First of all, I have to apologize to all of you kind souls who take the time to read this post. You see, this is the first time that I have ever blogged, in my entire life. This blog was created for us as a gift from a very good friend and admirer of the Brothers of Life, which leads me into the topic of this first post. Who are these brothers?
If I were to describe us I would say that we are couple of ragamuffins who have embraced the spirituality of St. Francis and made it our own. Actually, I have a long history with the Franciscan family, having entered the Capuchins when I was 16 years old, back in 1969. If you can do math, you can figure out my age.
But the Brothers of Life are not part of the Capuchins. Here’s what happened. One day, many years ago, I went to visit a good friend of mine who was a youth minister at a Catholic Center in Washington, DC. Before I knew it, she had me involved with a 16-year old girl who was pregnant and frightened. I’ll never forget that. You look into someone’s face and you can see fear. It’s not the fear of any kind of visible threat. This is another kind of fear. It’s the fear of the unknown. It’s the kind of fear that both paralyzes you and revs up your engines so that you can run away. To make a very long story a little shorter, this is exactly what this girl wanted to do. She wanted to run. She wanted an abortion.
I remember spending a very long time with her and then she suddenly took off. I went after her, crossing dangerous railroad tracks in pursuit. OK, I would not have chosen to cross the subway tracks in a big metropolitan area, but that’s the route that she took and I followed. When I finally caught up with her, she was more terrified and exhausted. My friend, who is a Carmelite Sister of Charity, and I promised to be there for her and to help her deal with her situation. The boy, who was the father of the baby, was also a very good boy. He too was very frightened. These were kids who were going to be parents. Guess what? That baby was born in 1980. It was a little boy and he became the King of the Castle in both homes, mom’s and dad’s.
Sometime afterward, I was the last one up at the friary when there was phone call. It was the hospital. They had a newborn baby who was dying. The nurse who was on duty was a very devout Catholic and she wanted to have this child baptized. I asked her if she knew how to baptize, but she was very nervous about it. I lived in a house of 12 friars, four of whom were priests. But they were asleep, so I went down to the hospital and baptized this little boy. There was no need to wake up my brothers, even though I’m not a priest, not for an emergency baptism.
After I baptized the baby I asked the nurse about his condition. She proceeded to tell me that the baby was going to die because they did not have the proper technology or medicines at this hospital and the nearest hospital was in the big city about three hours away. I asked to speak with the doctor who came very quickly and he told me exactly what the baby needed. It was some kind of machine that they did not have in this rural hospital. They were doing the best they could with the simple technology that they had. But it was not going to be enough. The little boy would be dead by sunrise.
When I turned to the parents I couldn’t help but feel their pain. It just crushed me. I wanted to do something about this, but I couldn’t. There was no way of getting this baby to a big city hospital. You see, in those days small rural hospitals did not keep high-tech ambulances on standby for these things. I’m not sure if they do so today. The parents did not have a car either.
It was a very weird night. I remember getting this bright idea. I knew who had a vehicle that was large enough to transport this little family and the machine that was keeping the baby alive. After assuring the parents that I would be back shortly I step out into the night. I ran down the street and knocked on the door of the town’s funeral director. I had to wake him up. The funeral home owned a hurst. It could accommodate the little guy, his machine and his parents. I really don’t recall what I said to this man. I just remember that it was the middle of the night.
About a month later, while I was walking outside the church, the couple from the hospital approached me. They were beaming. I had not seen them since the night that we helped them pack their baby and his equipment into the hurst and sent him on his way to the big city hospital. They had their little boy with them. He was beautiful. He had made it. Life moved on and I went back to teaching. That’s what I’ve always done. I’ve taught theology and when not teaching theology I’ve taught mathematics. The years passed and many things happened in my life.
It was the summer of 2008. I was praying before the Blessed Sacrament and something suddenly hit me as if someone had thrown a stone at my head. Millions of children are killed every year by abortion, children just like the two little boys whom I had tried to help save. I remembered how much I wanted to see those little boys live. I couldn’t stop crying. I went to my spiritual director and told him about the pain in my gut. It was like a knot that did not go away. My eyes felt as if the scales had just fallen off them. Abortion has been around a long time. I’ve always been convinced that it is morally grave. As I said, I did everything that I could to support a teenage mother way back when. . . . I didn’t know where this came from, but I had to do something about it. The crying babies had to stop. There could be no more crying and dying. No human being, baby or otherwise could be allowed to simply die because someone decided that this life is expendable, but how to get this message across to others, especially to Catholics?
After writing Cardinal Sean, OFM Cap, the Capuchin Franciscan Archbishop of Boston, I met Bishop Felipe Estevez, one of the auxiliary bishops of Miami. I had shared with the Cardinal what I had heard in my heart. “My Son wants to bring life into the word, both to the body and to the soul.” Bishop Estevez and I discussed the great truths found in the Gospel of Life written by Pope John Paul II. The more that we spoke the more strongly I felt that God wanted something from me. Several times Bishop Estevez asked me if I was sure that God did not want me to be a priest. Every time I responded the same way. “God wants me to be the image of his Son, the firstborn among many brothers.” But God wanted me to be a different kind of brother.
