Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Spirituality of Little Brothers

What words come to mind when you think of Franciscan spirituality? These are a few of mine:


At the urging of Fr. Bill Hugo, the brothers' verbal vapors coalesced into a word cloud of their own in class on Monday. Our group emphasized poverty, simplicity, and detachment. It also focused in on the Eucharist. Brother Bill thought these aspects were notable, as were our highlights of social justice. He also found it noteworthy that we did not emphasis obedience, Jesus Christ, or Mary, as Capuchins of generations past would have done. Historically, Franciscans' spirituality has been Christ-centered and focused on poverty and obedience.

After examining our spiritual keywords and our religious ancestors' values, Brother Bill offered fraternity -- or, to be more inclusive, sister-brotherhood -- as the key that unlocks the spirituality of Francis of Assisi and his descendants. Just look at the official name of our religious community, he said: it is Order of Friars Minor. "Friars Minor" means "little brothers." The very title of our religious community points to the value of relationship. We are not named for our founder, as the Benedictine monastics are (Order of St. Benedict); or for a function, like the Order of Preachers, or Dominicans, are; or for a devotion or virtue, like the Sisters of Mercy or Sisters of St. Joseph are. We are the order of little brothers. We're not "poor minors," as Francis called the group in its earliest days; he made the decisive change to "friars minor" because poverty, as significant as it was in his revolutionary way of life, was only the means to the end of fraternity.

Why fraternity; why sister-brotherhood? Why is relationship the key? For Francis, the metaphor mattered. In a world governed by political, social, and economic hierarchy, Francis found salvation by jumping off the step of the ladder on which fate, the accidents of birth, clan, and class privilege perched him, and landing with the minores, the poorest of the poor, among whom he found the "poor and humble" Jesus Christ, the image of God. Put into radical relationship with the minores, Francis was converted, liberated, and saved. In order to make sense of what God had done to him, and to illuminate the new way he was living, Francis turned to a common image -- sibling relationships -- to make everything comprehensible. The core of his spiritual insight was that men and women were being called by the example of the poor and humble Christ to be family in a different way. Taking down the ladder of hierarchy and laying it on the ground, Francis and his followers transgressed the system of worldly values represented by hierarchy and introduced forgotten egalitarian dimensions of Gospel discipleship -- collaboration, cooperation, compassion, humility, nonviolence, self-emptying -- to the people of their time and place. The metaphor of sister-brotherhood best illustrated these values, which Francis and his companions lived out not only in community, but also in their ministry, their minority, and their witness to God's mercy and justice.

Okay, time to stop for now. I hope to pick up this subject again and show you how Brother Bill unpacked the metaphor of sister-brotherhood.

About Novitiate

Backtracking to Wednesday the 27th, when two of the novitiate program directors visited us. They politely but firmly disabused us of any illusory impressions we may have received from well-meaning brothers currently in novitiate or recently graduated from that program. We received, straight from the sources themselves, a description of aims, along with some preliminaries about the routine and regulations.

First of all, they gave us a word about the kind of attitude that will make novitiate worthwhile. It is unwise to seek merely to "put up" with the novitiate experience when formation gets to be frustrating. Do not fall for facile promises of a great year, and do not be troubled by intimations of agony, either. Novitiate is a whole new experience, and as a program of formation it is unlike anything that has come before it or will come after it. Come in humility, and come receptively.

The purpose of novitiate is to devote one's time to the cultivation of a prayerful, contemplative nature. It is a time to listen with God. It is a full year to develop and enrich one's contemplative life. It is a time to discover how God is calling you and what it is God speaks to you.

The novitiate is designed to help a brother better understand his divine vocation as a Capuchin contemplative, and the Capuchin's unique manner of being. It is a time to form the mind and heart, to test the spirits. It is an intense initiation into religious life and an opportunity to decide freely for that life.

Under a schedule of prayer, ministry, and both social and personal time, the novices live in community for twelve months. The length of time in this phase of formation is prescribed by the Code of Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. It is therefore a legal requirement for becoming an officially vowed religious. But it is the spirit of this time obligation that concerns us more directly here. For the structure is given to novices in order to allow them to develop a true interior life and robust spirit of prayer. The year of novitiate is like a retreat to the desert, a time of preparing and proving, such as Jesus undertook; or it is like a cave experience, such as Francis of Assisi had in the early days of his conversion, when he sought to know the will of God for him. In novitiate the brothers hope to come to an honest knowledge of themselves and the authenticity of their call to Capuchin life. A year is probably too short a period of time to complete such a soulful journey.

To guide us on this amazing and sometimes anxious and fearful journey, we have formators who are determined to promote and protect the sanctity of our quiet and prayerful environment. The formation staff is also the advisory staff: each novice will be assigned a formator who will meet regularly with him to check in on how it goes with his soul. They will offer counsel and encouragement as we discern and prepare for our taking of vows. What we share with our formation advisors is shared with all three formators but stays within their confidence. We will also have meetings with spiritual directors, and of course, confessors will be available, to whom we can entrust the most precious things in our hearts. The advisors will not pry, but they will do their best to keep tabs on the novices' well-being.

The directors described the different kinds of "time" in which novices live and move. There is personal time: this is for on-site activities such as rest, exercise, recreation, reading, prayer, hobbies, and unstructured fraternal interaction. This is a gift especially for introverted souls in need of individual time for self-care. There is prayerful time: hours dedicated to spiritual reading, contemplative prayer, and general quiet. This is a period when fraternal interaction and use of media are to be avoided. There is hermitage time: a recent innovation in the Capuchin novitiate, it is an extended length of time, usually an entire afternoon, for prayerful silence. And there is communal recreation: the brothers gather for conversation and conviviality.

Some miscellany:

Novices should expect strong limitations on Internet usage in order to open up their "bandwidth" to receive God and to interact meaningfully with the fraternity. Brothers have access to community computers, but they are not to upload any software or applications to the machines.

Novices need permission from the formation team and their provincial minister to attend weddings and funerals. Travel arrangements are made by the provincial minister and novitiate team. Novices will be given the time they need to attend these events, but no more than this. Generally it will be the minimum time necessary, so as not to interrupt the course of intense discernment away from the world.

Visits from family and friends are permissible beginning late in October. No visits are allowed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter. Novices must consult the formation team about any plans for visitors, and they must always check the schedule. Generally more latitude is given for family visits, and there is less leniency when it comes to visits from friends. As a rule, visits are restricted so that novices can spend more time in deep discernment, listening for and with God.

San Lorenzo Friary is in Santa Ynez, Calif., which is out in the country. The Capuchins have been here since 1924, when settlers of Irish descent donated 28 acres to them. Later on, the same family deeded another 400 acres to a corporation for use by the Province of Our Lady of the Angels.

