Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Saturday morning/ Monday night at the Brother Giles Fraternity

“Brother, why don’t you write a blog about us?” queried the timid friar. “I mean, about—you know—who we are and how we spend a typical day and all that kind of stuff.” Well, okay, why not? So, here are my impressions of a typically atypical day (well, actually, parts of two days rather clumsily patched together) at one of our friaries-- the Brother Giles fraternity in Berkeley, California-- which I visited twice this past week.

Saturday morning
Woke up around 7:30 and immediately headed for the shower. I was in luck. Three bathrooms for eight friars in this homey former apartment house divided into a series of little rabbit hutch-sized rooms. I climbed the back stairs to forage for breakfast. The fridge looked just like the one at home in Sacramento: a veritable culinary museum, only without a curator. Lots of mysterious-looking substances piled one atop the other. Forget the mystery, I thought. I’ll just have cold cereal: corn flakes with soy milk. And a quick moment by myself to read the headlines of the morning Chronicle.

Famous Last Words. As if on cue, the place snapped into life. Adrian—we’re all pretty much on a first-name basis at home- made himself a pot of green tea before feasting on poached eggs and vitamins. A very determined Joe (a young friar from Singapore who is staying with us while doing studies) was up and about, too. Simultaneously emptying the dishwasher whle eating his bowl of watermelon slices. Luis secured the far end of the table for his kingdom of oatmeal, bananas and sliced toast. (He caught me trying to hide the latter under the table). Everyone else had already left: John (Gootz) was still at work in San Jose where he supervises a hospital emergency room. Oscar was at our parish in east Oakland getting ready for a spate of weekend liturgies. Dennis was in San Francisco providing home help for our brother Richard. Martin, newly returned from his ordination trip to Mexico, hadn’t moved in yet. David was probably off to the Multicultural Institute.

There was no question about our lounging around the whole morning either. Joe was already in his room studying for his classes at the Jesuit School of Theology (JSTB).

Everyone else was reporting for duty: the Visitor General, Peter Williams, was to arrive for his official “inspection” within 24 hours. The house had to be cleaned, the guest room made up, Martin’s room refurnished, and the house accounts put in order. Let’s go!

I accompanied Luis and Adrian on a forced march to Bed, Bath & Beyond. We filled our cart with sheets, pillows, floor mats, and curtains for the rooms they were fixing up. After this whirlwind immersion into the consumer experience, we headed to the dry cleaners (alterations for the curtains), then lunch at a nearby south Indian restaurant. “I only eat north Indian food usually, “ quipped Luis, “but I’ll make an exception this time.” After a wonderful sampler lunch which included three soups and an equal number of curries, we headed home to the housework. As a short-term visitor, I concluded it was better for me to get out of the way. They needed my room, after all, for the next guest.

While Luis and Adrian spent the afternoon and evening cleaning and scrubbing, I borrowed one of the house cars (we don’t have our own private vehicles) to visit friends in the area. By the time I got home at 10:00 pm, everyone had already crashed. When I left the house early on Sunday morning (to catch the train back to Sacramento to get to church to preside at liturgy and to baptize five new Christians babies) everyone was either getting up or already out of the house. Welcome to community on weekends. It’s all about ministry.

Monday night.
I took the late afternoon train back to Berkeley for a quick return visit. I’m on jury duty all week so I have to stay close to home. But I didn’t want to miss the birthday party for Adrian. When I arrived, Mass was already in progress in the living room (not enough room in the chapel), with himself presiding. I got there in time for the homily, in which Adrian read to us from the writings of Julian of Norwich:

“The love that God Most High has for our soul is so great that it surpasses understanding. No created being can comprehend how much, and how sweetly, and how tenderly our Maker loves us. As truly as God is our Father, so just as truly is He our Mother. In our father God Almighty, we have our being; in our merciful mother, we are remade and restored. Our fragmented lives are knit together and made perfect. And by giving and yielding ourselves, through grace, to the Holy Spirit, we are made whole.”

I looked about the circle as our brother spoke: “This is what happens in community, Brothers. You know, our father Francis told us that we should be mothers to each other. He didn’t say we should be fathers for each other…. Mothers because we are called to nurture each other. And community is that place where we can come home to receive the care and understanding that gives us new strength and energy for ministry….. It’s like my own mother at home in Ireland would do for us. We’d come home from school and she’d say, “Now, tell us about it. How did it go today? Would you like a little something to eat?” And that’s what we can do for each other— give this kind of nurturing and caring to one another.” Heads nodded. Brothers exchanged glances, grinning in recognition.

After the Mass, friars (there were an even dozen of us by now—residents and a few guests, like myself) dispersed to set the table, do the cooking, or just sit and snack. Within a quarter of an hour, it all came together: the wonderful birthday buffet of carne asada, poached salmon, veggie and fruit salads, rice and beans, tortillas, Tapatio sauce, and drinks. Sunday’s feast on Monday evening.

John (Gootz), following one of our daily rituals, read the necrology—the brief biographies of our confreres who had died on this particular day—then blessed the food. “Al ataque!” Swift to the trough, hungry friars piled their plates and settled down to serious eating, but not very serious table talk.

It was a great way to end an otherwise demanding work day for just about everyone: Joe, Jose-Luis, and Luis-Alberto had classes. Adrian put in a full day as chaplain at our St. Anthony Dining Room in San Francisco. Gootz was back from the hospital; so was Rami, who popped in—pooped—from a busy day in another hospital. Martin and Oscar were back from the parish-- St. E’s. And so on…. All tired and hungry, but by the time for the cake and candles— more relaxed, refreshed and renewed. And yes, nurtured.

“Now, tell us about it. How did it go today? Would you like a little something to eat?”//

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