Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Where do Franciscans go to get away from other Franciscans?

Don’t get me wrong. I love my brothers. But from time to time, I really need to get away from them. And vice versa. So, where does this Franciscan go to get away from other friars? Well, a lot of places, actually. My personal preference is to spend some time at another religious community—most often with Jesuits, Trappists, or the Benedictines. Whether for a ‘sabbath day’ away, or a week-long retreat—the atmosphere of retreat house or monastery can provide a real relief from the stress of ministry and yes, of community living, as well.

Since moving from Sacramento to southern California last July, I have been searching for a place/ places where I can get away from the demands of parish and community life in order to get some rest, time out and spiritual refreshment. It’s ironic. So many people come to us—to our home—looking for those very things. Our Franciscan community at Old Mission San Luis Rey (Oceanside, CA), has an excellent retreat house (and some pretty good cooks!), beautiful grounds, and a wonderful old historic mission church. But it’s also where we friars, eight of us, live. And on weekends, we are often swamped with school groups, Marriage Encounter weekends, and other crowded retreat activities. What looks like an idyllic, restful environment ain’t all that peaceful when you are living there and working behind the scenes.

I try to go for spiritual direction about once a month and, when possible, I make it an overnight visit. It usually involves a three-hour train and bus trip to Los Angeles for me-- to the Cardinal Manning House of Prayer for Priests in the city’s Echo Park neighborhood. As the name suggests, this facility, perched at the edge of the motherhouse of the Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (IHM), focuses on the spiritual needs of Catholic clergy. Two resident priests, both Jesuits, are available to work with priests from throughout the region and country. For me personally, a visit to the House of Prayer is a savored opportunity to rest deeply in the Lord.

Hospitality is the cornerstone of the Benedictine tradition since the establishment of the Order more than 1,500 years ago. In southern California, we are blessed with two abbeys of Benedictine men. Prince of Peace Abbey in Oceanside, California, is just down the road from our friary at Old Mission San Luis Rey. Poised on a secluded hilltop adjacent to the US Marine facility at Camp Pendelton, it offers a splendid beach and ocean view. The contemporary architecture of Prince of Peace is particularly striking, but what one notices most about the place is the quality of meditative quiet it embodies and imparts. It would be difficult for anyone to leave this spot unaffected by its serenity. Prince of Peace Abbey:

Just about 2.5 hours north of Oceanside is another Benedictine monastery, St. Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo. Unlike Prince of Peace and the Cardinal Manning House of Prayer, St. Andrew’s is, quite literally, a desert community. Cactus, cottonwoods, and Joshua trees dot the sparse and parched landscape of this very basic, very simple monastic settlement. Though physically isolated, it is, ironically, within the bounds of Los Angeles County. Consequently, both individuals and groups from throughout the metropolitan area take advantage of the Abbey’s idyllic environs. In addition to guest/retreat facilities, the Abbey hosts a ceramics center, youth retreat facilities, and its welcome center boasts one of the best Catholic bookstores in the West.

The community at St. Andrew’s consists of some 20 monks, but not everyone is at home 24/7. As one monk quipped: “We Benedictines take a vow of stability, not immobility.” At the moment, a small Byzantine monastery of the Holy Resurrection shares the site while its members search for a more permanent home of their own. They offer, through their presence, an opportunity to experience the richness of the Eastern Christian monastic tradition. St. Andrew’s Abbey:

The Trappists offer hospitality at the New Clairvaux Abbey in Vina, California, about two hours north of Sacramento. The region boasts vast prune and almond orchard, and the abbey has its own winery and pottery. A recently reconstructed 12th century Spanish charterhouse solidifies the stamp of the Cistercian spirit and identity on the site in physical terms. Retreatants are welcome to attend the Liturgy of the Hours, but I, like others, skip the odd hours of prayer and focus on resting as much as possible. Once, I informed one of my spiritual directors of my earnest plans to bring a stack of books and my journal and breviary along with me on a week-long retreat. He just chuckled: “Concentrate on sleep instead. The best thing about retreat time is getting as much rest as you can.” He was so right! New Clairvaux Abbey:

It is to places like these that I try to make personal pilgrimage whenever I can. In religious life, if you’re too busy to pray, you are way too busy! I work at a large multicultural parish. We’re on call, often 10-12 hours a day, six days a week. The people are wonderful, but the level of stress can really get to you. So when I can, I try to take a day (or two, if I can squeeze it in) to spend a ‘sabbath’ day in a monastic environment.

I really admire our Benedictine, Trappist, and Jesuit confreres, but have no inclination to join either community. Each group has its own particular ‘personality’ or charism, and without going into detail, I still feel most at home with the Franciscan lifestyle. It fits. But I deeply appreciate and respect the quiet, rhythm and balance of monastic life, in particular. Its harmonic, unhurried pace helps me to put my own too busy routine into perspective. It helps one to refocus, “re-center” on one’s prayer and personal encounter with the Lord.

A Sabbath is not the same as a sabbatical, but it certainly is better than nothing. And it’s important. All of us need to put on the breaks periodically and make more time for the Lord. You certainly don’t have to be a member of a religious community to partake of the offerings of such centers of hospitality. Laypeople, whether on an individual, private retreat or as part of a visiting group are often welcome. I’ve included contact information above for the places which would welcome inquirers and guests. Amen.//


Philip Carrizosa said...

Thank you for such a thoughtful post. Sometimes we laity forget that our priests and nuns are human, too, and have the same human desire for personal friendships and periods of respite and reflection.
I am delighted that you have found these communities.

Mario said...

Hello Fr. Chuck!

I'm so glad to see you're back! I enjoy reading about your experiences and recommendations on this blog. I used to be a frequent reader of your blog and it sure did help me with my vocation discernment.

Take care and God bless,
Mario Espitia