The plans are made; the reception is scheduled. This is the next stage on a journey that began in Assisi almost two years ago. In a little less than a week, I will be formally received as a formation candidate in the St. Michael fraternity of the Secular Franciscans. We gather once a month in Over-the-Rhine to pray, to study, and to make sandwiches for the nearby Catholic Worker House.
Suddenly I find myself with more questions than answers, more doubts than certainties, and a growing panic that I’m not ready to make a commitment. I know this is part of the next year of formation before profession. But I’m having all I can do not to turn and run the other way.
I didn’t have a choice when I was baptized. My parents made that decision for me. I made my own choices to return to the church in my 20s, to get a job in Catholic publishing. But those choices were gradual and somewhat informal. This feels different. This is a conscious, formal choice to follow the Franciscan way of living the Gospel in today’s world.
I’ve spent much of the past 25 years living with and writing about the Scriptures, so I’m familiar with the challenges of living the Gospel. I’ve been learning a lot about Francis and find him compelling and charismatic (although Bonaventure’s story of the snow family leaves me cold!). With so many others, I watched with great excitement as the new pope turned out to be someone who not only took the name of Francis but in so many ways emulates that great saint.
The struggle—as is the case in any lifetime commitment—is with the day-to-day reality, the distance that creeps in between the ideal and the real, the difficult and often unsatisfactory choices that need to be made again and again. The months ahead will be less learning about Francis than discovering how to live authentically in the midst of my own and everyone else’s inevitable failures. What does poverty really mean? What about forgiveness? How is the cross going to surprise me every day? What will keep me grounded?
“Most high, glorious God, enlighten the darkness of my heart.”