Santa Ynez is in Santa Barbara County. In the country of Santa Barbara County, there are snakes, spiders, and tarantulas. (Just a warning.) Some brothers may suffer allergies. There is no snow to write home about, but it does occasionally get cold in the winter dawn. Santa Ynez is not hot like Victoria, Kansas, in the summer, but it's often very warm. The novices' home, built California-style, is a campus of several buildings instead of one big house; therefore, we will walk daily to and from the chapel, refectory, dormitories, and laundry building. There are two residence halls; on Wednesday we selected our rooms by lottery. (I live in Marian Hall, St. Anthony Wing, Room 21.) There is an exercise room and a library with spiritual reading.

There is Mass on Sunday at 9 a.m. at San Lorenzo Friary, but groups of novices will attend Mass at parishes throughout Santa Barbara County on a rotating basis.

The novices will perform ministry one day a week. Sites include Catholic Charities of Santa Barbara County; Mission Santa Ynez Parish; University of California-Santa Barbara; a convalescent home; social services for the developmentally disabled; and others.

One of the professed friars prepares lunch and dinner from Monday to Friday. The novices take turns cooking for the fraternity on Saturday and Sunday.

The novices live in fraternity with a few senior friars, who do not exercise any authority over formation but do offer their insights to the formators.

Investiture is Sunday, July 22, at 4:30 p.m. during evening prayer. Now I know exactly when my life takes another decisive turn.

The last thing we were told before the novice directors bid us godspeed: This year is a gift. Regard it as a treasure.

Friday, June 29, 2012


Been feeling listless most of the day. Some of the seniors at Via Christi had more pep than me today. I am sorry for not being as engaging with them as I could have been, as I ought to have been, as they needed me to be. Took an hours' rest when I came home from the rest home, and I just had dinner, and I still feel sluggish. And a mite cranky.

I am not ill, just low on energy. Maybe it's just the high heat. Or I must have stayed up an hour too late playing games with the brothers and reading about the Supreme Court decision on the Affordable Care Act. Or I must be eating too little. Or I must be craving more personal time and less social time.

Sometimes I wish I were not so much of an introvert. You can desire to change, and indeed you can grow into a better person by God's grace, but it is your own person who remains after the changes. You cannot make a zebra change its stripes into spots. To put it more bluntly, a cow don't make ham.

I never suspected that interprovincial postulancy would be so challenging. Exercise is supposed to invigorate the body. Our fundamental exercise, fraternal interaction, leaves me enervated much too often. This soul is working out, but the spiritual muscles are developing oh so slowly.


This weekend I hope to do some backtracking on the week: Franciscan spirituality from historian Fr. Bill Hugo's point of view, and a sneak peek into novitiate. This may or may not happen. My cooking crew is on for the midday meal tomorrow, and I have other house chores before group recreation offsite in the evening with the brothers. Sunday is for worship and catching up with the family. In addition, I will be composing, revising, and editing my vocation story, to share first with the fraternity on Monday evening, when my turn comes to tell my tale; and second with my formators, who will vet it and offer criticism as necessary. (This written account of my Capuchin journey will be given to the spiritual director I will be assigned in California.) Finally, I will be gathering some of the brothers Sunday evening to discuss a prayer vigil I feel called to organize in the coming week. Please pardon your correspondent if promised posts fail to publish!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Baking in Kansas

Both indoors and outdoors, literally.

First, outdoors: The high temperature in Victoria today will be 112 degrees around 5 p.m. this evening. It is 110 degrees right now -- a new record high. It has been in the high 100s since Saturday across these parts of Kansas. Some people are concerned that the wildfires consuming Colorado will make their way to our state in the northwest and north central regions. I am concerned about Independence Day celebrations, what with fireworks and all. With all those pyrotechnics going off, even in the slighter cool of evening, you have more than enough sparks to start a fire should things go wrong, given all the dry heat, the parched grasses, and the wicked winds.

Second, indoors: I am on the cooking crew this week. Last night was our debut, and our menu was fried pork chops, mashed potatoes, green beans, cornbread, fruit salad, and oatmeal raisin cookies and bars. Diligent readers of the blog will know what I contributed to the feast. Brother Anthony, baker, at your service. This evening the fare will be oven-fried chicken with macaroni and cheese and broccoli. In the dessert department: a vegan fruit cobbler. Our crew will also prepare the midday meal on Saturday; this is the main meal of the day. No spoilers here: tune in this weekend for the menu and your baker's offering.

Monday, June 25, 2012


It is a privilege to be visited this week by Capuchin Fr. Bill Hugo, a historian whose workbook on the primary source documents for the life of Francis of Assisi and the early Franciscan movement has introduced many a brother to historical-critical analysis. A veteran formator, Brother Bill will lead presentations on Franciscan spirituality today and tomorrow. Already he has been holding court, transforming the usual chatter at our dining room tables into a seminar. Socratic dialogue at breakfast? God bless you, Brother Bill, and thank you for joining us.

On Wednesday we are to meet the novitiate formation team. The brothers are coming in from Santa Ynez, Calif., to introduce themselves and talk about preparations for the novitiate year. Until now we have interacted with the novice directors only by e-mail; it will be a relief to see them face to face at last!

This afternoon I will be meeting up with a reader of the blog who is passing through the area today and vacationing this week with his family. The wonders of social networking via digital media.

Brothers and sisters, may all your encounters this week, both your planned visits and spontaneous meetings, be graced.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Powerful Currents

Very hot and very windy yesterday at Wilson Lake. The high temperature was about 105 degrees, and the gusts must have been over 30 miles per hour. The conditions made the water turbulent.

A few of the brothers who left their boat to swim were taken up by powerful currents and carried some distance away into deeper waters before being rescued by their crewmates. A frightening moment for the fraternity.

We cut short our afternoon after this incident, but we would probably have left the lake early anyway because of the extremity of the weather. So we packed up the burgers and brauts and all the food and drink and had our barbecue with the families of Marked Men for Christ at St. Fidelis Friary.

Everyone is safe, and the brothers who struggled against the waters are all right. They are recovering their strength. The fraternity remains intact. 

Feeling subdued about the turn of events yesterday. I find myself brought to silence before the power of nature and the Creator who governs the wind and water. Whether we will it or not, we move with God's powerful currents.

Also feeling full of the Holy Spirit, though in a silent way at this hour. This is my hope: to get on with the work of witnessing to the reign of God breaking into and confounding this world and convoking the new heaven and earth. And this is my prayer: I want nothing to divert our brothers from the course they must follow toward the kin(g)dom. Each in his own way must go on becoming someone who prepares the way of God by living The Way. Let us be on our way speedily! Life is too short for anything else.

