Fr. Dennet Jung, OFM, at the Jubilee celebration in 2013
Even after striving to live a profession of the Gospel life for 65 years as a Franciscan, I find that the struggle goes on for me. The striving continues, the growing pains remain. But I have, I believe, made some progress through the years, thanks be to God!
As my bodily strength diminishes, my desire to live the life of simplicity (humility) increases. As I learn to divest myself of some of my unnecessary wants, I find the energy to invest myself more into developing my personal relationship skills with God and with the brothers and sisters God sends into my life. Thanks be to God I have come to realize that productivity is both functional AND relational. When functional production ebbs and declines in my later years, the relational productivity takes on a more prominent emphasis and is the way of my discovering and appreciating fulfillment and hope in my senior years.
Gratitude has become my awakening prayer each morning and my “good night” prayer at bedtime. “Thank you, God, for waking me to a new day,” and “Thank you, Lord, for another day of life to help me find my way home!” As I reflect on my 82 years of life, 65 of them as a friar, I see more clearly that God has always been walking with me on my journey. Of course, for many of those years I thought (without reflection) that I had to make it on my own. I had to develop myself to fit into the structures of our society, our Church, our Franciscan Province. It was “poor little me” against the odds of living and succeeding! In those early years I hardly realized that all I had become and all I had achieved was primarily because of God’s desire and God’s diligence and grace, not because of my efforts and merits.
Now I see more clearly that every person I ever met, lived with, and worked with were people God sent into my life to help me grow into my “best self”, as motivational speaker Matthew Kelly would say. They were and are parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, siblings, classmates, teachers, friars, parishioners, co-workers, etc. I was taught, inspired, supported and encouraged, given care and affection by all of these messengers from God. Sad to say, I didn’t see or understand this at the time. I, like most fragile and wounded human beings (I presume), live and grow more through hindsight rather than through insight or foresight. But, thanks be to God, now I can face the truth of my weaknesses then and now, and find comfort and appreciation for all I have been given even when I was quite unaware.
When I take a walk through the neighborhoods of Berkley, Mich., I see black and gray squirrels climbing trees and posts and skipping through the lawns searching for something to eat; I notice children and adults biking alone or in family groups; I hear chatter between neighbors and passers-by, and see mothers pushing their youngsters in carriages or pulling them in wagons. Everything around me takes hold of my senses; I feel the welcoming breezes amid the sting of the sun, and I hear the whines, whimpers and warning barks of dogs behind fences or on leashes led by their attentive care-givers. Some elderly women are tending to their flower beds and some men or their children are meticulously mowing their yards or doing repairs on their houses. Vacationing youngsters are drawing with colored chalks on the sidewalks, and the more athletic groups are tuning up their tennis skills on the asphalt courts.
When I see beauty and goodness in these scenes of everyday life among the creatures of the earth, when I gaze with reverence and appreciation upon these unfolding, ever-present wonders of nature, then I am in touch with my humanity and I am beginning to breathe, receive and enjoy the presence of the living, good, and loving God who creates and enables all that is. This says to me that maybe I am making progress on my way to becoming a true son of St. Francis.
I believe that God’s call to me to walk the journey of Franciscan life was always there for me to hear, even though it has taken me years to receive it and embrace it. God knows what is best for His creatures, those both great and small, all those our brother Francis sang about in his Canticle of the Creatures. To all my brothers who have been willing to walk this journey with me as companions, I offer you thanks. And I hope that you are also finding this joy of gratitude in your lives. I pray that this spirit of feeling gifted and loved, the spirit of Pentecost, continues to be yours and mine and as years go on. “Ad Multos Annos!”
(This year Fr. Dennet Jung, OFM, marks his 65th year as a Franciscan Friar. He lives in retirement at Duns Scotus Friary in Berkley, Mich., and is busy providing sacramental ministry.)
Meet Fr. Dennet’s fellow Jubilarians here.