Sunday, September 25, 2011

A Little Holiday

Saturday is a free day for the postulants, most of the time. On this day we have no common prayer, no instruction, and no ministry.

For this Saturday, being three days before my birthday, I decided to visit my family for the day in Babylon, Long Island. We had a pleasant afternoon and evening together. My brother and I took a walk around Argyle Lake in Babylon Village. During the day the two of us took in the Mets doubleheader (and a rare win-win!) on the television. With my mother and brother, we prepared dinner together. Later, my sister arrived from East Northport. With the nuclear family reunited -- mother, father, sister, brother -- we had a good meal and a quiet but cheerful birthday celebration with cake and candles. I brought some zeppole from the previous night's St. Pio festival at St. John the Baptist Church in Manhattan to add to the merriment.

The day went so quickly, and I forgot myself in cheerful enjoyment of the company of my family. It was all over too soon. I wish we had more time. We will, come Thanksgiving, when the postulants get a few days off; and again at Christmas, when we get the last ten days of the year for ourselves.

In a way, it was odd being with my family in Babylon so soon after beginning postulancy. For one thing, it would have been more appropriate to reunite at Thanksgiving, after a longer period in formation could show for my folks a more pronounced transformation in me. For another thing, just being together at all was like a dream scene. Once upon a time, it would have been unthinkable for any person entering religious life to see their relations, much less at will. It used to be that when you entered the cloister (if you became a monastic) or the seminary or friary (if you became a brother), that was that. You did not speak to or visit your family but for exceptional circumstances. And the family would not be able to visit you. With the commencement of formation you severed your ties with the world of your upbringing in a radical way.

This, of course, is no longer the case. The Capuchins highly value the family ties of their brothers and actively encourage the friars to see to the well-being of their blood relationships, within the parameters of their vows. By being fully present to their relations in the habit of their religious life, the friars can bring their unique form of witness to the Gospel back to their families, and thus build the family of God that encompasses yet supersedes all blood ties.

And though I have been in formation for only five weeks and speak regularly to my folks, their curiosity about my activities was heightened just by my presence among them. It was a precious opportunity to share more deeply with them about how I am, what I do, and how I feel about what I do. Although we did not say grace at our meal (none was requested, none was offered), and we did not pray together in any way formal or informal, I believe I was able to share my faith with them in our conversation and way of being together. We exchanged peace. We showed compassion. We were loving and kind toward one another. We spoke no ill words. In our little way, we honored the God whose Holy Spirit yearns to make a home in our bodily temples. We made of my birthday a little holiday -- a holy day -- and it was good.

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