New Community at the Castle

Mount Saint Alphonsus was built in 1907 as a seminary

Given the history and nature of religious orders in the United States, the majority of the communities spread across the country are either headquartered or have distinct roots in the northeast. Thus, one of the advantages of having our formation process in this area is that there are numerous groups of men and women at the same stage of formation as we are here in Wilmington, allowing for us to form a larger network of support and overall growth.

For example, this weekend we attended a workshop organized by the Religious Formation Conference (RFC) in Esophus, NY. About 20-30 men and women (ranging in experience from 2 days to 3 years in formation) spent the weekend learning about different prayers, discussing our experiences in small groups, practicing each prayer in private, and getting to know the groups and individuals represented on a personal level.

The workshop portion of the weekend, and by that I mean the organized activities, was a bit broad and lacked the depth that I was expecting (if I can be completely honest). The speaker was obviously experienced in each of these prayers, and had a lot to offer. The problem was that she tried to fit a lot of different types of prayers into a day and a half rather than focusing on just one prayer and giving it a lot of attention. Part of it is certainly the limitation of the group: because it is made up of a wide range of experience levels, and because each religious order has different expectations for their formation students, there needs to be a broader, one-size-fits-all atmosphere in order to include everyone.

This is not to say that I was disappointed in the experience; far from it! What was missing in the organized activities was more than made up in private conversations, fellowship at meals, new relationships, and my own personal broadening of “vocation.” In talking about our religious calls, our vocation processes, the struggles we were facing, and our visions for the future, I found myself taking part in the “catholic” aspect of our church: though unified in our call from God and mission to uphold the life of the Church, we went about expressing each of these in entirely different ways. I was fascinated beyond imagination to hear about the different spiritualities, how each group was coping with a changing world, the vision of the founder, and their day-to-day lives.

In hearing each of them speak, I was also more than reaffirmed of my own Franciscan spirituality, the order I am joining, the way we do things and the way we don’t do other things. There is certainly a reason why people join one group over another! As we go to these workshops throughout the year, I have no intention of switching groups or changing spiritualities; but I do hope that in building these relationships I may be able to enrich my faith with new ideas, as well as to enrich others’ with a Franciscan way of looking at something.

Given the title I chose for this post, I couldn’t close without saying a world about the retreat house. WOW! Just look at it. It’s enormous! It was built in 1907 by Redemptorist Congregation as a seminary for its aspiring priests. I’ve added my own pictures to the shutterfly page, and you can learn more about it’s history here. We’re going back in November, so look forward to pictures of the place surrounded by fall leaves!

Out and About

Feels great to be out of the house!

In case you were wondering, nine straight days of in-house workshops is not the norm for the postulant year (Nor is it the most thrilling thing in the world to be stuck in the same room for that long!) As they came to a close Tuesday, we begin to look ahead at the array of out-of-house activities coming our way in the coming days and weeks.

Yesterday began with a trip to the Office of the Diocese of Wilmington. This is much less important than it sounds. The building is only about a mile away, and we went there for an hour and a half safe environment seminar called “For the Sake of God’s Children.” Though it wasn’t the most interesting class I had ever taken, I was comforted by the ambitious steps the Church is taking to prevent all types of abuse. I would be surprised if there was a safer place in the country to send a child than the Catholic Church (all programs are based on the bishops’ 2002 charter).

With the rest of the day more or less free, we were able to stay out of the house by spending some time together at the community YMCA. One of the great things about this group of postulants is that all of us have a commitment to staying healthy and in shape, and we act as motivators and accountability partners to each other. If only some of the more “experienced” friars were a bit more health conscious…

Today after morning prayer we headed out to a picnic to meet the area Secular Franciscans (SFO). Due to the torrential rains and lightning, the “picnic” was moved indoors, but a great time nonetheless. It was refreshing to see such a vibrant expression of the life of St. Francis among these people, and to remind myself that no way of following him is any more “franciscan” than any other; whether one is married in the secular world or vowed in the religious, it’s still living a life influenced by St. Francis.

Which brings me to the next Franciscan community we’ll be visiting: after morning prayer tomorrow, we’ll be walking to a Capuchin Franciscan convent for mass with the sisters. As if entering a convent isn’t a big enough experience for the general public, it gets even more interesting with these sisters: the whole community of sisters is from Mexico, having immigrated here to live a monastic life in Delaware. As best we can, we plan on sharing mass with them on Friday mornings and Vespers on Sunday evenings, and I hope to learn a lot more about their unique journey. When I get to know them better I will be sure to post!

