“Pax et bonum”! I am very happy to wish you a blessed new year and to share with you the highlights of my first week of postulancy in residence at the Franciscans of Life motherhouse. I hope you like it!
It has been great to begin my residency during the Christmas season.
In retrospective, I can see I experienced both the great solemnity of the Nativity and the secular “holiday” of New Year as times of “glad tidings”, of a new beginning, as well as a reminder that Christ lives. “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it”, says the Lord. And St. Paul, who was no “forgetful listener”, would say: “I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me”.
In short: this first week was for me the time to welcome the birth of Christ in my heart and embrace Him in my brothers.
Arriving to the motherhouse was not a new experience, but this time it took a whole new aspect. I wasn’t just visiting. I was at home, now.
After settling in, I was invited to go to evening mass at the nearby parish of St Boniface. It felt great to begin this way. As Brother Jay always reminds us, “everything begins at the beginning”. I was very happy to attend this mass with my brothers and to pray Vespers with them afterwards, before the Blessed Sacrament.
This would be the first “in residence” taste of the fraternal liturgical life. Little did I know (I say this with great joy!) that this would become the “heart and soul”of my daily life of love!
The life in fraternity is “in common” in many ways. We strive to serve one another and to meet each other’s needs. We all seek to love and be loved, and in the life of the regular brothers we are always attentive to each other’s needs for spiritual support, safety, and affection.
The common life is also very practical. Our community embraces early Franciscan poverty in which the brothers did not just share common property. We simply have what is strictly necessary. For this purpose, Father Superior worked right away on the motherhouse weekly schedule to meet the needs of a postulant student brother and assure that I can continue my formation while pursuing my first doctoral degree – all the while living the peaceful and joyful life of penance of the Franciscans of Life.
My days begin at the “cella” (pronounced like “shell”), where I sleep “at a pillow’s distance” from Father Superior. It is always a joyful experience, as we encounter one another in awakening and, shortly afterwards, our Lord in the prayer of Lauds.
Due to the diminute size of the “cella”, the brothers must take turns; one brother takes care of the beds while the other lights the candles at our little prayer table, before the icon of the Immaculate and the crucifix of San Damiano. It is here that we keep the prayer intentions entrusted to us. On one day in which my turn came around for the latter and I was particularly sleepy, I recalled the words of an earlier liturgical reading: “Awake, sleeper!”. For a moment, I thought I could feel the Lord’s eyes on me…but when I turned around, I realized it was Father’s glance! “Are you done waking up, or do you need a hand?” 🙂
Having warmed up the soul with prayer, we take care of the rest with breakfast (and, not uncommonly, some laughter!) On more than one occasion I “showcased my cooking skills” by preparing some awesome toasts with coffee (although I ought to admit that the greater merit goes to the new toaster oven that we recently received from a kind benefactor).
What happens in the mornings depends on the daily schedule.
Most weekdays we coordinate our schedules for academics and apostolate, and we often share the community car by planning our daily trip accordingly. Several days, however, the morning begins with a formation class in topics such as spiritual theology, sacred liturgy, and Franciscan studies.
Saturday is dedicated in a particular way to prayer and to taking care of the motherhouse. Once a month, we dedicate it to a full day of prayer and recollection. This week, however, was my opportunity to “brush up” my broom and mop skills 😉
Sunday is our family day. Usually, we begin the day by going to the nearby parish of St. Maximilian Kolbe to attend mass.
Once a month, however, we also travel to Miami, to the mission of Sts. Francis and Clare, where I serve as acolyte for the local Latin Mass Community. While we worship in community in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite, Father Superior and the brothers know that I have been an E.F. altar server for several years with great joy and to my spiritual benefit. They have kindly accommodated for me to be able to continue to do so without turning the extraordinary into the norm.
The weekday afternoon usually includes some free time for spiritual reading, private prayer, a walk around the lake, and (for me, in a special way) time for homework. This doesn’t mean I am “off the hook” for an afternoon formation class, however! 🙂
Saturday afternoon is often the occasion to buy the necessary groceries for the week and take care of the needs of our lovely companions Max and Tasha.
On Family Day, it is not uncommon to spend the afternoon at a nearby park, alternating times of prayerful contemplation to times of joy and fun.
The evening is usually marked by attending daily Mass followed by Vespers, in turn followed by supper.
Something beautiful happens on Monday evenings, as the regular and secular brothers gather for the weekly “chapter”. This is one of my favorite experiences of our fraternity life – to welcome all the brothers and be welcomed with a warm embrace, and then pray Vespers together, receive formation, plan our joint efforts in our common service to the voiceless, and also share weekly experiences.
It is written: “How good and how pleasant it is, when brothers dwell together as one!” This is exactly what I experience at our “family meetings”, as the secular brothers, who are husbands and fathers, enrich us with the experience of a Catholic family life, and at the same time allow us to share with them the fruits of peace and good that we find in the celibate life in community.
At the end, Father Superior sends the secular brothers back to their families with a warm embrace. This is a very moving moment, but it is also a reminder that I must retreat to the “cella”, for this evening is the time for the regular brothers to have the Chapter of Faults. The regular brothers recollect, as Father Superior enters the cell and sits quietly. One by one, we “come into the light, that our deeds may be manifested”.
When my turn comes, I kneel before Father Superior, entrusting myself to his justice and mercy, and opening myself to my brothers, as I accuse myself of my faults against the Holy Rule and our Constitutions. After receiving Father Superior’s firm but gentle correction, I prostrate before the Crucified Lord and, arms outstretched, I recite my Confiteor. As I hear Father’s words “Arise, in the name of the Lord”, and I sit down amidst my brothers, I have the unshakable certainty that despite my limitations, my Superior and my brothers still love me. As Brother Leo steps forward, I glance at the eyes of the Crucified. Those eyes, and the peace in my heart, are enough to make me wish to leap for joy. But I remain recollected, as I recall the words of our Holy Father St. Francis: “Let us begin, for up to now we have done nothing.”
The night finishes with a visit to His Majesty, who in the Blessed Sacrament awaits for us at the St. Francis chapel of a nearby parish.
Before walking into the chapel, Father Superior guides us through a review of our day. This is one of the most meaningful times of the day for me, as I can rejoice at the good experiences of the day and analyze missed opportunities to encounter and serve Christ, in order to see what got in the way and what can I do better.
After a time of adoration, we lift our cowls and we let the words of Compline echo silently before His face: “Lord, now you let your servant go in peace…”.
We return to the motherhouse and retreat into our “cella”, our beloved cloister. Lights go off. I lay down in bed “and sleep comes at once”. It’s been a good day, I tell myself. The night is silent. I thank God for the present moment, for the love, and for the gift of a life of penance in service to the voiceless.
And just as I am about to fall asleep, a pillow hits me. “Good night, son!”
Br. Raul Carmine, FFV
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