“And The Lord Gave Me…Cousins?”

My future “cousins”

There is a friar in our province that shared with us a bit of playful advice prior to traveling to Cincinnati and meeting the other postulants: “Just remember, the guys from your own province are your brothers. The ones from the other provinces are just your cousins… you don’t have to love them as much.” Even typing here in the room, by myself, I find myself laughing out loud.

Though this friar was [mostly] kidding, this sort of statement is clearly a sentiment held historically among the provinces. Almost every American province was founded independent of one another, and because they were originally organized based on language and culture, not geography, there was little cooperation even between different friars living in the same city. Over time, each province began to develop a distinct personality, each of which was Franciscan, but each of which was unique to each other. Even today, despite losing the majority of our cultural ties, there is still a distinct philosophy to each province that is evident in the way new members are formed, which ministries are emphasized, and so on. They’re part of the same family, but probably don’t have the same parents as us.

To say that I didn’t notice these differences, even in a short week, would be a lie. After meeting 15 different guys from four other provinces and hearing about their experiences in the past two months, the friars they know, the ministries they offer, and their plans for formation, I can see very clearly a difference in culture. But to say that we are all fundamentally different, enough so to reserve for each other the title of “cousin” rather than brother, is simply nonsense. The existence of workshops like these and an inter-provincial Novitiate next year says to me that the leaders of each province think the same.

All-in-all, I found this week to be a great experience in community building. I found the differences based on province, as well as different individual personalities, to be both challenging and enriching. I met people that I’m very exited to get to know better and live with; I met people that I could not stand to be near and dread the idea of living with them. In both cases though, I had to remind myself that brotherhood is not about being best friends or hanging out with like it’s a freshman dorm: it’s about upholding one another in faith and sacrifice, mutually existing for the sake of the Gospel.

When Francis famously wrote, “And the Lord gave me brothers,” I can imagine him with great elation, overjoyed with the joy of such a gift. I can also imagine him saying it with a bit of sarcasm, wondering why his life was burdened with such annoying men all around him. I imagine he spoke from both perspectives throughout his life as a brother. In the end, though, he never said, “And the Lord gave me cousins.” They were all his brothers, as all of these men will be mine.

Road Trip!

Yeah, it's a long one today.

So it's 5am here in Wilmington and we are packed and ready to go on our first long road trip! Hopefully arriving before dinner tonight, we'll be in Milford, Ohio until Friday afternoon for a profiling workshop. What's different about this workshop is that it is a gathering together of only OFM Franciscans in our first year. I'm excited to get to meet all the other Postulants across the country, as it is highly likely we'll be living together next year at the Novitiate.
I'm not bringing my computer with me so don't expect a post until at least Saturday! Have a great week everyone!

Ecological Justice

You'd never see a sight like this where the rich live, would you?

When Catholics speak about “justice,” we tend to think about things such as the fair treatment of workers, peace, living wages, freedom from enslavement, etc. The images that come to mind are almost exclusively economic and peace related. For many, ecological justice is a secondary concern.

Attending the RFC Philadelphia region workshop today, we were convinced otherwise. Led by Sister Maria DiBello, RSM, and attended by about 30 men and women in religious formation, the workshop was in part a viewing of a documentary by the Pachamama Alliance called “Awakening the Dreamer.” After watching the documentary and listening to her lecture, it’s impossible to see how ecological justice could ever be overlooked.

One of the reasons that it deserves as much attention as the other forms us justice is that it is intimately related to the well-being of humanity and the protection of the poor. For instance, at one point, a woman on the documentary said something to the effect of, “What does it mean to throw something away? There’s no such thing as away. All we’re doing is displacing our waste to another place.” That place is almost always the home of the poor and oppressed. Pollution in the First World causes the destruction of vital resources for the already poverty-stricken Third World, dangerous water and living conditions, and leaves them highly susceptible to erratic fluctuations in climate. Lack of ecological justice, in the form of overconsumption and waste, hurts more than just the polar bears; it directly effects humanity. For a specific example, take a look at the effect of plastic water bottles.

