The postulants and I returned a few hours ago to Brooklyn and St. Michael Friary from the retreat center of Good Shepherd Parish in Manhattan, where we met candidates for the Capuchin religious life. We also celebrated the profession of perpetual vows by three of the brothers, on Saturday at Sacred Heart Parish in Yonkers. It was a full weekend, and for the last five hours I have been gradually emptying myself of the good things that filled my soul. Those soul-gifts are being slowly unwrapped. Now my spirit vessel is ready to be filled again in the week to come. And I hope to share fully with others the gifts I have received.
On many a previous discernment weekend, I would finish feeling tired. It's a lot of work socializing with so many candidates, friars, and their friends and colleagues. But that was when I was on the outside looking in, considering the life and seeking to integrate, seeking to belong. Now, I am on the inside looking out. My role this weekend was different, as I was helping candidates to feel welcome. Somehow, doing that did not drain me. This time, I returned with a surplus of energy. Seriously: I jogged five miles on the house treadmill to work it off.
Our provincial vicar, Fr. Michael Marigliano, is a gifted speaker: part teacher, part preacher. Over four hours of presentations he told a vivid story of the Capuchin Franciscan vowed life. It is the story of a mad band of brothers who, like Jesus and Francis, challenge the peoples of the world to face the awesome forces of power, money, and sex in life-giving, loving ways that reveal the reign of God. You came away from his lectures knowing in your heart what a beautiful and dramatic and exceptional thing it is to live the vowed life in common with a community of fellow religious. I will leave you with only a few tidbits from his talks:
1. "All Christians are professedly religious by virtue of the sacrament of baptism." All who are baptized into the body of Christ make a vow to reject the works of evil and to live according to the Gospel that Jesus proclaimed and enacted in his person. The Capuchin vows to obedience, poverty, and celibacy provide a "unique witness" to the reign of God that all Christians promise to serve by their word and example.
2. The traditional vows of religious life "can not and do not replace or supersede the common vowed life of all Christians." All Christians, by virtue of the baptismal vow, affirm that God is present and active in the world. It is every Christian's responsibility to attest to this good news, or Gospel. The vows of religious life "assist this gospel responsibility by drawing dramatic attention to the dynamics of power, sex, and money as these serve to shape the life of the world."
3. Capuchins' vow to "live in obedience, without property, and in chastity" is for the sole purpose of following the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The religious vows serve the baptismal vow.
4. The Franciscan movement constituted a radical response to the forces of power, sex, and money that were driving 13th century Europe into social and spiritual ruin. The rise of a money-based, mercantile economy; the emergence of violent city-states; the concentration of wealth in the Church, nobility, and empire; and the abandonment of the vast numbers of poor, sick, and landless peasantry speak to the depth of disease. Into this world Francis was born and lived a life of conversion. The renewal he effected "gives a specific spirit and orientation to the three traditional vows of religious life." As Brother Michael put it,
In a time of greed and acquisition -- brothers and sisters of simplicity
A time of endless war and violence -- brothers and sisters of peace
A time of self-aggrandizement -- brothers and sisters of humility
5. The Capuchin vowed life must be purposed for living the Gospel life in the 21st Century. The religious vows reflect the values of fraternity, minority, conversion, reconciliation, and service. These values must be harnessed to transform a world throttled by religious and ethnic violence; global economic inequalities and the abominations of poverty; planetary ecological crisis; and never-ending war and militarism.
And, for now, some final words from Brother Michael about the three vows :
1. Poverty (Money): "Both communally and individually as friars minor, we endeavor to bring the ambiguity of wealth and money into clear view, as a witness to the universal human challenge to act justly in our manner of sharing the resources of creation."
2. Obedience (Power): "At the core of this vow ... lies the challenge of deep listening -- this is the meaning of the term obedere. Our obedience is not akin to that of military organizations, corporate structures, nor even parental authority....As friars minor, we are committed to challenging any and all exercise of power that bullies, coerces, threatens, and destroys."
3. Chastity (Sex): "By our celibate way of life, we witness to the truth that our sexuality is a larger force for good than the gift of genital sex, that the erotic does not exhaust the meaning and power of love, and that the ability to be generative extends to the full range of our affective life."
Thank you, Brother Michael, for giving the candidates and postulants and friars so many good things to ponder. Now the postulants and I are looking forward to a week of lessons on the charisms of the Capuchin life from Fr. Jack Rathschmidt.