Radical Living of the Gospel

Pope Francis is challenging clerics to depart from the stuffy sacristies and deliver the Gospel message to where the people are. Shepherds need to smell like the sheep they serve, not like the rectories where they live. Many are taking the Pope’s directive to heart, one group is friars living the radical Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in Brussels, Belgium

“Not so much” says Conventual Franciscan Friar Jack Mardesic, “The mission trips are becoming less and less radical.”  Friar Jack has responded to an appeal from the Minister General Marco Tasca, the 119th successor of St. Francis, to continue a long history of friars serving the people of Belgium.  6 friars comprise the friary that are transforming the neighborhood through the joy of the Gospel, one person at a time.  Friar Daniel Marie Theveneh, OFM Conv. the guardian (superior) is from France; Friar Jean Luc Marie, OFM Conv. is from France as well, Friar Adrian Baciu, OFM Conv. is from Romania, Friar Giuseppe Panarisi, OFM Conv. is from Italy, Friar Bart de Pape, OFM Conv. is from Belgium and Friar Jack Mardesic, OFM Conv. is from Australia.

All 6 friars live in the arena of providence.  No transportation, no booked reservations, no meal plan, just a backpack, water and a breviary when they set out on 3 week mission.  “We experience the goodness of God’s providence” and the people open their homes and networks to give us all we need.  It is not long before we have a list of interested people that want us to stay in their homes.  We share our prayer with them, sing our hymns with them, and swap many great stories.  “Our missions are becoming less and less radical because the goodness of the people and we entrust ourselves to God’s wonderful providence.”  People give from their hearts whatever we need, however we never accept money while out on mission.  Friar Jack smiles with the many memorable stories of walking from the Italian capital of Rome to Assisi, the hometown of St. Francis.  Today the trip would be a 2 and 1/2 hour drive that took the friars 8 days to navigate on foot.  A walk that has not been led by friars for too many years to count.  The stories he encounters while walking with the people make the friars’ preaching come alive to the people, and they have an experience that touches the hearts.  He’s had atheists sincerely chase him down to say “God Bless You!” and homosexual guys who at first want to hassle them and later want to unload their wallets on the them.  It’s great to witness the change in character and transformation of people once they realize the reason the friars are on the streets.  “We have witnessed people healed, drug dealers shaking free of their addictions, God reaching out to give a healing touch to His people.” The friars are simply witnessing to the joy of the Gospel as St. Francis might have done 800 years ago.  Friar Jack emphasizes that there is nothing radical about it, that he is just taking Franciscan fraternity from the friary out into the streets.  “We live a very normal Conventual Franciscan lifestyle most of the year, only once or twice do we set out on an itinerant mission over the course of a year.”

St. Francis was called to the itinerant life that was always on the move taking the Gospel to the people.  His travels went as far as Damietta Egypt and as near as his hometown streets of Assisi.  In Belgium there has been a history of hostility to religious and Franciscan friaries have a heart-wrenching history of being suppressed.  Brussels has a large Muslim population much like Damietta, Egypt in the time of St. Francis.  Franciscans have a long tradition of reaching out to people of faith across denominational lines.  The friars are bringing the Gospel to the people and continuing the itinerant tradition unique to Franciscan history.  “Our prayer occurs 3 times a day, we pray the rosary together at Mid day prayer, and we fast every Friday.  It’s all the same stuff we do in the friary only now we bring it to people’s homes and invite whoever is with us to join in.”  And people receive the Gospel well.  Friar Jack met 2 enthusiastic youth living on the streets when one girl says, “you are so joyful and have to have the best religion ever, I want to join.  What religion are you?”  They have been taken into homes of gypsies, socialists, Muslims, and others curious about the Franciscan life.


