Team Hoyt was a father (Dick Hoyt) and son (Rick Hoyt) team from Holland, Massachusetts, who had competed together in various athletic endeavors, including marathons and triathlons. Rick has cerebral palsy and during competition Dick pulls Rick in a special boat as they swim, carries him in a special seat in the front of a bicycle, and pushes him in a special wheelchair as they run. Team Hoyt was inducted to the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008.
This is an amazing story of a father's devotion and unconditional love.
It is perhaps the best-known story in human history, the story of Adam and Eve. They ate fruit from the wrong tree. Right in the middle of the garden was one tree that was off limits, they were not to eat its fruit, they were not even to touch it. Well, you know the story, Adam and Eve did the very thing there were told not to do. They ate the forbidden fruit, and the first man and woman were evicted from the Garden of Eden, and the human race has been in trouble ever since.
If I were Adam or Eve, I would appeal the case on two accounts. The first would be entrapment. If God did not want them to eat the fruit of the tree, why did He make it so accessible? If you don’t want people to use something you hide it, you don’t put it in the middle of the garden and just say “Don’t touch!”
My second appeal would be that the punishment did not fit the crime. For picking one apple they are out of the Garden forever! And look what happens right away: the serpent tells Eve to eat the apple and it would make her like a God. She then gives it to Adam. God says to him why did you eat of the tree? And Adam points to Eve and says she made me do it. And Eve blames the serpent! And so we have the first split in God’s creation.
This story is not intended as a history lesson. Like the rest of the Bible, this story is a lesson in living. This story is about you and me. It is a reminder that we have been endowed with the gift of choice, and what we do with that gift will largely determine the quality of our living.
We can misuse the gift of choice and the misery that can bring to ourselves and others is beyond calculation, or we can use it wisely, and the right choices can enrich our lives and those around us. This gift of choice makes us most like God. As far as we know, none of the other animals have this gift of choice. They have appetites, and they have instincts, but not the gift of reflective choice.
Adam and Eve used their ability to choose in a destructive way. They ignored their responsibilities and overstepped their boundaries, and the result was sadness for them and God. But it did not have to be that way; it could have been totally different. The gift of choice is not a curse. It was intended as a blessing but we being human can turn it into a curse by misusing it.
I am going to tell you a story, one that I hear some version of nearly every day. A young man made a choice twenty years ago. A friend of his in high school had some drugs and he gave a sample to anyone who wanted it. The young man thought, why not? I’ll just try it and see what it’s like. It can’t hurt. He took his first dose of illegal drugs that day.
That was twenty years ago, and those twenty years have been a living hell. He has not been able to hold a job or keep his marriage together. He has been in and out of jail many times, slept under bridges and begged for food. All because he said I’ll give it a try, what can it hurt? Other young people were present that day who used their gift of choice in a different way: they had a choice and opted not to do drugs. Many went to college, some of them earned professional degrees, most of them have good jobs. They are responsible and respected in their communities. They have gotten married, they have children, and it all goes back to that day, twenty years ago when they had to make a choice.
Next time you face a choice, ask yourself a question: will I remember this day with gladness or sadness? It’s all up to you. The gift of choice is a great privilege. We can misuse it to our shame and sorrow but used the right way, it is potentially our highest joy.
The bible teaches that we are made in the image of God. Biblical scholars and theologians agree that we bear no physical likeness to God since God is Spirit, but we are like God in our capacity for free choice. We can calculate outcome, we can access costs, and we can act on principles. The choice is yours to make; what will you do next?
Dan Horan is a Franciscan friar of Holy Name Province, an assistant professor of systematic theology at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago. He is the author of several books including the award-winning: The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing.
This is his interview with Salt & Light TV in which he talked about how and why he was drawn to the Franciscan way of life and how he sees St. Francis' spirituality in the current Pope's pontificate.
For those who are inspired by the lived example of Gospel life modeled by Francis and Clare of Assisi, but find that their vocation is not to consecrated religious life as a friar or sister, perhaps you might consider pursuing a commitment as what is commonly referred to as the secular franciscans, or the Third Order of St. Francis (SFOs).
Given that many, and likely most, of the hundreds of people who read this blog daily are not friars or sisters (although there are some), I thought it might be good to put a little spotlight on the SFOs and, if you aren’t familiar with this way of following the Gospel life in the footprints of St. Francis, introduce you to this international community.
The first chapter of the Rule of Secular Franciscan Order explains outright the place and purpose of the SFO.
