Saturday, July 5, 2008

Simply... professed!

At the same time the friars were welcoming our new brother novices this past Fourth of July holiday, we also celebrated with four young (okay, young-ish) men who have just completed their novitiate year. The quartet—three from our province of St. Barbara, and a fourth from our sister province of Our Lady of Guadalupe-- made their first, or simple profession of vows. At a Eucharistic liturgy celebrated on the morning of July 4, the new friars made their public profession in the presence of Bishop Richard Garcia of the Diocese of Monterey, California, and before provincial ministers Melvin Jurisich (St. Barbara Province) and Larry Dunham (Our Lady of Guadalupe province.

More than 200 friars, family members, and friends attended the liturgy held in the chapel of the St. Francis Retreat Center, San Juan Bautista, California—including an extraordinary turnout of some 50 friars from the province of St. Barbara. Novice master Brother Regan Chapman was on hand; Friar Ponchie Vasquez served as master of ceremonies.

The newly professed are Friars Eric Pilarcik, Joseph Sury, Robert Valentine and Christopher Kerstiens. Their “simple” or temporary profession represents a public commitment to observe the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience during a period of one year. These vows, then, are renewed annually for a minimum of three years before the man is eligible to make solemn (or lifetime) profession as a full member of the Order. There is tremendous wisdom in this step-by-step process. Although the wait for solemn profession may seem frustrating and even interminable at times, it nevertheless allows both the candidate and the community to continue the process of mutual discernment. After all, the ultimate commitment is ostensibly for one’s lifetime, so thoroughgoing reflection is essential.

Friar Eric Pilarcik, 41, was born in Royal Oak, Michigan, and received his BA degree from the University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, before moving to southern California. Prior to entering the Franciscans, Eric worked in real estate in both Michigan and California. Most recently, he worked as a location scout for tv and film companies in the LA area. Upon the profession of simple vows, Eric has been assigned to St. Elizabeth Friary, Oakland, California, and will begin studies toward the M.Div. (Master of Divinity) degree at the Franciscan School of Theology in Berkeley.

“The past year was difficult to begin with-- adusting to things-- being in the middle of nowhere in a hyper-remote area and getting used to the community of friars at San Miguel. (The novitiate is located at the Old Mission in San Miguel, California.—ed.) The program was intense, but it ended up being just excellent. It was never what I expected. I learned to see God in so many things-- by stopping and noticing God throughout my life: in the past, in the present, in others, and in myself.

“I feel very happy to have been accepted by the friars. Entering later in life-- with past careers-- I worried about where I would start, how I would fit in. But I learned that it was just perfect. I would not have been ready one day sooner. I was amazed. Things fell right into place. I look forward to the next year-- to classes, to exploring things, and to having the opportunity to learn more about theology. And I am looking forward to the St. Elizabeth community. And to leaving the door open to new discoveries.”

Friar Joseph (Joe) Sury, 38, is a native Demotte, Indiana, and moved to the Phoenix, Arizona area with his parents while he was still in high school. Joe worked as an accountant before joining the friars. Upon the profession of simple vows, he has been assigned to St. Elizabeth Friary, Oakland, California. Like his classmate, Eric, he will be studying for the M.Div. degree at the Franciscan School of Theology, Berkeley.

“I have a deeper awareness today of my life than I did prior to entering the Franciscans. I've had the gift of a year to reflect-- not only for today-- but for the rest of my life. I've been able to see the moments where hod has been in my life.
I have grown in self-esteem and confidence. I've been able to do things I felt afraid to do in the past. I've been able to grow in community w/ the friars already at Old Mission San Miguel as well as with my classmates. I'm beginning to realize the special bond we've had and will have for the rest of our lives. And.... I am looking forward to pasing the dishrag on to the incoming novices!”

Friar Robert J (Bob) Valentine, 52, was born in Dearborn, Michigan, and brought up in the Phoenix, Arizona area. Bob studied Regina Cleri seminary high school in Tucson, Arizona. Bob subsequently entered our formation program first in 1975. After nearly eight years with the Franciscans, Bob left for more than twenty years, during which time he completed his training as a physician assistant at the University of California, Davis. Prior to his most recent entry into postulancy, Bob worked as emergency room coordinator for hospitals in the San Francisco Bay Area. Upon the profession of simple vows, he has been assigned to St. Boniface Friary in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood. He will be working as physician assistant for hospitals in the Berkeley/ Oakland area.

“It has been most important for me to see myself as loved-- to understand that I am loved and loveable. I've come to understand that my 'loveability' has absolutely nothing to do with with what I do, but who I am, and Who created me. It is very much a manifestation of the Incarnation. My life as a friar will be about living that life-- not about doing 'the work'. I have learned that my weaknesses and failures are also my gratest strengths. And the greatest gift I have to offer my community . Because of my weaknesses I am now more fully human.”

