Monday, August 18, 2014

More Than the Scraps

Life feels like it is moving very fast since concluding a five-day private retreat at Glastonbury Abbey, the Benedictine monastery in Hingham, Mass. Whatever hill I was on, I'm coming down a slope getting steeper further in the descent! Whoa, gravity! I pray not to lose the good habits of meditation and prayer I assumed during my stay. Now, more than ever, if I want to be in the living present, unchained from energy-wasting thoughts of the past and the future, freed from illusory imaginings, let me breathe slowly, let me speak slowly, let me sing in a harmony of word and soul. The busier I become, the more prayerful I must be, the more I must be a pray-er.

Defying gravity is one thing. Denying self-absorption is another. The God who summoned me from the "beyond" amid the spacious serenity of the abbey also speaks from the urgency of the bodies pressing their cries to my ears. Will I let myself be moved by their need? Like Jesus, encountered by the Canaanite woman, will I let myself be moved by their faith, however their belief may describe it? "... even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters." If a "lowly" creature like a dog is given life by such modest means, means of which it cannot be deprived, how much more worthy is the human person to receive her life, and with gifts more abundant? And it takes a woman to make it plain! She says this not to rebuke Jesus but because she loves Jesus and honors the gracious generosity of God that he animates. Her faith in who God is summons the very gratuity God is, not by way of command but by way of praise, and in that very moment what is, is made real. 

Indeed, God created no dogs among the peoples, for all are human, and all are the beloved children of God. The Gospel of Christ shows me there are only peoples, all of whom can be the people of God as shown by their faith, which is shown by their love.  

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Peace be with you, and all good things, too. Greetings again, sisters and brothers, friends of God, friends of Jesus, and to anyone who chances across this blog or who has been waiting much too long for me to revive it.

I halted this public diary last September when school and ministry took up the greater part of my available writing time. I did not stop writing; my energies were merely diverted into other forms of writing that were necessary. I thought to publish here parts of the papers I completed for Boston College School of Theology and Ministry, or the addresses, exhortations, and prayers I prepared for the sanctuary and the street with Massachusetts Interfaith Worker Justice. None of these things surfaced here, mainly because I felt they did not pertain directly to the theme of this blog, which is about what it's like to be formed into a member of a religious order in the Catholic Church. But this reason feels more like a rationalization for laziness now. I was not always writing papers or preachments. I simply did not make the time for the public diary as a spiritual discipline.

Then in June, I started journaling again, in a notebook, in Central America. I wrote every day of the six and a half weeks I stayed in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Since my return I have continued to write in the notebook. What I put in there was much more raw, much more private -- what in formation we would refer to as internal forum, things we would share only with trusted friars or a spiritual director or a confessor. Mainly it's a dialogue with God alone.

But the exercise has motivated me to revive the public diary, or at least make an honest-to-goodness attempt at an external-forum account of my formation process. Because I don't want this treasure I have found to stay buried in the ground. I want the light that I have found to shine for others. I've let one whole year of transformation go off the record. But I still have at least two more years until I make solemn vows with the Capuchin Franciscan friars. Two more years to be chronicled, then, and I still seek to share my joys and concerns with friends beyond my immediate community in Boston. Perhaps a daily post is too ambitious, but I would like to offer something of a regular update. A story with continuity.

To begin again, I offer a reflection that was originally posted on the website for our province, the Province of Saint Mary (the Capuchin friars of New York and New England). It is a good summary of where I found myself at the end of the first year of post-novitiate formation this spring. Thanks for waiting, and thanks for reading.


Almost three years into initial formation, and nearly one year into simple vows, being a friar feels like who I am. It does not feel like a trial engagement. This is a way of life that, day by day, feels more and more like it is for life. 

It would seem ordinary, even, if not for the unique encounters that come continually. The people I meet, or, rather, the people who meet me, with their tongues loosened and eyes widened as they regard a man in a quaint brown tunic and hood, never let me forget it. It is not ordinary to let go of everything, to renounce sexual relations, and to entrust your will to others, for the sake of God in the name of the one person who wagered that God's way will win out in the end. People react strongly, and sometimes strangely, to friars because they still believe that we do live what we believe. This gives them hope and, dare I say it, faith. 

This first year in simple vows was about living this life like I mean it. First, it was to show myself that I could do it, that it could be lived the way it is supposed to be lived, in this time and place, Boston in the year 2014. Second, it was to show a watching world what God makes some of us do with the longing we feel.

Every day, then, in the public arena was a little triumph for the God of Jesus Christ, insofar as being seen by others as a follower of Jesus made them aware of the possibility that they were being seen by Jesus' God. What others were attracted to was not Brother Anthony, by any means! Rather, I hope, it was the image of Christ coming into focus in me. 

I have faith in the power of God to use disciples, even poor ones like me, as icons. That is, others may become aware of God's presence when they meet a sincere believer. When a person meets a disciple and takes a good look at him or her, God is able to peer at the onlooker through what the onlooker sees in the disciple, not because of the disciple's goodness or holiness, but because of the disciple's willingness to become transparent so God can shine through.

This is why it is so important for me to discover, day by day in post-novitiate, how to be a herald of Christ and be a better icon of Christ for others in our distinctly Capuchin Franciscan manner. How would a child of Francis of Assisi conduct himself on the subway, on the street, meeting a person who has no home, no money, and no food? How does a Franciscan attend a demonstration against social injustice or other acts of public protest? How does a Capuchin friar do community organizing? How does he participate in graduate school theology seminars? I do not ask "What would Jesus do?" or "What would Francis do?" Instead, I ask how Jesus would be Jesus or Francis would be Francis here, today, in this time and place. We are in the incarnation business at the post-novitiate! We want to show the world how God is still taking on flesh in the mystical body of Christ spreading its members everywhere. I have tried to make people look at me in such a way as to leave them a little less doubtful that God is real, God is here, and God is what we hope God is -- love, mercy, peace, and justice. And, upon finding that they have been seen more clearly than they have seen, they begin to hope (or renew a fraying hope) that they, too, may become what God is.

For this lifetime opportunity to open wider the space in our world for God to shine through, this lesser brother is filled with gratitude.