June 19, 2019
Guests: Gino Grivetti & Mike Specht
Listen to “Becoming a Friar [Pt. 1]” on Spreaker.
In part two of our discussion with Gino and Mike – two young men on a journey to become Franciscan Friars – we take a deeper dive into the daily life of postulants. Gino and Mike also talk through the importance of community in a person’s spiritual life and tell us how they follow Francis.
“Churches need to be providing an experience, a spiritual experience, a transcendent experience… It is important that there is some kind of experience that speaks to my spirit. That speaks to me.” – Gino Grivetti
Chris Dwyer [00:00] Welcome again to Following Francis. I’m Christopher Dwyer, your host. We’re very fortunate, this is the second episode with our two postulants. We have Michael Specht and Gino Grivetti who have been sharing their spiritual journey, their vocation story with the Franciscan Friars. So first thing, you know, I certainly would encourage you, if you haven’t listened to it, please go back and listen to our last episode. But today, we’re going to start diving into more of the day-to-day, the actual experience that these young men are going through as they venture now from postulancy to novisha. We’re also going to touch on some of the more social aspects that the common questions, the things that are facing young folks who are looking at the possibility of religious life. So thank you Michael, and thank you, Gino, for coming out again for this episode. What we didn’t touch on in the last episode was what the daily life, what does that look like for a postulant? What is from morning till night look like? Gino, can you tell me what that is?
Gino Grivetti: 01:22 Sure. We have a pretty standard schedule every week. So, three days of the week are spent doing ministry and two days of the week are spent doing classes or more prayer focus, I suppose you could say. So, Monday and Friday are the days devoted to classes in our house and Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday are devoted to ministry sites, which are around the Washington DC area. On the weekends, Saturday and Sunday, Saturday’s generally a free day and Sunday is, also generally free to go to mass. Once a month we do have mass together as a community, but, the four maters want postulants to be able to experience the wide variety of different, liturgies that are around this area that we are living in. But, we reconvened for evening prayer on Sundays and for community meal as well. So, Sundays are still a community day.
Chris Dwyer [02:35] Does the day start at a particular time or you’re looking at 6AM or a little earlier, later?
Michael Specht [02:40] Yeah. Yeah. So, our day formerly starts at 7:30 in the morning and we do what, many, the vast majority of religious orders, do every morning and every evening, which is pray the liturgy of the hours, the office and kind of what that is, it’s the prayer of the Church, of the formalized church and you’re praying a different psalms from the book of Psalms in the Bible, you’re praying some verses from the Old Testament, and you pray them with each other out loud. So, we have, in our chapel, we have, one side of chairs and the other side chairs and the one side we’ll pray together a verse and the other side, we’ll pray the next side and you go, you alternate side by side, and that’s what we do at 7:30 in the morning and also 5PM at night. So, our life is centered around prayer together as a community. So, we pray those psalms and then we pray different prayers and have our intentions and it’s an important part of the life, being together as brothers, praying for the world in need, the office of the church. So, the day starts with that, 7:30, close to about a half an hour., then we do breakfast and we’re usually out of the house by, 9:00 for ministry sites.
Chris Dwyer [03:58] Are you required to be there at breakfast or can you run out to your classes or run out to your ministry or is this really a requirement?
Michael Specht [04:07] The prayer?
Chris Dwyer [04:08] No, that I know is, but in terms of the community meal.
Michael Specht [04:11] Well, not breakfast is pickup at our house, but the really required meal is dinner together, dinner time after evening prayer. Between evening prayer at 5:00 and then a dinner at 6PM, we have this thing called pro prandium which all Franciscan houses do, every friar does. It’s really a time just to sit aside and grab a refreshment and some snacks and just talk about your day, structured time to just see how your brothers are doing and what that means. That’s kind of how we live out this life together.
Chris Dwyer [04:48] So that’s your opportunity at that time if there is a challenge that you’re facing, you can share that with your brothers.
Michael Specht [04:54] Absolutely.