Most of the time Friar Jack is not afraid but there have been some close calls with youth gangs and robbers.  The criminal element is there but when they realize the reason they are there, to share the love of Christ, the bad situations make a 180 degree turn for the better. I asked Friar Jack if his mom ever has any worries for his safety?  Jack says, “Not really, my dad worries a bit about his drum-banging boy and is afraid I’ll turn into his gypsy son.”  What is your best day in Brussels I asked Friar Jack, and he said, “My best day is playing the drums with the youth on the street and losing myself in the music, we have one guitar and I do percussion.”  The enthusiasm and the receptivity of the youth keep him inspired, but that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t get exhausted after a long weekend.  “Our task is simply to testify to the presence of Christ in the world, exemplified by the joy of our Franciscan fraternity.” Ephesians 6:19 summarizes the Franciscan mission well, “and as for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must.”  Here are 6 ambassadors of Christ set out on mission with courage to spread the Gospel with great conviction.  St. Francis must be smiling!

Peace and all good,

Friar John Bamman, OFM Conv.

Time to Practice Swimming, unlike Narcissus

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Narcissus was a handsome hunter who knew he was handsome and would show disdain for people who recognized him. He was proud and haughty, if you loved him then he responded with nothing but dislike for you. Narcissus was enticed by Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, to gaze into the pool’s reflection, whereby he fell in love with his own reflection. Nemesis was seeking revenge for jilted Echo, a beautiful goddess who was despised and rejected at every turn. Narcissus could not take his eyes off himself, leaning closer and closer toward his own reflection, he fell into the water and drowned. Narcissism means to have an unhealthy fixation with oneself. What are the things that captivate you and fixate your attention?

In March I enjoyed a homily by Bishop Jospeh Cistone of Saginaw, MI who uncovered the narcissistic tendencies of our culture to fixate on individualism and the popular philosophy to “go it alone.” One example is the tragic story of Chris McCandless a 24 year-old who broke ties with family, friends, and society to survive solo in the wilds of Alaska with no safety net. Jon Krakauer wrote a book about his adventures called “Into the Wild” that details his journey from the Ivy league to Denali National Park. McCandless did himself in with his narcissistic myopia when he ate wild potato potato seeds that later caused paralysis and the inability to save himself. I listened to Bishop Cistone speak about the chronic levels of narcissistic individualism that paralyze our own culture. We have a strong chord of individualism that pushes the human person toward selfish pursuits rather than seek out community support. I watched a couple venture out to dinner who were sitting with 2 laptops, 2 cell phones, and completely disengaged from each other across the table. We have so much screen to screen communication these days that our person to person communication is deprived of minimal human interaction. We now have resources available to answer every question on the internet that only requires a pocket sized gadget. People delight in their own information overload as we send voice commands to Siri rather than approach a living person. We love to post social media alerts about our doings and updates, “its all about me” right? It is more convenient to pull up Global Positioning by Satellite rather than ask a person for driving directions. Individualism is a part of the every day person engaged in technology. We are so wired to narcissistic media that is is near impossible to unplug. What do you think about my selfie now? Are these technological marvels fixating our attention on Nemesis’ entrapping pool? How do we depart from the pool edge of this beautiful reflection of what the self can do?

A person’s vocation is the polar opposite of narcissism. A vocation will pursue the area in life that a person can make a generous gift of self. It is a call from God that will enflame one’s desire to serve others. St Clare says her entire life is a call “to become a vessel of God’s compassionate love” poured out for others. This call will never survive in a private world of “God and me.” It requires the community to confirm and affirm the call. The community will sustain a vocational call whether the state of life is a call to be single, ordained, married, or religious. A vocation will have a person compelled to serve a part of the world much bigger than the self. A vocation is not a career but is a personal call by God to serve. Individualism will never survive in a selfless sea of God-called swimmers.

There is an imprint of God in the soul of each person to give themselves generously to a vocation. Given the opportunity people will selflessly give of themselves to something bigger than themselves. We are hard-wired to give ourselves away to a vocation. During 9/11 when the twin towers of the World Trade Center were taken out by terrorists, EMS providers were rushing toward the scene. When most people were fleeing the scene for their own personal safety, fireman, policeman, and EMS providers were running toward the chaos. Some ran for their lives away, others ran for their lives toward. 343 firefighters and 60 policemen died on that day under the rubble of the twin towers. One could easily imagine the difficulty to recruit EMS providers in the aftermath of that level of destruction. But the opposite occurred. Recruitment levels are at record levels in NewYork and people desire to put their lives on the line selflessly to give themselves to something bigger than themselves. These individuals have found their vocation and seek this with all of their heart. This type of self donation has no space for Narcissus.