The more that I prayed, the more that I heard the same voice encouraging me not to lose sight of St Francis and to look at Mother Teresa too. It hit me one day. It was a call within a call. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m on Mother Teresa. First of all, there is a big age difference between us and there is an even greater difference between her holiness and mine. I’m tiny and insignificant compared to her.
But I believed that God wanted me to start a new community of Franciscan men. I did not know anything about starting a new religious community. The one that I had joined in 1969 came fully established and user friendly. The Capuchin reform has been part of the Franciscan family since the 16th century. The Franciscan family has been around since 1209. So I began to write. As I wrote the words just came to my finger tips. The Lord was asking for a group of Franciscan Brothers of Life.
We had to be Franciscan. We had to follow the Gospel with the same passion and simplicity as our Holy Father Francis. Nothing should be changed. Our poverty, obedience and chaste brotherhood was to be exactly as that of St. Francis. But our target population would be Catholics who struggle with life issues: abortion, end of life decisions about their loved ones, infanticide, embryonic stem cell research, capital punishment, and euthanasia. The Brothers of Life are to go to those who have not fully embraced the revealed truths about the dignity of life and to tell them about the incarnation of Christ. The Brothers must tell them that Mary conceived a child who was human and divine, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and that the Father loved the Son so much that he gave him the best thing that he had created, humanity.
Here is the most interesting part of this journey. This awakening happened in 2008. I had been in touch with the Cardinal, who had been my confrere when we were younger. We were stationed at the same fraternity from 1980 to 1983. He had said how my awakening to the horrors of abortion couldn’t be timelier. Bishop Estevez continued to read my writings and point out some things that he felt were truths that the Holy Spirit was sharing with us. Then came July 2009 and I became very ill. I was in and out of hospitals six times between July and January. Doctors could find no cure for my condition. My teaching contract was not renewed, because of my health. I must have dried up the local priest’s supply of oils, because I was anointed six times.
I finally looked at the Immaculate Heart one day and said, “OK. I give up. Whatever you want, I’ll do.” From that day forward my health improved. I had no money, since I was no longer teaching. The Secular Franciscans and other people began to bring food, clothing, money and even dishes. Someone on catholic.com read my story and read about the Brothers of Life and volunteered to create a website. Someone else volunteered to create this blog. I wrote down what the Lord had been telling me and sent it to the auxiliary bishop. In brief, it was a proposal for a new Franciscan brotherhood that would follow the primitive rule of the Friars Minor, in the same spirit as the Capuchins, but with a fourth vow: Total commitment to the proclamation and promotion of life, preached with the same charity and passion as St. Francis preached.
Most of the time, you send these things in to an Archbishop and it takes a lot of time to hear from them. These are busy guys. I sat down to wait for a response. But I prayed to the Immaculate Heart that God’s Will be done. About three days later I received a call from the Auxiliary Bishop. He was calling to let me know that the Archbishop had said we needed to discern this. I was unsure if I could or could not accept brothers. But then he added that the Archbishop had put in a call to a priest in the Archdiocese who is a religious and has many years of experience with the formation of religious. He asked the priest to serve as the spiritual guide and advisor for this process. The priest had accepted. When I met with Father, he told me about the call and he said that there was a green light to begin to discern if it is really the Will of God that there be a Franciscan brotherhood dedicated to the Gospel of Life. He encouraged me to go forward and find the men.
I didn’t have to look long. In less than one year, there have been 42 inquiries by men of all ages and all walks of life. No, we don’t have 42 brothers. Everyone is discerning. But we are starting to gather together in community. I call it my community of ragamuffin Franciscans. We lead an intense life of prayer, with the Eucharist as the center of our day and the Liturgy of the Hours as the crown around the mass. We have Lectio Divina every day, Grand Silence at night, daily rosary and time before the Blessed Sacrament. We also go out to serve in the pregnancy centers of the Archdiocese of Miami. We work with the Office of Respect Life on retreats, volunteer training, working in baby rooms where we gather and distribute baby articles to mothers and fathers who have decided to keep their babies, but are too poor to afford the necessary things for them. We give talks around parishes and meet with pastors, offering to help their Respect Life programs in their parishes. We also teach religious education and work with youth. There is a lot to do and not enough workers. We are now creating a spiritual formation programs for expectant fathers.
I’m not sure where the Lord is leading us, but I certainly believe that God will not allow his children to be destroyed by abortion, euthanasia and other heinous attacks on life without raising up different religious families in the Church to lead in the battle against the enemy.
That’s an awful lot to read in one sitting. If you have read this far, thank you for staying with me. I look forward to hearing from all of you and hearing what you have to offer on Franciscan spirituality and the Gospel of Life.
Remember, GOD IS HIRING A FEW GOOD MEN!
Br. Jay, FFV