Chris Dwyer [04:54] Get their advice, their input, or maybe they’ve already experienced that.
Michael Specht [04:58] Yeah and that often does happen. Oftentimes it’s, you know, how’s the weather, did you check the baseball game, that kind of stuff, good small talk. But, oftentimes it develops in a more substantial sharing and really being intimate with one another. And that’s a word you don’t think we would use is intimate, but, it’s definitely there in our fraternity.
Chris Dwyer [05:17] How’s that helped you, Gino? Throughout the year?
Gino Grivetti [05:21] What I’ve really looked forward to in pre prandium is, for me that that is, and I want, I want everybody to understand that pre prandium really just means drinks before meal. And we’re adding all kinds of important meaning that we found in it, but it really is a social time. But, for me that’s been a great time to talk about what’s happening at the ministry site because we are at all these different places and to hear about what other people are doing. Really the meal and this time before the meal, is a great time to share, share what’s happening in life. And yes, it could become very, very personal, very intimate as in any family meal, sharing your life can go in that direction, but it can just as easily be light and very casual as well, I’d say most of the time that’s what’s happening.
Chris Dwyer [06:20] It’s back to the baseball scores. Now, how will that change as you move into the novitiate? Will that change at all or will the structure remain the same?
Michael Specht [06:30] I believe that still exists, the pre prandium time before dinner certainly. I think our day actually starts earlier. I think it starts at 7AM and from what I remember, with morning prayer and mass. But, those structures of morning prayer, evening prayer, pre prandium, shared meals, you’ll find that, hopefully God willing and in any friar, at any Franciscan house where friars are, there’s those moments in your day, a very intentional where you gather together and share life together.
Chris Dwyer [07:00] And I should preface all of these questions regarding the novitiates with the fact that you have not entered it yet. So this is what you’ve been told about the novitiate.
Michael Specht [07:09] Correct.
Chris Dwyer [07:11] What expectations do you have for this coming year? Have they set any expectations, any goals for you as you move into this novitiate year?
Gino Grivetti [07:21] The primary thing that I’ve heard about a novitiate is that it is a year of prayer. It could almost be described as the, the cloistered year, although we are not strictly bound to the structure itself as some cloistered groups are, we can go outside and in fact we go on trips as a group, we’ve been told. But, it really is a year of prayer. So, the ministry opportunities that we participate in postulancy are reduced to only one day in the novitiate. So, as to keep this kind of spirit of prayer, this real deep discernment that’s going to look different for each person. But, that’s the main work philosophy behind the novitiate as I understand it now.
Chris Dwyer [08:15] So will there be a novice master, will there be a vocation director working with you throughout the year to guide you in this process?
Michael Specht [08:24] Yup. And we failed to mention that with postulancy but there’s a team of friars who are part of the postulancy team who got us along our postulancy year. And the same is true of our novitiate year, there’s a novice master and three other friars who are on the novitiate team, if you will, who really form us together and, keep track of us and all that fun stuff. So, it’s a group effort.
Chris Dwyer [08:47] Yeah, you’re not flying solo. You’re out there as a team. With good guidance and people with experience, which is helpful.
Michael Specht [08:54] Yes, definitely. Definitely.
Chris Dwyer [08:56] Has there been anything during this postulancy year that caught you by surprise?
Michael Specht [09:02] Yeah, I guess one thing that surprised me, Chris, it’s kind of cultural, less connected to my prayer life, my spiritual development, but we live in such diverse house, like I mentioned before from all across the country, different ethnicities, nationalities, places at birth and we’re living in an area in suburban Washington where it is quite the melting pot. A large percentage of the parish that we’re connected with in the neighborhood are recent immigrants from Central America, and also western Africa, and all these different kinds of places, so, you know, I am, I grew up in a very homogeneous, white, middle class suburbia world, and to have really kind of the opposite of that with such diversity, I thought that would be a huge challenge of mine both in the larger community within the parish of this very diverse, multilingual, church community. But, I also had some initial issues in the beginning with our house, my classmates, because we come from such broad, cultural, spectrums, and I was quite apprehensive about that. I kind of miss, you know, the homogeneous nature of my upbringing. But, in the end it really turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because those differences can trip you up, and you, if you focus too much on those differences, you know, where you grew up versus where I grew up, what your parents are like versus what my parents are like, you’ll miss and you won’t see the importance of really what are you doing together and the similarities we have. We want to live this life together. We want to live our gospel, live the gospel through the Franciscan Friars. To me, that trumps the differences. I think, you know, whether you grew up in upstate New York or Mexico or southern California, it’s all secondary.