Brothers, listen to God; hear the Word, and act upon it. Speak as God speaks; do as God does; risk as God risks; and refrain as God refrains. Do not be of the world, but also do not be against the world. Be in the world and be for the world. Love God. Honor all people. Respect creation. Live the faith of Jesus Christ, the faith of Francis of Assisi. Amen.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Into the Outdoors

Going on an all-afternoon excursion tomorrow to Wilson Lake at Wilson State Park with the brothers. This ought to be a nice change of pace. Until now, I've never lived more than a few miles from an ocean, bay, lake, or river. I have seen none of these since leaving New York on May 27. Although the big blue sky of Kansas has been a wonderful consolation, it is no substitute for the bright blue shimmer of living water. It will be good for the brothers to reconnect with this element. There will be boating, inner tubing, and swimming, and the like. The more athletically inclined among us will try their hand at water skiing! As for me, give me a perch near the lake; sunscreen and insect repellent; and a good book, and I will be content.

We will be recreating with a group of gentlemen who call themselves Marked Men for Christ and operate an ecumenical, nondenominational Christian men's ministry. Thanks to their hospitality, there will be burgers and brauts (in New York we call them sausages) ... and, I hope, something to grill for those of us who are neither alpha males nor insatiable carnivores!

Sunday will be a normal day, with optional morning prayer, Eucharist at the parish of our choice, and personal time until evening prayer and dinner. We have been holding a social in the friary courtyard just after evening prayer and before dinner, and we will continue in that custom. In addition, for this Sunday, we will recite night prayer outdoors instead of in the chapel. It will be an appropriate coda for our weekend in nature. It may also spur us to pray compline more mindfully. In my years of experience worshipping on Boston Common at Ecclesia Ministries, I have found that everything around you sharpens the spirit of prayer and devotion, if you invite it. Yes, not only the birds of the air and the brisk whispers of the trees, but also the visages of chattering passers-by, the roar and rumble of motorists, and even the din of heavy construction. I hope that in the cooling evening, in the presence of God's creation, which never ceases to sing the divine praises in its very depth of being, we too will join our voices more intentionally with our spirits so that we express the holy words of prayer with full consciousness of what we are doing.

Thursday, June 21, 2012


Today: morning prayer and Eucharist; ministry from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Via Christi Village, being ecumenical prayer and the rosary in the chapel, pastoral visits, bingo social and more pastoral visits; exercise, evening prayer, dinner, and night prayer; and reflections on ministry with the group.

Tonight is our twenty-sixth evening in Kansas. We have twenty-six more evenings left here. Fitting that this moment comes one day after the summer solstice. As these waning days of spring and interprovincial postulancy have lengthened concurrently, so have all of us here been stretched so as to be exposed more fully to the light of God within us, within each other, and beyond us. At this point, I feel like we have reached an extremity, a peak in our "performance." Now as the days begin to shorten, so does this formation program. We carry on our exercises, physical, mental, and spiritual, with a great devotion of energy; but we come closer to the cooling down.

It is too soon to regard contemplatively or pridefully the body we are building up together, but we can feel the good health of the body in its exertions. Our fraternity is getting stronger.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Big 'Ifs'

If Francis of Assisi walked into the dining room of St. Fidelis Friary during our evening meal, would he recognize me as his own?

If Jesus walked up to me right now, tapped me on the shoulder from behind, and asked me to take a walk with him, would I leave my computer, or my newspaper, or my book, and go?

If the women and men who harvested and slaughtered the food I ate yesterday came to my table, would they be hungry? If the women and children who assembled the clothes I wear came to my door, would they be ill-clad?

If I could be shown the waste I have produced, the trash I have made, and the energy I have burned; and if I could be shown the air, earth, and water that have absorbed my waste, could I stand it?

If I could see the bullets, bombs, tanks, and airplanes I have paid for; if I could see the places where these weapons of war have been used, could I stand it?

If the Capuchin order's money, food, water, energy, and health care ran out next week; if the friaries tumbled down next month; if the brothers were cut off from their benefactors and their properties, where would I go? And what would I do?

If a catastrophe crippled the community and none but the Capuchins' resources survived, what would I do?

If my Capuchin brothers asked me to leave the order, what would I say? How would I respond?

If I could not return to the work I did, the city I lived in, or the kind of homes I dwelled in, where would I go? And what would I do?

If I could feel the suffering my sins have caused, how much pain could I stand? Would I break? If I knew the pain was more than I could bear, would I take it all anyway?

If I died today, would anybody know I was a disciple of Jesus? Would the world be any better for what I did? Would God believe in me?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Talking Conflict, Reading Anger

Concluding our two-day workshop on conflict resolution this afternoon with role-playing exercises. We are in groups of four; two brothers enact a scenario and attempt to resolve their differences according to the techniques that make for healthy outcomes, while the other two brothers give feedback. The skills we are learning are commonsensical, but we are not always mindful of our responses in situations of stress and tension, so rehearsing these skills is a good practice.

Dr. Kathy Galleher has recommended especially that we practice an examination of our anger feelings when they arise in months to come. It is too often the case that we move immediately to neutralize or suppress our anger, when what we ought to do first is explore the origins of our heated feelings. Seeking only to alleviate the pain of being angry does nothing to address the causes of our pain or give us understanding of what factors, psychological and physiological and otherwise, give rise to our distress. Yes, we must take care to control our emotions before we attempt to resolve the present conflict, but then we must go a step further and become aware of the things that trigger distress in us and thus come to anticipate how tomorrow's conflicts will arise.

I admit that getting acquainted with my anger will be a challenge for me in the days and months of formation ahead. I am accustomed to perceiving anger as a simple emotion without grounding in other feelings, and my tendency is to internalize its expression so as to neutralize its harmful effects. Until now I have believed that anger is not useful because it fails to communicate anything other than itself, or because it obscures what people really feel. It is enlightening to consider that anger can and does point to deeper truths about our condition, should we take care to read it properly.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Conflict Workshop

Learning about conflict with Dr. Kathy Galleher, the psychologist and consultant who visited us at St. Michael Friary in April to discuss sexuality.

This morning we approached a definition of conflict; discussed the contributions of family and culture to styles of resolving conflict; and outlined the dimensions of conflict management styles. This afternoon we aggregated our individual conflict styles, and, in anticipation of a year's worth of stressful situations to come, mapped our novice group's general approach to conflict situations. We also began to catalog the emotions underlying feelings of anger that arise in conflict, so that we can meet our "antagonists" or "opponents" with compassion and understanding. From these foundations we hope to acquire emotional skills for healthy conflict resolution and verbal skills for addressing conflict.

