It’s Off to Work We Go
by Casey Cole
Yesterday our lives as Franciscan postulants got busy. After a month of a sort of “grace period, (but of course, all periods with the friars are graced…) we were let loose from the house, sent forth into the world to minister. Three days a week, Edgardo will meet with the Legion of Mary where he will be visiting the sick and bringing communion to the housebound parishioners; Ramon and Sergio will drive up to Philadelphia to work at the St. Francis Inn where they will be serving the poor directly; and Dennis and I will be going to a nursing home in Newark to visit the sick and elderly.
Unlike most nursing homes, Jeanne Jugan Residence is a warm, inviting place where almost all of its Residents are happy to be there, and there is a waiting list of a few years to be admitted. This home offers a dignity and respect to each of its residents that I have never seen before: there are two full-time activity coordinators who run games and events every day, the Residents are visited on a daily basis by the Sisters, the food is honestly very good, and the facilities feel more like a big comfortable home than a drafty hospital. The Sisters who run the home actually take a forth vow (along with poverty, chastity, and obedience) of hospitality, vowing to never let anyone feel unwelcome or lonely, caring for those especially on their deathbed. Besides serving those who can no longer serve themselves, the Sisters have a whole wing of the building set aside as apartments for more active and independent people, free to come and go as they please.
All in all, pretty boring job right? Listen to old folks ramble on about the “good ol’ days” and about how “kids these days” are ruining society, right? Yesterday, I played a card game called Tri-Virsity with three sassy women that had me on my toes and laughing the whole time (who also beat me), got a chance to go to mass, ate ribs with the residents living in the apartments, played host to a number of game shows such as “Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader?” then rounded out the day by getting my butt kicked in Wii bowling by someone three times my age (seriously, I bowled a 223 and this old lady beat me by more than 20 pins!)
Because there’s such a range in activity levels, I’m excited to run a Bible study for some, but also be a pair of ears for the lonely ones who never get visitors; play competitive card games, but also push someone’s wheelchair outside so they can get fresh air; listen to some tell me about how I’m “exactly like my grandson” or “perfect for my granddaughter” but also talk without response to others so they know someone’s with them.
For Dennis and I, work looks a bit more like leisure: we play games, we sit and talk, and we enjoy a meal together. But in the end, even though it may not be very “difficult” to do what we’re doing, does it make it any less significant for the person to which we’re ministering? If we want to uphold the dignity of all human life and foster the authentic development of all human life, I think it’s equally as important to play Wii with a lonely old woman as it is to give bread to a hungry young man. Don’t you? When I look at it this way, and realize that God needs help in many different ways, it’s pretty easy to just let go, take a vow of obedience, and minister wherever it is I’m told to go… even if that place is a nursing home.
The Charism of Preaching
Dennis and I hold a bible study every Wednesday.
While acting as Retreat Coordinator and Program Director for my Catholic Campus Ministry in college, I was able to recognize and develop a charism of speaking/preaching. Though difficult and uncomfortable at first, many years of practice helped me to develop confidence, and eventually find great joy in each experience. I can’t say that I’m ready to stand up and give a sermon everyday in front of a church full of people, but given my experience so far, it’s definitely charism that I would like discern for the future. As a postulant, I’ve been given two great opportunities to do just that.
The first opportunity is a shared bible study that Dennis and I run each week at our ministry site, Jeanne Jugan Residence. Usually attended by about 15-20 Residents, Dennis and I spend an hour reading and preaching about a number of passages related to an overall theme, trying to engage the residents in a discussion about their own experiences. So far we’ve looked at women in the Bible, images of God, parables related to the kingdom of heaven, forgiveness and humility, and Christ the King.
Because of the laid-back nature of the Bible study, we’ve enjoyed the chance to preach in an almost pressure-free atmosphere to see what it might be like at a larger venue. The consistency of a weekly Bible study helps to simulate a weekly homily and to get in the habit of preparing beforehand with well written thoughts. On the other hand, it also gives us the opportunity to speak a bit more extemporaneously, honing in our ability to come up with fruitful responses with little preparation.
The second opportunity occurred yesterday when Ramon and I traveled down to Rehoboth Beach, DE, to help with a parish mission. Speaking to some of the 7th, 8th, and 9th graders in religious education, we were given an hour to share about our experience of Church at that age in order to promote a more active involvement. Our tandem speech had three parts, each beginning with participation from the students: 1) what is Church? 2) What can a middle schooler do to be a part of Church? and 3) What does it mean to be an adult in the Church?
Not unlike the bible studies with Dennis, this opportunity allowed us to speak in front of a small group of people on topic of which we are very passionate, gauging the responsiveness of the listeners and adapting our styles based on their questions and responses. But unlike the Bible study, the parish mission required us to prepare a bit more beforehand, and to coordinate our speeches so as to present a common message. Having never given a partner speech such as this, it was certainly a challenging but fruitful experience in teamwork.
If for nothing else, these two experiences have (and will continue) to help me discern the charism of preaching in my own life. I realize that I’ve been given at least a mustard seed worth of this charism, and through practice and prayer will have to wait and see if it grows into a full-sized vocation. As a supplement to my discernment, I’ve also been reading a lot about St. Anthony of Padua: besides being great at finding things, he is noted as being one of the greatest preachers the Church has ever known, and a truly inspirational figure. Hopefully through his intercession I will be able to discern this charism a bit more fully and maybe even have a little bit of his ability rub off on me!