Chris Dwyer [11:02] So, really it is part of the growth. You need that to grow because if you stayed in that homogeneous society, where’s the growth?
Michael Specht [11:09] Where’s the growth? You’re right. And where is the, you know, the growth is from the challenge. Challenged calls on that. So yeah, definitely.
Chris Dwyer [11:17] How about you Gino?
Gino Grivetti [11:18] I pick up on a similar thread and say my biggest surprise is how well I have actually connected with this larger group of people. Of course there were the initial growing pains of living in a group of 12 while there’s other friars that live with us too. So, about almost 20 people. That’s an adjustment, even for coming from a large family. But how well we all clicked together and the cohesiveness of our group has been really pleasantly surprising that we have that much of that. So that’s been my biggest positive surprise of this year.
Chris Dwyer [12:03] So they really have your back. You always have each other’s back. Oh, that’s awesome. So I know as you’re finally getting through the, after the novitiate, you’re going to start picking up a ministry and I know there’s a, we’ve talked about it last time, there’s a number of different ministries you can get involved with. Can you tell me a few of them that you might jump into as soon as you finish your novitiate?
Gino Grivetti [12:25] Yeah. I’ll mention a couple that we’ve had, that we’ve been able to experience during the postulancy because those are really a preview of what you could be doing. So, the one that I have tremendously enjoyed and that I, work in personally this year is in a Catholic school setting. We actually have two people at an elementary school and one person at a high school. I’m at the elementary school. So, education, mostly tutoring because it is three days a week, but also a resource teaching, is one option. Another option that is also deeply connected to the churches is at our local parish, and actually our parishes outreach mission as well. And that parish work is connected to helping people who come into the parish office in this area often who are maybe experiencing or need help with immigration, but who may also need help with various things like, where’s the food pantry, the parish food pantry, delivering meals on wheels, visiting the nearby retirement community. A separate option is in fact a retirement home run by The Little Sisters of the Poor and volunteering three days per week with the elderly there. Low income elderly, I should say.
Michael Specht [13:52] And a couple of other ones, that some of our brother postulants engage in, one deals directly with the corporal works of mercy, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, etc. So, it’s an outreach fund through Montgomery County and suburban Washington, really doing just that, having classes for those experiencing homelessness, feeding them, providing them some sort of social services, helping them get job prospects and such and what have you. It’s really beautiful work that some of our brothers do, caring for those who are without homes, those who often have mental illnesses and addictions and really walking with them and trying to foster some sort of a support group with them. So that’s been really, really good to see our brothers do that. Another thing we do, frankly, here at the Franciscan Monastery of the Holy Land, one thing I’ve been engaged in is helping to lead tours of our beautiful church in grounds here at the monastery. So, we have many different groups, whether it just be casual walk ins of couples who are visiting DC or a large parochial school, or retreat groups who want to see our grounds here at the Franciscan Monastery and see the church. And I have the opportunity to walk them through the things they’ll see here, the replicas of the alters and shrines in the Holy Land, and show them the beauty of the Holy Land here in Washington. And also talk to them about me being, becoming a friar and the hopes for that. And people are always excited that they see somebody in the flesh who wants to become a Franciscan. It’s nice, it’s affirming and I have to not let that get to my head Chris because they can get, you can get like pompous and be like, oh, look at me. But it’s, you know it’s a really humbling experience.
