at the same time according to this desire, without any human summons, giving thanks to God.

Francis could have reached double the amount of people, and could have gotten twice as much done had he sent them individually, but fraternity was more important. It offered strength and guidance to each brother, and it was a witness to the world of the love that was possible in Christ. Because of this, it is very rare for a friar to ever live alone, and it is strongly encouraged that they work together as well.

What I find most compelling about this passage, and exemplified in events like tonight, is that time has to be made for the larger community of friars.  After sending his brothers out on mission, despite knowing that they were doing the work of God, Francis desired nothing else but to have them gathered together. There will always be too much work, meetings, baptisms, fundraisers, chores, phone calls, appointments, and so on; but part of being “Franciscan” is making community a priority, even if it means dropping one of the other things for a few hours. Tonight was a great witness to the myself and the other postulants as to the importance of community in our lives, and the great benefit it provides to all in this life.

The Other Half of the Trip

Once a stronghold for the Franciscans, northern New Jersey used to be place with dozens of churches run by the friars. As the demographics began to shift in the middle of the last century, Holy Name Province began returning churches to the diocese, freeing them up to hold posts in areas with greater need. Of the locations left, we visited Church of the Assumption of Our Blessed Lady in Wodridge, NJ, Saint Anthony’s Church in Butler, NJ (both parish and retirement home), Saint Bonaventure Church in Paterson, NJ, and finally Saint Mary’s Church in Pompton Lakes, NJ.

Despite the relatively close proximity of these churches (within an hour), there was a distinct character to each that I’m sure is a reflection of the congregation and its needs. The activities varied considerably from church to church, ranging from youth ministry to drug counseling, adult education to elementary schools, outreach to contemplation, even ranging a bit between traditional and progressive. It was really interesting for me to see how much of a difference there can be, even in the same ministry (parish) led by the same people (friars of Holy Name Province).

One of the inevitable things I find myself wondering when we visited each new location was, “Can I see myself here in a few years?” (This is often compounded when each community attempts to “woo” us so that we will request placement there one day.) For each of the New Jersey houses, there was at least one thing that was very familiar and interesting, as well as at least one thing that was very off-putting or disappointing. I found both of these aspects to be very helpful: It helped me to remain open to new possibilities, new ministries, and new friars, offering an aspect of comfort along with a strong motivation to improve the aspects I found lacking.

Certainly it’s a long way away, (and trust me, I’m in no position to critique, especially not here) but I found the whole experience to be a great exercise in discernment. It allowed me to think about God’s call to me within a real, concrete possibility. It’s one thing to think in abstracts and to let my mind entertain a world of infinite possibilities, but it’s also helpful to look at already established ministries run by actual friars and discern the my life in each. Overall, I was affirmed once again in my Franciscan vocation and continue to look with eagerness as what lies ahead.

More pictures to come soon!