Tomorrow we will move into role-playing activities in which we can rehearse how we respond in one-on-one conflict situations. The group will help us process our experiences. We will name skills for defusing hostility and practice them as a group. We will wrap up with discussions on group dynamics, prevention, and final reflections.

Our working definition: conflict exists when an action of another person or group threatens a goal you have or threatens someone or something you care about. Conflict is natural: it arises because we are different people who want different things or who go about getting similar things in different ways. Conflict is also unintentional: it arises when communication between persons is poor, through inadequacy or incompleteness. Conflict is inevitable and important: no relationship with any real depth goes without it. Engaging conflict is an act of vulnerability that can strengthen relationships. When handled skillfully, conflict helps us understand ourselves and others. When examined and negotiated carefully, especially in moments of crisis and decision, it can build group solidarity. Conflict is a fire: situations release powerful energies that can be used for good, but they can also be destructive if we choose to go to war with each other.

We pondered the effects on conflict resolution of upbringing in individualist and collectivist cultures. People from individualist cultures respond to disputes with concern for their personal wants versus their opponents' wants and assume the freedom to make decisions unconstrained by customs, roles, group norms, or the impact of one's decision on others. People from collectivist cultures perceive the conflict as a social phenomenon and evaluate every response in terms of the effects on family and friends; and the communitarian context conditions and constrains strategies for resolution.

We were invited to reflect on our families' influence on development of conflict strategies with the following sentences: "In my family, conflict and anger were expressed by ________ and this has left me with ________ feelings about conflict and a tendency to react by ________"; "One thing I'd like people to understand is that ________."

The challenge for women and men in religious life, people for whom truth is both a proposition and a relation, is this: in times of conflict, can women and men religious speak their truth and stay in relationship? How do we balance our agenda and our relationships when the going is good, and how does this balance shift when the going gets rough? Using a diagnostic from the Peace and Justice Support Network of the Mennonite Church USA called the Adult Personal Conflict Style Inventory, we identified which strategies we use when conflict first arises, and which strategies predominate when tensions escalate. (Self-disclosure: when things are calm, I tend to be a collaborator and compromiser, giving a little to get a little, preserving, if not maximizing, the agenda and the relationship. When things get stormy, I become both more directive and more avoidant: the relationship goes out the window, and the agenda becomes primary, which tends to result in an I-win-you-lose or we-both-lose scenario.) Note well that the conflict strategies (accommodating, collaborating, compromising, forcing, avoiding) are themselves value-neutral and can be used positively in appropriate contexts; the ideal is to know the pluses and minuses of your preferred strategies and gain flexibility by learning how to use the other strategies when useful. What is good for individuals goes for groups: religious communities, and Christian communities as a whole, could stand to gain by employing the various conflict strategies in complementary fashion. For an individual it may require a deeper understanding of her personality in its complexity; for a Christian community it may require an openness to multiple models of being Church.

Anger always attends conflict. To manage conflict well, we must manage anger well. Before adjourning this afternoon we explored the depths of anger. As in occasions of strong sexual feeling, something else lurks beneath the surface of anger. Our challenge is to determine what those other primary feelings are: fear, sadness, disgust, shame, and so on. Interrogate the anger to uncover the hurt and identify the triggers (physiological, psychological). To manage anger well, we must be self-aware. To manage anger without sin, we must speak without aggression. This will ensure health of body and soul.

All right, enough for now ... I hope to give a wrap-up after tomorrow's sessions.

From the Friars' Bookshelf

Finished the books I plucked three weeks ago from the St. Fidelis Friary library. Now on to the following reads:

Harvey Cox, The Secular City, revised ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1966).
Gustavo Gutierrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis, 1973).
Rollo May, Love and Will (New York: Dell, 1969).

For me, religious formation is also continuing education. We are not yet in formal theological studies at accredited colleges, universities, or seminaries, but our intellectual development continues apace. Initial formation into Capuchin Franciscan life has been education largely by other means. I have been learning from a fraternal community, not a scholarly community. The "texts" we read are each other, mostly. Each brother is a talking book.

But my community is larger than the fraternity. There are other persons I want to learn from, other voices I want to hear. The great thinkers, speakers, and doers of Christianity who leave traces of their thoughts and deeds in writings leave a precious treasure for all communities, Christian and otherwise, for all time. I want to be in conversation with this timeless community of dreamers and disciples. My initial formation takes place in this time and space with the Capuchins. But this formation is extended from here to eternity through my encounters with the Word, both in the words of Scripture and in the words of men and women whose lives and lively thought preach Christ into an eternal present. I am drawn to them just as I am drawn to the prophets and saints, just as I am drawn to the example of Francis of Assisi.

So I want to read Cox because I want to understand his so-called "secular theology" better. I want to read Gutierrez because I want to understand his so-called "liberation theology" better. I will read them both to understand my so-called "theology" better, that is, how I speak about the God of Jesus, the God of Francis. I want to read May because I want to understand the theological virtue of love and the faculty of will through psychological ideas. Psychologists and religious ministers are both healers of the soul. I will read May to know myself and know better how to live and love like a fully human person, that is, like a disciple of Jesus.

I chose these books inspired by conversations with the brothers and conversations with other texts I have read. Curiosity led me back to the friars' bookshelf; intuition guided my choice. Discipleship desires the encounter with the Word within every word. Let the conversations continue. Let me read, dwell, listen, and be formed.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Holy Heart, Pondering Heart

If forced to choose between my head and my heart, I would go with the heart, because I believe God dwells there. Religion is an affair of the heart. Love and truth can be described by the mind, but ultimately they live (or die) in the heart.

The Catholic Church celebrates, on consecutive days, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. Yesterday was the solemnity of the Sacred Heart; today is the observance of the Immaculate Heart. I recommend a visit to Bro. Jack Rathschmidt's blog for concise Scriptural reflections on these respective feast days (click here and here). For a history of devotion to the Sacred Heart, start here; for a history of veneration of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, go here.

It usually takes me an hour to fall asleep after I turn the lights out and rest my head on the pillow. My mind takes a long time to turn off. Last night was no exception. I tried to let go of my thoughts and attend to my breathing. As I was attempting this, I began to notice not only my breathing, but also my heart beating. And I realized in a way I never appreciated before, that my heart always beats, and my heart never stops. It has never stopped from the moment I was born. It beats constantly for my sake, moving my lifeblood, pushing it, pulling it, motoring it into the lungs so it will be filled with the life-giving air I breathe and emptied of waste into death-breaths, and speeding it to every organ, tissue, and cell. I never have to think about any of this, never have to direct my heart; indeed, I cannot control my heart consciously. I can make it beat faster or slower, but that it beats or it doesn't, I cannot decide. It is a heart; it will always beat.

