It’s Off to Work We Go

Father Ron took this picture of us yesterday

Yesterday our lives as postulants got busy. After a month of a sort of “grace period, (but of course, all periods with the friars are graced…) we were let loose from the house, sent forth into the world to minister. Three days a week, Edgardo will meet with the Legion of Mary where he will be visiting the sick and bringing communion to the housebound parishioners; Ramon and Sergio will drive up to Philadelphia to work at the St. Francis Inn where they will be serving the poor directly; and Dennis and I will be going to a nursing home in Newark to visit the sick and elderly.

Unlike most nursing homes, Jeanne Jugan Residence is a warm, inviting place where almost all of its residents are happy to be there, and there is a waiting list of a few years to be admitted. Run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, a religious order of women devoted to the sick and elderly, this home offers a dignity and respect to each of its residents that I have never seen before: there are two full-time entertainment coordinators that run games and events every day, the residents are visited on a daily basis by the sisters, the food is honestly very good, and the facilities feel more like a big comfortable home than a drafty hospital. The sisters that run the home actually take a forth vow (along with poverty, chastity, and obedience) of hospitality, vowing to never let anyone feel unwelcome or lonely, caring for those especially on their deathbed. Besides serving those who can no longer serve themselves, the sisters have a whole wing of the building set aside as apartments for more active and independent people, free to come and go as they please.

All in all, pretty boring job right? Listen to old folks ramble on about the “good ol’ days” and about how “kids these days” are ruining society, right? Yesterday, I played a card game called Tri-Virsity with three sassy women that had me on my toes and laughing the whole time (who also beat me), got a chance to go to mass, ate ribs with the residents living in the apartments, played host to a number of game shows such as “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” then rounded out the day by getting my butt kicked in Wii bowling by someone three times my age (seriously, I bowled a 223 and this old lady beat me by more than 20 pins!)

Because there’s such a range in activity levels, I’m excited to run a bible study for some, but also be a pair of ears for the lonely ones who never get visitors; play competitive card games, but also push someone’s wheelchair outside so they can get fresh air; listen to some tell me about how I’m “exactly like my grandson” or “perfect for my granddaughter” but also talk without response to others so they know someone’s with them.

For Dennis and I, work looks a bit more like leisure: we play games, we sit and talk, and we enjoy a meal together. But in the end, even though it may not be very “difficult” to do what we’re doing, does it make it any less significant for the person to which we’re ministering? If we want to uphold the dignity of all human life and foster the authentic development of all human life, I think it’s equally as important to play Wii with a lonely old woman as it is to give bread to a hungry young man. Don’t you? When I look at it this way, and realize that God needs help in many different ways, it’s pretty easy to just let go, take a vow of obedience, and minister wherever it is I’m told to go… even if that place is a nursing home.

Español con Capuchinas

(It means

As some of you may know, my spanish is pretty abysmal. I took the required three courses while at Furman, and passed with an A-, B, and C respectively (but not all that respectably). As if it wasn’t poor enough “in my prime,” it’s been more than a year since I’ve tried to speak it. So… yeah… I don’t speak Spanish.

That’s all about to change! Our province believes that it is very important that all of it’s members have a basic understanding of the language and be able to at least communicate on the lowest level with the Hispanics we serve. Throughout our formation, we will be encouraged to “perfect” our speaking ability through classes, leading up to a trip to Bolivia in a few years. But before that happens, there is a lot to be learned, which brings me to tonight: our first class. The original plan was to enroll in a community college course and to learn the language very formally; that’s what they’ve done in years past, and it has worked out okay. But with the larger group this year, the large difference in experience levels, and the possibility of missing classes due to travel, there is a new plan: class with the Mexican sisters down the street.

Tonight was the first try at the new experiment. The four non-native speakers spent an hour and a half sitting around a kitchen table casually trying to communicate with Sister Delores and one another, fumbling over words and, I’m sure, saying things we didn’t mean to say. Luckily for us, Sister Delores is a very understanding and funny woman, and was patient with each of us, using a mix of English and Spanish to get through the conversation. All in all, it was actually a really fun time and I think it was a great environment to learn. I look forward to meeting with her each week, and God willing, becoming a bit more proficient in the language. (Well, maybe God can’t do everything…)

Sound Familiar?

Can you picture a friend in this life?

At this point, it’s been 20 posts since I started blogging, and so far I’ve shared my story of being called to faith, introduced a few topics that I’m discerning, given some detail to the daily life of a postulant, and given a brief look to the future. All things considered, even without knowing me personally, those of you who have read my blog up until this point have a basic understanding of who I am and what my calling is.