After mass it’s off to Philadelphia to meet other members of the province. Since we have friars in Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Camden, the “Lower Delaware community” likes to get together every few months for dinner and fellowship. Because the friars have such busy schedules, it’s nice to stop every once in a while and keep in touch with the larger community of brothers in the area.

When dinner is over, it’s off to our next, and final stop for the weekend: Mount Saint Alphonsus in Esopus, NY. Go ahead, click on the link. Is that not an incredible looking place?? Located just north of Pokeepsie, NY, this castle of a building used to be a high school and college seminary. With the declining numbers of seminarians, they’ve adapted the place for retreats and workshops over the years, and is a beautiful place to get away. Like everything we do as postulants, we’re not entirely sure what we’re doing at this workshop, but we know that there will be other young men and women in formation there as well, and that we’ll be talking about prayer. Besides the drive, I’m really looking forward to it. We’ll be back Sunday evening, and as if I even had to say it, look forward to a post and some pictures soon after that! Thanks for reading, and I really appreciate all of your comments and prayers!


Vatican II Workshop

2450 churchmen met for this council

As we said goodbye to Gary Maciag, OFM, and concluded our Proclaiming the Word workshop Friday, we were immediately greeted by Gabriel Scarfia, OFM, to begin yet another one on Saturday. Starting that night and ending this morning, the postulants squeezed in six highly intensive sessions with Gabe in an attempt to grasp the significance of the Second Vatican council within the scope of Church history and to understand its relevance today. For those of you that know anything about the council, this was no easy task.

What’s stuck with me this week was a question one of the friars asked rhetorically in between one of the sessions: “What would the world be like if we fully realized the vision of the council in our lives?” Wow. What a powerful and difficult question to answer! So it got me thinking…

A fully realized post-Vatican II world would be one where the laity acknowledges itself as (and is treated like) the centerpiece of the Christian experience, with just as much responsibility for upholding the life of the Church as the priests and bishops; a world where vast disparities of wealth, power, freedom, and education were as disgusting and unacceptable as abortions, and the Christian faithful did not rest while they existed; a world where the Truth of the Gospel was celebrated with open and sincere hearts no matter where it was found, especially in non-Catholic religions and belief systems; and a world where we realized that by it’s very nature, the Church was missionary (Jesus was sent by God), sacramental (by gathering, we both visibly represent, and effectively bring about, the power of the Holy Spirit), and catholic (universal to all people, of all lands, at all times). Radical? Yes. Consistent with the Tradition of the Church instituted by Jesus? Absolutely. Something that we can live up to? I hope so.

For most of you, I imagine, the Second Vatican council is not something that comes up very often in everyday conversation, and it may be a topic that you cannot articulate well, if at all. This, honestly, is a problem. If some of the things I mentioned about sound strange or intriguing, or if you just don’t believe me when I say they were spoken by the council, I strongly recommend that all of God’s faithful look deeply into the words of the council, either by looking at the most important original texts of Lumen Gentium and/or Gaudium et Spesor by one of the many summaries found online. These things are not meant to be read only by priests, bishops, and friars in training like me! Everyone with an open mind and heart for Christ is compelled to take part in this council’s work, and to be sent forth to fulfill its mission! That’s what I’m working on.

Day Trip: St. Francis Inn, Philadelphia

The Inn is a Eucharistic community

Continuing with our objective to see and understand the many ministries that Holy Name Province has to offer, the postulants found ourselves in Philadelphia Saturday in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the country. Located in Kennsington, the St. Francis Inn is a soup kitchen that feeds between 200-450 people a meal, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

The story goes that three friars got together with the ambition of forming an outreach church in the area. One of them decided to fully immerse himself into the culture of the community, spending two weeks as a homeless man on the street. It was through this experience that he realized that the last thing this community needed was another priest preaching at them from the comfort of the pulpit; what they really needed was to see the Gospel in action, and to have their own basic needs met. Thus, the Inn. (Right after being told this story, the storyteller added that it wasn’t entirely true, but that it conveys a good message about being open to the needs of the community. I’m not sure what about the story is true or false, but oh well).

Part of the revelation that came from living on the street for two weeks (which either did or didn’t happen in real life) was that the basic needs of food and shelter were not the only things lacking on the streets of Philadelphia: these men and women living in poverty were deprived of the dignity and respect due to all humans. One of the ways that this is done is by serving each guest restaurant style: after being shown to a table by the maitre d’, the guest is waited on by a server who will bring the food to them. In doing it this way (as opposed to cafeteria style), the guest is treated with importance, allowed to relax, and most importantly, served by another, a situation that is quite opposite to their normal experiences.