Chris Dwyer [15:38] And you’re doing an excellent job, I have to say. We’ve been very blessed to have you here since last September. So we’re really blessed to have you. You’ve done a great job. Did you both have the opportunity to pick your ministry or was it assigned to you because I think that’s a question folks are going to worry about.
Gino Grivetti [15:54] We actually did have the option to request a specific ministry. I don’t believe that anyone, that I think we were all very open to, well, whichever one you pick, but we did talk with our formators for them to kind of get an idea of where our strengths may lie because the ministry shouldn’t be too taxing. It shouldn’t be something that you will not enjoy at all. If it correlates with your interests, that’s probably the best case scenario, but there is in fact the option and say a couple of weeks in and it wasn’t working out, I don’t believe that happened to anybody this year, but you could certainly change, there are many different options in Washington, DC to serve people.
Chris Dwyer [16:48] I’m sure they better reassuring to listeners for sure that they could change if they need to. So, we had touched on it earlier, last episode about the declining numbers and Mike, you were right, we could go on for days talking about the declining numbers, but there are some common themes that keep coming up, particularly among your generation, as to why they’re not going to church anymore, why they’re not committing to religious life. In fact, the study was just done by the Pew Research Center where 41 countries are reporting that folks of your age, don’t want to be identified with a particular denomination, with a particular religious group. So, it’s not isolated here in the United States. This is a worldwide situation. You touched on some of the reasons commitment being one of them. Any other thoughts as to what would be keeping folks from the practice of a particular faith?
Gino Grivetti [17:55] One thing that I would add is, churches, well, religious institutions in general, need to be providing an experience, a spiritual experience, a transcendent experience. We hear all the time that young people are looking more to have experiences than items. So, an example of that may be going on a vacation instead of buying a new car. And I believe that the same is true for religions. That it is important that there is some kind of experience that I can’t get anywhere else so that I I’m going there to get an experience that speaks to my spirit. That speaks to me.
Chris Dwyer [18:45] Speaking of experiences, a number of the folks, we were fortunate, we brought in about 14 young folks and when I say young, that’s relative to me. I mean they’re young professionals and a common comment was about mass. That it’s so repetitive that they’re bored. And I think you folks, the two of you going into a religious vocation, would probably have a different perspective on that and maybe you could help us understand why mass is not so repetitive, not so boring.
Michael Specht [19:21] Why it’s not repetitive and boring. I get a lot out of going to mass, I go several, several times a week. Often, sometimes I would go seven times a week. I think the beauty of mass, you get to crack open the word of God, leading from the Old Testament, New Testament, the gospel, and these stories have survived generations and generations, and plagues, and wars, and famines, and death, and pestilence, and yet people still find value in these stories. And I think that’s something, you know, in our world of instant gratification and seeing, you know, the last thing on Twitter yesterday, who cares about it today because it’s gone, you know. But, to see these stories that have survived thousands of years across cultures and nations, that really speaks for itself. So that’s, to me, the Scriptures, carry weight just because, how many other stories from two thousand. Three thousand years ago? Do you here really, honestly. And then, you know, the liturgy of the Eucharist, if you really take some time and really see kind of what it is you’re looking at, you know, we built the Catholics believe that it’s not just bread. It actually is Jesus. And if you can ponder that and kind of come to understanding that then, then that’s not boring at all if you ask me. That’s miraculous.
Chris Dwyer [20:51] Plus it’s not a spectator event, this is an interactive event. You’re supposed to participate. We are, as you know, the folks in the pew are with the priest in this whole sacrifice of the mass.
Michael Specht [21:04] Absolutely. We all have our own roles to play. We have prayers to pray, we have when to kneel, when to stand, when to shake hands, when to hug each other. So, it is interactive, it is interactive. Definitely. So, yeah I think encourage more people to give it a shot, try it out, and to realize, you know, this hour or half hour if it’s daily mass or what have you, it’s a time that you can take out of your week to focus on something else, to not focus about your email or your Instagram feed or what have you, but to break away from those things, which is healthy. I think we can all agree that it’s healthy to escape from our screens every now and then, and to see something that’s greater than yourself and beyond yourself.
