It just amazes me sometimes when I look back, how I could never have imagined what would become of me in this religious life, what would later become my relationship to certain brothers and sisters, places and times.
In the summer of 1995 I was a novice in the OFM, spending the summer at St. Bonaventure University. The weather was lovely, the group of novices was still in the 'honeymoon' phase, my prayer life was rich with experiences and consolations and I was full of the giddy pleasure of being finally a real religious, in the habit and everything. There I made my first Capuchin friend, a young friar on his way to priesthood. I coveted his theological knowledge, I admired what seemed like his confidence and I guess you might say, verve. In the lightness of those days I could never have imagined that eighteen years later I would be a Capuchin priest and he would be in prison for sexual abuse.
Seven years later, in the summer of 2002, I was on retreat in preparation for religious profession in the Capuchins. We were in a great old house of the Order in that part of the world, full of history and the old spirit of religious life in North America. It's true that in those days I gave little thought to what would become of me in the Capuchin Order, but I never could have imagined that eleven years later I would be sitting in front of a computer in a little room on the outskirts of Rome, filling out a form that would become the decree to suppress the same house.
I guess it's an ordinary grief of the journey, to watch what were the landmarks behind you crumble. On the positive side it produces a certain detachment in the knowledge that what presents itself as so pressing or attractive in this moment is also destined to a crumbling transformation into memory in the future, and it also reminds the soul that what we were really always drawn to, what we were always truly leaning on was the Spirit of God woven into all these things in his humility and with which they were shot through in his power.
It reminds me of the late spring of 1994. I had graduated from college and my parents had kindly given me a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as a graduation gift. I went with the pilgrimage office of the OFM, the Order I was soon to enter as a postulant. The pilgrimage was led by Fr. Callistus Bamberg, may he rest in peace. Towards the end of the trip he gave me the gift of a little olive wood statue of the Holy Family in their flight into Egypt; Joseph walking, Mary on the donkey holding the infant Jesus. He said, and this has always stuck with me,
"Whenever you look at this, remember that it's a journey."