Gray Robes, A Brooklyn Twang and Authenticity.

12 March, 2010 § 1 Comment

Although it was for a much briefer time than I would otherwise have wished (darn you, office hours!), I had the joy earlier this morning of attending a campus-wide conversation with a visiting group of Franciscan friars. This was the third time in the past six years I’ve lived here that Father Glen, an energetic, grizzled man whose frank conversation, engaging personality and refreshingly gritty anecdotes reflect his strong Brooklyn roots, has traveled from the inner-city of New York to our small town. In fact, it was through interacting with Father Glen and some of the other Franciscan brethren in 2007, all dedicated to “serving the material needs of the homeless and destitute and the needs of the spiritually homeless through evangelization [while] always working toward a greater renewal and reform of the church,” that my interest was initially piqued in Franciscan theology and therefore in a “downwardly mobile” lifestyle of faith, service and relationship as patterned after both Christ and Francis of Assisi.

Anyways. I digress. My original thought here was to express a sense of fascination about the reception the friars received here this week. There are several fairly self-evident reasons for this popularity: many, if not all of them, come from a wide variety of backgrounds, not the least of which includes ties to urban tenement housing as well as to collegiate environments.  Their banter is as equally contagious as their prayers and the fact that they can talk comfortably about YouTube, Beyonce and deep-dish pizza while being clad in rather odd robes of simple gray fabric and unassuming brown sandals further heightens a sense of counter-culturality.

At the end of the day, however, I think their appeal (for lack of better term) boils down to one simple phrase – – authenticity. These men and women have chosen to live out a radically simple, highly disciplined, incredibly meaningful faith that literally shapes and guides their most ordinary of activities as well as their acts of service. Through their actions as well as their conversation, the Franciscan brethren exude something that is simultaneously convicting, genuine and desirable. In an increasingly postmodern age where gray is the new black, where all forms of truth are embraced as self-apparent, and where the Western obsession with comfort, individuality and optionality has reached an all-time peak, it’s almost impossible to do anything but flock to the unflinching, unapologetic, all-encompassing, self-sacrificial Christological love embodied through the lives of these inner-city dwellers. Even for those who don’t necessarily espouse all that is represented in the history or tradition of the Franciscan movement, the authenticity of their present-day faith is irresistible.

Just imagine how the fabric of our day-to-day lives could be equally transformed if we, too, echoed Father Glen’s words when he prayed, “May the force of Your voice be the never-failing power strengthening my weakness and weakening the strength of all that is contrary to Your call in my life – all the prominent and dominant cultural trends that compete for my attention to lessen and lower the high standard of holiness, the perfection of love. Keep me faithful to Your call, following wherever You would lead me, to do whatever You would have me do. Perfect love in my life and help me to be holy. Amen.” And amen.

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