Saturday, February 4, 2012

God is Personal: Franciscans

Weiner decides to spend time in a Franciscan homeless shelter in the South Bronx. This particular order is a throwback to the thirteenth century:

"Over the centuries, the Franciscan vow of poverty has slipped, and this order, formed only twenty-five years ago, is intent on correcting that. They own nothing. No private bank accounts or credit cards or cellphones or, according to their charter, "popular electric gadgets manufactured sinply for amusement and recreation." No beds, either. They sleep on the floor. The friary has no Internet connection, no TV, no dishwasher, no air-conditioning. All of these things, the Franciscans believe, are obstacles that stand between us and God" (p. 127).

Not only does Weiner have to deal with culture shock from being the only white person in the neighborhood (aside from the Franciscans) but he also has to cope with living in an earlier world - one without technology.

At the shelter, Weiner takes part in a Catholic mass and is refused Communion because he is not a baptised Catholic. He also makes a half-hearted attempt to confess to a priest but is told to come back at a future date because the priest must hold a mass; Weiner is relieved and never returns. He is struck by the personal relationship between Franciscans and God - they speak with God, ask for His forgiveness, and remain cheerful in His service. He spends his days helping the Franciscans in the simple daily tasks they do in order to run the shelter. He also joins them when they picket an abortion clinic - an activity that makes Weiner completely uncomfortable.

Weiner's discomfort is most extreme when he writes about one friar, Brother Louis. The son of a devout Italian-American mother, Brother Louis was a "former saxophone-playing weight-lifting woman-chasing Wall Street executive and owner of a used-car dealership" (p.125). Brother Louis's mother asked him to go on a pilgrimage to a Catholic shrine in Bosnia. Louis went, asked a personal question of Jesus, received Jesus' personal reply from a woman who was known to talk with Jesus, and became a Franciscan friar. This was a good fit because it allowed him to use his energy and intensity in an order that values "active contemplation." It is Brother Louis who organization the anti-abortion protest.

Weiner admits "More than any of the other friars here, Father Louis displays the conviction of the converted. I find his intensity unnerving.  I worry that at any moment he might hug me, or kill me. It could go either way" (p.136). He later admits that Brother Louis scares him, and refers to him as "quasi-satanic" (p.145). My impression is that Brother Louis's personal intensity and his miraculous conversion are genuinely medieval in character, which may be why Weiner finds him so threatening; Brother Louis is a reminder that similar comments were probably made about St. Francis himself in the thirteenth century.

Do you think that it is necessary to disconnect entirely from the material world in order to better connect with people?

Is intensity a characteristic despised in 21st American society?

Would you spend time in a Franciscan retreat?

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