And I found myself in a mild state of wonder and gratitude that this organ on which my life depends is steadfast. I prayed a little prayer of thanks to God that my heart keeps beating, and I asked that it stay strong. I asked that it persevere. To these prayers I now add another: God, help me remember the beating of my heart. It is a holy thing. Let me ponder it.

If every human heart is holy in its "devotion" to the good of the body, how much more sacred is the heart of Jesus Christ, devoted to the good of all humanity. Our human hearts are the heart of our bodies; Jesus' heart is the Heart of the World.

As I learn to meditate and pray, I hope for a fuller awareness of the rhythm of the heart; and not only mine, but also the rhythm of the Sacred Heart. If the mindful remembering of the beating of my heart is good for the body, so the prayerful remembering of the rhythm of the Sacred Heart is good for my soul. God, give me a heart like that of Mary so in faith and hope I can keep all treasured things: the joy, sorrow, glory, and light of compassion, mercy, peace, and justice. These things are of Jesus Christ, thus they are of God. I ask this for my sake, my neighbors' sake, and my brothers' sake. Amen.

From Kansas to California

Got a rough idea, last night, of the course we will take by caravan to Santa Ynez, Calif., from Victoria, Kansas.

Tuesday, July 17: Victoria to Santa Fe, N.M. (shortest route is 575 miles; 10 hours of drive time)
Wednesday, July 18: Santa Fe to Flagstaff, Ariz. (between 383 and 433 miles, depending on route and traffic; between 6 and 7.5 hours of drive time)
Thursday, July 19: From Flagstaff to Grand Canyon National Park and back (between 160 and 180 miles, depending on route and traffic; between 3 and 3.5 hours of drive time)
Friday, July 20: From Flagstaff to Santa Ynez (586 miles; over 9.5 hours of drive time)

We will probably sleep in and slack off on Saturday, July 21, our first whole day at San Lorenzo Friary. Investiture is on Sunday, July 22, around midday. At that point, interprovincial postulancy will be over, and novitiate will begin. That moment is five weeks and a day away. The journey of transition begins in thirty-one days. It will be a road trip unlike any I have ever known.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Other Kinds of Poverty

Ministry today at Via Christi. I am one of a team of eight brothers that goes to the Catholic rest home in Hays. This morning we brought the residents to the chapel for an ecumenical Christian prayer service led by a United Methodist minister from the city of Ellis. For the next hour and a half we made visits around the residential units, called "neighborhoods" by the staff and named for local towns (Catherine, Munjor, Pfeifer, Victoria, Vincent, Walker). I chatted with the residents of Pfeifer throughout their midday meal before having lunch with my brothers. Another round of visits for an hour, followed by bingo with residents, staff, and volunteers. Tomorrow we will have Mass in the morning followed by recitation of the rosary; these services are going to be well attended. Visits in between chapel and lunch, and more visits in the afternoon, pending special activities.

We cannot provide direct care for residents -- we don't feed them, we don't lift them out of their wheelchairs, we don't administer first aid. Rather, we offer pastoral care through conversation, both small talk and spiritual talk. We offer prayers. We play games. We take residents to and from religious and social activities. With us, the eight Capuchin volunteers, and other local volunteers making the rounds, no resident who seeks companionship should be deprived. Indeed, there appear to be more listening ears than persons to meet! We do quite a bit of meandering through the neighborhoods and the assisted-living unit, where the more able-bodied live more independently. Indeed, we make several circuits throughout the day.

This is the right time for me to experience a ministry such as this, as I am making a transition from an activist apostolate in postulancy to a "mission" of cloistered prayer in novitiate. Here, I am learning about forms of poverty other than the material -- and attempting to accept the irremediable helplessness that attends these forms.

I am accustomed to fighting the evils that cause material poverty, deploying the "weapons of the spirit" in faith-rooted community organizing. This is what I did with Interfaith Worker Justice and the New Sanctuary Movement in Boston, and more recently at Neighbors Together in Brooklyn. And in spite of their material poverty, the women and men I worked and prayed with possessed great riches, physical and spiritual: inner freedom, strong will, and sound mind and body to exercise both freedom and will to witness powerfully against injustice and build a better world reflecting the glory of God.

On the other hand, the women and men who live at Via Christi have all their material needs met -- they have a safe home, they do not go hungry, they are not lacking medical care. But all the material resources in the county cannot remove the physical poverty of immobility, decline, and dying; the emotional poverty of loneliness and sadness; or the spiritual poverty that comes with loss of freedom, or the anxiety and despair over death and the unknown.

Every Thursday evening the brothers gather to reflect on their experiences in ministry. Four brothers speak during each session. My turn to speak will come in two weeks. By then, I hope share some seasoned thoughts on aging and poverty, drawing on one or two encounters with these kindly souls who, being emptied of earthly life, are being filled with eternal life.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Anthony of Padua

Today the Catholic Church, and communities of Franciscan men religious especially, celebrate the feast of Saint Anthony of Padua, a Portuguese priest of the 13th century. He was among the first generation of Franciscan friars, one of its first major theologians, and a renowned preacher and teacher.

It is a custom among Catholics to acknowledge their name-day, that is, the feast day of the saint whose name they bear. Now, there happen to be four Anthonys in the calendar of celebrations observed throughout the Roman Catholic Church. So you could also wish me well on January 17 (Saint Anthony of Egypt, a pioneer of monasticism), July 5 (Saint Anthony Zaccaria, a priest), and October 24 (Saint Anthony Mary Claret, a bishop). However, I prefer to observe June 13, obviously! I can identify with this Anthony. You could say he experienced a conversion-within-a-conversion. Moved by the evangelical poverty and subsequent martyrdom of a band of Franciscan friars he had met, Anthony, already a priest, left his clerical community and his scholarly pursuits to join the Franciscan community. He found his niche with the friars when called upon one day to preach because no one else was qualified to do so. His eloquence, empathy, and learning shone through, and he was commissioned by the minister general to preach across northern Italy. Then he caught the attention of Francis of Assisi himself, who entrusted to Anthony's tutelage the training of young friars destined for ordination. Having abandoned theological studies to follow Francis, now Anthony had reclaimed his gift of education for the sake of the brothers.

In truth I do not know much more about Anthony than this, but I would like to learn more about him, because I am confident his life in all it turns, and his distinctive example, would be instructive for me as I aspire to evangelical fraternity. Like him, I want my head to be connected to my heart and hands. I want my intellectual gifts to be put in the service of community. I want a spirit of fraternity to invigorate me and equip me for discipleship.

With such pious desires stirring beneath the surface, it is with gratitude and good humor I receive my religious brothers' congratulations and well wishes today.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Your Light Must Shine

Continuing our study of personality types and how persons of different types interact, perceive, and (mis)understand each other. A very good group discussion this morning. Now, awaiting supplemental articles about psychological types from our formators for further reading and reflection. This afternoon, we pivot from psychology to spirituality, reading a reference article on meditation by Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk.

