Along with beautiful tree blossoms and flowers emerging from the ground, several occasions are rooted in the month of May: Religious Brothers Day on May 1, Mother’s Day (celebrated this year on May 9), the feast of the Ascension of Our Lord (this year on May 13 in some dioceses and on May 16 in others), and the May 20 feast of St. Bernardine of Siena, the namesake of the friary on the Siena College campus in Loudonville, New York.
Religious Brothers Day – May 1 – James La Grutta, OFM
James is a student friar and native of Goshen, New York, who spent two years as a Franciscan Volunteer Minister before joining the order of Friars Minor. He professed his first vows as a Franciscan in 2017 and is now stationed at St. Joseph Friary, the interprovincial post-novitiate formation house in Chicago, Illinois.
What I like about being a religious brother is the value and emphasis on fraternity. As a friar for nearly four years, I have discovered and appreciated these values in the way I live, pray, and serve with my brothers. The value of fraternity has truly impacted my life as a friar and minister. Religious Brothers Day reminds us that, as friars, we are all brothers.
This year, on Saturday, May 1, I was blessed to celebrate Religious Brothers Day at a friary in Joliet, Illinois, which would not have been possible last year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. More importantly, our celebration reminded me how valuable fraternity is and continues to be for me as we begin to restructure and revitalize into one national Franciscan province.
Mother’s Day – May 9 – Francis Critch, OFM
Frank, a native of eastern Canada, who professed his first vows in 2008, has been stationed since last September in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, where he is pastor of St. Mary’s Church.
Hearing our name called by another is remembrance; it is familiar and it is loving. For me, that was true except when the call was from my mother. Every time I heard my name, I ran. It meant that I was in trouble – too many times that I care to admit. She would go through all the boys’ names before getting to mine – Cecil, Gerard, Pat, Calvin, Wally. Hearing my name Francis grew faint as I was out the door before she uttered my name. I was on my aunt’s sofa and remained there until she calmed down or her attention was diverted to another child running amuck.
My mother would always say, “Wait until your father comes home.” We said, “If it was worse than what we just experienced, we may as well jump in the ocean.” All my father would do was look at us. He knew what we had already experienced! Unfortunately, or fortunately, I spent a great deal of time with my aunt. With nine children, I was rarely missed!
I have been reflecting on my mother lately, after having attended the funeral of the mother of another friar, Larry Anderson. In conversations with him over a couple of weeks, I was brought back to when my own mother was dying and how privileged her presence was. I felt like a gift for all of her family gathered around her.
My mother always enjoyed having family around. She never eased into the family leaving home. She used to say that with just her and my father home, “They were like two cats in the corner!” Not the best expression. She continued to cook for many even though only two people were in the house. She disliked being alone and cooked for anyone and everyone at any time. She also baked bread for our restaurant and washed and ironed the linens. This became her bingo fund and she kept meticulous invoices. There was no arguing over money!
Her love of food and entertaining has been passed down to most of her children, though a couple seem to have trouble boiling water. There was always room at the table for whoever might show up and there was always enough food. My mother was my first “Franciscan” teacher in the way of hospitality and generosity. Her faith life was strong, and she taught us about inclusivity, standing up for what we believe but always with the gifts of humor and laughter as the basis for life and love.
As I go from one ministry site to another, I am often asked, “Where is home for you?” My home will always be Newfoundland, Canada. It is where I feel most at home and it was there that I was nurtured, loved and challenged. It is where the spirit of my mother lives within the community she helped build, the parish she helped to sustain, and in the gatherings of our family where she is still at the heart of every gathering.
I have learned from my mother that home is probably the place where we feel we belong, where we are comfortable, happy, and can find joy. I know there are probably as many reasons for declaring something home as there are persons trying to define home. We just know where it is.
Many of us have spent too much time in our lives searching, sometimes for answers that are not there. I know there were many times I have taken the wrong road despite the fact that I really knew the right road to take, or my mother knew the right road I should have taken. In coming home from my choices, though she was there with arms outstretched, I knew there would be a conversation about what I am doing with my life. It was always after the question, “Can you take me to bingo?”
Later, as she grew weaker, in the midst of her pain, my mother remained the funniest person in the room. She said she had wanted to see my ordination A Family Celebration Filled with Joy – Holy Name Province (hnp.org) because all her prayers had been finally answered. Now, she could rest in peace I believe she knew I had found a home with the friars.
