Is that the right word for it?
I think the word I want is "pangyric." The following essay is a combo -- both a rundown of my week with the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal and some reflections on that experience. Trust me. What follows is not what you usually get from me.
So, Friday last, June 23rd, I boarded a train in Latrobe, PA after the completion of an excellent conference. In so many ways, the conference was enlightening, refreshing, and envigorating. Most importantly, the conference sought the most essential truth to theological education, that theology is best done on one's knees. Prayer pervaded the time of study so much that many guys said they thought that they were on retreat. While I was cheered by that reflection, I was a little dismayed. After all, theological reflection is the springboard of prayer, at least it always has been to me. I can't take credit for that insight; it was the essence of what many of my professors at Saint Charles imbued us with.
Anyway, I got on the train with two seminarians and a priest from New York. On board, I discovered we were sitting next to two other priests. So this made the trip really fun and interesting as we discussed our lives as priests, two of us being recently ordained, one retired, and a religious priest who worked at Riker's. Yes, he had the badge and everything. What made the trip hard however was the imcompetence of Amtrak. The train was a couple of hours late regularly delayed and stymied every step of the way. In the end, we all got safely to New York. However, by the time I was done with Amtrak I was done with trains, subways, and the like. I caught a cab to Harlem to meet up with the Friars at Saint Joseph's. Friday night was uneventful as Fr. Luke and I enjoyed some company and I ate a late, light dinner. I was really pleasant all said.
Saturday started early with Office of Readings at 6:00 a.m. (Yeah, I know. Not what everyone envisions a vacation as.) After an hour of quiet reading and prayer (and unpacking) we prayed Morning Prayer, celebrated Mass, and trucked over to the Bronx for a day of work. Normally, the friars, on Saturdays, do work in a pro-life vein, often spending the entire morning at a local abortion clinic, praying and counseling women coming in. For whatever reason, that didn't happen. Instead we worked at Saint Crispin's and Our Lady of the Angels helping the brothers in whatever way we could. My job was to clean out the garage and the basement so that it was more user-friendly. It was quite a little workout. Part of that job was to move a work bench, a bench that was too big by about an inch to get through a particular door. Between one other visitor, myself, and Brother Tobias, we managed to partially disassemble the table and move it into the garage. We also removed the door and then I promptly lost the door screws. It was a flurry of intercession to Saint Anthony which led to their turning up. Before the day was out it was already being put to good use. By the time we return to Harlem, I was beat and ready for sleep to say the very least.
Sunday, however, was something of a treat. On Sunday, we hoped in the van and booked it down to Philadelphia for the 25th anniversay party for EWTN. Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Rigali who preached I thought an excellent homily in an understated fashion. In other words, very few verbal fireworks but a powerful vision of the life in Christ delievered in a way which if reflected upon had radical implications for the lives we Christians lead today. It was a nice event also in that I got to connect with priest friends and acquaitences from around the area. So, Fr. Francis, Fr. Anthony, and Fr. Mark from the Missionary Franciscans of the Eternal Word were present (of course) as was one of my professors (Fr. Shawn Mahoney - chaplain at Temple University) and a school mate of mine (Fr. Stephen McDermott of Philadelphia). Also, Fr. Benedict Groeschel was there and that set the stage for the next exciting event of the day.
I think that I have mentioned in the past my connection to Fr. Benedict, but a brief summary might be helpful to readers. I met Fr. Benedict in 1995 while on the Spiritual Year in Northhampton, PA. From there, Father's and my paths would cross from time to time in our various junkets around the East Coast. Then in 2000, Fr. Benedict conducted my priesthood retreat. From there the friendship has continued and still does today. When he saw me in the sacristy he said, "Shane, what are you doing here?!" I guess he wasn't expecting a bad penny to keep showing up. Okay, back to the story.
After the Mass, we hopped back into the van and sped up to Yonkers so that we could be in the audience for Fr. Benedict's show on EWTN. Points go to eagle eyed reader, carl, for spotting me in the crowd. We won't repeat the hurtful comment that Fr. Hamilton made at my expense but it was a really great experience. Father Benedict spoke that night on the virtue of hope, and he very deftly handled the subject matter and the calls that came in. So Sunday was a long day, mostly because of being in the car.
Monday turned into a major workout. On Monday, myself and one of the guys visiting the community went to help at St. Crispin's with the weekly food distribution. The friars every Monday distribute food to those in the neighborhood. What is really interesting is what goes on during the food distribution: one friar leads the group in Rosary and preaches/teaches the crowd who show up. It looked like a well-oiled machine with mostly neighborhood folks coming by for whatever assistance could be provided. After that we helped with the clean up of the house because they had some masonry work done and the dust was EVERYWHERE.
Tuesday and Thursday were largely the same. The morning was spent preparing lunch for the local folks at St. Joseph's Table. On Wednesday, we helped at the friary in Yonkers, especially Casa Juan Diego which is an apostolate and outreach to immigrants.
But in the end, what is most important about this contact is the parts I am not telling. You see, there are so many things about the Friars of the Renewal which commend them to me. Their life is very serious and very rigorous and quite frankly, it is quite attractive. If you are discerning a vocation to the religious life, I would say, "run, don't walk" to the nearest friary.
In all seriousness, my time with the friars was one of the most edifying experiences of my life. The humility and simplicity with which these men go about their mission was simply stunning. And even when you caught a whiff of tension, perhaps an old argument or tussle, they still genuinely liked and cared for one another. The friars give me hope for the future of the Church. What they do is not easy; it's humanly impossible. I can see how God is clearly working in their community and transforming the Church at large. So, remember to pray for them. After all they had to put up with me for a week. That's penance enough for anyone.