A Day Off… kind of

I didn't even have to fake being sick!

As I said in Far From Routine, we have a “plan” for each week; whether or not we stick to it is a completely different story. Part of this plan is that Saturdays and Sundays are left as free as possible, requiring us to attend mass, prayer, and meals, but allowing us the freedom to do whatever we need to relax and recharge. Since we’ve been either traveling or in workshops each weekend since we arrived, today became “kind of” one of those free days. We started with prayer and mass this morning, but don’t have any responsibilities until evening prayer, dinner, and a movie about Francis later tonight.

Which leaves me with a million dollar question: what should I do with my day “off”? At the risk of scheduling my whole day with work, I’d like to take advantage of the rare freedom to get some things done that I’ve been putting off.

As if I were still in school, there is a tower of reading (both personal and assigned) that I would like to catch up on. This includes: Where is God by Jon Sobrino, a reflection on the earthquake that hit El Salvador in 2001 and an incredible work in theodicy; Francis of Assisi- The Saint- Volume 1, a compilation of the early documents written by or about Francis, including the famous biography by Thomas of Celano; Lumen Gentium and Gaudium et Spes, two of the most critical documents that came out of the Second Vatican Council, and documents that I’ve skimmed before but would like to read in full; and always, The New American Bible, something that I would like to make time for every day.

Remembering that I’m not still in school, I will not, however, be spending the whole day catching up on reading, no matter how high the stack gets. I’ve just heard from one of the postulants that we’ve finally found the key to the giant bell tower at our church, and we will be exploring that later. I will of course be bringing my camera, and hopefully there’s a great view from the city worth posting! I’d also like to do a bit of exploring of the city, possibly even having lunch downtown somewhere. Wilmington is small, and despite what our neighborhood looks like, the downtown is kind of nice.

At some point during the day I will have to do a bit of real work, as indicated in the “kind of” part of the title. Each of us has a set of chores that need to be completed each week, and given our busy schedules, there’s not a whole lot of time to do them except on our day off. I’m in charge of the second floor hallway, the recreation room and bathroom, and the staircases. It’ll be a bit of work, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to (or feel like) finishing it all today, but they’ll get done. I think it’s an important part of community for each of us to share a significant portion of the work, no matter how new or old, qualified or unqualified.

Last but certainly not least, I would like to set aside part of my day for intentional prayer and reflection. Even in religious community, it can be easy to check prayer off the list each day (or to even skip it) and move on quickly to the next thing. There are a list of topics that I have been paying particularly close attention to, and I would like some more time to pray about them. Check back later tonight to see which one I chose to focus on!

And with that, it’s time to get off the computer and start enjoying my day! Have a great day and thanks for reading!

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.