The Franciscan family, as one among many spiritual families raised up by the Holy Spirit in the Church, unites all members of the people of God — laity, religious, and priests – who recognize that they are called to follow Christ in the footsteps of Saint Francis of Assisi.
In various ways and forms but in life-giving union with each other, they intend to make present the charism of their common Seraphic Father in the life and mission of the Church.
The Secular Franciscan Order holds a special place in this family circle. It is an organic union of all Catholic fraternities scattered throughout the world and open to every group of the faithful. In these fraternities the brothers and sisters, led by the Spirit, strive for perfect charity in their own secular state. By their profession they pledge themselves to live the gospel in the manner of Saint Francis by means of this rule approved by the Church.
As the Rule explains, the SFO is a community of men and women who, inspired by the example of St. Francis and like the first men and women drawn to the poverello‘s holy example, make a special commitment to follow the Gospel life according to the charism of the worldwide Franciscan family.
SFOs are indeed truly Franciscans. Many people, when thinking of what a “Franciscan” looks like, think of somebody like me and my brother friars, those men who profess the Rule of life of the First Order of St. Francis and wear a religious habit. However, the Franciscan family is much broader and includes single men and women of varying ages, married couples, young adults and, of course, friars and sisters — each group living the spirit of the Saint from Assisi in their respective lives.
Secular Franciscans make promises to follow their Rule and, like the friars and sisters, have a designated period of formation during which time potential Secular Franciscans learn more about the spirituality, history and theology of the Franciscan tradition. It is also a time for communal prayer and discernment, seeking to understand the Spirit’s leadings in one’s life.
There have been some very famous Secular Franciscans including Pope Leo XIII, Pope John XXIII, Thomas Merton and many others.
There is much more that can be said about the SFOs, so I would encourage you to read more and learn about this way of being-in-the-world as a committed member of the Franciscan family. You can check out the website of the National Fraternity of the Secular Franciscan Order (USA)*** and, if you happen to live in New York like me, you can check out the Bl. Katerie Region of the SFO website. For those interested in reading the Rule in its entirety, check out The SFO Rule.
Additionally, there are Secular Franciscans that are part of the Anglican Communion, for more information on this fraternity, check out their website: Third Order, Society of St. Francis. There is also an Ecumenical Franciscan Order that seeks to incorporate the Franciscan Charism and Spirituality into a variety of Christian communities beyond the Catholic and Anglican Churches. The Spirit of St. Francis is too big for just one group!
I stir awake in the middle of the night to the sound of crying. I am sleeping in in the basement of my brother’s house, where my niece’s little stuffed animals and pink princess attire litter the floor.
I am exhausted from the late night of my brother and sister-in-law’s housewarming barbecue, so it takes me a bit to come to. Eventually, I pull myself out of bed and follow the crying.
As I approach, a little head suddenly pops up over a low dividing wall. It’s my three-year-old nephew. He jumps back in fright at first, but once he recognizes me, he takes up an even more heart-wrenching wail. I quickly shuffle to him and ask him what’s wrong.
“I wan my milkeee!” I hear through the sobs. Translation – he wants his chocolate milk sippy cup, a profound crisis for a three-year old who day and night clutches his chocolate milk close to his heart as if losing it would be the end of him.
I find his sippy cup and carry him upstairs. I rummage through the cupboards, find the Nesquik mix, clean out his bottle, and mix up some more. Then I put him back in his bed with his milk and blankee and he drifts to sleep. I return to the princess’s palace and lay down to try to get a bit more rest. Crisis averted, sleep… interrupted.
I never sleep well in an unfamiliar bed, so the next morning, Sunday, I wake up early. The two dogs instantly rush to me for their morning greeting. I brew a cup of coffee with the Keurig machine and wait for the others to get up: my brother, his wife, and their three kids who are five, three, and one.
Our plan is for the whole family to go to Mass, so I help pick up from last night’s party while simultaneously aiding in the team effort to hold, entertain, and watch the kids before we leave. My parents soon arrive, and we all pile in to two cars.
When we arrive at the church and walk through the doors, my brother and I admire the towering ceiling and beautiful stained glass. I point this out to my niece as we take up our strategic “kid-proof” positions in the pew. My parents guard the left flank, while my brother and sister create a barrier on the right along with the newborn’s car seat. I am in the middle, mostly taking care of my niece Olivia. We are ready.
