Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Other

Everyday we stand before an unsolvable problem: life. The people we encounter, the events that occur and the places we are led, often leave us frustrated and confused. If we are honest, most of the time we don’t understand why things happen the way they do. This can lead some people to conclude that we are alone, that life is only a series of random events with no rhyme or reason.
Faith, on the other hand, views things differently. Without denying the puzzling nature of life, faith attests that beyond the darkness, beyond the veil of this world, there is an “Other,” who not only guides the universe but also guides each one of us. This Other not only guides our lives, but also loves us in a way we cannot comprehend.
I was reminded of this truth during an unexpected conversation in an unusual setting. I had just finished giving a retreat in Dallas, TX and was on my way to Los Angeles, CA for another retreat. As I boarded the plane and sat down, I began to consider how I should spend these next four hours. Typically, flying provides an ideal opportunity to write, because of the minimal amount of interruptions available.
I opened up my computer and began reading my latest reflection. The flight attendants announced that the gates would be closing soon and we should prepare for takeoff. I looked around and noticed that the plane was entirely full, except for the seat next to me. Suddenly, a woman who appeared to be in her late forties with black dyed hair, ripped blue jeans and sunglasses boarded the plane.
“I didn’t think I would make it,” she said to the flight attendant, as she tried to catch her breath.
“Just in time,” she said. “Have a seat. We will be taking off shortly.”
As she sat down next to me, she placed her bag under her seat, pulled out her phone and began fixing her hair. While she buckled her seatbelt, we smiled at each other and I said hello.
“O Wow,” she said. “Are you like a monk?”
Laughing, I said, “Well, sort of. Technically I am friar, a Franciscan and a priest.”
“I’m a Jewish agnostic, she said. “My ex-husband is Muslim and my brother just became a Buddhist.”
“Wow,” I said, “I’m a Christian. Do you know any Hindus? Then we would have all five major world religions represented!”
We both laughed for a few seconds as the plane began to make its way down the runway. During takeoff, she looked at me very seriously and asked, “Would you mind talking?”
“Of course not,” I said, with a smile on my face. I put my computer away and placed it under the seat in front of me. “What would you like to talk about?”
“Well, my name is Joan…” and so it began.
For the next three hours, Joan did the majority of the talking. She was raised in a Jewish home, where faith was more cultural than personal. Her father was always working, leaving her home alone with a mother who was always telling Joan everything that was wrong with her. Desperate for the affection of a father, she began a series of relationships with older men, each one worse than the previous one. Desiring love and acceptance more than an education or a career, she dropped out of college at 20 years old.
Wanting to escape her past, she left Brooklyn and moved to San Francisco in order to begin a new life. After drifting from one job to the next, she finally met a man, whom she described as a “dream come true”, while working as a bartender in the Bay area. Alan, a few years older than Joan, was a successful businessman, who appeared to have his life together. He was young, rich and attractive, and, most importantly, interested in Joan. The two began dating and got married six months later.
Three years into their marriage a secret from Alan’s past came back to haunt him. A drug addiction, that Alan believed he had conquered, came back into his life and Alan began using again. With two small children at home and a husband who was using drugs, Joan turned to alcohol for consolation. Needless to say, their marriage was on the verge of collapsing. Nine months later they got divorced.
When I met Joan on the plane she had just finished a month long rehab program for her drinking. She was anxious to see her two boys again, who stayed with her sister for the last month. As she showed me several pictures of them on her phone, tears came pouring out of her eyes. “I just don’t know what I’m doing,” she said. “I don’t know how to live. I don’t know how to be a mom. I don’t understand life.”
She was interrupted by the flight attendant’s voice over the intercom. We had just begun our descent into LA and we would be landing in a few minutes. Joan took out a tissue from her purse and began wiping her eyes. Looking at me with a smile she said, “Thank you for listening to me.” 