Going gently into the personal time of afternoon: computing in the library, reading, and physical exercise, leading into meditation and evening prayer. This evening we celebrate the birthday of one of our brothers in formation. Afterward we will gather in chapel to begin our evening of faith sharing, offering our personal reflections on the Scripture readings of the day.

Today's lectionary texts come from 1 Kings and the Gospel of Matthew. I am drawn to the Gospel, which today takes us into Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. "You are the light of the world": this is my meditation. Today these words convict my heart. I know my lamp is on, but I am not giving my light to all in the fraternity. I have been feeling more reserved since beginning this phase of religious formation. Large group interaction is spiritually draining for introverts, and so are situations where they are "forced" to socialize. Introverts need continual encouragement and a lot of motivation to participate in social activities. Their temptation is inaction: not that they are lazy or unwilling to work at personal development, but they will refrain from jumping in if the moment is not "right." An explanation, or a rationalization?

With understanding comes choice and responsibility. With God's grace comes power. For the will to share my light, without fear, prejudice, or untimely delay, I ask God's favor.

It is not only for my own sake. My brothers want to see me shine this little light of mine. Indeed, they need it. They are right to desire this. Our light is not our own; it is a share in Light itself. What is more, they do not want to be left "in the dark" about their brother. Of course, and I can understand the frustration. You can't relate to a bushel basket. Now that we have studied personality types together, I hope they will be patient with me. I pray for patience, too. My sun rises slowly, but rise it will. No horizon, no mountain will conceal it forever. The light is there; it is coming up; and one day it will touch you. May God speed the sunrise.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Quiet and reserved. Seeks a few close friends and to conserve his energy in social situations.
Sees the big picture before the details. Looks to the future before the present.
A preference for the personal over the objective. Values will trump logic.
Gets his act together pretty quickly. Knows what he is going to do and when he is going to do it.

Ah, the joy of recognition. God made me an introverted, intuitive, feeling judger. My kindred souls, psychologists speculate, are Mohandas Gandhi, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Jane Goodall, Sidney Poitier, and Eleanor Roosevelt. Bless the Lord, all you shy ones, you abstract ones, you heartful ones, you predictable ones. All the way, INFJ!

Had fun this morning in class learning together about personality types. This afternoon I took a short-form version of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a diagnostic called the Keirsey Temperament Sorter. Any activity that has to do with self-knowing is a joy for me.

Religious men and women use personality tools to serve the project of human formation. The Catholic Church today emphasizes the value of human formation in the fulfillment of vocational preparation. Our formator quoted from a document written in 1992 by Pope John Paul II on the formation of priests:

In order that his ministry may be humanly as credible and acceptable as possible, it is important that the priest should mold his human personality in such a way that it becomes a bridge and not an obstacle for others in their meeting with Jesus Christ the Redeemer of humanity. It is necessary that, following the example of Jesus who "knew what was in humanity" (Jn. 2:25; cf. 8:3-11), the priest should be able to know the depths of the human heart, to perceive difficulties and problems, to make meeting and dialogue easy, to create trust and cooperation, to express serene and objective judgments.

Future priests should therefore cultivate a series of human qualities, not only out of proper and due growth and realization of self, but also with a view to the ministry. These qualities are needed for them to be balanced people, strong and free, capable of bearing the weight of pastoral responsibilities. They need to be educated to love the truth, to be loyal, to respect every person, to have a sense of justice, to be true to their word, to be genuinely compassionate, to be men of integrity and, especially, to be balanced in judgment and behavior.

What is good for priests is good for religious men and women and, indeed, for all disciples of Jesus, who followers confess by faith to be the most fully developed human person.

An individual's personality reflects the strategies one uses to engage others in the world. Each personality is the outcome of choices, made from within a range of innate tendencies, that fall along spectrums of behavioral preferences. Although by nature we gravitate toward certain modes of engagement, we are not absolutely limited by our preferences. We have the capacity to choose strategies that veer from our innate disposition. Thus we have the ability to grow and change. Our personalities may be relatively stable over a lifetime, but our responses to the environment are not fixed. The human person is in constant development. From a Christian perspective, we are advancing toward newness of life, toward greater flourishing. We are deepening our relationship to God and God's people. The further our personalities develop, the better our relationships. Knowing personality types helps us to relate to others better and gives us strategies for resolving conflicts in our relationships. Focusing on the nurture aspect of our personality -- think preference, not essence -- helps us to believe in our God-given ability to make intentional, positive, and healthy choices for engagement with life.

Check out the works of the grandparent of personality typologies, Carl Jung, who published on his theories of psychological types in 1922. I don't often recommend random web surfing, but I encourage you to explore the Internet in search of good personality tests. It's good for people to be self-aware, whether or not religious (in either the general sense or in the particular sense of consecrated life). It's good to take a look under the hood, to figure out what our conscious looks like, what it does, and how it works. How do you engage life? Do you gain energy by getting in touch with the outer world or the inner world? Do you look first at the details or at the pattern you perceive? Do you make decisions according to your feelings or do you want just the facts? Do you relate to others by making plans and following through with them, or by remaining open to whatever chance and/or destiny will bring? Look under the hood!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Make Me

Lord our God,
maker and keeper of the eternal covenant,

Make me poor
so that I may be a brother to the poor.

Make me a brother
so that I may be a disciple of the true Son of God.

Make me your child, God,
so that I may beg of you for my bread.

Make me the bread I have eaten,
so that I may feed everyone and be a part of everyone.

Make me, so that I may be.


Saturday, June 9, 2012

Of Minor Note

1. Now I have a Skype account. Add anthony.zuba1 to your list of contacts. If you would like to have a video conversation, let me know, and we will set up a time and date. I look forward to seeing you through the ether, now and during novitiate (within the allowable limits of Internet usage).

2. Half the friary is out today at a conference for men in the city of Russell, sponsored by the Diocese of Salina (Kansas). The brothers in formation and professed friars will be back in the mid-afternoon. They left early in the morning, around seven -- being the weekend, I just couldn't rise for the occasion! I will be interested to hear about their experiences today. I am concerned that Catholic adult males, whatever their personality, orientation, and sexuality, lack good formation into a healthy and whole masculine personhood. May all who desire to be sons of the God of Jesus Christ, who desire to be truly human men, be healed of all trauma; purged of the corrupting effects of sinful sexism and heterosexism; enlightened by the wisdom of Scripture, tradition, and our increasing awareness (through reason and experience) of the human body, both male and female; and perfected and completed by grace.

