“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.

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!