“You’re welcome,” I said. “Thank you for sharing all of that. It takes courage to be that vulnerable.”
“Well,” she said, “If I can’t trust a monk whom can I trust?”
We both laughed.
“Do you mind if I say something Joan?” I asked.
“No, not at all,” she said. “You think I’m crazy, right?”
“Don’t be silly. You’re not any crazier than I am!” I said. “You mentioned that you don’t know what you are doing, that you don’t know how to live and that you don’t know how to be a mom.”
Nodding, she said, “It’s true.”
“Perhaps you don’t have to know,” I said. “Look, here we are at 30,000 feet. How did you get here, after all that you have been through? It wasn’t your family who got you here. It wasn’t your husband, or even you. It seems to me that there is somebody else, an Other, who has been carrying you and has gotten you here to this point.”

“You mean “God?” she said.
“Every time I hear the word God I think of my mother telling me how pretty all the other young girls were at synagogue and how she wishes I would spend more time on my appearance so I could look like them.”
I closed my eyes out of sadness. “I’m so sorry that was your experience,” I said.

We were both silent for a few moments. “Perhaps the best place to start,” I said, “is with the realization that there must be an Other who cares for you, loves you and is guiding you in your life. If not, then how you are here? How am I here?”

There was a long pause. She looked out the window and I could see in the reflection the tint of a smile on her face.
“This Other” I continued, “is not an idea or some sort of energy out in the universe. He is personal, forgiving and is not obsessed with your past. He is love, and without Him we couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Life is impossible without an awareness of the love that sustains us. If we want to understand our life then the most sane thing we can do is open ourselves to this Other as best we can, and He will take care of the rest.”
By this point our plane had landed and we were taxing to our gate. We remained in silence for those few moments until the flight attendants announced we could unbuckle our seatbelts and begin exiting the plane. As Joan and I grabbed our bags we walked together out of the plane and into the airport. Before we went our separate ways, she looked at me with tears in her eyes.
“I do believe there is an Other who is sustaining me,” she said. “There has to be, otherwise I don’t know how I would be standing today.”
I smiled, “So do I Joan.”
We hugged goodbye and began to walk in separate directions. A few seconds later I heard her yell, “Hey, Father.”
I turned around.
“Will you pray for me?”
I smiled at her. “Of course I will. Please pray for me to.”
“I will,” she said, as she put her sunglasses on and disappeared into the crowd.

+ Father Jeremiah Myriam Shryock, C.F.R.
Monticello, NY

Monday, May 28, 2018

Thursday, May 24, 2018

May 2018 Ordinations

Franciscan Friars of the Renewal to Ordain Four to the Priesthood
Please pray for the following friars who will be ordained to the Priesthood, along with their New York classmates, by His Eminence Timothy Cardinal Dolan at 9 AM at St. Patrick's Cathedral on May 26, 2018:
(the Ordination Mass will be live-streamed here and here)

Dc. Br. Pierre Toussaint Guiteau, C.F.R. 
Dc. Br. Francesco Mary Gavazzi, C.F.R.
Dc. Br. Angelus Immaculata Montgomery, C.F.R.
Dc. Br. Mark-Mary Maximilian Ames, C.F.R.
(Pictured with Fr. Luke Mary Fletcher, C.F.R., Director of Priestly Studies)
The Mass of Thanksgiving will be on Sunday, May 27th, 2 PM
at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church (E 90th St – btw 2/3 Ave).
(Read their stories click here / listen to their stories – click here)
Franciscan Friars of the Renewal Ordained One to the Diaconate
Bishop Manny Cruz ordained Br. Gabriel Emmanuel Monahan, C.F.R., to the transitional diaconate on May 21, 2018, at Most Blessed Sacrament Friary, Newark, NJ.

Meet our friars who will be ordained in a few weeks! We could really use your help in supporting our seminarians. Go to www.franciscanfriars.com and click the donate button. Add "CFR Seminarian Fund" on the check memo line or in the "add special instructions to the seller" for online donations. Thank you very much!!

Read their stories - click here

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Absence Becoming Fullness

Podcast by Fr. Jeremiah, CFR. Both in the Scriptures and in our life God seems to disappear at times. However, each "disappearance" of God prepares us for a greater fullness, i.e. a greater revelation of who God is. Listen to learn more!

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Meet Br Mark-Mary soon to be a Priest!

