Drive-Thru Pope Mobile

Traversing the Midwest trumpeting the way of the troubadour St Francis has been one unexpected surprise after another. I love being a Franciscan Friar and sharing the story of St Francis with others.  I love even more being a Vocation Director invited to schools, retreats, and eager prospects excited to hear more about Franciscan life. God has been preparing me for a long time to do what I’m doing now.  Before the friars, I was encouraged by God to seek a CDL driver’s seat and negotiate professionally a tour bus, an 18-wheeler, and various passenger shuttles.  Never did I expect to be evangelizing the drive-thru!!!  Since fall of 2016 benefactors have helped me wrap the vocation director’s car with an icon of St Francis of Assisi alongside an image of Pope Francis.

Drive-Thru

Dubbed the “pope-mobile” by teenagers, I reach a wide area with the Franciscan message, and drive about 25,000 miles a year. Now whenever I enter a drive-thru the first thing workers see is Pope Francis in their window, waving to them, before they ever notice me.  In one case a worker jumped backward in terror.  I replied, “You are afraid of the Pope, really?”  She embarrassingly backed away from the window, made an “all call” to her co-workers who huddled at the window to point and laugh.  This wasn’t the nice laughter of something cute and adorable, this was the insulting laugh of “joke is on you.”  I turned 3 shades of red, waved, and sheepishly grabbed my order and split.  I wish I had left a prayer card with her, and patiently shared what we are trying to do.  That everyone has gifts on loan from God, and to use those gifts to make the world a better place is a precious vocation.  To deny those gifts and not feed your passion to a hungry world is a grave tragedy that can ruin your life and those around you.  I missed my opportunity to evangelize, and resigned to my own drive-bye.

The same day, no less, packed another surprise.  Feeling down and frustrated at missing another opportunity to witness to the Franciscan life.  I was walking into a jammed parking lot filled with cars, panning the horizon for the pope-mobile, when I saw some commotion next to it.  All I could see from a distance were parents and their kids facing the images on the car.  I was so excited to redeem myself and re-evangelize this fresh new opportunity before me.  My return had arrived! I zipped around the fender of the pope-mobile, filled with renewed zeal for everything Jesus, and joyfully blurting out, “Are you fans of the Pope?”  These two moms looked up from their children being buckled into a stroller, filled with annoyance at my intrusion, both replied in stereo, “NO!”

Driving with a Catholic billboard wrapped around your driver’s seat has brought unexpected challenge and evangelical turmoil.   I love the fuel island conversations that begin with an eager young voice, “look dad it’s the Pope.”  I get excited with the curious parking lot comments, “what are you up to?”  I’m amazed at the kindness of drivers extending an extra brake for a lost and wandering friar.  What I didn’t expect were the all too familiar hard-hearted responses of people angry and frustrated at the Catholic Church.  But hey it goes with the territory of evangelization, right?  I’m not alone here.  The apostles were not met with universal praise and alleluias, eventually they put their life on the line for the gospel.  Enemies did not want to hear their message of hope and killed them for it.  I love all the accounts we hear in the Easter season of believers who witness to Jesus, eager to share their passion for Him.  Through 12 ragged and bewildered apostles Jesus sparked a world-wide messaging campaign, namely Jesus’ hope is greater than any human despair.  These incredible inspirations fuel my engine.  Yes I believe there is hope to keep the message moving, even in the drive-thru.  Please, pray for me.

Time to Cultivate

Time to Cultivate“Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it” (Mt. 13:7) Traveling from Minnesota to Texas and everywhere in between I’m always on the move.  Vocation work requires me to move outward and meet people where they are at.  My role is to nurture the call from God working in the soul who desires to do the Lord’s will.  Along my travels I saw the most tragic thing on the roadside.  It was a semi tractor overtaken by weeds.   A machine that was made to be on the move, rolling down the road and it was covered in weeds.  Wheels made to turn, motor made to rumble, a commander’s chair made for hauling and all were held captive by weeds choking out the truck’s purpose.  The essential nature of the very thing a truck does requires movement.  The purpose of a truck is to move!  Somewhere along the way that movement became stationary and the weeds choked it.  It was the saddest thing ever seen.
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We Franciscan Friars are called to be on the move.  It is uniquely tied to our charism.  Francis received the Gospel mandate to go forth to the world and be a missionary to plant the Gospel (Mt. 19:21 Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.) St. Francis of Assisi was called to carry the Gospel from Assisi, Italy to the streets of the world.  The Gospel message so moved his heart that he could not remain stationary.  St. Francis was the messenger and sent it to the streets.  Today there is not one continent on the globe that lacks a Franciscan presence to witness the Gospel.  This is why the Gospel continues to move outward today and cannot remain parked on the shoulder, overrun by weeds.

We are called to movement in the spiritual life as well.  The weeds of sin always have the capacity to choke out spiritual growth and tie us down.  The Gospel requires one to move and be willing to accommodate spiritual growth.  Archbishop Joseph Tobin tells of an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor who was counseling a math professor.  The sponsor was not educated to the level of the professor, and when it came to math he could not keep pace. But when it came to sobriety, the math professor let the weeds of booze take root.  So in the first meeting the sponsor told the professor, you should know that I have only counseled 11 guys in AA and 6 of them committed suicide.  The professor was shocked and said, “why are you telling me this?  You are not all that successful in your counseling, you think?”  The sponsor said, “It’s my job to deliver the message, what you do with the message is up to God.”

We all have a spiritual message to deliver with the collateral of our lives.  This message cannot remain stagnant.  Either we move upward and onward toward our eternal destination, or the weeds will immobilize us.  What part of your life needs a bit of weeding?  Is there a neglected area that requires some focused attention?  An addictive behavior?  A bad habit at work? An internal voice that nags you with the repeat switch of shame?  Selfish time that could be filled with charitable outreach toward others?

We are called to be on the move.  The saints before us like St. Francis shared the Gospel and moved on.  Spiritual growth requires us to nudge forward and move on.  Keep those wheels rollin’ and see you at the next rest area!