Chris Dwyer [21:54] Is it also helpful to you Gino and Mike that you’re in a community that sort of keeps going to mass? I mean it’s driving you back to mass each week and maybe on a daily basis and it probably is a daily basis on many occasions. By the number of the folks that we spoke to needed that community in order to drive them back to mass, left on their own. They often would say, oh, not this weekend.
Gino Grivetti [22:16] Yeah, absolutely. I think you need to be plugged into a community to really unlock a lot more meaning in your celebration of the mass, whether that is weekly or on a daily basis. The community is going to, I think it’s a recognition that we are connected to other people and we are connected to this community that we enjoy spending time with. And so it is only natural that we also, we’ll pray together, worship together, attend the mass together. I think community is very important for spirituality. Yes.
Michael Specht [22:55] If I could speak on that a little bit more, Gino, at the parish that we’re connected to during a postulancy year, I spoke early about just how eclectic, really that community is. Like during the Our father, I’m holding hands with people who grew up in Mexico or Honduras or El Salvador or Nigeria. And what other situation would you be connected to people of that wide variety like that, you know, the, the faith unites, it unites people in ways that really still astonish me. They really do.
Chris Dwyer [23:25] Our participation with the church grows well beyond just the weekly mass, but I think folks just figured that one hour each week. Talk a little bit about how being engaged with a parish can help a person grow in their understanding of their faith. We had found, when we met with these folks, these young professionals that are only one of the 14 were actually registered with a parish. And they liked, we’ve talked a number of times now about the experience and you’re even encouraged throughout your own formation to go and experience the liturgy at different locations, and I did hear from these folks that they liked being able to go from place to place and it was a new experience in each place. But, then also the one who did participate in her parish talked about the importance of being part of the prayer group and with the women’s group. So is that a necessary requirement if you really want to help grow your faith?
Michael Specht [24:32] Sure, sure. I guess to speak on that, it’s really important to find community like flesh and blood communities like right in front of you. I think in our digital age we can find communities so often behind a screen and certainly that has values and I’m not trying to say all of that, but there is inherent value to flesh and blood communities. Professionals have their work communities, the 9 to 5, Monday through Friday’s, what have you. You have your family communities, whomever you live with, whoever you reside with, but there needs to be something else. You have your home, you have your work, but you need to have, I think there’s need for communities outside that, the other place if you will, and parishes really do offer that. I think Chris, enhancing your faith with others, seeing how others believe in certain things, how they’re influencing their lives, maybe their personal politics, what have you, and seeing the community on a larger scale is important. So, you can’t get behind a screen, you really can’t.
Chris Dwyer [25:36] It was fascinating. The folks were telling us that the parish was really not part of their support system, but when we narrowed that down to the people within the parish, their friends, their family, and all of the folks that really make up the parish, that’s when they said, yes, they’re my support. So it was hard for them to separate the church from what they call the parish and the people from the actual institution known as whatever the name of the church was. So, Gino, what’s your experience with folks being part of that community?
Gino Grivetti [26:14] I think ideally, and parishes run a wide variety there. There’s as many different parishes as there are different kinds of Catholics available. But I think in general, the parish, should, should provide, the opportunity to, put your faith into action after you have gone to Sunday mass. There should be, the parish should be the, the location where your faith is going to actually be able to be implemented. So, if there is a school connected to your parish, that will be an opportunity for your children to be educated there or for you to be doing volunteer work. Schools have a tendency to take on a whole life of their own sporting events, auctions, all kinds of things happen at schools and they really enliven parishes. But even at parishes that don’t have schools, you’ll often find, various service opportunities, whether that be at a soup kitchen that your parish supports or even a local food pantry. And then all those little groups and maybe new groups need to be founded if you’re group is not represented, but all those groups that give maybe a smaller spiritual experience, your Knights of Columbus’, your Mary and Martha Helpers, your various prayer groups, if you’re at a religious institution, your secular Franciscans, various ways where you, where your personal prayer life is going to be able to plug in with likeminded people. Whether that is an apostolic service or whether that is in a different prayer forms. The parish should be the big venue where all of those opportunities exist to enliven your personal journey,
Chris Dwyer [28:01] The effects of media and social media in particular, it’s such an instant source of information. We heard from, folks saying that there’s so much background noise, they don’t really know what is fact and what isn’t. So they often don’t want to speak to what’s going on. They’re trying to filter it out, but find it difficult. So a number have said that their faith has been impacted by this social media and the media in general. Do you see that among your peers or even the postulants?
