The feast of St. Francis. How this funny little man has driven my life in so many directions!
I first met him in a history class in the spring of 1992. I was a sophomore in college. The first Iraq war had left this punk rock kid longing for a way to opt of the horrendous cut-throat system of this world. On the other side, Christianity was starting to tug on my spirit. Francis synthesized an example for me that captured both. I was set on the path of my Franciscan journey, without even yet being baptized.
A year later, a newly initiated Catholic Christian, I found myself wandering through Europe with a friend who was a student at Marquette. After a wonderful Easter in Verona, we came to a disagreement on our next stop. He wanted to go to Switzerland to try to go skiing. I wanted to go to Assisi. So we went to Assisi where we celebrated my companion's birthday, and then he went off to his own adventures. Alone I was in Assisi for almost a week, praying all day, taking it all in. In the vainglory that I called being romantic at the time, how I wanted to throw away my wallet and just crawl into a cave like I was brother Giles or somebody, giving the rest of my life to the praise of the Most High who had made all his creatures so good and beautiful in imitation of Himself!
Returning to the States, I finished college and then went off immediately to become a friar myself. Filled with zeal, I made a good go of it. But it was too much too soon. When my third anniversary of baptism rolled around, I already found myself an invested, novice religious. The interior work of the novitiate revealed my lack of roots. I had to leave, and did so on Christmas morning, 1995. It was one of the hardest moments of my life. It was the first time I was off the pre-set, linear path. I had no idea what to do next. But the Most High himself revealed to me that this was the Franciscan poverty I had been desiring the whole time, to have to depend on God even to know who you were and what you had to do next.
Soon the Holy Spirit got me a job where I could serve humble folks and learn for myself patience, humility, and dependence on God. A few years went by. Around the winter of 1999, several people asked me if I had ever thought about the priesthood. I took at as a sign, and went up to meet with the vocation director of my diocese. Praying in the seminary chapel beforehand, I asked God to reveal his will to me through the interview. It went so poorly that I had to suppress laughter after it was done. I thought I was a good candidate for seminary: young, coming with an undergraduate transcript eminently suited to the requirements, active in my parish, etc. But the vocation director was right: I hadn't seem to have thought the whole thing through.
What did the bad interview mean, given that I had asked God to reveal himself through what I would experience? Going home, I picked up the Testament of Francis. That was it, I realized: I was a Franciscan. Having met the Capuchins while I was a novice in the OFM, I called them up.
That's some of how Francis has been with me. I continue to pray to him, read his writings, and read about him. In some ways parallel to my relationship with God himself, Francis becomes more compelling over time, but harder to pin down. He was a curious person.
St. Francis, pray for us.