Friar Christopher (Chris) Kerstiens is a native of Torrance, California, and is a member of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Province, with headquarters in San Antonio, Texas. Upon his first profession, he will be assigned to the formation community in San Antonio and will begin studies at the OMI (Order of Mary Immaculate) School of Theology in that city.

“I have learned so much about myself and about the friars during my novitiate year. But now, I’m ready for the next step in my formation and am really looking forward to starting studies.”

Congratulations, Brothers! Now, get to work!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Investiture: Our New Novices Receive the Habit

This Fourth of July holiday, the friars of the Province of Saint Barbara had two very special celebrations. The first, held at the time of community evening prayer (5:15pm) on July 3, marked the “investiture” or formal reception of the Franciscan habit by our three incoming novices: Eric Burke, Javier Diaz, and Victor Vega. The event was attended by approximately 75 friars, family members, and friends at the chapel of the St. Francis Retreat Center in San Juan Bautista, California (about 100 miles south of the San Francisco Bay area.

The investiture is quite a moving ceremony in which the newly received members of the community symbolically “shed” their former identity in the world and begin their new life as religious. Father Mel Jurisich ofm, our minister provincial, and Brother Regan Chapman, ofm, the novice master formally received the new novices by literally “clothing” them in the characteristic brown robe, capuche (hood), and cord belt of the Order of Friars Minor. The version of the habit presently worn by the Order of Friars Minor (OFM) actually dates from modifications made in 1894 and is reminiscent of the garb of laborers in 13th century Italy, the time of St. Francis of Assisi.

In decades past, candidates would enter the sanctuary formally dressed in suit and tie. At the moment of receiving the habit, their jackets would be removed and exuberantly thrown onto the sanctuary floor—much to the delight of most of the friars-- and to the consternation of some of the mothers. We’ve really toned things down a bit since that day.

By taking on the habit, the new brothers publicly declare their intention to live the life of the Friars Minor “in poverty, chastity, and with nothing of their own” for the requisite probationary year. Much of that year will be spent learning the significance of the trio of vows Franciscans take: poverty, chastity, and obedience. In addition, our new brothers will spend time learning more about Franciscan spirituality, deepening their prayer life, developing community living skills, engaging in limited ministry and manual labor, and growing in their identity as Franciscan friars. Upon the conclusion of their successful novitiate year, the men will make their first, or “simple” profession, renewed annually for a minimum of three years.

So, meet our new novices, and read what they have to say about their hopes and expectations for this important new stage of their commitment to religious life. Keep in mind that each of these men has already completed a rigorous trial or “postulancy” program—in this case, a nine-month residency in Portland, Oregon, under the direction of Brother Robert Rodrigues, along with the help of Father John dePaemelaere.

Brother Eric Burke, 27, was born at Jemez Pueblo, Jemez, New Mexico, and brought up in the Chino Hills area of southern California. Eric holds a BA in Human Services from California State University, Fullerton, and was involved in full-time parish work as a youth minister at St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Chino Hills before entering our postulancy program in September, 2007.

“The more I think over how I got to this moment, the more I realize the grace of God in my life. This postulancy year leaves me feeling excited and overwhelmed at the same time. So, we'll see what comes of it.”

Brother Javier Diaz, 24, was born in Santa Ana, California, and brought up in Corona. He received a BS degree in Business from the University of California, Riverside, and worked in retail sales at a Smart & Final outlet before joining our postulancy program.

“The postulancy year has been extremely exciting. I am open to the seeing what the coming year will be. I am praying that I can grow in the spiritual life and in community with the brothers I will be entering with as well as the brothers already there. I will be learning to balance my life with the friars along with my life with family and friends."

Brother Victor M. Vega Solorio, 33, is a native of Michoacán, Mexico. After immigrating to the United States, he lived in the Salinas, California area where he was an agricultural laborer before entering our postulancy program. Previously, Victor successfully completed the ACE (Accelerated College English) program at Mount Angel (Oregon) Seminary while in residence at our House of Welcome & Discernment/ Casa de Bienvenida y Discernimiento in Portland, Oregon:

"I feel very happy to come to novitiate. I feel excited about religious life, about Franciscan life. Now that I am receiving the habit I feel more part of the Franciscans and part of Franciscan spirituality and style of life. I hope I can continue to grow in my relationship with God, grow as a human being, and grow in a community with other novices and friars. I want to continue discerning my vocation, preparing myself for the next step."