Michael Specht [28:35] I see that within myself, certainly. Yeah, I would say it’s enhanced it. I mean we’re in the digital age formed by social media and such. I get often so much of my spirituality and articles about the church and how they’re interacting with our world and our country through social media and through articles by Catholic Magazine. So, it’s totally there as it should be, as it should be, you know, so I think it’s definitely helped me understand what it means to be Catholic, what it means to be a Franciscan. I get a larger glimpse of the Franciscan order community through the friars who have Facebook accounts, you know, so I get to know these guys and what they do, and who they are. So, it’s definitely been a useful tool, certainly for me.
Chris Dwyer [29:27] And Gino I think you mentioned KC Cole, certainly an OFM who has his, I guess his breaking in the habit series. Anybody else that you think has been an impact on your culture, on your peers?
Gino Grivetti [29:44] Well, I certainly wish there were more Catholics doing social media outreach. There’s very few, there’s very few who do, but you can certainly find many different resources online. I’m very much with Mike, my spirituality I think has been more enhanced actually by the Internet than it has been harmed because we know that there are obviously everything is best in moderation and the digital equipment is no exception. But, I find so much, so many different resources, theological writings of perspectives from people all around and from different denominations that I can plug into. Well let me put it this way. In ages past, if you wanted more theological information, you had to go to one of these large libraries and dust off the ancient manuscripts and hopefully you know Greek or Hebrew. But today all I have to do is do a quick couple searches and I can find all the information I could ever want that can enhance my own spirituality.
Chris Dwyer [31:03] And I guess, you know, the name of the show here is Following Francis. So, how do you personally follow Francis?
Michael Specht [31:12] I think I mentioned this in the previous podcast, Chris, about not taking myself too seriously. smile and laugh, smile and laugh. I like to think that Francis, he didn’t take himself terribly seriously. You know, he this joy, this life is a joyful one if you live it right. You know, Franciscans are joyful men and joyful women. And so I’m constantly called to smile when I don’t think I should smile and to laugh at myself. And things that maybe are funny, maybe aren’t funny. But, don’t take yourself too seriously, and laugh and smile.
Chris Dwyer [31:51] Francis definitely didn’t. He called himself God’s fool. So, in fact, we know he wasn’t taking himself seriously. How about you Gino?
Gino Grivetti [32:01] I think following Francis is all about following Jesus in the footsteps of Francis and the particular way that Francis did. For me, I think being with the poor, being with the people, walking with the people is a huge part, especially as a future religious person, as a postulant walking with people is a way that I encounter Christ, encounter God. And I think also that’s, you know, doing the things the way that Francis did, times for individual prayer, times on the mountain that then brings us back down to be with the people again. That’s following Francis for me.
Chris Dwyer [32:49] Very well said. Well, I can’t thank you both enough for taking the time to come out for both of these podcasts. So, I know our listeners probably wish you, you both great success as you continue to discern your vocation. We wish you the best and I know the friars here are praying for you, so thank you. Thank you, Gino. Thank you, Michael.
Michael Specht [33:11] Thanks so much.
Gino Grivetti [33:12] Very appreciative, Chris.
Chris Dwyer [33:15] Thanks again to Michael and Gino for coming out to share with us their spiritual journey and their vocation story. Please look to our website, myfranciscan.org for more information about how you too can explore vocation with the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Land. Check out our social media, our Facebook, our Twitter, and our Instagram account. So until next time, I wish you the Franciscan blessing of peace and all good.