Which leads me to a question, and a break from my normal style of post: do the things I share about myself and my vocation sound familiar to any of you? Is there someone that you know that thinks about the same things, wants to make a difference in the world, and maybe even looks good in brown? The reason I ask is because I find this life to be the most joyous and fulfilling option out there, and I want to share it with everyone! It’s amazing to think that there are others, like me, that would have never even considered it without the suggestion or support from a friend, and yet are tailor-made by God for such a giving and joyous life. If that’s the case for someone you know, PLEASE TELL THEM! I am so glad that God worked through others to help me get to where I am, and I know so many others that think the same.

I’d be ecstatic if you went out on a limb and forwarded this blog to potential guys, even if you think they wouldn’t be interested. (I listened to “you’d make a great friar” for more than a year before I actually heard it for the first time! Some of us are more stubborn than others…) Though I started this to keep in touch with friends and family, I realized pretty early that it could be an aid for those discerning, for those who my have questions, and for those who had never really been introduced to the friars to get a glimpse of the life; it’s certainly something that I looked for in my process. Who knows! You may be the person they look back to and thank for leading them to such an incredible life!

If you think something a bit more professional or “official” would work better, by all means, check out what the province has to offer. Fr. Brian Smail, the vocations director, is really on top of using all sorts of mediums to attract young men, and it’s no surprise that there is so much interest over the past few years. There is a vocation’s blog, a Facebook page, a Twitter account, Podcasts made by Br. Dan Horan, youtube videos, and of course, the main information website. Check them out and see what you think!

I hope that you’ll think deeply about aiding in the vocational calling of both men and women around you, and won’t be afraid to speak up when you meet a great candidate. I know it’s a bit different than my normal posts, and I thank those who read anyway, but I just feel so passionately about this decision that I want everyone to know that it’s an option. Thanks for humoring me!

As a final note, if you’d like to receive an email notifying you whenever I post, you can sign up for a subscription on the right side of the screen. All you need is an email address.

“Franciscan” Cinema

As we begin to investigate the plethora of material about Francis in order to better know and follow him, we begin this week with cinema: Brother Sun Sister Moon, Francesco, and Into the Wild. All of the movies share a “franciscan” spirit, but differ greatly in style and content.

I’m sorry to all of you that grew up in the 1960s and 70s, but this movie was awful. Directed by Franco Zeffirelli (the same guy who did Romeo and Juliet), everything about this movie reflects the hippie culture in which it was made. Focusing almost exclusively on Francis’ connection with nature, the movie is filled with scenes of him running through flowery fields, smiling and singing to animals, and carelessly and aimlessly frolicking through life like someone on psychedelic drugs. I found him to be very socially awkward and out of touch, two things that Francis very much was not.

Undoubtedly aware of the frilly, hippie-like depictions of Francis that are very common, Francesco attempted to place Francis, in all of his raw humanity, accurately into the 13th century world. Using fairly graphic images, it follows him through his experience of pride and indulgence in his youth, barbaric tragedies while he was at war, and real struggles with pain, lust, confusion, and ridicule after his conversion. There is a relatable humanity in his experience, and a realism in his conversion. Poverty appears to be the most emphasized aspect of this movie, but it does an adequate job of showing the development of brotherhood (even showing the disorganization and mutiny that ensued, showing the real human problems that he faced).

The last movie we watched was not about Francis per se, but dealt with a number of issues that Francis did in his early life. Into the Wild is a movie about a college graduate that feels alienated by his upper middle class family, confined by society’s definitions of “free,” and “happy,” and in search of a life with deeper meaning than money can buy. Without telling his parents, he gives away his money, burns his social security card, and sets out to live in complete isolation from all forms of society, finding life outside of society to be the height of existence (in a nonconformist and escapism sort of way). As a rugged individual too guarded for intimacy, he begins to shape the lives of those he encounters, but refuses to see any one of them as more than utilitarian in his own life. It’s only at the very end of his journey that he realizes, “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Each movie had a quality to it that I found very endearing, while also having some major flaws. From what I read about Francis and what drew me to this life, was that his conversion was motivated by love of his brother and sister, seeking to be a humble servant to all as Jesus did. Though he expressed this by regaining touch with God’s creation, lowering himself in status and power, and leaving his old self behind, he did not find any one of these things to be an end in themselves. Some aspects of the movies captured his humanity quite well, depicting him as an ENFP (or at least that’s how I see him); other aspects romanticized him a bit too much, stripping him of any flaw or human quality. I think the latter is a great detriment to his life. Ultimately, each captures a unique aspect of the great man that I find so inspiring and hope to be worthy of following some day.