3. Having a barbecue lunch this afternoon, and the weather is ideal for it -- temperature in the lower 90s, sunny, and breezy. Going out to a sports bar this evening to cheer and console my postulant brothers watching the big basketball game between the Boston Celtics and Miami Heat. Kansans have a local team to root for -- the Oklahoma City Thunder. Should Miami prevail, I will lend my underdog sympathies to Oklahoma City. Of course, my heart lies in Boston, so if it comes to a contest between the Celtics and Thunder, I hope the locals will understand!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Prayer Intentions

Asking God to hear my prayers ...

... for the unity of all Christian communities, Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox.
... for families in need of reconciliation, especially for parents and children estranged from each other.
... for immigrants and workers who suffer persecution from employers, public authorities, and neighbors.
... for those employers, public authorities, and neighbors, that God may change their hearts.
... for the sisters and brothers of Franciscans International, especially those women and men who advocate for protection of the air, water, and earth, and the rights of all peoples to water and sanitation.
... for the couples I know who are expecting a child this year.
... for an increase in an economy grounded in gratitude and cooperation, and a decrease in economic life driven by greed and competition.
... for a decrease in consumer waste, especially the deplorable use of disposable plastic and polystyrene products like water bottles and coffee cups.
... for the millions of women, men, and children in U.S. jails and prisons, and for the many who live in prisons without walls because their criminal record prevents them from gaining an education, housing, or work. For the immigrant souls suffering in detention awaiting deportation. For an end to for-profit prisons and a radical reform of the American system of criminal justice.
... for a turning away of all hearts from classism, racism, and sexism, and a purification of the Church from these evils.
... for the doing of new things in the Church, and in the Capuchin order.
... for the recovery of true, good, and beautiful things in the Church, and in the Capuchin order.
... for the hungry to be filled with good things, and the rich to be sent away empty.
... for the women religious of the United States, that their gifts and good works may be seen by God, the Church, and the world, and that they may be liberated and empowered to wait for and hasten the coming of the reign of God as they have done faithfully for generations.
... for a listening heart and a compassionate spirit.
... for my friends in Boston.
... for the people whose generosity to the Capuchins gives me my daily bread.
... for the people whose example and influence have, with and against God's grace, made me the person I am today.
... for the people I met at Via Christi Village and will get to know better these next six weeks.
... for the desires I have named here.
... for greater fidelity to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and greater disobedience of the world when it rejects the Gospel.
... for my neighbors, enemies, and inner demons.
... for the people who remember me in their prayers.
... for those who have no one to pray for them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Name Tags

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.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012


Now is the time to think, speak, and act brotherly toward my brothers in formation. Now is the time to be out-going. If not now, when? To that end, pious and up-building desires from the Capuchin friary in Victoria:

1. To choose group physical recreation over spiritual or theological reading at least once. Or at least be a friendly and supportive spectator to the games of frisbee, football, or volleyball that come together.

2. To risk getting sunburned. This desire follows logically from the first. Moreover, this may be the only time in my life I experience summer in the Great Plains. Will I let myself feel it, the goodness of the sun?

3. To initiate a conversation and keep it going for at least five minutes during meal time. To enter a conversation already in progress at the meal table. The former is like firing up a locomotive; the latter is like getting on a moving train.

4. To draw a brother into conversation about why I will never shop at Wal-Mart. To conduct that conversation with charity and good will.

5. To honor the hospitality of our cooks and kitchen hands with a show of conviviality at all meals, while eating and drinking in moderation and being mindful of our call to fraternity through poverty.

6. To show my true feelings when invited by a brother. To trust the one who invites self-disclosure. To resist the impulse to withhold whenever it arises out of a fear of loss or "theft." And to give a little more than asked or expected.

7. To drive one of the community cars several times. Compared to New York or Massachusetts, Kansas is a much less stressful place to drive. To drive the brothers to and from our common ministry site. This desire needs considerable stoking and perhaps a command to holy obedience!

8. To enable the brothers to form an image of me based on the pictures I render for them, not on secondhand sketches, copies by other artists. They deserve to be able to draw me out of myself. They should not have to resort to drawing me out of themselves.

9. To bring the strong ties of my healthiest and deepest relationships fully into the fraternal relationships being knotted securely in the interprovincial postulancy and novitiate. I cannot become a brother to my brothers in religion by myself. I can do it as one already in relation, fortified by my sisters and brothers in the Spirit -- my colleagues in ministry, my friends from Massachusetts, my forever brother Nicholas. When I come as Anthony alone, I cannot be your brother. When I come as Anthony, brother to the many, I am already your brother.

10. To remember that I am already a brother to many and honor the many who have made me more fraternal by writing to them. Keeping in correspondence with the people who have formed me does not in any way compete with the work of being formed by the people I live with today -- rather, it is a complementary work. My old friends remain in relation with me; they are in relation with the person I am and will become. By knowing me, my brothers are in relation with the friends who brought me here.

11. Once more and always, and always in the interest of self-care: To get more sleep.

Monday, June 4, 2012


Feeling a little more steady today. Today, I am here. Didn't sleep much, but I feel alert and aware of myself regardless. Having multiple fraternal duties to perform -- in the chapel, in the kitchen, in the bathrooms -- is keeping me focused.

It is reassuring to have the presence of Bro. Jack Rathschmidt, from the New York/New England province. He is here through the week to guide our learning about cross-cultural awareness. With him around, our fraternity feels more like a home team.

A home team. Indeed, this is what we are and what we are becoming over these fifty days of interprovincial postulancy. We are coming to appreciate the richness and variety of our cultural origins -- cultural in the ethnic sense, as called forth from many peoples; and cultural in the religious sense, as called into the diverse but common life of the Capuchins. E pluribus unum: Out of many, one.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Fool in the Shower

Been feeling shyer and clumsier today. Soggy in the spirit. An awkward-feeling day.

The weight of the changes feels heavier, one week into interprovincial postulancy. I am more grounded than I was when I landed in Hays last Sunday, which is good. I am coming to know my place. But it's good to soar, too. We need to soar. Indeed, we are made to rise into the air and follow wherever the Spirit blows. However, sometimes you can soar only when you are not aware of the forces of gravity.

God is reminding me gently of gravity. So are my devilish idols, though less gently. Now I am coming down to the end of gravity's rainbow. (Perhaps a few of my brothers are coming down, too: our honeymoon is over, our marriage is beginning!) Speaking for myself, I am feeling human, all-too-human today. God is speaking some kind of deep-down, heavy-metal truth. The truth is pressing down, making more dense my spiritual core. When that happens, I get moody. I get real quiet. I get tongue-tied. I need to sit in silence and darkness with that truth and feel how it is shifting my center of gravity. In a word, I need to be alone.