Though the majority of the day was a reiteration of material I studied in college, I found it all to be a great reminder of the great responsibility we have to protect all of God’s creation, and how our mistreatment of it hurts us more than we think. Often times we find ourselves in the First World becoming complacent and entirely ignorant of the world around us. The truth is, what we do effects others in the world around us. When we look at the dire state of our planet in the long run, as well as the horrific effects it is causing in the present day, we can begin to see the “justice” that is needed in the world.

A Brother, Even When Busy

As Franciscans, we sometimes have to take a break from our work to be a good brother.

It would appear that the vacation is over, and life is back to the status quo that I once knew in college. With the relaxation of this past summer fading into ancient history, and the “orientation” grace period of our postulancy long passed, we’ve been handed a full load of tasks that leave me wondering, once again, “How am I going to fit all that in just 24 hours a day?”

Along with our “normal” daily schedule of prayer three times a day, mass, and meals, our weekly schedule of ministry three days a week, Franciscan class twice, Spanish class once, and two additional trips to the Poor Clares for prayers, everything has been amped up a bit: we’ve been given additional homework assignments for class, a bit of a “I can tell you haven’t been doing your chores” reminder, our ministry sites now expect us to be regular employees, and on top of that, we have the task of finding some free time to meet with a spiritual director. Phew! Talk about a run-on schedule (and sentence!).

As a result, I’ve certainly cut back on a few things to make it all work, for better or for worse: my reading as slipped a bit (though I’m still reading the Bible every day), my room was a little messy this morning before I decided to clean it, my blogging has diminished, and my personal reflection has almost disappeared (that will change tomorrow).

All that being said, it is honestly still a great joy! If I had my choice, I’d rather have too much to do than not enough, and I think most friars would agree. There’s just too much to be done in the world to relax all the time, and I get a real sense of fulfillment from a long days work (we’ll see if I say the same thing when work actually starts cutting into my sleep time…that’s a completely different story). This was true in college when I was swamped with classes, practices, and meetings, and I’m sure it will be true for the rest of my life as a friar. When push comes to shove, our true priorities come out and we learn a lot about ourselves (and sometimes we don’t like what we see, and we reassess our priorities!)

For a lot of friars, there can be a tendency to put work above all things, even brotherhood.  I think the main reason that we have such busy schedules is just that: learning to be a good brother, even when busy. If work was the highest aspiration of Francis, he would have never sent out his brothers two by two because it meant half the work was being done. Certainly our work is important, but I think for our Postulant year, being busy is much more of a test and training of our priorities: even after a long day, how are we going to find time for our brothers? I’m loving the busy schedule, and the wonderful opportunity to be a brother, especially when busy.

An Italian Masterpiece

Why wouldn't you put an apple swan in the middle of a caprese salad?

One of the perks of living in a large formation house is that it’s possible to hire a cook to take over a few meals a week, leaving the friars free to work, travel, or pray up until the time of dinner. Not to mention the fact that at least half of us would not be able to produce edible or satisfying meals for that many people, friars do not work 9-5 jobs: sometimes the guys will come back for dinner and be back to their ministry until late in the night. In a lot of ways a cook is a necessity for a house this large and active.

That being said, we’re still responsible for our own breakfast and lunch everyday, and dinners on the weekend. Generally speaking, our director Ron will take one day and the Postulants are responsible for another, rotating among those confident enough to prepare a whole meal. Tonight, Sergio (whose parents are from Italy) made an Italian meal so good it was worth writing about on the blog.

Though we don’t partition the meals into courses, the meal started with two types of salads: standard house salad, and a caprese salad pictured above, complete with an apple carved into the shape of a swan (why not, right?). The main course was a linguini with marinara sauce and Italian sausage. Though none of this was made from scratch, he did a great job of adding a few spices here and there to make it extraordinary. On the side we had sauteed carrots and broccoli rabi, with a homemade loaf of bread. For dessert, a simple sugar free strawberry Jello with a few slices of strawberries on top. Not only was every dish prepared to perfection, Sergio had a lot of fun experimenting with the garnishes and creating little works of art on the food.

Though I can’t say that I did much more than lend a hand here and there (I handled the Jello all by myself), it was great to be in the kitchen most of the afternoon providing a service to the rest of the community. It can be a great place to talk while you pass the time, and it comes with a great sense of fulfillment when everything is plated and served for the others. Sometimes we’re Mary, other times we’re Martha, and I think it’s a sign of a great community when we can take on either role from time to time.