by Michael Urbanowski
I attend high school at St. John's in Central Massachusetts. During April vacation (April 17th -22nd), I traveled with one of four St. John's Global Encounter groups to Saint Francis Farm. In the same way that everyone coming into a St. John's Global Encounter has a different background, everyone leaving at the end of the week took with him a different experience. This reflection describes my thoughts and experiences during my time at the farm.
On April 17th, having slept through an 5-hour van trip to Saint Francis Farm, I stumbled out onto Lacona, New York. My group was warmly welcomed by Lorraine, Joanna, and Zachary. In keeping with the spirit of the St. John's Global Encounter, we were to live as guests, but also as a part of the Saint Francis Farm community for the next 5 days. So, even though we were guests, we were also encouraged to participate ,learn, and challenge ourselves in the new experiences. During our first night, the group visited Unity Acres. Here, homeless men can come and receive living space in a safe environment.
The next morning our community got its first "shock". As part of the spiritual life on the farm, the members of the Saint Francis community sit in silence around a circle for half an hour every morning. For my own part, I found the silence isolating at first. We were told that the idea behind the prayer time was that, in the absence of discussion, we could fill our heads with prayer and reflection. As the week progressed, I found that the morning reflection times provided an excellent opportunity to read, but also to reflect on the words that I was reading. Often, when reading for school, I have very little time to think about the message behind the stories and how they can apply to my life. By the end of the week, I found myself looking forward to morning prayer.
Many students who attend Global Encounter, myself included, have limited experience in service to our local communities. Furthermore, going to a school such as St. John's, it is easy to begin to picture a stereotype of the "needy" as those that are poor or homeless. Service to the community is a major part of the Saint Francis Farm mission. During the week, we had several opportunities to provide service to the needy that included tasks from helping the elderly to cleaning a churchyard. The idea that our group could be of service to such a wide body in the community sent me the message that I could, and should, take a more active part in my local community in central Massachusetts. The work reinforced the idea that you need not necessarily work in a radical manner to make a difference. Humans are people of the community. For everything that community gives us, we should make the sincere attempt to give back. At Saint Francis Farm we learned that this cycle is the bond that holds community together.
There is a certain amount of comfort that I took after a day of working around the farm. On one day, the group cleared a field of brush and helped chop logs with Zachary. On another day, we worked in the garden with Joanna. After meals, we cleaned up the dishes and pans for the next meal. There was time for fun, (I took extreme enjoyment in taking on the challenge of walking on progressively higher and higher stilts) and time for reflection. There was a time for work and time for relaxation. The idea that the day could be split up in such a fulfilling way brought me back to a framed scripture reading that hangs on the wall of Saint Francis Farm. It comes from Ecclesiastes 3: 1-8 and begins "There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for every affair under the heavens..." More than anything else, I believe that my group should take back from Saint Francis Farm a model for how one should live.
Not all of us will give up our lives in Massachusetts and move onto a Catholic Worker farm, but the principles that guide our actions in the separate worlds should be very similar. When I look back on the 5 days that I spent at Saint Francis Farm, I find them fulfilled. To fulfill a day is a monumental task. By my measure, to fulfill a day requires that you truly live the experiences that you are going through. In reflection, I asked myself, "What factor allowed me to live the experience?." My answer is "service to others." In preparation for our trip to Saint Francis Farm, Global Encounter participants were taught the importance of "love of neighbor," and "sponsorship of charity." In the program, at Saint Francis Farm, we were put in a position to live these actions.