Meet our friars who will be ordained in a few weeks! We could really use your help in supporting our seminarians. Go to www.franciscanfriars.com and click the donate button. Add "CFR Seminarian Fund" on the check memo line or in the "add special instructions to the seller" for online donations. Thank you very much!!

The Mass of Priestly Ordination (May 26 @ 9 AM) with Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC, will be livestreamed here: saintpatrickscathedral.org/live



Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Meet Br Angelus soon to be a Priest!

Meet our friars who will be ordained in a few weeks! We could really use your help in supporting our seminarians. Go to www.franciscanfriars.com and click the donate button. Add "CFR Seminarian Fund" on the check memo line or in the "add special instructions to the seller" for online donations. Thank you very much!!

The Mass of Priestly Ordination (May 26 @ 9 AM) with Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick's Cathedral, NYC, will be livestreamed here: saintpatrickscathedral.org/live

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Meet Br. Pierre Toussaint soon to be a Priest!

Meet our friars who will be ordained in a few weeks! We could really use your help in supporting our seminarians. Go to www.franciscanfriars.com and click the donate button. Add “CFR Seminarian Fund” on the check memo line or in the “add special instructions to the seller” for online donations. Thank you very much!!
The Mass of Priestly Ordination (May 26 @ 9 AM) with Cardinal Dolan at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC, will be livestreamed here: saintpatrickscathedral.org/live


Thursday, May 10, 2018

Meet Br Francesco CFR soon to be a Priest!

Meet our friars who will be ordained in a few weeks! We could really use your help in supporting our seminarians.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

Monday, April 30, 2018

Being A Priest

Shortly after I was ordained a priest, a friend of mine asked me what my experience was like thus far. Somewhat hesitantly I said, “embarrassing.” He began to laugh; assuming I was joking, and then asked me again. “No, seriously, what is like to be a priest?” “Embarrassing,” I replied again, this time without hesitation.
I always knew I was called to be a priest. The most peaceful moments of my childhood were when I was serving Mass as an altar boy. Though I was too young to understand what was happening, my heart encountered this profound joy each time I served Mass. The candles, incense, and paintings were signs pointing me beyond this world. Though my childhood was blessed, I began yearning for this other world that I experienced each day at Mass.
The priest, I began to realize, had a pivotal role in this experience. He was not a coach, a sergeant, or a stage director, but simply a man, chosen by God to facilitate this transcendent experience. Whether he was celebrating Mass, hearing confessions, or giving last rites to the dying, the priest brought heaven with him through his priestly ministry. The day I realized this I remember asking myself, “What else could I want from life?”
What I found perhaps to be most remarkable was that the priest, at least the ones I met as a kid, were not the holiest, smartest or best speakers that I encountered. There was nothing that distinguished them in outward appearances from others. They were, like all of us, frail and broken, struggling with their own humanity, while trying to reconcile how God could call somebody like them to this vocation.
In my second year of priesthood I had the honor of baptizing my brother-in- law during the Easter Vigil. He was raised without any faith and after several years of marriage to my sister he decided he wanted to become Catholic. After I poured water over him three times, baptizing him “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” I saw something on him I had never witnessed before: a smile that radiated pure joy. Struck by the simple beauty of the moment I embraced him and said, “Welcome home.”
Perhaps my greatest joy as a priest is hearing confessions. Over the years I have heard countless confessions and have witnessed the immediate change inside a person once the words of absolution are spoken. Often people come to confession, burdened, anxious and afraid, yet they always leave confession with the hope that is born from experiencing the mercy of God. Once an elderly man, old enough to be my grandfather, kissed my hands after confession and said, “Thank you Father. You have given me my life back.” Immediately, tears flowed from my eyes and I was reduced to silence.
Finally, there is the Eucharist. Whether it is a friary chapel, a cathedral, or a simple country church, heaven enters this world through my hands under the appearance of bread and wine. In my first few weeks as a priest my hands would begin to shake during the consecration and I would ask myself after each Mass, “Did that really just happen?” In the midst of this confusion a fellow Franciscan said to me one morning after Mass, “Thank you Father for the Eucharist.” I was completely dumbstruck. Later in the day I realized that without the priest, there is no Eucharist. Once more, the tears flowed and I was again reduced to silence.
In all of these events, I, as a priest, am not a mere observer. I am, and I say this with deep humility, the bridge on which God travels to meet his people. The priest is, obviously, not the only way for this encounter to occur, but he remains a consistent and definite means of God’s presence in this world.
When I told my friend that being a priest was embarrassing what I really meant was that it is humbling. I am somewhat shy, never comfortable in large crowds and certainly never comfortable being any sort of leader. I was an average student in school, given more to daydreaming and writing than academic study. Like the Prophet Jeremiah I tried to tell God “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth” (Jeremiah 1:6). Regardless of what I perceived as apparent obstacles, God felt differently.
Seven years have passed since my friend asked me what it is like being a priest. If I were asked that question today, I would respond once again by saying, “embarrassing,” only this time I would be sure to add how grateful and joyful I have become for all the embarrassment it has caused me.
+ Fr. Jeremiah Shryock, CFR
Monticello, NY