Welcome, Brothers! Felicidades! Congratulations and good luck! Our prayers are with you.//

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Blessed Junipero Serra, ofm (1713-84)

July 1. On this day in the year 1769, Fray Junipero Serra, ofm, arrived at the port of what is now the city of San Diego. Later that month, he established the first of what was eventually to become a veritablel rosary of twenty-one missions extending a distance of 700 miles along the length of the Spanish colony which is now the state of California. By virtue of his passion, leadership, and tenacity, Serra played a seminal role in the establishment of the Catholic faith, as well as European presence and culture in this part of the world.

It is in recognition of this dual role, that Junipero Serra is regarded as a pivotal figure in both religious and secular arenas. As the late Pope John Paul II stated on his visit to Serra’s burial place at Carmel Mission (Mission San Carlos Borromeo) in 1987, “Very often at crucial moments in human affairs God raises up men and women whom he thrusts into roles of decisive importance for the future development of both society and the Church…. So it is with Junipero Serra, who in the providence of God was destined to be the apostle of California and to have a permanent influence over the spiritual patrimony of the land and its people.” The following year, 1988, Serra was beatified, or declared ‘blessed’, a stage in the canonization of saints in the Roman Catholic Church.

It is as a man of faith, ardent missionary, and witness to the Gospel that Junipero Serra is respected among Catholic Christians today as the virtual ‘apostle of California.’ At the same time, his life and work have become a flashpoint in the controversy over the role of missionaries in the context of colonial conquest and oppression.

Blessed Junipero Serra

In terms of a brief biographical sketch, Miguel José Serra was born on the island of Mallorca, Spain, in 1713 and entered the Franicscan order at the age of seventeen, taking the name of ‘Junípero’, in honor of one of the first companions of St. Francis. He studied at the Lullian University in the city of Parma (Mallorca) and subsequently taught philosophy and theology there for some twelve years. In 1749, at the age of 37, Serra was sent to Mexico, and for an additional 15 years, was associated with the College of San Fernando in Mexico City. Consequently, it was late in life (at age 54) and only after a long academic career that Serra actually became an active missionary.

In 1768, upon the expulsion of Jesuit missionaries from New Spain, Serra was given leadership as presidente over the fourteen missions of Baja (Lower) California. In 1769, after founding the mission of Santa Maria de los Angeles, Serra focused his energies on Alta (Upper) California—a region the Spaniards were eager to secure for the Crown in the face of threatened expansion by both Russian and British interests. It is here, we are told, that Serra worked tirelessly for the conversion of indigenous peoples to Christianity. Eventually, he would found a total of nine missions in California. Biographers are quick to point out, not only Serra’s exceptional gifts of organization and administration, but also his extraordinary faith, perseverance, and asceticism: “His Herculean efforts subjected him to near-starvation, afflictions of scurvy, and hundreds of miles of walking and horse riding through dangerous terrain. Moreover, he was notorious for his mortifications of the flesh.” Serra accomplished much of his work on foot; a chronically ulcerated leg provided an additional physical challenge to the intrepid missioner. He died at Mission San Carlos Borromeo (Carmel), California in 1784.

In our own time, Serra, and by extension, missionaries in general have been criticized for their alleged cooperation and complicity in the extension of colonial rule over native peoples. Nevertheless, most historians would concur in the intrinsic danger posed by projecting our twenty-first century values and understanding upon the vastly different social and cultural landscape of 18th century colonial rule in America. That said, the biography of Junipero Serra speaks of a man who was frequently at odds with the political and military" powers that be" in his active defense of the rights of of natives. While the entire system of colonization is rightly challenged, Serra was no mere pawn of that system; he was known to be a frequent and outspoken critic of the abuse of political and military power.

In today’s world, missionary presence and witness have taken on an entirely different aspect from the time of Junipero Serra. While the proclamation of the Gospel remains central and consistent to all missionary endeavors, the voice of the Christian church has in many circumstances become increasingly independent of and even critical of political and economic power when such power deprives people of basic dignity and justice. We are not called to imitate Serra’s way of being a missionary; we are challenged to be inspired as he was to be more deeply committed to living and sharing our Christian faith with our entire being.

We Franciscans take pride in the faith and witness of Blessed Junipero Serra. Here in the province of St. Barbara, we take special pride in the several restored missions that have been entrusted to our care: Mission Santa Barbara, Old Mission San Luis Rey (Oceanside), and Mission San Miguel (San Miguel). A fourth mission, Santa Inez, is in the care of our Capuchin Franciscan brothers. We join with our Mexican conferes of the Province of Blessed Juipero Serra/ la provincia de Beato Junipero Serra, in Baja California, Mexico, in celebrating their patronal feast.
We are also deeply appreciative of the efforts of Serra International, an organization of Catholic women and men who dedicate themselves to the promotion and support of vocations to religious life, the diaconate, and priesthood in the Church: Together, all of us continue in our commitment to live and share the Gospel, inspired by the words of Serra himself: Siempre adelante! Nunca para atrás! Always forward! Never turn back!//