When I reflect on the beauty and strength of motherhood, I remember her and the amazing and gifted women who continue to touch our lives – to challenge and comfort us and to guide us home. Those wonderful imperfect perfect women. This year, may we remember our mothers, both living and deceased, the ones we gave many wrinkles to and more worry lines than we care to admit. Let us honor the gifts and the sufferings and unimaginable love that they bring to our lives today.
The Ascension of Our Lord – May 13 – Steven Pavignano, OFM
Steven, a native of New Jersey, professed his first vows in 1974. Since September, he has been stationed in Macon, Georgia, where he is parochial vicar at Holy Spirit Parish.
The following true story is one that I enjoy telling:
On a July day in South Carolina several decades ago, I was installing ceiling fans in a friary. Almost finished, I was in the attic wiring the fans to the electric circuit. I remember how extremely hot that afternoon was. Another friar, David, called up to the attic saying it was getting close to dinner time and to come down and shower so we could eat.
I started to get up and felt a bit woozy. So, I put my left hand on a rafter to steady myself. When I tried to put my right hand on the rafter, I missed and put my hand through the ceiling!
I called down, saying I had put my hand through the ceiling. David responded, “Always fooling around! Get down and take your shower.”
So, I got down, took my shower, and got dressed. When I came out of my room, there staring up at the hole in the ceiling with a look of amazement was David. My first thought before apologizing was, “That is how the Apostles must have looked at the Ascension of the Lord!” End of true story.
The Gospels of Matthew and John do not speak of the Ascension of the Lord. The Gospels of Mark and Luke simply indicate Jesus was taken up into heaven, then the Apostles praised God and began preaching the message. Luke, in the Acts of the Apostles, gives more information about what happened between the Ascension and the preaching:
“While they were looking intently at the sky as he was going, suddenly two men dressed in white garments stood beside them. They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why are you standing there looking at the sky? This Jesus who has been taken up from you into heaven will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.’ Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day’s journey away.” Acts 1:10-12.
Just as the Apostles could not continue to stare in amazement at the sky, so David did not continue to look at the hole in the ceiling, but returned to proclaim the message of Jesus. We too must not simply “stare” in faith, but rather live the Good News.
P.S. – David got the ceiling repaired!
Feast of St. Bernardine of Siena – May 20 – Robert Sandoz, OFM
Robert, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, who professed his first vows in 1975, has been stationed at Siena College since summer 2020. Previously, he worked in Newark, New Jersey.
Thinking about our recent past, I think of it as a world “reset” time. It is as if there were a huge, cosmic reset button that was clicked last spring and we have never been the same since – nor do I believe we shall ever be the same again.
There is neither a place nor human experience that has not been changed by the onset of COVID-19. It is staggering to consider the speed and scope of what we have experienced.
Moments such as this can be very destabilizing and dislocating. It is as if we are in the midst of an ongoing earthquake. The undulating ground under our feet seems in perpetual motion. At such moments, our faith can be challenged in disturbing and even fearful ways.
This is not unlike the moment in which St. Bernadine of Siena lived. Not the coronavirus, but the plague was ravaging Europe at the time. It was devastating. The people of Siena were undergoing massive change. They, too, felt destabilized, dislocated, disturbed and fearful. Bernadine’s response was to remind the faithful of the abiding love of Mary, the Mother of God and Jesus. Marketing genius that he was, Bernadine designed the icon to imprint clearly on the mind of believers the Morning Star, the sunburst proclaiming the very name of Jesus.
The Siena College community is a living icon to the young people today of the abiding love of the Mother of God and of Jesus. Through our education, mission efforts, campus ministry, and our living together day-to-day, we attempt to make real the words of Saint Paul, as lived out in the life of St. Bernadine of Siena, that “there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God that has been poured out to us in Christ Jesus.”
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, current event, holy day or seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office. In the last issue of the Provincial newsletter, three friars reflected on the message of Easter after a year of living through a pandemic.
- “Religious Brothers Day Highlights Workers” – May 11, 2020, HNP Today
- “Revitalization of U.S. Provinces Progresses with Friar Forums, Discussion about New Entity’s Name, Governance Structure” – Feb. 18, 2021, HNP Today
- “The Complicated History and Popular Preaching of St. Bernardine of Siena” — May 18, 2011, HNP Today
- “Reflection: A Mother’s Love” – May 12, 2010, HNP Today