Two student friars recently completed a trip by car across the United States — from California to Maryland – stopping at five friaries for rest and hospitality. They had different expectations for the journey which led to some conflict and some conversations. Here, a friar who has documented the experience with photos, stories and videos on social media describes the insights he gained from the May 26 to 31 experience.
Road trip! There’s something about the idea of cruising on the open road and bonding with a friend while discovering unseen places and eating our weight in local treasures that excites the majority of us. Maybe it is the sense of adventure deep down that we never knew we had; maybe it is a feeling of pride in seeing all that is hidden within our great country; maybe it is just our desire to be sedentary for long periods of time and this makes us feel like we’re actually doing something! Whatever it is, I know that I had longed for such a trip my entire life.
In January, that longing became a reality when a classmate of mine, Edgardo Jara, OFM, asked if I would help him move from California to Washington, D.C., after he graduated from the Franciscan School of Theology. I don’t even think I let him finish asking the question. Predicting what he was about to ask, I immediately agreed: “I would love to help you move from California to D.C.”
And so a plan was set. I would fly out to San Diego, from where I live in Maryland, and drive with him — and all that he owned – 3,000 miles back across the country. Although we could have managed it in three or four days, pushing through and stopping at hotels when we were tired, we decided to make an adventure out of it: over six days, we would drive until we found a Franciscan friary where we would stop for prayer, dinner, and time with our fellow friars.
Expressions of Franciscan Life
For me, it was a great plan with a strong Franciscan feel to it. Going out two-by-two rather than alone, we planned to travel to unknown places relying on each other, the hospitality of our brothers, and daily prayer to make it through. As men in formation, we would also be afforded the incredible opportunity to meet new friars and to witness multiple styles of Franciscan life throughout the country.
We expected to see many different expressions of Franciscan life on our journey, and we were not disappointed. From coast to coast, we witnessed friars of different shapes and sizes doing everything under the sun in so many ways. They lived in houses as large as 15 with very intentional lifestyles to as small as two with very missionary lifestyles; those they served ranged from the desperately poor to the comfortably wealthy and crossed many racial and ethnic boundaries; and their vision of church ranged from traditional to progressive, each highlighting a different part of our great charism.
But despite the diversity, there was still great unity and tremendous hospitality. Everywhere Edgardo and I went, we were welcomed as brothers. It was an odd experience, I must say, to be thousands of miles from home, in a place never before seen with complete strangers, and yet to feel at home. Such an experience of mi casa es su casa (“my house is your house”) has never been clearer to me; being brothers in this Order, it really was like every friary was our home.
But these are points one would expect to read in a story about Franciscan life. There’s nothing surprising about hearing that friars are a diverse bunch of hospitable men. It’s in our DNA, I think. The much more interesting part of the story has nothing to do with the friars we met and everything to do with our journey with each other.
Expectations and Differences for Brothers on a Mission
Believe it or not, Edgardo and I had some conflict along the way. Even as brothers and classmates, being confined to a car for six days wears on anyone. But it was more than just being irritable and cranky with one another: at the root of it all, we realized that we each had drastically different expectations for our trip that we had not expressed to the other. For him, the trip was a grueling means to an end. He needed to move all of his things back to the East Coast, wanted some help and companionship along the way, but ultimately was focused on the destination and reaching it as quickly as possible.
As one can guess from the first paragraph of this article, I had a slightly different approach. This trip was an adventure, an opportunity to see the country, to bond with my classmate, and to enjoy the stops along the way. I wanted to taste the food, take pictures, and make a journey out of it.
Both are noble and worthwhile reasons to drive 3,000 miles. Unfortunately, they are not compatible with one another. The more we traveled without expressing our true feelings, the more we became frustrated with one another. I became annoyed that he wanted to leave early in the morning and not stop unless necessary; he became annoyed that I wanted to take pictures and go out of the way for interesting stops. As time went on, it was easy to build up a little resentment, and eventually we had a big fight: we both felt that the other was ruining the trip. We were on the same trip, but we had very different visions as to going about the journey.
In reflecting on this now — nearly two months after the experience, I cannot help but see a strong connection to our lives as friars. So often, we live the same external lives as our brothers: sharing meals, doing ministry, praying regularly, and spending time in fraternity. In a sense, we are all on the same trip together. And yet, each of us has a different expectation as to how our life is supposed to be lived and rarely do we share this with the others. Instead, we go about friar life on the same road but different journeys, allowing resentment to build where communication lacks.
Luckily for Edgardo and me, our journey ended on a high note. After five days, we were able to communicate much better and to respect each other in our differing expectations. It was then, and only then, that we were able to journey together. The road may have ended on our trip but the lessons we learned along the way will forever be with us on this road of life. Or, did we just learn that we should never go on a road trip together again? Equally possible.
Br. Casey, a native of North Carolina, is part of the Province’s post-novitiate formation program and a student at The Catholic University of America. More information about his experience on this trip and throughout his life as a friar can be found on his blog and YouTube channel Breaking in the Habit. Later this week, Casey will be traveling to Nicaragua.
Editor’s note: Friars interested in writing a reflection for HNP Today on a timely topic – a holiday, holy day or other seasonal theme – are invited to contact the HNP Communications Office at firstname.lastname@example.org. Additional friar reflections can be found on the Spiritual Resources and the blogs of HNP members and ministries pages of the Province’s website.