Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On the Go

Yesterday the friars had the postulants on the move.

After morning meditation and prayer, we traveled to Blessed Sacrament Parish for Eucharist with the people of the parish. We do this so as to keep the public character of worship.

Then the postulants went to White Plains to the provincialate, the headquarters for the Capuchins of New York and New England. This is where the provincial minister and the vicar provincial maintain their offices, and it is where the provincial council and other standing councils conduct business. We met the brothers who balance the books and maintain the archives, as well as the brothers who reside at the adjoining friary. But our main purpose was to meet the registered nurse who is our personal health care coordinator, as well as our health insurance administrator and medical claims manager. Yes, the friars have health care, just like ordinary people. Unlike ordinary people, the friars share their confidential medical records with the health care coordinator and with the provincial minister and vicar provincial. And, instead of naming family, usually they designate fellow friars to be their health proxies.

If only I had a camera! I would show you the Capuchin archives. It is remarkable what has been preserved, and how much history there is. The Capuchin Franciscans have been doing mission in the United States for over 150 years. The province of New York and New England maintains the records of hundreds and hundreds of friars from entry into the order until death. There are rare books of theology dating to the 18th century and earlier, including a manuscript from the 1500s. Bound correspondence from friars in the missions. Dissertations. Newsletters and bulletins. Logs to chronicle the comings and goings of brothers at all the fraternities. Blueprints for all the Capuchins' properties. Personal effects of select friars. A computerized photo archive. The archives were in some disarray because Hurricane Irene caused two inches of water to seep into the basement, but it appeared that nothing was ruined. And no artifacts, documents, or records ever been thrown away. My mind reeled as I felt the spirit of fraternity, both the earthly and celestial, leaning on me in a palpable way.

Following lunch with the staff and friars, we returned to Brooklyn and to Blessed Sacrament, which is the parish ministry site. One of the four postulants, or maybe more than one, will work with the pastor in general stewardship through an assortment of tasks.

For instance, the postulant can do catechesis, or religious instruction. He can help with the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults. It is a one-year program for becoming a Catholic during which men and women prepare to receive the sacraments of baptism, confirmation, and communion. He can also work on faith formation with the youth in the parochial school across the street. Then there are ministries of visitation. The postulant can see the sick and homebound and pray with them. He can also make visits to poor parishioners with the St. Vincent de Paul Society. This group interviews indigent church members at their homes and helps to pay their bills. The postulant may also organize the Tuesday food pantry, which is a lot of heavy lifting, and train the altar servers. And when the parish office manager is besieged with calls and lonely, needy people at the doorstep, it's time for the postulant to step up! And I've mentioned only a third of what needs attention.

In the evening we traveled to Douglaston in Queens to the Immaculate Conception Center, where seminarians preparing for ordination to priesthood in the Diocese of Brooklyn are studying. Here we had dinner and participated in a safe environment training that is mandatory for all priests, religious, and pastoral ministers.

Last week I slept fitfully and lightly, in part because I always need some time to adjust to sleeping in a new home, but mostly because my body refuses to adapt to the demands of early rising! But last night after 16 hours on the go, it was easy to rest. May all my days be so vigorous and my nights so refreshing.


Today the itinerary has been less varied. We had morning prayer and Eucharist in the friary chapel, then a brief house meeting to make plans for the official welcoming reception of the postulants on Monday. About 40 brothers will come to Brooklyn for worship, followed by a barbecue. Well, it is Labor Day.

Late in the morning the friars and postulants did their house chores. Wednesdays are reserved for all the general housekeeping tasks. For the next few months, I will be scouring the second floor bathroom sinks and toilets, cleaning the showers, and brooming and mopping the floors.

This afternoon we visited the last two of the four ministry sites:

First, we toured Salve Regina School, which is next door to the friary. It used to be St. Michael School, enrolling about 300 students from ages 3 to 13 (nursery, preschool, kindergarten to eighth grade). The Diocese of Brooklyn has merged St. Michael with St. Rita and St. Sylvester, two neighboring parochial schools, and now there will be at least 620 students, maybe 700, at the newly christened Salve Regina School. There will be growing pains as the students, faculty, and staff make the merger work, and plenty of opportunity for a postulant to get involved in highly productive ways. Over the years the postulant has done faith formation with various grades and also provided supervision for the afterschool program.

Second, we traveled to Neighbors Together, a community soup kitchen. There, the postulant will be working in the dinner program, preparing to serve hundreds of guests every evening. But there is the opportunity to do much more than this, for Neighbors Together is much more than a soup kitchen. It provides social services and engages in advocacy for its members. I say "members" because every person who comes for a meal (this place serves lunch and dinner) is given a membership card and is encouraged to take advantage of clinics for legal aid, tax preparation, housing, and so on. Neighbors Together is a community organization, and it mobilizes its members and leaders around antipoverty campaigns to promote a living wage, stop evictions, and promote safe and stable housing. There are many unscrupulous landlords who take advantage of the homeless and recovering addicts through the operation of "three-quarters housing." (Think of halfway houses, but a step closer to self-sufficiency. Many of these houses, subsidized by the government, are unregulated, overpriced, overcrowded, and drug-riddled.) Perhaps a place such as this could find a use for a former community organizer?


Brothers in initial formation do not receive their habit, the brown robe of the Franciscans, until they enter the novitiate. While the robing ceremony is still a year away, I have been shirted! The postulant directors gave each postulant a pair of brown polo shirts and magnetized name tags to wear at our ministry sites and fraternal ceremonies. This genesis of the gift was past postulants' desire to be somehow distinguished from candidates in discernment and fellow colleagues in ministry, lay and clerical. It's funny, but appropriate, that we look like busboys or servers from Applebee's, because after all, we have been called to a life of humble service!

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