Where is God calling you to make a heroic donation of self? Have you asked yourself, where does God want my gifts to be selflessly given away in His service? This is your vocation swim practice. And today’s swim lesson is to pull you away from that dangerous pool of narcissism. God is our lifeguard and He will not let us drown!

Hartley Vocations Day

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Deacon Frank Sullivan, campus chaplain at Hartley High School, gave a warm welcome to this Franciscan friar for Vocations Day. We had a long line of young men filing into the chapel to hear about religious vocations from the perspective of a Dominican friar Tom Blau, O.P., Diocesan priest Fr. Dan Dury, and myself a Franciscan friar.

Hartley has an impressive vocation program for juniors and seniors to prepare them for a career immediately after high school. They can spend a half day at High School classes and half day at vocation preparation school taking more classes. These unique career centers located around Columbus, Ohio prepare the Hartley student to learn the trades of the job and complete high school classes to receive a high school diploma. Impressive vocation program for a career but we were visiting to speak about something bigger than just a vocational career.

On Vocations Day we were concentrating on religious vocations. There were Dominican sisters combing the halls. Sr. Mary Jacinta and Sr. Mary Perpetua spoke to all the young women. The young men were cycling through the chapel to hear from two mendicant friars and a diocesan priest. Great questions and insightful young women and men who were willing to absorb our stories and begin that dialogue with God, “Where God are you calling me?”

That dialogue with God is so crucial. God continues to call young men to religious consecrated life, priesthood, and diaconate and its incumbent on men to have ears ready to listen. Part of the difficulty of discernment, or making a big decision in your life, is calibrating our ears to openness and readiness. All these men were listening attentively with hearts wide open and readied for our message. And what was the message?

People are yearning to give their lives to something filled with worthwhile meaning. People cling to a life imbued in meaning, and want to give themselves to something bigger than themselves. Look at 9-11 for example. On September 11th, 2001 when the terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Centers, the result was tragedy and chaos. While people were fleeing the area in hysteria and running from the scene for their lives, the first responders were doing the opposite. The firemen, police, and EMS providers were rapidly moving toward the danger to put their life on the line for strangers they would never meet. And this noble calling of sacrifice requires a bit of lunacy. Is there a salary worth adequate compensation for this level of danger? Frankly, I don’t think you could pay them enough money for what they do. On that heroic day 343 firefighters and 60 policemen lost their lives in the fall of the twin towers. Patches sewn on jackets were later issued that said, “Remember 343” so that we not forget the sacrifice made by these heroic men and women. Now if I were to post a job description to new recruits and say you will never be paid your worth in a salary, you will be forced to confront terrorizing dangers, and there is a good chance you will lose you life for people you may never meet. I would think new recruits in New York for fire, police, and EMS would be impossible to find! But the reverse has happened. Recruitment classes have had no problem filling their quotas. In fact the numbers of willing people to donate themselves to this noble calling are at record levels. Why?

Deep inside of us we yearn to give ourselves to a noble purpose, we want to dedicate ourselves to something bigger than ourselves, and that is our vocation! The students at Hartley High School get this, and they want to move toward a noble sacrifice of self worthy of their investment. The power, pleasure, wealth, and prestige of our culture have their enticements, but meagerly compare to one’s higher calling toward the things that are everlasting.

The dialogue has begun. Young men and women at Hartley High School are asking the bigger questions like: “Where are you calling me, God?” What is the direction that moves me beyond myself?” “Where can I serve the world that gives me the greatest meaning?” “Where is Jesus Christ leading me to live out this joyful God given call?” “Is my vocation a call to be a single person, married person, ordained person, or consecrated religious person?” Thanks for responding to the challenge to ask the bigger questions. Way to go Deacon Sullivan, “let’s roll” in this essential and world changing ministry. Go Hawks!
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