Sunday, November 20, 2011

Points of Light

We are back in Brooklyn after two nights and two days away in upstate New York along the scenic Hudson River with the Capuchins and the candidates. God bless the Dominican Sisters of Sparkill for their hospitality to the brothers.

Though we were met with chilly weather, the air was clear and the stars were bright on Friday. And they tell me that there was a meteor shower this weekend. Indeed, we felt as if a thousand million points of light were stitching the sky, and a million more points were streaking as if to chart our course.

Three points of light I would like to share with you:

1. The setting for our weekend, St. Joseph Villa in Saugerties, was most fitting for the purposes of our gathering. We were being invited, in the words of the Capuchin vocation director, to "come away and rest for a while with the Lord of love." The way to Jesus for us as Capuchins goes through Francis. The candidates are invited firstly to "come and see" the friars and their way of life and, secondly, be challenged to discern whether they recognize, in our imaging of Francis, the face of Jesus. Meeting the brothers and observing their manner of work and prayer usually makes for a strenuous itinerary. There is actually little time during these weekends to reflect upon the meaning of your encounters. The assimilation happens later. And from the signs given during these weekends, the finding of a direction happens much later. There is nothing wrong with this. However, many candidates have felt they were missing the contemplative element of our fraternities. Accordingly, the candidates have challenged the friars and brothers in formation to share the spirituality of the Capuchin order in a setting more contemplative than ministerial. The place we chose for this discernment weekend was the right space for fulfilling the desires of the candidates and friars. The "come and see" was at the same time a retreat.

2. The presenter for the discernment weekend, Fr. James Gavin, spoke about how God in Christ spoke to Francis through the Scriptures then, and how God so speaks to us today. God bless Brother Jim -- his presentations were not mere presentations. They were sustained praises of the divine, acting through the Word of God. From the moment he opened his lips to the end when he said his final Amen, he was preaching and teaching. His speech was sacred, always and at all times, even during ordinary meals. From his homilies at daily Mass to the lectures in the conference room, there was no perceptible difference in his oratory. Everything he spoke sounded like the Scriptures, even if he was quoting something other than the Scriptures. And he didn't just speak about the Scriptures -- he spoke the Scriptures. He spoke the Scriptures as if he had no time to lose -- as if God was about to cut him down. He spoke the Scriptures as if our lives depended on it. He spoke like a copper kettle coming to boil. If only all pastors had a fifth of the enthusiasm for preaching the Word of God. Brother Jim said the high point of the weekend was the celebration of the liturgy on Saturday morning. When liturgy was over, the brothers ascended to the plateau; the rest of the weekend would be a graceful downhill slope. This may be true, but I say the liturgy never stopped. For as long as Brother Jim was speaking, our worship went on.

3. Brother Jim is not the only one who spoke the Word of God to me. I felt God's words speaking in the joyful fellowship of our friars and in a meditative walk along a river trail. At the mid-point of my labyrinthine walk, I paused at the bend of a brook falling over a small height of rocks, babbling words of peace and welcome. There were two log benches under a post and lintel of the same timbers. There I sat with the river behind and below me and the living water splashing down before me. I do not remember my baptism, but whenever I walk along waters running loudly, I feel the power of the sacrament coursing within like the blood that runs in my veins. And the message I heard from God's silent Spirit was clear. Keep going. Keep running. Keep flowing. The current of the baptismal waters is carrying you where you will go. Keep going, that you may speak and live and deliver the divine praises with your brothers, as a brother, and for all your brothers and sisters in the world. This is the message I heard, and I hope the candidates who came away with us to see the Lord of love heard something like it, too.

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