Mass begins, and I hold my five-year-old niece as I point to the music I am singing from the hymnal. She is interested for about five seconds, and then goes to my mom for a fruit snack and some blank drawing paper. For the next fifteen minutes we quietly practice writing her first and last name.
At Mass, our family spectacle must look more like controlled chaos than worship. Books are dropped, pews turn in to arts and crafts tables, kids cry and laugh, and hot wheels race along imaginary streets. Sometimes I sit with the kids when I’m supposed to stand. And, sometimes, I pay closer attention to making sure kids don’t tumble to the floor than to hearing God’s sacred words.
At one point, unprovoked, Olivia utters in a hushed voice:
“The…the baby Jesus, he died, and then….and…and then he saved us.”
I lean toward her and whisper, “Yes. He grew up and died. But what happened after that?”
“He…he went up into the clouds.”
“That’s right, to heaven!” I quietly reply. “Who told you that?”
“My mommy did,” she says.
“Jesus is the best, isn’t he.” I say. “Do you like Jesus?”
“Yes, I like him,” she replies with no hesitation.
Until this visit to my brother’s house overnight, I don’t think I realized the commitment it takes for a family of five to go to church on a Sunday morning. My brother and sister-in-law are both going to college online. He works full-time. She’s with three kids at home all day; changing diapers, mixing Nesquik, making hot dogs and mac & cheese, getting her kids into art and gardening and games. They are busy, which makes going to church a big undertaking. Back in Chicago, all I have to do is wake up, head out the door, and walk three minutes to the chapel on campus.
It’s a great gift to be able to pray at Mass in silent attention. But, in the chaos of my brother’s young family, I see an equally beautiful form of worship. Worship in the form of retrieving dropped toys and helping with arts and crafts in the pews. Of filling sippy cups and hearing a five-year-old child talk about Jesus. In that worship, I see my brother and his wife answering the call, “let the children come to me.” In their daily dedication to their kids and family, there is goodness and a deep, hidden holiness in their everyday lives.
Just before our OFM Chapter of Mats in Loretteville, Quebec, I sat to be interviewed by Salt and Light Media. This was not our first conversation, so the reporter had been given already, from me, a sense of the occasion. As we spoke he was, in his head, continuing to formulate the story and questions that would feed the spin. One word that was a particular preoccupation for the reporter was that of “unity”. And his most pointed, memorable, and frankly disturbing (to me at the time) question was this: “Why is unity important?”
The question caught me off guard because “unity” is not the word we have been using to describe our Order’s restructuring process in Canada. As Franciscans, it is, in my view, a given that we are one, the important question is “Why, or at least how, are we united?” And, to drive home this point the word we have been using, and is, in my view, more appropriate, more representative of the subsidiary and incarnational nature of our Canadian Franciscan restructuring process is that of “diversity”.
As Church, we are a diverse communion of Spirit-animated disciples. We are, we believe, united and diverse. But, more importantly, we are by the Spirit.
Today is the feast of the Canadian Franciscan Province to be; united, diverse, and animated by the Spirit we hope to become (the friars have just learned that the new Pan-Canadian Franciscan entity will be called the Holy Spirit Province Saint-Esprit).
Imagery from all three readings for Pentecost provide a wholesome framework for what we Canadian Franciscan Friars are becoming. In Acts, for starters, the spirit divides Galileans into many languages – although they are not really divided at all, they are, rather, being equipped for mission. Though the friends of Jesus are one, both in history and in what they preach, His disciples, with the help of the Spirit, will do so in a variety of ways.
Variety is expressed, as well, by St. Paul. In 1 Corinthians, he speaks of a variety of gifts and members, all animated by a single Spirit that is Holy. Together, they work toward a common good.
And, of course, there is the Gospel. Jesus today, as always, points to what the Spirit, who is Holy, does in our lives. Himself an example of the Spirit’s Good-News, Jesus comes upon his friends where they have locked themselves away for fear of their past. From fear Jesus lifts his followers to send them out with that which animates him first -the Holy Spirit of peace and reconciliation.
As Christians, if we truly believe in this narrative, we are all too raised, healed, and sent in this same way. We are united, not only by our history, but more importantly by our mission to proclaim the Good News to all peoples, of all languages, cultures, and traditions. We are a people of the Spirit, made Holy by the one who unites commissions.
As one people then, as one Canadian Franciscan Province, we are without question, diverse. But we are very obviously united. If only we recognize how, and embrace why we are one, we will do for others what Christ Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, does for all of us.