Saturday, August 16, 2014

A 50 Year Journey

  "The Rule and life of the Friars Minor is this, namely, to observe the Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ, by living in obedience, without anything of one's own, and in chastity."  (Rule of St. Francis, 1223)

  Fifty years ago today, on August 16, 1964, I promised to live by the rule and life of the Friars Minor.  I was 19 years old having just completed my novitiate.  I took temporary vows for three years.  In 1967 I made it final and after four more years of study in 1971 I was ordained a priest.

   The most important thing that I can say about this fifty year journey is that I am happy, and yes, I would do it all over again.

   One might ask, "How does one become happy over a fifty year period by taking vows of poverty, chastity and obedience?"  The key for me lies in the statement from our Franciscan rule which I quoted above.  These promises are not made in a vacuum, or just individually.  What attracted me to the Franciscans was not the vows per se. It was the friars. I had wonderful parish priests at St. William's in the Dorchester section of Boston where I grew up. The Franciscans who taught me at Columbus High school in Boston, however, just seemed to have a spirit that drew me towards them.  Above all they seemed happy and enjoyed being together.   Needless to say after joining the friars I was soon exposed to the not so pleasant foibles of some of the friars.  We are, after all, human, but over the years I have realized how blessed I am to have brothers who support and encourage me in countless ways. The word friar, by the way, is derived from the Latin frater, and the French frere, both of which mean brother.

   In addition to the friar, brother part of our life is that other word, minor.  At the time of Francis there were two social classes, the mairoes or majors--the powerful, and the minores, the minors, the little people, those on the margins.  Our life then is a call to live as a minor and above all to identify with and accompany the minores of our times. It can be a struggle to live that value in present day America but I can say that when I have lived that reality I have experienced the greatest joy and fulfillment of my life be it in the North End of Boston, midtown Manhattan, The Bronx, Buffalo, NY, Bolivia or my recent mission trips to Honduras, or the many different people that I have had the privilege of serving on the many missions I have preached.  That experience has helped me to realize in a deeper way that my brothers are not only the friars with whom I have lived, but that the many people I serve are my brothers and sisters as well
With my uncle Tom and my cousin Dennis at my simple profession on August 16, 1964
   The actual vows of poverty, chastity and obedience then are the means of enabling me to be a friar minor.  Without those everything that I mentioned above would not be possible.
    Back in 1964 I could not have imagined the changes that would take place in the Church and in the world over the next 50 years.  The Second Vatican Council as still in progress and I actually took my vows in Latin.  In 1967 I would pronounce my final vows in English.  The whole way that religious life was lived has undergone tremendous development over that time.  I am thankful for having experienced all of it, both past and present.

   The same can be said for the world we live in.  The Vietnam War was on and the civil rights movement was in full swing.  Though we were isolated from that in the novitiate those events would impact our life as friars in the years ahead.  From those times right up to our present post 9/11 struggles it became clear that as Friars Minor we were called to be a prophetic presence in the world, not withdrawing to the monastery, but living in the friary and stepping out into the world supporting the struggling and challenging all to live the values of the Gospel.  For those who know me it is this and not any political leaning, that generates my stands on any number of issues in our present world.  My province and the entire Order are a source of strength in doing that.  After all, as the opening statement says, "The rule and life of the Friars Minor is to live the holy Gospel of our Lord, Jesus Christ.."  I am still, after 50 years, growing in living up to that challenge.

October, 2013, after not quite 50 years

1 comment:

  1. Dear Father John,

    Congratulations on celebrating 50 years as a Franciscan friar. I attended a mission that you held at St. Maximilian Kolbe parish in Pembroke Pines a few years ago. I was blessed by that mission and have been reading your blog ever since. May the Lord continue to bless you in your mission.