Another revolutionary aspect of the Inn is that all of their full time workers live in Kennsington. Unlike many other service places where people feed the poor then go home to the suburbs, the staff here is truly able to call their guests “neighbor.” It may not seem like a big deal, but this act of solidarity goes a long way in spreading the Gospel through action rather than word.

Which brings me to the foundation of community: the Eucharist. Each morning, the friars, sisters, lay women, and daily volunteers begin with mass. No matter how great the need is, how much work needs to done, how rushed the day is, they take time to stop, relax and be fed by God. From this spiritual and physical gift, they are then sent forth to feed the hungry, physically and spiritually. Without this initial source and focus the community could not sustain itself.

I hope that you’ll check out their website and consider them when you give to the Church in time, talent and treasure. They have no salaried workers, so they are in constant need of volunteers as well as money to provide for the modest needs of their on-site friars, sisters, and lay-women. They also run an urban center, thrift shop, and medical clinic, provide guests with a mailing address, legal support, occasional bill payments, and home delivery, as well as coordinating a year-long internship site for young adults. As long as there is a need in the area, the Franciscan community will be there to provide. As they say, “There’s always room at the Inn!”

More pictures here.

What Can’t I Live Without?

What things do we refuse to let go?

One of the things that I continue to discern on my Franciscan journey is the idea of poverty. When I look to scripture, Jesus is very clear about what it takes to follow him: “Sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor” (Lk 18:22, Mt 19:21, Mk 10:21). It’s no coincidence that this same story is found in each of the synoptic Gospels, nor is it a coincidence that Jesus talks about the poor more than any other subject. Which makes me wonder a few things: 1) Is the vow of poverty an extreme expression of faith in Christ by men and women in religious orders, or is it something to which ALL of his followers are called? 2) Do even men and women religious fall short of Jesus’ expectations when they own simple, practical things like books and cell phones? and 3) Does poverty have a universal standard of living or is it relational to the rest of the community?

Honestly, I have no concrete answers for any of these questions at the moment; I ask them simply to show what sorts of things I think about during the day, and what sorts of things I will be attempting to answer over the next few years. So far, here’s what I’ve come up with:

I was looking around my room the other day, wondering, “What can I live without?” I thought about some of my clothes, the Bowflex dumbbells, and a lot of, if not all of my books. I had no problem imagining life without them because I see them as gifts from God, borrowed and shared so to make my life easier or more pleasurable. If I ever find these things are not being used, I will not hesitate to share them with those with greater need. Good, right? In the case of the rich man talking to Jesus, giving up what he could live without was not the problem though: it was giving up what he found dearest to him, his wealth, that kept him from following Jesus. So I asked myself, “What can’t I live without?” Essentially, what could potentially get in my way of following Jesus? I realized that my Mac computer and my iPhone were items that I prized much higher than anything else, and found myself very reluctant to even imagine life without them.

In one sense, what I take from this passage is that there is a certain disposition we must have towards all that we own, always able to drop whatever we have for the sake of following Christ. When we find ourselves becoming too attached to a certain possession, we might want to consider letting go of it, at least temporarily, as a way to clear the way for following Jesus. In the case of the rich man, it wasn’t the fact that he was rich that was important, but rather that he valued his money more than Jesus. For me, if I want to keep my computer or my phone, I need to start approaching them like my other items: gifts from God that are meant to be borrowed and shared; used but not loved.

That being said, I think this interpretation alone can be a rationalization to ease the consciences of all of us that own more than we need by saying to ourselves, “Well if I were to see Jesus face-to-face today, I would give up my (unneeded possessions) in a heartbeat!” This sort of interpretation upholds the status quo, and doesn’t ask for any true change in us right now. It in effect waters down the message of the Gospel forgetting that this passage still has a literal message: those with ____ need to give to those without ____ in order to follow Jesus. It doesn’t matter how easily we could let go of some of our possessions if we don’t actually do it from time to time.

From this, I think we are all called to determine what we could live without and share it with those in need. Such is the essence of Christianity. Part of my discernment over the next few years will be determine what exactly I could live without, and then to do it. As I begin to go a bit farther and live a life of vowed poverty, I think I’ll need to ask myself a more difficult question: “What can’t I live without, and how am I going to find a way anyway?”