November 24, 2013

An Inmate, a Decree, and a Donkey

The journey is a funny business with all its twists and turns. They all bear and speak of grace, though it's not always easy to see at the time. And grace itself isn't always easy. True, it's often consoling or even comforting. But just as often it's the pruning that the Lord promised. The pruning hurts, but it's also a sign that we have already borne fruit.

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."


Silvana said...

Just before I made my perpetual profession in 2003 I heard that a community I'd helped to found in London and the community where I'd spent my international experience in Mexico were both closing down. Since then my noviciate and another house I've lived in have also closed.

This really came home to me when I sold my parents' house after their deaths. I now have a string of former addresses, but only two where I know I can walk through the door and be "at home". And that's without mentioning the list of significant people who have died or left. And I know I'm not alone or unusual in this.

It is, as you say, part of the journey to grieve as we look behind and see once-important landmarks disappear into the mist - and often know our own part in their demise. But thank you for reminding me/us that what the journey is really about is moving forwards, towards a God who doesn't disappear or get closed down.

A Secular Franciscan said...

Love the song!