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Letting Go

As a child, I often pretended my backyard was a baseball stadium. There, despite the close proximity of neighbors, I would yell, dive, grunt and cheer to various scenarios I was imagining. As time for dinner would draw near, my mom would open the window from the kitchen and ask me how much longer I would be. “Almost done mom,” I would say, “it’s the bottom of the 9th and there are two outs.” Then, as the thousands of fans were standing and cheering in anticipation of the final out, I struck out the last batter to win the game, as my teammates rushed the mound and carried me off on their shoulders.

Somewhere, probably around the age of 13 or so, I became self-conscious and started to wonder, “What do my neighbors think about me yelling and cheering in my back yard? What are other people going to think of me if they see me? Is this how a 13 year old is supposed to act?” These were sobering questions. I realized what I was doing was not wrong, but that life was calling me forward, and if I wanted to move forward, I needed to let go of where I was and accept where life was taking me.

If someone were to ask me, what is the secret of life? I would answer: letting go. This phrase, unfortunately, is often misunderstood and misused. It can sound at times cold and even harsh. I have heard people use this phrase as a means to justify their own selfishness. “I am letting go of this situation,” one might say, when what is really happening is that one is refusing an opportunity that requires generosity and self-gift. What I mean by letting go is not self-preservation but acceptance of life as it really is.

Every one of us possesses an image of what we think life should look like. When that image is frustrated we immediately think there is something wrong with life. We blame God, other people, and circumstances for the reason our image of life has been thwarted. Perhaps the real problem is not life, but our expectation of the way it should be.

As a spiritual director, I have often accompanied people throughout a discernment process and continue meeting with them as they begin their vocation. After three months of living their vocation I ask them how they are doing. The response is generally the same: “The community, my spouse, the ministry, etc. is great. I couldn’t imagine things to be any better.” As the months go by, the conversation often changes dramatically. Generally, things remain good, but the community, spouse or ministry is no longer the perfect supplement to their life. They discover, much to their surprise, that their vocation looks nothing like they once imagined it would.

At this point a natural question arises, did I discern properly? The majority of the time the person has discerned properly. He is now being invited to let go of those former images about how his life is supposed to look, and embrace the life God is giving him. This invitation from God, though frightening at first, is exactly the food our hearts crave. By abandoning ourselves completely to God beyond what we can see and understand, we begin to experience that our life, though not perfect, contains exactly what we need to grow in faith, hope and love.

Perhaps this is the greatest test Christians face. We often assume that because we are following Jesus our lives will look and be a certain way. Once when the disciples were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus informs them: “He who is least among you all is the one who is great” (Lk 9:48). This was not the answer any of them expected or desired; yet if they were going to keep following Jesus, they had to let go of what they thought that should look like.

We begin by pursuing the life we want for ourselves, but end up living the life God wants for us. After the Resurrection Jesus says to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you fastened your own belt and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten your belt for you and carry you where you do not wish to go” (John 21:18). It is only by letting go, with childlike trust, that we allow God to lead us beyond anything we could have imagined.

Fr. Jeremiah, CFR
Monticello, NY