AUTHENTICITY. As a young man I hungered for it. I imagine that most men and women hunger for it. As a young man, I also hungered for hamburgers with authentic, all-beef patties, tomatoes, pickles, onions and a side of fresh cut french fries. As providence would have it, it was while trying to satiate the latter hunger, that the Lord began feeding my deeper desire for authenticity.
I was eating with a couple of friends. We had just finished having a young adult meeting at the church and wanted to go grab a bite. One of the guys, knowing that I was discerning, mentioned this group of Franciscans who were “hardcore.” They had long beards, wore patched up habits, and slept on the floor. Immediately I was hooked. I went home that night and did a web search for the friars. I found our website, read the constitutions, and looked at the pictures. I thought to myself, “these guys are the real deal.” If they look like that, they must be authentic.
I was young and idealistic. In many ways I still am. I have, however, in my seven years as a friar, learned a little bit about life in general, and religious life in particular. I learned that growing a beard, wearing a habit, and sleeping on a mattress on the floor are actually pretty easy. These external signs are what the Lord used to bring me in the door, but I’d like to share an experience which the Lord used to prepare me to make my final vows—to say, “I want to be a part of this group forever.”
I was living in Honduras at the time and six of us friars had just spent some time on a fraternal trip. I was driving home in one of our dusty old pick-up trucks with two other friars. The bed of the truck was filled with our bags, supplies for Mass, and a couple of coolers that we used to transport food for our weekend away. In true Franciscan fashion, we began having car troubles. An unexplainable ping could be heard under the hood. We pulled over and began to wait for the cavalry to arrive. We did not have a cell phone to call the other brothers to let them know what happened, but luckily there was only one road home and our truck had left first. As five minutes became ten minutes and ten minutes became twenty minutes, the Lord planted a little thought in my head, “Now would be a great time to go to confession.” So, I asked one of the friar-priests if he would be able to hear my confession.
We dropped down the back hatch of the truck and sat down. He put on his purple stole, made the sign of the cross, and I went to confession. After a couple of minutes, he gave me absolution. As Father began to take his stole off, the other friar-priest came over and said he wanted to go to confession too. I made my way to the cab of the truck to thank the Lord for the mercy I had received and to beg him to help me amend my life. Through the rear view mirror, I could see the two priests talking, one as the confessor, one as the penitent. Finally, I saw the confessor make the sign of the cross. Then, to my surprise, I saw the friar-confessor pass his stole to the friar-penitent, and the roles were reversed. The priest who had just heard two confessions, now began going to confession!
At the time, I was a few months away from making my final vows. It’s a time when a lot of thoughts pass through a friar’s mind. As I sat in the cab of the truck and watched my brothers confess their sins to one another, I knew I could joyfully call these my brothers for the rest of my life. At the end of the day, I wasn’t looking to join a bunch of tough guy-super heroes. I was looking for a fraternity built upon the solid rock of mercy. May God’s mercy, a mercy which we receive from him and then share graciously with others, be the mark of our authenticity.
you sent your Son as the savior of the world,
may we receive the grace this day
to humbly ask for and receive your forgiveness
that we may be given the strength to forgive those who have offended us
and so build the universal Christian family
upon the firm foundation of your love and mercy.