Although we get generous expanses of personal time, right now I feel like I can't get enough alone time, can't get enough quiet time. The brothers are with you or near you 24 hours a day, and there are many more of them than in postulancy. That's great if you are an extrovert; it's fatiguing if you are an introvert.

It is sinking in: I will be living 24 hours a day for the next fourteen months with 24 brothers and a team of friar formators. Whoa. Whoa again. This is a lot of people to be living with!

What do I feel like right now? I feel like a fool in the shower. You turn the water on, and it's lukewarm at first, so you turn up the hot water. It gets a little warmer, and it feels nice, but not quite hot enough, so you turn up the hot water a lot more. All of sudden the water begins to scald you, so you dial it back down beyond lukewarm to tap the cold. There is momentary relief, then you jump in shock: ice water is pouring down your body!

My body-soul-spirit took for granted all the changes of the last seven days. Now I'm standing soggy in the shower, shivering and sweating.

And there you have it. This week, I'll be aiming to recover my equilibrium, now that I am more mindful of my environment. Brothers, if you are reading this, please be patient with me. The quality of my presence may not always be as rich or as real as we want it to be, at least in the early going together. Stick with me; I will stick with you. God is working on me and my responses. The graces God showers on me (and each of us), I will learn to bless and channel them. And sooner or later, the temperature of the water will be just right.

Weekly Schedule

Orientation is finished. We are no longer on a special schedule. The weekly schedule has begun. Here it is in its basic framework:

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday
7:00 Meditation
7:15 Morning Prayer
7:30 Eucharist
8:00 Breakfast
9:30 Class
11:45 Midday Prayer
12:00 Lunch
Free Afternoon 
5:15 Meditation
5:30 Evening Prayer
6:00 Dinner
7:30 Night Prayer
7:45 Fraternal Discussions
Monday, Wednesday: Vocation Stories
Tuesday: Small Group Faith Sharing (from 7:30 to 8:15, followed immediately by Night Prayer)
9:00 Recreation

Thursday, Friday
7:00 Eucharist With Morning Prayer
7:45 Breakfast
9:00-4:00 Ministry
5:30 Evening Prayer
6:00 Dinner
7:30 Night Prayer
7:45 Fraternal Discussions
Thursday: Ministry Reflection
Friday: Community Review
9:00 Recreation

8:00 Meditation
8:15 Eucharist With Morning Prayer
9:00 Breakfast
10:00 House Chores
12:00 Lunch
Free Afternoon
5:00 Meditation
5:15 Evening Prayer
5:30 Off-Site Group Recreation

9:15 Morning Prayer (optional)
Eucharist (at any local parish)
Free Afternoon
4:30 Holy Hour
Exposition of Blessed Sacrament; Evening Prayer; Adoration; Benediction
5:30 Social
6:15 Dinner
7:30 Night Prayer
Free Evening On-Site

In addition to the weekly program schedule, brothers follow a liturgical schedule with rotating daily and weekly assignments; a fraternal service schedule with permanent teams and rotating chores; and a kitchen schedule with weekly assignments for cooking teams and setup/cleanup teams. This week, according to the liturgical schedule, I will read the antiphons for the psalms and canticles every day; according to the fraternal service schedule, my team will clean sinks, showers, and toilets on part of the second floor, with daily spot cleaning and weekend deep cleaning; and according to the kitchen schedule, I will work every day on the setup/cleanup team before and after every meal. (In fact, I've been appointed setup/cleanup team leader -- lucky me.)

A lot to remember? You bet. Welcome to fraternal life in a large friary.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Work, Prayer, Recreation

Saturdays are light days at St. Fidelis Friary. All the brothers do assigned house chores in the morning, then we're free until Sunday evening. I cleaned bathrooms on the second floor of the friary. I was also on the kitchen crew, so I did some setup and cleanup for breakfast and lunch.

Took a two-hour nap, then exercised, then joined the fraternity for meditation and evening prayer. Now comes the time of the week when we are literally thrown out of the house and into the community for a little group recreation. A few of the brothers are going to a Mexican restaurant. Some brothers are going bowling. A few of the brothers are heading to the movies to see that masculinized adventure fantasy about Snow White. A few of the brothers are going out to see Men in Black. You can count me in that camp.

We have a little bit of spending money. The weather is very warm but good. The evening is free. Sabbath in the summer in Kansas.

Be well, and keep praying for the brothers. I will keep you, friendly readers, ever in mine.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Et cetera

A few by-the-way notes:

1. The telephone number at St. Fidelis Friary is (785) 735-9456. There is no direct extension for any of the brothers in formation. To reach me, you'll have to talk first to a resident friar who will then page me, if I am around. The best time to talk will be in the afternoon, between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Eastern time. On weekdays, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday are best. I will be at ministry all day on Thursday and Friday. You can also reach me on most Saturday or Sunday afternoons in the same window as during the week.

Do you have a camera and microphone on your computer? We have installed Skype on three of the friary computers, which means we can also talk face-to-face. Let me know if you're interested in having an occasional Skype chat.

2. We have toured the three ministry sites we will be serving this spring and summer. They are Via Christi, a senior nursing care center in Hays; Habitat for Humanity of Ellis County; and Dream Inc., a summer camp for children of parents who struggle with addictions or serious chronic illness. The original intention was to cycle the brothers through each of the ministries over our two-month stay, but instead we will work at just one ministry for the duration of the program. Each brother has informed the formators of his ministry preferences. This evening we will receive our assignments.

3. We have toured the city of Hays itself, with the friendly guides of the Hays Convention and Visitors Bureau. We learned that before the rise of the notorious Dodge City, there was Hays City, as rough and tumbling a frontier town as there ever was. We passed by the "boot hill" cemetery, where scoundrels and knaves were committed to the earth and commended to their Creator. We saw Fort Hays, which was an active post from 1865 to 1887. We saw Fort Hays State University. We saw many limestone buildings, and many limestone statues from Hays' artist-in-residence, Pete Felten. Most memorable for me: we saw live buffalo.

4. Orientation concludes this evening. We've been talking about the program philosophy, with an extended focus on expectations of sharing in relationships, public versus private disclosure, and external versus internal forum. We have also been talking about chores and fraternal service. We have been assigned to house chore teams and kitchen crews. We have been given liturgical assignments, with rotation of roles (prayer leader, lector, antiphoner, sacristan, cantor, altar server, cup-bearer, etc.).

5. Been keeping quiet today, being mindful of the quality of my presence in physical, mental, and spiritual work. Prayer, fraternal interaction, prayer, fraternal interaction, reading, resting, reading, resting, exercising, computing, prayer, fraternal interaction, prayer, etc.

Et cetera, et cetera. From "and so on" into Amen and Alleluia. It is time for meditation and evening prayer.