Tomorrow the brothers begin their ministries at the children's camp, Habitat for Humanity, and Via Christi, the nursing home. I am going to Via Christi on Thursdays and Fridays until July 13.
It is not the first time I have volunteered at a nursing home. For about eight months in 2002, I visited the residents at East Neck Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in West Babylon. There, I helped out with the recreational activities two evenings a week, sometimes three. Usually, I wheeled about fifteen to twenty willing residents to the recreation room for balloon volleyball, kiddie bowling, karaoke, or arts and crafts. I always felt a little shy and awkward around the women and men (they were mostly women), but they were always grateful for my help and my good-natured manner in their company.
Nine years later, when given the opportunity to volunteer at a nursing home in downtown Brooklyn as a Capuchin postulant, I passed. The death of my paternal grandmother, in February 2011, was still too close for me. First, the physical realities of disability and dying -- the sights, the odors -- would be too much for me to bear on a daily basis in ministry. I knew I would feel twice as clumsy and self-conscious as I did when I volunteered at East Neck. Second, I knew I would not be able to attend to the residents without seeing my Grandma and projecting my feelings about her onto them. My preferential option for Grandma -- the best and only elder in my world -- would cloud my perception of God's many beautiful aging children. For sure, I would not be able to see them in their uniqueness.
The trauma of my Grandma's decline, and the sadness and anxiety it caused her and all of her loved ones, including me, has been transformed into healing memory and hopeful story. I feel ready to meet the women and men who live at Via Christi Village in Hays.
This is our faith: that God has called us by name to serve one another in the name of Jesus Christ. This is our faith; this is our salvation; this is our freedom; and it is the hope we offer to the world. As Catholic men being formed into Capuchin friars, we rejoice in being named brothers.
This evening, during night prayer, our formators celebrated our emerging identity as brothers with a service of blessing, a commissioning for the ministries we begin on Thursday. They sacramentalized this moment by blessing and presenting laminated name tags, which we are to wear in our ministries. The name tags are a marker of our evolution into being Franciscan friars: my tag says "Brother Anthony."
With this blessing, the Capuchin provinces of North America have officially recognized their postulants' new status. As I type this, I am wearing the name tag on my Capuchin sweatshirt.
The following is the order for the blessing and presentation of the brothers' name tags:
Lord, make me an ambassador of your peace.
Where there is hatred, help me foster love.
Where there is injury, help me bring pardon.
Where there is doubt, help me foster faith.
Where there is despair, help me bring hope.
Where there is darkness, help me shed light.
Where there is sadness, help me bring joy.
O Divine Master, help me remember that it is far better for me to console rather than be consoled; to understand rather than be understood; to love rather than be loved. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
May the Lord bless your eyes so that you see the goodness and uniqueness of God in every person you meet;
May the Lord bless your ears so that you may listen and remain open to the diversity of needs you encounter;
May the Lord bless your lips so that you may speak the truth honestly, openly, and powerfully in all you do;
And may the Lord bless your hands that they may serve as an extension of Christ's as you reach out in compassionate service for the good of the Kingdom.
The formators bless the name tags. They call forward each postulant by name, addressing each one as "Brother." They present each postulant his name tag and embrace him. Afterward the presider resumes:
Let us pray.
God of all life,
we ask you to bless our brothers
whom you have called forth to serve.
Guide and sustain them so their ministry will bring forth
all of the richness and diversity you have bestowed upon our provinces.
Empower them to be prophetic voices of today.
Inspire all they do so their actions reflect your purpose and divine will.
We ask this blessing upon each of them
through Christ, our risen Lord. Amen.